The Future Group has raised $20 million for its technology that blends real-world video with virtual worlds to immerse people inside what feels like an interactive game show.
The Oslo, Norway-based company came out of stealth last year and is now working on a major project with a team of more than 100 people. Its partners are still unnamed, but the company and its first partner plan to make an announcement sometime in 2017, Future Group cofounder Jens Petter Hoili said in an interview with GamesBeat.
“We call this ‘interactive mixed reality’, or IMR,” said Bård (pronounced “Board”) Anders Kasin, a former technical director at Warner Bros. with experience using game-oriented technologies in The Matrix films. “It’s a new form of entertainment.”
The funding comes from a number of European investors, such as investment fund Ferd and holding company Aker, with more than 25 other investors participating.
In the picture above, you can see how real people can be inserted into a virtual world. And in the image at the top, you can see one of the actors swing a bat and launch an egg far into the world. Content can be viewed on the TV, smartphone, and in virtual reality headsets, Kasin said.
In a prior interview, Kasin shared some examples of what is possible with this technology. You could have a game show using a game like Angry Birds, for example. A contestant in a live studio could fire a full-sized slingshot at something in the virtual world, like a giant castle for piggies. Or you could have game show contestants drive in a motion simulator for kart racing and then drive through a virtual environment. At home, viewers could participate by using a tablet to drive the kart. Players could try to beat the race time for the game show contestant — and maybe purchase boosters via microtransactions to do better in the game. You could, theoretically, combine a game like Temple Run, with an animated landscape, with an Indiana Jones-like live video actor running from a giant rock rolling down a hill.
Beyond the 100 employees and contractors at the Future Group, there are many more people working on the project with the unnamed partner.
The team started with the idea of augmented reality, or putting animated things in the real world, via something like glasses. It then veered off to instead put real people into an animated world. The virtual environment will be built using the Unreal game engine, with technology built on top of it. And the game studio is essentially being moved into the game engine, Kasin said. The technology will use motion trackers to track movements and will translate that into the virtual environment in real time. The technology could work for either live shows or edited, time-delayed programs.
Developers will use the platform to blend the real world video with the virtual environment. And consumers will be able to access a mobile app that they can use to participate in the content. That participation could range from simply voting on what will happen in the game show to things that are more interactive, Kasin said.
Hoili said that The Future Group was started a couple of years ago as a result of the merging of a couple of startups. The first startup goes back to 1994, when the first concepts were put together. The Future Group will charge a licensing fee to customers — such as the game show company — who use its platform.
Holli also said that the current round is essentially bridge financing for the company. Another round will be raised sometime next year and will include some international investors. The company has raised $42 million since its founding in 2013.
Kasin said the prime time game show will be introduced to television networks at the MIPTV event in Cannes, France in 2017.