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The ultimate interactive experience

Photo by Steve Cohn.
Photo by Steve Cohn.

Photo by Steve Cohn.

Newly appointed Northeastern professor Stacy Marsella is a rockstar in computer science. He develops crazy algorithms that essentially read emotion in snippets of text or audio. He’s put these skilz to use in a variety of platforms, from health applications to virtual reality games (stay tuned for my story on this work in the news@Northeastern).

But while Marsella is a renowned computational expert, the books on his shelf reveal another story entirely. Many of them are on things like psychology, cinema, and art. “I’ve always had an interest in performance and in creating environments where people interact with things,” he told me in an interview recently. “I like this notion of something coming together, happening in the moment, and then going away. There’s just something quite beautiful about that.”

And what’s a better interactive experience than a virtual reality game? Enter, an interactive experience Marsella created with colleagues during his time at University of Southern California. It’s an entire nineteenth century bar, complete with uneven floorboards and shot glasses of whiskey, an abandoned deck of cards where two saloon-goers were playing poker. There’s just one thing about this bar that’s different about it. The patrons are virtual humans, embedded in life-size screens on the walls. You as the player must interact with these characters to come up with a reliable solution to the territory’s number one problem: Rio Laine. He’s the unsavory fellow who’s been causing chaos throughout the land.

Take a look for yourself:

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