Bringing the magic to life

Local company makes GorgeKeep Guardians real

Becky Lane, left, and her co-creator Jacob Madden in front of the Clinton House building.
Becky Lane, left, and her co-creator Jacob Madden in front of the Clinton House building.

For the first time this year, Wizarding Weekend included in its lineup of fantastical activities a magic school of its very own: GorgeKeep. Young witches and wizards could be accepted into the school after finishing a series of quests, one for each of the school’s guardians: Tathom, Lilican, Koltarn, and Flitspark. The school was hosted within the New Roots Charter School in the Clinton House Building on North Cayuga Street, but what really made it come alive was an app, Guardians of GorgeKeep, that participants could download that brought them into an augmented reality world.

The app was created pro-bono by local startup and Rev: Ithaca Startup Works member VisionLab360, founded by Becky Lane. Lane and her co-creator Jacob Madden. They spent about a month creating the app, finishing just before Wizarding Weekend 2018. But the idea was actually sparked last year.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to pull it all together.

“We had made a smaller program for Wizarding Weekend last year but it got finished a little bit late and I think it showed up on the App Store on Sunday, so it really didn’t get used,” Lane said. “So, this year we approached them and said ‘Hey, let’s revisit this portal idea.”

The event organizers had a use for such an idea because they wanted to expand and create the GorgeKeep school of Magic but didn’t have the physical space to make it a reality at the event. So, VisionLab360 created a virtual space for the school, complete with Ithaca-centric things (the classic green Ithaca is Gorges sign can be found on one of the walls, along with a portrait of Cornell University professor and space enthusiast Carl Sagan) and all four of the school guardians.

“So, through your phone, you got to see this elaborate school of magic that corresponded to the walls that you walked through,” Lane said of the augmented reality space that was created to fit the first floor of Clinton House.

Creating an app like this is a unique mix of technology and creativity. Lane said she and Madden like to think of themselves as creative technologists, using technology to tell a story in a new way. Once they were given the green light they created personas for each Guardian and Lane wrote up a script to create dialogue and a storyline with each one. Then, she went out and found local voice talent to bring the characters to life.

Next year, Lane said she and Madden have been talking about how to make the game bigger and better, building off the foundation they created this year.
“Have it be more interactive, have there be more things for users to do, more surprises, more little Easter Eggs,” Lane said. “Because what we found is that people really did enjoy exploring the space.”

But now that Wizarding Weekend is done, VisionLab360 isn’t done bringing local dreams to life. Later this month the company will officially present an app they are creating similar to the Guardians of GorgeKeep app but centered around the Sagan Planet Walk that travels from the heart of the Ithaca Commons to the Sciencenter. The app is in soft launch now and available in the App Store, but will be officially announced soon.

With this app, users can download the app, point their phone at each of the planet kiosks along the walk, and a larger version of the planet will appear. Users can get close up to the planets, and their moons, to see a more detailed image of the surface. Currently, the Sciencenter has an audio tour of the walk narrated by Bill Nye the Science Guy. That same audio is available on the app, giving descriptions and details about each planet and its unique properties.
“You can stand in the middle of the solar system and look at all the different planets, you can push it up into the sky,” Lane said. “It’s a really elaborate app that we spent a lot of time on developing as well.”

Lane found this job by going around to pitch a bunch of ideas to local businesses and organizations. In the future, she sees this kind of technology being applied in dozens of different ways. Marketing for businesses is a particularly ripe opportunity for augmented reality applications.

“I really see this being applicable in museums, and even just for marketing,” she said. “Holding up your phone and being able to see what’s going on in these different stores, if there’s a wait, what they’re serving, what’s on sale.”

She’s been doing market research for about a year, looking for customers that she wants to work with and finding out what they might need, and how the technology can be used to meet their needs. Even though the technology is moving so fast, interest has been growing just as quickly.


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