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NR grad looks to create one of the first MMO VR role playing games

Randy Amundson (center) is pictured with two team members — Alec Pierce and John Detter. Team members not pictured are Dan Hayes and Bryan Pierce. Submitted photo1 / 2
New Richmond grad Randy Amundson shows off the VR headset and controls, which are some of the devices on which he and his team are working to build a video game around. Submitted photo2 / 2

New Richmond High School graduate Randy Amundson has been interested in and playing video games for almost 15 years. He will be the first to admit that at times, he's been pretty serious about playing video games, including playing for different esports teams over the last three years at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

However, Amundson has cut back on the video game playing in exchange for the chance to make video game history as part of a project called SojournVR.

"Myself and four others are a mix of recent graduates and students working on creating one of the first massively multiplayer online virtual reality role playing games in the world. It's a very long genre title," Amundson said. "SojournVR, is similar in style to a fantasy MMO like World of Warcraft or Runescape, but the medium of virtual reality lends to many powerful opportunities and difficult challenges. Things we have to think about like how the player interacts with the game over time is very important, and how can we make it as fulfilling as possible."

Amundson, who will graduate from UW-Madison following the 2017 fall semester with a degree in Computer Sciences, became involved with the SojournVR project through a group called the Undergraduates Projects Lab. The group brings students together to take part in projects outside of the classroom.

"It started with Alec Pierce working on a small game after purchasing the vive, another VR headset, and snowballed others joining and wanting to create an MMO for it," Amundson said. "I joined the project two months after conception. The project started early in January, so it has been in the works for seven months."

The SojournVR project group consists of three members, including Pierce, Amundson and John Detter. Prior to joining Sojourn VR, Amundson worked with database management, feature implementation, animations, and several other small projects. He has also worked on other start-ups before, including creating a new open source operating system and prepaid card replacement.

"There are a few VR games out there, but a majority of them are binary, or remakes of older games where they already have the main elements of the game to work with," Amundson said. "Those games have good elements, but we are looking to make our game from the ground up with a goal of doing everything right. We want to make a unique design just for VR and not use old ideas."

While he works toward finishing his degree, as well as completing his work with the SojournVR project, Amundson works as an intern at American Family Insurance in Madison as an infrastructure engineer.

"As long time gamers, doing this game justice is fulfilling a fantasy we all had for games. We seek an impactful, unrestricted experience," Amundson said. "However, we don't want to get drunk on our creation because we are now reaching a stage in development where things should begin to become permanent. We want to ground ourselves and hear the voice of the people before getting too deep in the wrong direction."

One of the main reasons Amundson is so excited about the potential of the team's new VR game is that it could turn into the dream game for gaming enthusiasts.

"This project is important to us because it has the potential to be the dream game. Regular games always have restrictions that limit the ways to interact with the world, so rather than a player you are almost a visitor," Amundson said. "Virtual reality offers the option to interact with the created world in a way that has never before happened. The potential is just laying there. It just hasn't been picked up by other creators. We want the players to be actual players in the world with influence, consequences, and responsibility.

"No forced and simulated influence and pride. Doing this right means that the gates are open for not just the gaming industry, but virtual reality as a whole."

According to Amundson, the game will receive an early access public release early next week. That means the game will be available to the public but will still be within development on Steam — where the team's own page will be added soon.

"This gives the opportunity for those with interest to get involved with the development. We aren't shy of crazy ideas. Most of what we do sounds crazy to start out with. So we really hope to get players involved and offer feedback. Given that, it will also be an iterative process," Amundson said. "There is always more that can be added to an MMO, but given that we forecast some time late fourth quarter for a release with continued support for the foreseeable future.

"I do have to say that, without the great opportunities and mentorship I got when I was in high school at New Richmond, I don't think I would be where I am now."

Those interested in being part of testing SojournVR's game, message the group on its Facebook page (facebook.com/sojournvr) or visit their website at sojournvr.io. Major updates will be announced on the group's website, while minor updates will be posted on their Facebook page.

"It seems so close but so far away. I would hope to able to continue working on this project," Amundson said. "This is a big project we are taking on, but we have high hopes of providing what is promised. Stay tuned!"

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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