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This New Game From Seedling Lets You Build a Physical Maze and See It in Virtual Reality

Think of it as Minecraft IRL.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Millions of Minecraft players build virtual structures out of textured cubes in a digital world, but what if you could build something in the real world and then import it directly into a game?

That’s the idea behind Seedling’s new game, Maze, which was demoed for the first time earlier today at the Code/Media conference at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, Calif. Maze includes a physical maze-building kit, a VR headset and a mobile app.

Maze users — presumably kids, but let’s be real, toys like this are fun for adults too — are supposed to build a physical maze for marbles using small wooden blocks that come in the kit. The maze is built on top of sheets of replaceable grid paper, so the blocks can be reused for future mazes. Then, using an app, you take a picture of the structure, and the app processes the image into VR-friendly content. Pop on your Google Cardboard headset, and voila — you’re navigating your way through the virtual maze you’ve just built.

Seedling’s co-founder and chairman Kara Nortman demoed this with two kids, scanning a pre-built maze, customizing how it looked on an iPhone and showing off photos of Re/code’s Walt Mossberg, Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka that she placed in the maze.

The marriage of physical-plus-digital games is hardly a new idea, since selling physical merchandise offers an additional revenue stream for game makers.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

But Seedling actually started out in 2008 as a physical toy company first, selling a variety of craft kits around activities like gardening, painting and exploring. Then, in 2014, the bootstrapped company merged with P.S. XO, an e-commerce and party supply company founded by Soleil Moon Frye (of "Punky Brewster" fame) and Nortman, and at the same time raised $7 million in venture capital funding. The newly-merged entity began working on a digital strategy and in the fall of 2015 released its first creation, a make-your-own-adventure app called Seedling Comic Studio.

Creating content that works on VR headsets — especially inexpensive Google Cardboard headsets — seems the next obvious avenue for many game makers, though Seedling CEO Phoebe Hayman is quick to point out that their products aren’t completely reliant on a headset. "Is it about equipment first, or is it about content first for VR?" Hayman said in an interview before the conference kicked off. "With [Maze], you can also play it without the VR component."

Seedling plans to ship Maze in April of this year. The Maze portion of it is $59.95, and a VR Maze viewer is $29.95, although any Google Cardboard headset will do the trick. The app, which will be available on iOS only to start, is free to download.

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