Duo Develops Virtual Reality Game, Business with Campus Resources

Two University of Texas at Dallas students are turning a virtual reality horror game into a thriving technology business.

Brian Hoang, a software engineering senior, and Marwan Kodeih, who graduated this spring with a bachelor's degree in computer science, successfully developed video games together using virtual reality (VR). The pair recognized the potential for something bigger, which led to the founding of Immosis and dreams of success beyond just creating games.

Putting Their Skills to Use

Hoang said he is most comfortable when working. As a sophomore, he interned at a large defense company but was disappointed by the lack of creativity and dull atmosphere. Determined to stoke his “entrepreneurial spark,” he created the Artificial Intelligence Society student group in July 2016. The club brought in tech enthusiasts, programmers and business-minded students to talk about the future of the industry. It attracted more than 500 members in its first year.

The Blackstone LaunchPad was such a huge part of our success. We also attended CometX and competed in the Big Idea Competition, and learned so much as we received guidance along the way.

Brian Hoang, software engineering senior

Hoang also founded the Virtual Reality Society in 2016. Through the club, he met Kodeih, a programmer. The two bonded over a love of technology and its applications, especially virtual reality. Kodeih initially pitched the idea of a game and quickly sold Hoang on the idea.

“We were two driven students who wanted to create immersive experiences for the world to see,” Hoang said.

Their first experiment, “Three Doors,” is a construction of limited choices in a stark environment. In the game, players have to choose from three doors to travel through to progress. Both Hoang and Kodeih admitted the concept and execution were simple but also an integral foundation for their next idea.

The pair realized that unbridled passion and determination alone couldn’t create success, so they tapped into Blackstone LaunchPad, a campus-based entrepreneurship program designed to mentor and support students, faculty, staff and alumni looking to launch their own companies. Their largest concern regarded intellectual property laws on anything created while either were still students.

“The Blackstone LaunchPad was such a huge part of our success,” Hoang said. “We also attended CometX and competed in the Big Idea Competition, and learned so much as we received guidance along the way.”

“With expert advice in hand, the duo started their own business. They chose the name Immosis, drawing on a Latin suffix to evoke “a state of immersion” for the immersive experience they plan to offer gamers.

Surprise Success, Tough Realities

Armed with knowledge and mentorship, the newly minted studio began work in February 2017 on “Amelia’s Curse,” a horror game that drew heavily on “Call of Duty’s” long-running and popular “Zombies” mode. But where Hoang saw a market flooded with copycats and cheap clones, he knew Immosis could break ground by way of virtual reality.

Early concepts dropped the players characters in a dark and claustrophobic mine, armed only with a handgun and hammer. Within seconds, hunched humanoids shambled from recesses and mineshafts. Shooting the monsters was effective, but eventually the constant flow would overwhelm the player.

Immosis created the horror game “Amelia’s Curse,” which was a hit at SXSW 2017 in Austin. If you don’t see the video, watch it on Vimeo.

Enter the hammer: Swinging it at doorways erected temporary barriers, allowing a moment’s rest to reload and reorient before wading back into combat. Hoang was proud of this specific bit of interactivity. According to him, no other survival game on the market boasted this mechanic.

As optimistic as it was, the small team kept its expectations tempered when it was invited to showcase its game at SXSW 2017 in Austin. But the crowd fell in love with “Amelia’s Curse.” Friends and bystanders enjoyed watching individuals scream and flail their way through the demo as much as playing it themselves.

Immosis traveled home on a wave of success and conviction. The team immediately hired David Chu MBA’16 and Lewis Zhang BA’16 to help with the burgeoning scope of the game.

“Managing a project of growing complexity was hard, especially when we brought on artists who put it on an exponential curve,” Hoang said. “We just kept adding features, and at a point had to be like, ‘OK, guys. What is essential and what’s not?’”

A Real-Deal Business

Immosis’ young leaders learned much during the next few months, including the importance of trusting their team and how Hoang’s prior experience had prepared him to be a leader.

Immosis needed more work to fill the gaps between development on “Amelia’s Curse.” The company had talent and time but few revenue-generating projects, so Hoang went back to his entrepreneurial strengths by seeking out contract work beyond VR games.

“Now, we’re a digital agency that specializes in (augmented reality) and VR content creation,” Hoang said. “We’ve worked on innovative projects spanning game design, convention experiences and health care solutions.”

A part of this transition required Hoang and Kodeih to solidify their positions as CEO and CTO, respectively, which also meant shifting development duties to their newer hires. The process was a tough but ultimately fulfilling one.

“I prefer the management and business development position. It’s where my passion lies,” Hoang said. “Marwan and I know how essential our positions are for a small company.”

Foresight into this predicament led Immosis to hire people who would be able to wear a variety of hats and switch production based on the company’s needs. According to Hoang, everyone, including he and Kodeih, are constantly learning and improving.

“I joke that I’m only now becoming a real CEO and figuring out what that really means. It’s been a journey of discoveries,” Hoang said.

“Amelia’s Curse” was recently released in Early Access on Steam, a digital distribution platform that sells copies of games online. That means the public can purchase and play a stable, if unfinished, version of the game while the development team continues work. The two business owners also started working at UT Dallas’ Venture Development Center — a significant upgrade from their apartment bedrooms and remote working spaces. They aren’t ruling out the possibility of more games in the future, but the experience has tempered them into a thriving team of indie developers.

“Entrepreneurship is one of the most beautiful open problems you can solve,” Hoang said. “You’re at a great university for experimenting. Make some mistakes and learn from them while you’re young.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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