Passion for gaming helps student win big

By Alaina Bartel - Compass

One of the first things Ohio University junior Will Gray remembers doing as a child is gaming. Little did he know that would turn into his passion — and hopefully, his career.

“It’s pretty much been my life,” the 21-year-old said.

Gray, an MDIA games and animation student, created a small-scale, redirected walking virtual reality experience called “Atlas.” The project recently led to Gray taking home several trophies during GDEX, the largest gaming expo in the Midwest.

He developed the VR experience with the goal of having redirected walking become viable for a consumer-scale product, because it’s currently only viable on a commercial scale.

“It’s basically a project where you walk around in circles, and it tricks you into thinking that you aren’t walking around in circles,” Gray explained.

Although it only took two months to create Atlas, Gray began experimenting and conceptualizing the project in January for his capstone class. The result of that was a prototype he called “Limitless,” which was a similar experience, but on a smaller scale.

Since it had such a good reception at the OHIO Student Expo, GRID Lab Director John Bowditch wanted Gray to expand on the idea.

Bowditch noted that this was the first year the GRID Lab submitted a project for consideration at GDEX, which also serves as the biggest recruitment opportunity for the lab.

“I think about two weeks before GDEX, we knew that Will had created something special and knew we should enter it,” Bowditch said.

That “something special” was the direct result of Gray’s stamina and work ethic, according to Bowditch. He added Gray is one of the most forward-looking students in the program and believes a lot of people would have quit much earlier on in the project.

Gray kept powering through the obstacles, bugs and design decisions that simply didn’t work and he adapted them.

“He really put in the seat-time required to create a project like this,” Bowditch said. “Effort seems to be the common denominator on successful projects like this. If you put in the effort and work through the roadblocks, great things tend to happen.”

Great things did happen. Not only was there a constant line for two days straight at the GRID Lab, School of Media Arts and Studies and the Scripps College of Communications booth at GDEX in Columbus, but Gray took home several awards.

The student won Best in Show for AR/VR and Playvue Crowd Favorite award. Bowditch said he won the latter award with twice as many votes as second place.

“I should note that there was no category for students,” Bowdich added. “Just general competition.”

Gray also was a finalist for Overall Best in Show and Best in Show for Most Innovative. The winner of Best in Show for Most Innovative was GuessworkVR, a VR studio created by GRID Lab and School of Media Arts and Studies alumni Marc Nie, Tyler Blust, James Gartland, Anthony Mikicic and Courtney Irby.

It’s safe to say OHIO was highly visible and successful at GDEX, which had more than 125 exhibitors from Sept. 29-30. Each had at least one game, virtual reality or augmented reality project. According to the expo organizers, there were more than 2,700 attendees from across the country.

Additionally, there were more than 75 presentation sessions from across the industry, including speakers Hope Moore and Alyssa Stahl. Moore is a member of the development team at the GRID Lab, and Stahl is an OHIO student majoring in media arts and studies with a focus in animation and virtual reality. Stahl also works in the GRID Lab as a 3D modeler/animator.

For anyone itching to see Gray’s award-winning virtual reality experience, Bowditch said “Atlas” will be showcased later this month at an open house. It also will make an appearance during GRID Lab’s annual XR Showcase in April.

Gray hasn’t thought about what he is going to create for next year’s gaming expo — but he has had time to think a little further into the future.

After college, Gray aspires to enter the gaming industry and work for an AAA development studio — those with the highest development budgets and levels of promotion, such as Sony, Bethesda, Blizzard Entertainment and Warner Brothers.

“I kind of want to work for the big time,” he said.

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.