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Discover the results of IBM Japan's epic virtual reality experiment

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Last week, we announced how 100,000 gamers applied, but only 208 alpha testers were chosen in a lottery to be transported to the year 2022 and into the Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online Game (VRMMO) Sword Art Online: The Beginning (SAO) through an epic virtual reality experiment developed by IBM Japan.

The game plot is that MMORPG players logged into play the game, but they can’t log out. They have to fight their way out ala Hunger Games style. In this post, we share the project results.

Powered by SoftLayer and Watson, Sword Art Online: The Beginning conducted its first VR experience in an undisclosed “mysterious lab” somewhere in Tokyo complete with large-scale VR equipment like Navugia (NerveGear) and a staff in white lab coats who took full body 3D scans of the alpha testers to create their custom look-alike avatars for game play.

Cogs presented hand mirrors to the testers to inspect the anime versions of themselves. Overhead, in individual pods NerveGear helmets dangled and shoe sensors awaited the players.

Under the direction of SAO author Reki Kawahara, the players took a detour to the year 2016 and into a secret origin story of the game’s alpha test that has never been shared before and interacted with Kirito and Asuna (original characters).

This high tech lab environment allowed four players to compete at a time. Testers put on their NerveGear helmets and various VR gear that included an Oculus Rift (Developer Kit 2) head-tracking and visual device, Ovrvision and Leap Motion for hand movement, an MS Kinect 2 for body movement plus special foot sensors to allow control using body movements without controllers were immediately dropped into an immersive 3D environment and the base of the town square of the “city of the beginning.” Here, players began to learn how they could manipulate objects and their world before attempting to fight Gleam Eyes (an original character from the 74th floor) and the three other testers next to them.


A participant and alpha tester who goes by Twitter name Nagare was impressed with his VRMMO experience in real life declaring, “IBM is amazing!”

The leader of Communication & Brand Experience of IBM Japan Yukiko Yamaguchi said that Sword Art Online The Beginning is a project that challenged whether the real world of virtual reality and game world can combine to see how far the latest technology will go. He wanted to take this opportunity to show the exciting power of Softlayer and Watson to achieve new opportunities in gaming and to show the world what is possible in the future.

The project showed the heavy interest from fans and the potential to launch a full-scale version of the game where Softlayer’s cloud service could easily extend to thousands of virtual players simultaneously and Watson’s cognitive computing would enhance game play. Is a full-fledged VR game in the works as a result of this project? Stay tuned!

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