By Kevin Saleeba
WORCESTER – Christina Andriano smacked her pickaxe to dislodge minerals on a rock cluster when suddenly she was attacked.
“I’m fighting skeletons,” she said as she swung her arms with plastic controllers in her hand and a head set over her eyes. She is the lead graphic artist and project manager for Petricore, a Worcester-based gaming development company and StartUp Worcester Alum. Andriano was testing new virtual reality (VR) equipment from Meta called the Quest 3. “I’m making sure our game works on the new hardware,” she said.
Petricore’s new Mixed Reality (MR) game is called Mythic Realm. The company was preparing the game for a demo launch. “The game does work on the Quest 2 and Quest Pro. We just want to make sure it’s running efficiently on the Quest 3,” she said.
Petricore’s Mythic Realms is an action Role Player Game (RPG) that transforms a player’s room into a dungeon. In order to rebuild their fallen kingdom, players must gather materials and battle enemies as they venture through the game. Ryan Canuel, Petricore’s chief executive officer, said the presentation of the game last month was successful. “We’re really happy with the demo launch,” he said. “We’ve had a pretty smooth release so far. We’re not seeing any crashes coming in and those are really the worst ones you want to avoid, so, we’re happy about that.”
Mythic Realm on the Quest 3 also received positive reviews from gaming critics. Charlie Fink from Forbes.com gave it a glowing writeup. “I’m impressed by the pass through and other upgrades like room scanning,” he said on the Forbes website following the demo. “The interface is much better, too. The first thing you see when you boot it up is the physical room you are in, enabled by the color pass-through cameras. Your spawn point is anywhere in the physical world, wherever you are. The digital display sits on top of reality just like it sat on top of the cartoon surroundings that were the spawn point for the Quest 2. The color pass through cameras are so good I could read email on my iPhone wearing the headset. This feels much more natural.”
Henry Stockdale from Uploadvr.com said “Mythic Realms offers a blended experience that switches between MR and VR gameplay. After encountering a mysterious object that causes a transformation, you’re soon transported to a parallel world that turns your rooms into dungeons with mixed reality and monster fights.”
Canuel said Mythic Realm continues to be in active development with the full game set for release in late 2024. “We’re still reviewing the data coming in from our analytics, but we’re able to get a better focus on what parts of the game we need to improve,” he said following the demo. “It’s mainly focused around the F-T-U-E or First Time User Experience, which is basically how seamless it is for a player when they first open your game to start having fun. We see a few small drop-off points we want to improve and launching this demo helped us see that.”
Petricore is on the cutting-edge of MR technology. “Mixed reality is not really well known, yet,” Adriano said. “It’s a proven concept in a lot of ways. Usually, you have VR where you’re fully submerged in the digital space or just console games or mobile games … Not everyone gets it, yet. So, we’re kind of the first ones just touching our toes in that pool and we’re like, ok, we want to try it. It’s a little spooky, but we’re excited to actually get it out because we just want to see what it does.”
After starting Petricore in 2015 as Becker College students, the company’s success has been on an upward trajectory ever since. Along with Meta, Petricore has worked with many high-profile clients, such as Ellen DeGeneres, Burger King, Animal Planet, Bose, Mitsubishi, Star Trek, and Snap Inc.
Canuel credits StartUp Worcester, sponsored by the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, as a major catalyst to the company’s initial success. The goal of StartUp Worcester is to help nurture new businesses by Worcester area college graduates by encouraging them to grow their business within the city where they have access to everything they need to succeed. “Access to a well-educated and trained workforce always ranks near the top of the list when companies are deciding where to locate and grow,” Timothy Murray, president and CEO of the Chamber, said about the program at its inception. “We want to retain these bright young entrepreneurs and encourage them to grow their business here – where they have access to everything they need to succeed.”
During Petricore’s first six years, they were involved with programming several successful games, including Play to Win Casino, Cyberchase Fractions Quest, a math game based on the hit PBS show of the same name where players travel across worlds featured in the television show by solving various math problems; and an interactive Star Trek Interactive Tribble toy, where users can name the tribble, change its moods and sounds, and interact with other tribbles.
Since 2021, Petricore has found its niche with augmented reality (AR) which has allowed the company to continue to grow. “The technology itself has been around for a long time, but its applications in gaming have been pretty limited,” Canuel said. “The thing that brought it to the forefront was Pokémon Go, which you could see the Pokémon in the real world. This got people interested in AR gaming. Since we were doing it for client projects, we started looking at it for our own games, as well.”
Canuel said they had to figure how to bring this AR technology to more people in their games. “Not a lot of people were doing it yet, but it has a lot of potential,” he said “We had to ask ourselves, could we do games in this space? We started doing an AR game with Snap Chat called Lens Detective, an augmented reality detective game where we would map out your room and place the crime scene elements within your room. You walk around the room with your phone to try to find clues in order to solve the case in a certain amount of time.”
The success of Lens Detective was immediate with about 200,000 people playing the game. “While doing that kind of work, we just found the niche of doing augmented reality development was something that allowed us to grow,” Canuel said. This work led to connections with Xerox and Meta, as well as other companies in that space.
Petricore also went from employing five people in a small workspace at an old Becker College building in Worcester six years ago to ten employees and a large office space in the Worcester Business Center on Millbrook Street now. “AR has allowed us to grow the team further,” Canuel said. It’s when we started to focus on that (AR) niche. There wasn’t as much competition. There was interesting excitement from projects like that. We just focused in on that more.”
Canuel also offered advice for any new StartUp Worcester cohorts. “Take advantage of everything offered,” he said. “Show up to things, and follow-up with the people you meet during it (and) add them on LinkedIn.”
Development of AR technology is still quite early which does create some obstacles for Petricore, Canuel said. “Honestly, the biggest challenge is that there is a limited number of partners that will fund efforts in that space right now,” he said.
However, that won’t deter the progress of Petricore as they continue to expand their footprint in the AR space. Sadly, success with the company does not necessarily translate into defeating oncoming skeletons. Adriano quickly switched from holding a pickaxe to wielding a sword. Her controllers continued to shutter and shake as she waved her arms, but it was too late. “The skeletons shot me,” she said with a smile. “I died. I have a bunch of arrows sticking out of me. But the game looks good, though.”
To learn more about Petricore and their games, visit their website at petricoregames.com, or their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PetricoreInc.