NEXT/NOW’s sports video games play at new eatery

Diners at the
River North eatery
can enter a virtual arena
with Richard Dent,
Frank Thomas,
Patrick Kane, and
Darren Haydar

Thanks to interactive marketing agency NEXT/NOW, Chicago Bear Richard Dent has been virtually tackling Harry Caray’s customers since the beginning of Spring.

The legendary defensive end is one of five famous athletes starring in video games installed at the dining and entertainment group’s new restaurant and sports museum at Water Tower Place.

The games were created in the West Loop gallery and showroom of the forward thinking and appropriately named Chicago agency.

Allen Hughes
Allen Hughes

“I always tell people, ‘you don’t have to be a fortune teller to look a couple years into the future,’” says NEXT/NOW’s founder, Allen Hughes. “Every retail space, every corporate environment, every branded environment is going to be highly interactive.”

Using the motion sensing finesse of Microsoft Kinect, Hughes and company have created virtual environments that challenge Harry Caray customers to compete in tests of athletic skill by mapping their individual movements onto life-sized digital video simulations of a baseball diamond, a basketball court, a football stadium and two separate hockey rinks.

In the “Pro Bowl Football Challenge,” the player stands in front of a quadruple-paneled color display featuring the image of a quarterback on a grid iron lined with bullseyes in the middle of a sold-out stadium. Richard Dent faces the player twenty yards downfield.

The object is to hit each of the bullseyes before the clock winds down to zero and Dent blitzes.

When the player makes a throwing motion, the animated quarterback recreates his or her motions on screen. The direction and velocity of the ball follow the direction and velocity of the player’s “throw.”

“Kinect is giving me twenty different points on a body: head, neck, torso, legs, arms,” explains developer Andrew Bihner. “I listen to what the kinect is telling me and I code appropriately to go with exactly what the body is doing.”

Besides Dent, the White Sox’ Frank Thomas, the Bulls’ Scottie Pippin, the Hawks’ Patrick Kane and the Wolves’ Darren Haydar lend their likenesses to the fun.

Before launching the company in 2011, Hughes was a tech savvy partner in the full service advertising agency Culture 22.

“I’ve always been very intrigued by some of the projects that we worked on which were highly interactive, large scale spectacles,” he explains.

Among those projects were the Crown fountains in Millennium park. Hughes helped create the system that integrates the streaming jets of water with the video clips of Chicagoans.

His curiosity transformed into action “around three and a half years ago,” when he “saw an emergence in the digital / physical interaction space.”

So sold his shares and started NEXT/NOW.

“That’s where we’re positioning ourselves,” he concludes. “To be some of the leaders in that space.”