Alamo Reality board

Publisher of Silicon Hills News

Known as the Shrine of Texas Liberty, the Alamo in San Antonio holds a special place in the hearts of many Texans.

Throughout the years, films, books, songs, games and more have told the story of the men who heroically died there defending the mission against the Mexican Army.

And on the 300th anniversary of the city of San Antonio this year, Michael McGar and Chipp Walters, the founders of Imagine Virtua and Alamo Reality, have found a new way to tell the story of the Battle of the Alamo. They created Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality applications called Experience Real History: Alamo Edition.

In this episode of the Ideas to Invoices podcast, McGar and Walters discuss Alamo Reality and the cutting edge work they are doing in the Augmented Reality and Virtual Realty fields, first for the Alamo project and then for a Gettysburg project.

Michael McGar, CEO of Alamo Reality

For the Alamo project, McGar and Walters have created an Augmented Reality app that works on the latest models of iPhone and Android smartphones. That app lets people enter “portals” to transport them back to a virtual world showcasing the grounds of the Alamo from 1836, the year of the famous battle. Through the portals, visitors can explore the room where Jim Bowie died, clutching his famous knife and pictures of his family as he lay critically ill in bed. The app also has a special feature where people can point the phone at a portal and be elevated up above the scene to survey the entire Alamo compound and see where Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna attacked the mission after a 13-day siege.

The project is an ambitious one, but it has a strong backbone in storytelling from previous Alamo projects. In 1995, McGar, whose great-great uncle died at the Alamo, created a two-disc the Alamo “Victory or Death” CD-ROM set “containing games, biographies and a bird’s eye view of this historical event.” It also featured stories told by native Texans like Sissy Spacek, Charlie Pride, and Dan Rather and at the time Texas Monthly called it the best history of the Alamo in any medium.

“It was a very complete history of Texas up through the revolution,” McGar said.

It depicted the first virtual Alamo that people could fly around inside and do a scavenger hunt, he said.

“It was a very compelling experience at the time, but compared to what we can do today it was very primitive,” he said.

But now McGar, who has founded several multimedia companies in Austin, has teamed up with Walters, who has also founded Human Code, Design Edge, and other startups, to create 3D computer-generated models of the Alamo in 1836 for the Alamo Reality project.

Chipp Walters, CEO of Imagine Virtua

The Alamo Reality project really has three parts. They have created an Augmented Reality app available to anyone, anywhere with an iPad, tablet computer or smartphone. The viewer doesn’t need to be at the Alamo to see the content, but visitors to the Alamo will be able to see images at 14 locations throughout Alamo Plaza where events actually took place. Each location contains biographies and stories of various people who fought there.

In addition to the app, McGar and Walters created a Virtual Reality experience only available at the Alamo. And the third part is an Alamo Reality board and playing cards depicting the heroes of the Alamo.

The startup bucks the high-tech tale of twenty-something founders. In fact, McGar and Walters, who are both in their 60s, have tapped the expertise and talent of more than seven sexagenarians who all have extensive experience in the multimedia industry and Alamo history.

And it’s a project that draws on the strengths and cooperation of the tech community in both Austin and San Antonio. Alamo Reality got funding from a San Antonio investor. Leslie Komet, public relations executive in San Antonio, is also a partner in the project, McGar said. She’s the one who encouraged him to create the venture, he said.

At the time, Pokemon Go had just come out and McGar wanted to create an application that would let a person stand on the spot where Davy Crockett defended the Alamo and experience it firsthand.

In about seven months, a team of about 25 people including Stephen Hardin, an expert on the history of the Alamo and Texas, have created the app to be released March 1st, in advance of the anniversary of the battle of the Alamo on March 6th.

For three or four months, Walters and his team worked with Gary Zaboly, author and illustrator of many non-fiction accounts of the Alamo, to make sure the architecture of the Alamo is accurate from 1836 for the Augmented Reality app.

The app is free, but it also requires a $2.99 fee to unlock additional content. Imagine Virtua also plans to make money from the sale of realty boards and trading cards.

Walters background is in design. Early on in his career, he was employee number 48 at Compaq. After a year and a half, he then launched his own company Design Edge and he worked with a young entrepreneur named Michael Dell to design PCs.

Later, he created Human Code to work with Apple. He sold Human Code and retired to his ranch in Dripping Springs with his wife. But he never stopped working. He designed the Hyperloop Concept for Elon Musk a few years ago. He has also created moon bases. And he was working on virtual reality projects when McGar approached him about joining him for the Imagine Virtua Alamo Realty project.

Walters also teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

Storytelling and content are a few of the key strengths of their project, Walters said. Floyd Wray is the head writer and he brings the characters to life in the virtual world, Walters said.

The Alamo app contains stories that haven’t been told before, he said. One of them is about a black woman named Sara who died manning a cannon defending the Alamo. She is one of the hidden figures of the Alamo. She died near a cannon in the Southwest corner of the Alamo. It was known that there was a black woman who died at the Alamo but no one knew who she was, McGar said. Historians recently found court papers in Louisiana detailing a lawsuit filed against Patrick Henry Herndon, an Alamo defender, who had absconded with a slave named Sara. It is thought that Sara died defending the Alamo alongside Herndon who had freed her from slavery.

“If there is any takeaway from this, is that we’re trying to use technology to communicate in a way that hasn’t happened before,” Walters said. “Especially, in a very embedded and interactive way at the Alamo and away from the Alamo. We think the key differentiator that is going to make this technology great is not the technology it’s the storytelling, it’s the design. Those are the key things. And the accuracy of the storytelling. That’s the takeaway. And it’s not a game.”

For more discussion about the Alamo and the AR/VR projects, listen to the entire podcast. And please rate and review Ideas to Invoices on iTunes.