A University of Maryland student from Frederick has created a virtual reality gaming company with a software created to reduce simulation sickness.
Galen Stetsyuk, 26, is a computer science major and created MPLEX with friend and UMD graduate Mike Sorokin, 22, from Kensington.
“VR is going to be the next natural evolution to the video game experience,” Stetsyuk said. “It's just a matter of when that will happen.”
He explained that virtual reality, or VR, falls under two categories: the hardware and the software. The hardware is the Oculus Rift, which is a PC-powered headset that produces a sharp display or scene inside the headset, viewable to the player, and tracks movement of the head that makes the player seem like they are in a virtual reality landscape.
“The software has to do with tracking the head on the six degrees of freedom, three degrees for rotation — up, down, left and right — and location,” he said.
The six degrees of freedom refer to the number of axes that a body is able to freely move in a three-dimensional space.
MPLEX started after the two founders were playing video games at hackathons, events where computer programmers and software developers collaborate intensively on software projects through programing competitions.
The business started as just a VR game design company, but Stetsyuk and Sorokin soon found a way to reduce simulation sickness when playing the game.
Simulation sickness, or motion sickness, affects about 80 percent of people who try VR, according to Vrfitnessinsider.com. The most common symptom of simulation sickness is nausea.
The main causes of symptoms, Stetsyuk said, are accelerated motions and rotation — for example, if a player is in a fighter jet and flips upside down in the game.
“A lot of people have tried different software techniques to reduce simulation sickness. There's a lot of stuff out there,” he said. “Ours is the only one that doesn't actually show any visual cues that are meta visual cues.”
One approach, done by other companies, to reduce simulation sickness is when a player is moving in a certain direction the software compresses the amount of space a player can see around the edges of their Oculus screen.
“They basically eliminate your field of view so that the edges of your screen are not visible,” he said. “That has been proven to be pretty effective, but the problem with that is that you're literally eliminating somebody's vision in a video game. It's a solution for simulation sickness, but it creates a problem for the gaming experience.”
With MPLEX, the player won’t see anything the software is doing to reduce motion sickness.
“Everything is happening under the hood,” he said. “It's the only one that doesn't compromise the actual gaming experience.”
The software will be released through the VR game the founders are creating, "Core Disruption."
“This is applicable outside of the game,” he said. “We could apply it to other games and places where other virtual reality experiences are used, like in training and simulations.”
The founders have been developing "Core Disruption" for about four years and are about a year from releasing it.
They plan to market the game and software directly to consumers through popular online gaming platforms such as Steam, Epic Games Store and GOG Ltd.
To help the business gain steam, Stetsyuk participated in UMD’s Terp Accelerator Program, an eight-week program that gives entrepreneurial students the opportunity to forgo traditional internships and instead let them spend the summer working on their business, according to Holly DeArmond, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at UMD.
“The accelerator covers four areas,” DeArmond said. “Everyone gets a grant as low as $3,500 and as high as $5,000, they get co-working space, they get assigned a coach, and the fourth element is they’re required to attend weekly acceleration workshops.”
For MPLEX, the funds went toward development and testing equipment, legal costs and back pay for the game developers. Along the way, Stetsyuk had fellow students help him develop the game.
“It’s been exciting to watch him grow,” she said. “Galen definitely has that hustle, and you have to have that as an entrepreneur. He has also been that type of person who is willing to put in the time and the effort, and that’s part of that battle.”
She added that she’s “really impressed” with his commitment as well.
While Stetsyuk will face challenges in bringing MPLEX to market, DeArmond believes he has identified those challenges and knows what to do to overcome them.
“It’s just hard being an entrepreneur,” she said. “It’s harder than you think, it’s longer than you think and Galen has not given up. As a company and founder, he’s positioned for success.”
While Stetsyuk said making video games “isn't considered the most noble of pursuits,” he argues that it is.
“Growing up, to have fun and relax, I would play a lot of video games,” he said. “That's a really good escape for a lot of people. It's a very inexpensive way to explore and try new experiences.”
He’s a part-time student and works on MPLEX 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
“I think a lot of college students might consider it a bad time to start a company because they're so busy with classes and working,” he said. “I think it's a great time because you have very little actual commitments made yet. Typically, people in college don't have to provide for a family yet, so you can take more risks. I don't think there's a better time to start a business than when you're in college.”