Jeri Ellsworth told Newell to either fund her latest augmented reality gaming project, or let her leave with it. Ellsworth had been with Valve for one year and seven months, and she believed in the potential behind her team's progress – even though Valve was firing many of the people involved.
"Give it to them," Newell said.
Ellsworth and fellow former Valve teammate Rick Johnson took their prototypes and started Technical Illusions, where they've been working on Cast AR, a set of 3D, augmented reality glasses. Four weeks after Ellsworth was fired from Valve, she and Johnson hit a breakthrough in the Cast AR project, and everything came together ahead of schedule, she said on The Grey Area Podcast.
Cast AR is a "projected augmented reality" system that throws graphics into the real world, allowing players – multiple players at one time, even – to interact with an artificial projection as if it were actually right in front of them, using a wand-like controller and special mat. Engadget got their hands on the Cast AR in May.
Early prototypes of the Cast AR are hardly bigger than standard glasses for a 3D movie, with spots on the corners from whence the projections, well, project. A camera on the bridge of the nose tracks the surface of the mat, so the glasses know where the player is looking. This set-up allows the wearer to see objects from different angles, and could apply to board and computer games alike. Technical Illusions intend the glasses, wand and surface to cost less than $200, with a Kickstarter planned for early 2014, Ellsworth said.
Best of all, Cast AR makes Wizard's Chess a reality. "You can imagine Star Wars Chess, as an example," Ellsworth said on the podcast. "There's little chess characters just walking around your table. If I'm sitting in front, facing forward at them, I see their faces. And I can stand up, walk around the table, and I can see the backside of the characters."