Kite & Lightning represents a bold new front for videogame development: the micro-studio turned AAA. A two-man team started working exclusively in the mediums of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) back in 2012, the studio has now expanded to a total of four people; keeping things lean despite the $2.5m Seed round closing back in 2016. The reason? Bebylon.
Bebylon is a bold statement for Kite & Lightning, proposing not just an action-packed VR game but also an entire ecosystem built for spectators around it. However, the studio has cut its teeth on numerous VR projects over the years earning a reputation as a thought leader through experimentation with new technologies. Dabbling with photogrammetry and AR back in 2013 – long before the democratization of the medium through ARKit and ARCore – it would be in 2014 that Kite & Lightning would showcase their first VR project: The Cave.
The Cave wore its inspiration on its sleeve. There’s no question as to what Kite & Lightning were trying to achieve, but the fact that co-founders Ikrima Elhassan and Cory Strassburger managed to deliver this experience on the original Oculus Rift development kit in just a few months is telling of both the talent and passion driving both of them. The Cave – offered to VR early adopters for free – brought Kite & Lightning instant recognition amongst the fledgling VR community of the time and set the expectations bar very high for what would come next from the studio.
Just a few months later Kite & Lightning came back with another VR experience, The K&L Station. The short The Fifth Element inspired piece pushed the boundaries of live-action human photogrammetry imported into a VR experience. The K&L Station was originally intended to act as a hub for Kite & Lightning’s VR experiences: set at a train station, the user would access different platforms before boarding a train taking them to their next destination. However, with a very enthusiastic animated character becoming the star of the show The K&L Station stood out as an interesting VR piece in its own right.
Continuing the studio’s prolific development cycle in 2014, Senza Peso arrived in June. A surreal operatic VR experience that seamlessly blended all of the experimentation the studio had done up to this point into a hugely compelling piece of work, Senza Peso saw Kite & Lightning go from being a reputable studio to one of the most widely respected indie teams working in VR. To this day Senza Peso is still regarded as a groundbreaking piece of work, and were Kite & Lightning to have stopped there Elhassan and Strassburger would have already cemented themselves a place in VR history.
However, after launching three experiences freely available to the early adopters of VR, Kite & Lightning would move on to work with numerous big companies and popular franchises. Rounding out 2014 was NBC’s The Voice 360, marking a very distinct turn for the studio: “When NBC approached us about this, we were excited that about the opportunity to experiment with 3D 360 video in VR and the opportunity to have the four judges (Pharrell, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, & Gwen Stefani) from the show participate in a little VR experience,” states Elhassan in an post about the experience on Kite & Lightning’s own blog. “From the outset, we said that this was a big experiment and it may not work at all, but to NBC’s credit, they decided to boldly charge ahead anyways!”
2015 was another busy year, with a movie franchise tie-in (Insurgent VR: Shatter Reality) projects for GE and continued updates for the three 2014 projects. However, it was in November of 2015 that Kite & Lightning announced Bebylon: Battle Royale.
“After a year of working on amazing client VR projects, we’re thrilled to be back creating our own experiences and diving head first into a multi-player VR comedy game,” stated Strassburger. “Bebylon is more exciting and ambitious than anything we’ve done before. Our desire is to meaningfully explore the power of presence, comedy and gaming and to funnel the resulting magic into a world of endless fun!”
Bebylon has now been in full development for nearly four years, with the studio raising funding to (slowly) expand its team as it develops a VR videogame experience unlike anything currently available on the market. Elhassan and Strassburger have been pioneering with new technologies in a nascent medium for half a decade, regularly showcasing their work and sharing their findings with other developers in the space, and their enthusiasm shows no signs of waning.
Kevin Joyce was been working with immersive technology since 2013, establishing VRFocus.com as one of the leading AR and VR publications before joining Admix, a non-intrusive advertising platform designed specifically for immersive experiences, as Lead Evangelist.