July 3, 2013 at 3:57 PM ET
People often associate video games in their entirety with their most adrenaline-soaked and violent iterations — first-person shooters like "Call of Duty" or "Halo." But games can just as easily be an outlet for relaxing, almost meditative, forms of entertainment.
That's what inspired Virtuix, the company behind a "virtual reality treadmill" that's one of the most recent runaway Kickstarter successes, to bring the expansive and even potentially aimless multiplayer gameplay of "Minecraft" to its Omni device. Virtuix CEO Jan Goetgeluk explained to NBC News that the company had "already shown a lot of first-person shooter demos" for the futuristic-sounding device, and now wanted to show some of its less frenetic and more friendly capabilities as well.
"A lot of people play 'Minecraft' to go meet up with a friend and go mine together, go build," Goetgeluk said. "It's a more relaxed, more open environment to explore with others. And it gives you the potential to meet up with other people in the virtual environment even though they may be far away in the real world. You could meet up with someone in a game like 'Battlefield' on the same server. But it would be more chaotic, not as relaxed."
Even though Goetgeluk admits that "Minecraft's" graphics are deliberately low-tech compared to the near photo-realism of many modern blockbuster gaming franchises, he said that playing the game with the Omni treadmill and the Oculus Rift VR headset is incredibly immersive — perhaps even more so than in a game like "Battlefield" because the game's cartoonish pixelated aesthetic makes it easier to dodge the problem of the uncanny valley.
As for setting something as large and ungainly as a treadmill up for synchronous multiplayer gameplay, Goetgeluk told NBC News that it's actually easier that it looks.
"Most games are already set up to run synchronous multiplayer," Goetgeluk said. "So it's just a matter of integrating the Omni within the existing gameplay."
Like the Oculus Rift, the Omni treadmill is currently being developed primarily for the PC, meaning that its gameplay isn't optimized for localized multiplayer like the kind gamers see today on the major console systems. But Goetgeluk said that, as the Omni moves towards its initial launch in January 2014 and beyond, he'd like to see more of this kind of collaborative gameplay evolve alongside the device itself.
"I could see a room full of Omnis," he said.
Goetgeluk also said that Virtuix is planning to reveal new stretch goals for its Kickstarter campaign, which despite breezing past its original $150,000 goal in just 3.5 hours, still has another 19 days to add to its current $972 million-plus funding. Given how costly making the initial device is, however, he said that most of the extra funding would just go towards meeting the existing demand for the treadmill.
"It's an expensive piece of hardware that requires a lot tooling," Goetgeluk said of the Omni. "It's not like software where everything we raise goes straight into our pocket. Our margin is still not that wide."
Watch the new video showing "Minecraft" being played on the Omni treadmill below.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.