Phoenix Reality moved into the Kreativspeicher M28 in Hamburg’s Speicherstadt in December. The location is optimal for the new start-up, as its new neighbours – Virtual Reality Head Quarters (VRHQ) and several other technology start-ups – will be able to smooth the path to the market as network partners.
Hamburg in 2045
The name, Phoenix Reality, is inspired by the fabulous bird of legend. “It suits us, because we aim to create something entirely new that no one has seen before,” said Davina Cochrane, who founded the company with Aljosha Petrovic and Jan Lygnos last May. But the team has been developing mixed reality Installations and applications for the event, arts and entertainment sector since 2017 and have showcased their work at various trade fairs and events. “We were at the Millerntor Gallery and at the Credit Exhibit, an exhibition format for urban planning,” Lygnos said. The team sketched out major Hamburg streets using holographic elements to show what the city could look like in 2045.
Project Paranoid: a mixed reality adventure inspired by Escape Game
The three met at the private university SAE Institute. This is also where “Project Paranoid” was conceived as a Master’s project. “It’s a mixed reality live adventure inspired by Escape Game,” Cochrane noted. The game takes the players into a deserted lab in 2040, when global cyberwar has created conditions similar to a civil war. In this lab, scientists had tried to develop a Super AI that would have ended it. Bit by bit, the players get to know more about the scientists’ motivations and the status of their research. Then the lab’s security mode kicks in again, locking the uninvited guests in, who then have to find a way out as quickly as possible.
Gamers help shape the game
“The Project Paranoid prototype has now been played by 2,500 gamers, for instance, at the Hamburg Gamevention, Gamescom in Cologne or the Zürich Game Show,” Petrovic notes. The initiators have adjusted the game’s context based on feedback. “We originally sent the gamers into 2070, but many of them found that too far away and too abstract,” Cochrane explained. Lygnos added: “A 2040 scenario is closer to real life for our users. What they go through in the virtual world could in fact become real during their actual lifespan.”
Holo-worlds lead the way to the future
The founders’ main aim is to bring new technologies to life. While an increasing number of people have had their first experiences of VR applications, Mixed Reality or expanding the real world by means of 3D holograms, for instance, is novel to many. Phoenix Reality aims to provide as gripping an experience as possible to all those immersing themselves in a MR world for the first time. “Our holograms can be modified using the controls and altered, with the gamers exploring shared holo-worlds, instead of operating solo,” Lygnos said. The team also sets great store in storytelling. “We want to familiarise our gamers with future scenarios while at the same time addressing socially relevant themes, such as AI or hacking. The best way to do this is by packaging these themes in a gripping storyline,” Petrovic noted.
Opportune moment for starting up
Petrovic, Cochrane and Lygnos are setting up their start-up at the right time, according to Dennis Schoubye, Project Manager at gamecity:Hamburg. “From a technical point of view, there has never been a better time for developing computer games. The production tools needed are on hand for young teams as well, and total turnover in computer games continues to rise.” But he cautions: “At the same time, it has never been more difficult to achieve visibility and sales on account of the large number of new games.”
Pushing prototypes and incubation
On the other hand, the parameters have improved significantly. Hamburg is putting up subsidies totalling EUR 520,000 per year between 2020 and 2023. Things are likely to get going in the second half of 2020 – gamecity:Hamburg is providing the consultancy and implementation for the new games subsidies. “Prototype subsidies of up to EUR 80,000 as a non-refundable grant will allow the teams to concentrate on an initial version of their games, with a view to seeking out other investors on this basis,” Schoubye said. Also, an incubator tailor-made to the demands of the gaming sector will in future provide backup to five teams for three months with mentoring, workshops, workplaces and financial support of EUR 15,000 each. More information on gaming subsidies and the first submission date will be published by gamecity:Hamburg in March 2020.