Games in Science and Technology

FWD News: Augmented Reality Games Coming to a Device Near You

Qualcomm is Banking on the Popularity of its Augmented Reality PlatformAugmented reality (AR) is quickly taking over gamification as the hottest new trend in entertainment marketing, with a number of new applications and games slated for release in the coming weeks and months.

Found in a variety of new devices, from Nintendo’s 3DS to Sony’s Next Generation Portable as well as Apple’s iPad 2, AR games allow for virtually endless possibilities, since they can be based in almost any environment a player is set. AR works by using a device to capture images in a user’s surroundings. The application then adds a layer of computer-generated graphics to these images, usually in real-time, in order to create the game play. Read More...

Such games use markers to trigger their augmented graphics and require players to interact with their environment in order to perform certain actions on the screen of their device. The concept is hardly new, being said to have existed since as early as the late 1950s. However, with the fast-paced advancement of handheld technology, AR is suddenly everywhere to be seen.

Nintendo is one company which is launching an entire series of AR games with its latest handheld platform, the 3DS. The games, which were leaked online last month, include such working titles as Fishing, Graffiti, AR Shot, Mii Pics and Star Pics.

In Fishing, for example, “[your] table becomes a fishing pond, and you lower and raise your rod into the water to pull out bigger and bigger fish,” writes Chris Kohler in Wired’s Game|Life blog. “Eventually, a shark might pop out of the water (and out of your screen using the 3-D effect). Our source was quite impressed with the control of the fishing rod and the visual effects that transform your surface into a pool of water.”

Sony’s Next Generation Portable (NGP) is also slated to feature AR applications, said to make use of “natural marker technology,” meaning that everyday items can serve as markers. In a demonstration at the 2011 Game Developers Conference reported by ShackNews, Tsutomu Horikawa, director of Sony Computer Entertainment’s Software Solution Development department, “[aimed] the NGP camera at a PS3 game box for Ape Escape. When he did, the game's iconic mascot—an ape wearing a safety helmet with a flashing light attached—popped up out of the box in the augmented view.”

As for the Apple iPad 2, recent reports mention the device’s great looking AR applications. A few game titles are already circulating, such as Total Immersion’s AR Magic Mirror, which gives users a selection of wacky virtual hairstyles, glasses and accessories to try on, and German developer Augmented MindsZombie Shooter game.

When it comes to using AR games as a marketing tool, recent examples include Red Bull Augmented Racing which was recently released to promote the company’s latest product format. Using their iPhone, players first “arrange 12 Red Bull cans in the shape of what, ideally, is a bird's eye view of a racetrack. With their iPhone, the user loads the Red Bull app and proceeds to ‘track’ the top of each can,” explains Trak Lord of TweakTown.com.

“The application then creates a racetrack using the relative positions of the cans, which the user can then race and subsequently upload to the Red Bull site and/or Facebook. Players compete by racing for best times in various user-created tracks, including those created by [NASCAR drivers Kasey] Kahne and [Cole] Whitt themselves.”

Even researchers are having fun with AR games. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Smithsonian Institution will be launching a unique “curated game” designed to give middle-school students a peak into the process of science. Entitled Vanished, the game is described as an environmental mystery game with a science-fiction twist. Slated for release in early April, this AR game allows kids to do real-world experiments and activities relating to the story in the game.

“It is both a development and a research project,” said Scot Osterweil, a game developer and creative director of MIT's Education Arcade. “What we want to see is whether, through this type of activity, kids evince real scientific reasoning.”

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, under the name Extra Reality Limited, have also developed an AR app for iOS and Android called Popcode. This app is described as “markerless,” meaning that users can add additional content onto any textured image without needing to use specific markers. The group also offers a free software development kit for their AR platform.

Qualcomm has also recently released its AR developer kit for Android and hopes for the technology to catch like wildfire. A beta version of the kit was made available to developers in October 2010, who created applications for Qualcomm’s 2010 Augmented Reality Developer Challenge. Winners of the competition were announced at the Mobile World Congress, last February. Taking first place was a game called Paparazzi, where players become virtual paparazzi. About 50 entries were received as part of the challenge, which according to Qualcomm, shows how much enthusiasm there is for the new medium. A demo reel of entries can be seen here.

Other examples of recent AR games include Ogmento’s Paranormal Activity: Sanctuary, described as a "massively multiplayer game set in the real world where your hometown, your office, your neighbourhood becomes the front lines of a supernatural conflict," which serves as an advertising tool for the Paranormal Activity movie franchise.

PBS Kids is also looking at this new game format, having recently launched Hatching Party, an AR game for pre-schoolers linked to the TV show “Dinosaur Train.” Colourful print-out markers, which a child holds in front of a webcam, make a 3D dinosaur egg appear on-screen. Players then turn the paper so light hits it from different directions, in order to help the egg hatch. Once freed from his egg, the baby dinosaur asks the child simple science questions which he or she answers by touching the paper.

These are only a few recent examples of what the new realm of AR gaming has to offer to consumers. "I think social media is inseparable from augmented reality," said Ori Inbar, co-founder of augmented reality firm Ogmento. "You're in the real world and you want to interact with your real friends. In a sense it's going to be an integral part of any AR experience in the future."