‘Sword Art Online’: Anime Video Game Brings ‘SAO’ MMO To Real Life With Oculus Rift Virtual Reality And IBM AI [Video]

Would you want to be trapped in a video game with Kirito and Asuna? The premise of the Sword Art Online anime may be that very concept, but now a new SAO MMO promises to bring the VRMMORPG concept into real life by using Oculus Rift and HTC Vive for virtual reality. While a VR-MMO is interesting, what makes the concept even more exciting is that the game will be using IBM supercomputers to power the Artificial Intelligence the players will be interacting with in-game.

The new Sword Art Online MMO is aptly named Sword Art Online: The Beginning Project since it will attempt to recreate some basic aspects of the SAO Full Dive virtual reality experience. The SAO VR-MMO is not capable of producing all of those elements, but to start, the new SAO video game will use body motion sensing technology instead of standard controllers.

Reki Kawahara, the creator of the Sword Art Online anime and light novel series, calls it “completely different from any game experience so far,” although no reports indicate exactly how it works. According to Dengeki Online, players will interact in the virtual reality space as 3D scanned avatars, recreating another aspect of the SAO anime.

How does this translate into actual gameplay? According to Silicon Era, Kawahara was able to play test the new Sword Art Online virtual reality MMO, and he claims it’s “something completely foreign from any other video game experience.” In addition, he hopes that once players “experience being chased by a monster, I hope people will wonder more about the future of virtual reality gaming.”


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Virtual reality may be the whiz-bang gaming technology that everyone is talking about, but video game artificial intelligence is one of those underrated features that may receive more prominence in Sword Art Online: The Beginning Project. The announcement discussed using IBM supercomputers to power the virtual reality MMO world, but the video graphics shown in the teaser trailer video hardly require a supercomputer. Instead, it seems like the NPCs (non-player characters) are going to be powered by IBM’s cognitive computing technology.

Is immortality possible with artificial intelligence?

In February of 2011, an artificial intelligence named Watson beat human Jeopardy! players based on complex, pun-laden questions. But IBM says this was just the first step.

“The goal of cognitive computing is to illuminate aspects of our world that were previously invisible — patterns and insight in unstructured data, in particular —allowing us to make more informed decisions about more consequential matters. The true potential of the Cognitive Era will be realized by combining the data analytics and statistical reasoning of machines with uniquely human qualities, such as self-directed goals, common sense and ethical values. This is what Watson was built to do, and is in fact already doing.”

Could the SAO NPCs be capable of conversation and simulated emotion? The cognitive systems tech is primarily being developed for implementing Artificial Intelligence into commercial products, but in order to complete the anime’s Sword Art Online experience, the MMO world must be inhabited by realistic NPCs.

We don’t know yet how the cognitive computing tech will be implemented within the gameplay, but it probably won’t impact the main anime characters too much. The main Sword Art Online anime characters, Kirito and Asuna, are also within the video game virtual reality world, but the characters are retaining their original Japanese voice actors, so it seems unlikely they’ll be powered by AI.

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At this point, you’re probably wondering where the line starts for diving into the new VR-MMO. The project has a teaser website, but unfortunately, the 208 alpha testers will be recruited in the Tokyo metropolitan area for a test to be held between March 18 and March 20. Just like how the anime release date is delayed for the United States, American SAO fans will have to wait a bit longer to experience their first full dive.

[Image via YouTube]