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Region's newest techies show their stuff in Albany

Region's newest techies show their stuff in Albany

RPI students present video game creations
Region's newest techies show their stuff in Albany
State Sen. George Amedore dons a virtual reality headset at Tuesday's event.
Photographer: Jake Lahut/Gazette Reporter

ALBANY -- Tech titans like Google, Amazon, and Apple presented their latest innovations at the Capitol on Tuesday, along with several local college students and tech professionals.

Many of the RPI students who presented their video game creations in the well of the Legislative Office Building (LOB) were from out of state. But several said they would like to stay in the area to continue developing their products.

“We might stay in Troy because it’s a real tech hub,” said Brittany Wendzel, a recent graduate of RPI and level designer for Good Doggo. “There are a lot of great spaces we can use to continue working on it.” 

Ben Chang, director of RPI's games and simulation arts and sciences program, said he was impressed by seeing his students’ abilities on display.

“We’re really just excited to see how the students are taking their games that began as class projects and really bringing them to completion—being able to start new companies and publish, and also the way that these research projects are connecting science and art; they’re going to go out into museums and all sorts of educational environments," Chang said.

One of the educational startups was The Aquatic Messenger, developed by RPI underclassmen Matthew Carlson and Brendan Courson, which envelops users in an immersive virtual reality model of Lake George. The computer program allows users to go under water and examine the basin and its organisms over multiple ecological epochs.

Carlson and Courson said it took more than a year to develop the basics for the game, and almost another year to polish it to what it is today.

Republican state Sen. George Amedore donned a virtual reality headset to try out The Aquatic Messenger. After a few mishaps, the Technology and Innovation Committee chairman began to master the VR experience of underwater discovery, which also required him to use handheld controllers with the bulky headset.

“These three incubators right here are going to go through the roof,” Amedore said of the RPI cohort. 

Across the well from college startups like Good Doggo and The Aquatic Messenger were the big boys: Apple, Amazon and Google, drawing big crowds and dolling out swag like pens and cloud-shaped paperweights.

Saratoga native John Harvey is regional director for Google' government relations team. He said Tuesday that, while his team is based in Manhattan, they are hoping to bring an office upstate within a few years. Google employs more than  8,000 in the state now.

Steve Derrick, a Clifton Park resident, has worked for Vicarious Visions for almost two decades. Based in Menands, the company produces video games like Destiny and Crash Bandicoot.

"We're around a 200-person studio," Derrick said. "Our core hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and you can come in and leave whenever you want, as long as you're there for those core hours."

Dan Townsend, a Loudonville native and Albany resident, directs a team of game testers for Vicarious Visions. Though many at the exposition find it to be a dream job, Townsend said his employees need to be extremely detail oriented, strong communicators and must remain attuned to video game narratives in order to be successful. Townsend, 27, got his start as an intern for Vicarious Visions, he said.

“[Vicarious Visions] gave me an opportunity to learn and grow, and honestly, if you just have the drive and have the effort and have the passion for video games, you can definitely do it,” he said.

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