Ohio University's GRID Lab student, alumni win awards at 6th annual GDEX gaming expo

By Erin Roberts

ATHENS, Ohio (Oct. 3, 2018)—Ohio University’s Games Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab was highly visible and successful at this past weekend’s sixth annual GDEX at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. GDEX, the largest gaming expo in the Midwest, drew more than 2,000 fans from throughout the country.

Director John Bowditch said the GRID Lab was one of more than 100 exhibitors and that he and the team used the booth space to demonstrate “Atlas,” a walkable VR experience created by MDIA games and animation junior Will Gray.

“The reception to his project was amazing,” Bowditch said. “Will ended up leaving Columbus with Best in Show for AR/VR, as well as the Crowd Favorite award. Even though there was no student category, just general competition, Will’s experience earned twice as many votes as second place. Will’s “Atlas” was also a finalist for Overall Best in Show and Best in Show for Most Innovative.”

Gray, who has exhibited a game at GDEX the past two years, said he was surprised at the reception to “Atlas.”

“People were very responsive to the idea of redirected walking because it is a much more intuitive way to experience virtual reality,” Gray said. “Redirected walking allows users to be unrestricted without the worry of running into things physically while in a virtual world.”

Gray says that redirected walking is “essentially a trick of level design.”

“The environment is designed with that guiding principle in mind: a series of rooms all occupying the same virtual space, but are activated and deactivated through their proximity to the user. To the user, they are moving on to somewhere different, but, in the real world they have just walked in a circle, and ended up right where they were.”

In January, Gray says the seeds of “Atlas” were born as he conceptualized “redirected walking” for his capstone class.

“I built a prototype experience call ‘Limitless,’ now the precursor to ‘Atlas,’” he said. “It used the same techniques, just not as extensively. That game served as a proof of concept for ‘Atlas,’ and I won first place with it in the Student Expo in April.”

After Bowditch asked Gray to take some of those elements and expand on them, Gray said he worked on “Atlas” throughout the summer and right up to the deadline for GDEX. When reflecting on his wins, Gray says his feelings echo those of imposter syndrome.

“Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it,” he said. “I didn’t expect to get that great of a reception. There were a lot of projects that others spent years of time and energy and passion to work on. To receive recognition up against projects like that just hard to wrap my head around.”

Bowditch said MDIA alumni who worked in the GRID Lab while on campus also found success at GDEX.

“The Best in Show for Most Innovative award went to GuessworkVR, a studio created by 2015 and 2016 alumni Marc Nie, Tyler Blust, James Gartland, Anthony Mikicic and Courtney Irby,” he said.

The GRID Lab has also served as a sponsor for GDEX for the past five years. Bowditch says the event serves as an opportunity to recruit students and professionals who want to study game development.

“GDEX serves as one of our best opportunities for recruiting each year,” he said. “It was incredible to so well in the competition and to gain that exposure for the University. We had a constant line at our booth for two days straight.”

The event also offered more than 75 educational sessions on all aspects of the video gaming industry. Two of those sessions featured GRID Lab speaker. Hope Moore, an AR/VR developer for the GRID Lab, spoke on the topic of “Hacking the Brain in Games.” Alyssa Stahl, a junior Games and Animation student from the Honors Tutorial College, presented “Transportation in VR.”

“It was fun networking with other game designers, developers, and artists at GDEX,” Moore said. “There’s always something new to experience and learn.”

To learn more about the GRID Lab, visit GRID Lab. For more on the Games and Animation major in the School of Media Arts & Studies at Ohio University, visit School of Media Arts and Studies - Games and Animation.