Image: XR Consulting Ruecker
MR Chess gives you the authentic feeling of playing chess in your living room with an opponent thousands of miles away. I have tried it.
MR Chess was released in the App Lab this month and I had the opportunity to try it out with the app’s designer Fabian Rücker.
Fabian had the idea for a mixed reality chess game in 2022 and designed a prototype that was so well received that the German studio Weltenbauer (“Construction Simulator”) supported him in its development. The project was inspired by Meta’s futuristic vision of a distance-defying metaverse and a mixed reality that seamlessly blends physical and virtual reality.
I remember that Meta and Unity demonstrated mixed reality chess years ago, but as far as I know, the app was never released. Which doesn’t matter now because MR Chess fills this gap all the better.
Fabian was kind enough to show me his app, and so we met virtually at my kitchen table with our Quest 3s to play a round of mixed reality chess.
MR Chess: A great sense of co-presence
MR Chess is built from the ground up for mixed reality and hand tracking. First, the virtual chessboard is placed and anchored to a surface by moving your hand, in my case a kitchen table. You can then resize the chessboard by dragging a corner and adjust the height as needed.
Fabian’s goal was to capture the feeling of playing chess as authentically as possible, and he and his team have succeeded. When I joined Fabian’s game, his avatar appeared on the other side of the kitchen table, and the sense of co-presence combined with the immersiveness of mixed reality was striking. The sense of being together in the same room is enhanced by the fact that our hands naturally interact with the chessboard between us.
The chess board and pieces look real because they are modeled in great detail and rendered in high resolution. I pick up the pieces with my hand and place them on the desired square. Thanks to a sophisticated implementation of hand-tracking, this usually works perfectly.
Clever UI design
The occlusion model used for the hands is also impressive, and I have never seen it in this quality in any other mixed reality app. As you move your hands across the chessboard, they occlude it realistically. The outlines of the hands are captured and overlaid with the corresponding feed from the cameras. The result is a more immersive gaming experience where your own physical hands blend seamlessly into the digital chess game.
I also liked the UI design, which in its simplicity and elegance reminded me of the mixed reality game Cubism. The UI elements are projected onto the physical table in front of you like the chessboard, turning it into an interactive touch surface and almost giving you the feeling of pressing buttons.
The chessboard and pieces can be temporarily hidden, so you can place a real chessboard and real pieces right underneath the digital ones. This gives the game a haptic quality, exactly like real chess.
There is also an experimental mode, which I haven’t tried yet, that allows you to play with a physical board and physical pieces. However, this requires more complex calibration.
Fully virtual environments, chess puzzles for solo players and the implementation of an Elo rating are planned for the future. Of course you can already play chess against an AI with MR Chess, but the app really only shines as a social gaming experience.
MR Chess is available in the App Lab for $15. You can find it by searching for “Chess” in the Meta Quest Store.
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