IBM Japan has announced a brand-new project called Sword Art Online: The Beginning, which seeks to bring the VRMMO featured in the light novels and anime adaptations into reality.
IBM Japan is sponsoring the project, backed by research and technology the company is already utilizing. The game will be backed by IBM's Cognitive Computing technology and its SoftLayer cloud services. The company will show off that technology at an event taking place March 18-20 in Tokyo. At the event, IBM will be scanning registered participants and creating 3D avatars for them in the game world. Those participants will also get a chance to try out a virtual reality environment with their new avatars.
The Beginning is supposed to allow players to control their VR avatar using their own body movements, not a controller. Sword Art Online creator Reki Kawahara said the project will be "Something completely foreign from any other video game experience." (Translation via Siliconera.)
For IBM, the benefit is clear: utilizing one of the current major anime properties to push its technology to the masses. Entertainment has always been a solid vector for new tech. Cognitive Computing and SoftLayer have a number of general life and business applications, but getting fervent fans onboard helps with adoption and trying many of these technologies out in the form of interactive entertainment allows IBM to fix issues that could be big problems elsewhere.
The Nervegear system from Sword Art Online is still a ways off though. That virtual reality system completely closes the user off from the outside world, funneling all that sensory information towards the game itself. Right now, our current commercially-available virtual reality systems simply give the user a new visual and aural experience to consume, while a generic or specialized controller handles most of the in-game movement.
Either way, the face of gaming as we perceive it today is changing. The television or monitor isn't going away anytime soon, but the ways we interact with our favorite game worlds is growing. And hey, maybe they'll have some of the kinks worked out by 2022, when Sword Art Online originally takes place.