USC Students Compete in Second ETC Metaverse Challenge

University of Southern California students were invited to participate in the second of two scheduled Metaverse Experience Challenges, hosted by ETC@USC. Making use of current and emerging tools, students were tasked with developing original ideas for compelling metaverse experiences. Ten teams started work at 1:00 pm on Friday, October 8 and presented their ideas to judges from Epic Games, Universal Pictures, Disney Studios, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud at 3:00 pm on Saturday, October 9. Each member of the winning teams — MetaversEdu and MetaMall — received a Nintendo Switch “Fortnite” Edition, courtesy of Epic Games.

The ETC@USC Metaverse Experience Challenge was organized by ETC’s Phil Lelyveld and Danny Bilson, chair of the Interactive Media and Games Division, USC School of Cinematic Arts. The goal was to see what interesting, engaging and repeatable physical and storytelling ideas this next generation of creators could imagine building in the near term using existing and rapidly emerging technologies and techniques.

Students were instructed to think broadly and consider mixed reality, “Fortnite,” NFTs, linear storytelling, game engine capabilities, social media and anything else that came to mind. The instructions stressed that there were no boundaries and that tangential thinking was encouraged.

Teams were given a template to follow. They were told to prepare a deck and a 3-minute presentation that addresses the concept and its key features, why it will engage the user, what differentiates it, what current technology and resources it leverages, and why people will love it.

Judges were looking for ideas or elements that were original, repeatable or repurposable, and would engage today’s users.

The judges were Miles Perkins, industry manager, film & television at Epic Games; Evan Goldberg, manager of technology innovation research at The Walt Disney Studios; Buzz Hays, global lead entertainment industry at Google Cloud; Hanno Basse, CTO of Microsoft Azure’s Media and Entertainment business; and Greg Reed, VP of technology partnerships at Universal Pictures.

The following are brief summaries of the ten ideas:

Choose OUR Own Adventure — Platform for alternative reality gaming (ARG) that welcomes players with no Alt Reality experience. Players learn new technologies and go outside their comfort zones while still feeling safe. There is both cooperation and competition among players, providing a good framework for emergent storytelling. Most importantly, players are given tools and materials to create their own technology for shaping and advancing the experience.

Freeflow — Interactive VR world in which users have control over five senses and four dimensions. Users can visit and modify simulations of any place in the real world. Freeflow uses EMG electrodes to track where the user is walking, haptic tactile rendering to simulate touch and texture, and smell synthesis for a fuller environmental experience. It is intended to augment the experiences in people’s lives.

The Future of Franchise Management — Game in which every object is an NFT that unlocks new quests, in-game content, and AR content. The NFTs can be unlocked either by completing tasks or through a purchase. The NFTs are something that you can show off to others.

Haptics Based Tonal Delivery (honorable mention) — Players are “manifesting their role-playing personas in speech.” Players would be able to influence expressiveness and forcefulness, speed of speech, pitch and tone inflection, and strategy vocal delivery. The proposal differentiators are the use of formal elements such as dialogue wheels, controller triggers, and delivery gauges mapped to the player’s emotional state. Players will embrace the opportunity to roleplay ‘how’ they say things, not merely ‘what’ they say.

MetaMall (winner) — Integrates existing online shopping, streaming platforms, and food delivery services into a global virtual mall experience. People can shop, be entertained, and eat with anyone anywhere in the world. The technology needed for this already exists. It just needs to be integrated as an independent or corporate-sponsored experience.

MetaversEDU (winner) — Helping students and the world learn better by making labs, home school programs, online learning, and museum experiences more engaging through physical hands-on and interactive VR. There will be pre-made units as well as a sandbox for creating personalized resources and for student collaboration.

MovieScape — Immersive cinematic experience where you, the user, have agency. You can actively follow the plot, observe extra details, or explore the world as a bystander in the plot.

PatPet — Digital pet driven by and personalized by artificial intelligence. It has both a virtual pet and a robotic pet form factor that are synched together for one uniform and evolving relationship. The pet’s form can be customized to please the owner.

Project Blossom — Fully customizable VR game in which you watch a world blossom in your own hands. Players can design their own world by designing the world’s physics, ecosystem, geography and culture, and participate in other players’ worlds.

Vanguard — Game where the world changes through the players’ actions using AR, computer vision, projection mapping, and inflatable robotic peripherals. Guests choose their avatars and quest lines. The endgame is either defending or breaching a fortress.

The presentation videos for these projects, including the Q&A, will be posted on ETCentric.org later this week, along with the presentation videos from the October 1-2 Metaverse Experience Challenge (which we reported on last week).