Why should we pay attention to Game Design in Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality or AR is the new novelty in the consumer market. AR has been around for quite some time now, but recent developments by tech giants like Qualcomm, Apple and Google have made the tech inexpensive and accessible to any developer with a smartphone. While we have Apple’s ARKit, Google’s ARCore and Qualcomm’s Vuforia on the inexpensive side, there are also headsets like Microsoft’s Hololens and Meta 2 that take up the expensive end of the spectrum. We’ll talk more about the design opportunities each of them provide later.
Hold on a minute, this write up was supposed to be about Game Design and not tech. But this is how it happens doesn’t it? Most developers when starting to build new AR experiences, they look at the tech first. They try to think about what would be cool in AR and not about what would feel good or be fun to play in AR. When we design games for other platforms we try to think of the theme or the mechanics or the lore as something that would draw the players in and not the platform itself (Although the platform does add to the novelty of the experience). But in the case of Augmented Reality, the tech itself is novel. People explore different apps and games in AR as they want to see those magical holograms. That sci-fi dream of manipulating everything in holographic view is almost real and that is what people want to experience. So you cannot blame the developers for making something that the audience wants, right? I believe it is high time to show the audience what AR can really do. It is time for developers to move past the novelty of the tech and create experiences that’ll blow the audiences away.
We’ll start by taking a look at the state of the art. This way we can tailor our designs to take advantage of the technology so that in later stages of development, our design is not fighting with the technology which ultimately forces us to either change our design or innovate the tech.
It is one of the best options for a developer with a smartphone. Some of its capabilities include Marker Recognition and Tracking and Ground Plane detection. This marker can either be an image or an object.
A recent release that has shaken the market with its impeccable markerless tracking capabilities. It allows the developers to take advantage of the physical space. It probably has the most potential as far as game design innovations are concerned.
Spatial Mapping and markerless tracking are some of the major features this highly advanced headwear has to offer. Spatial mapping paves way for mixed reality which allows virtual objects to interact with real world objects.
Most appealing feature of Meta is its gesture recognition abilities. It allows the user to manipulate holograms naturally and this paves way for very intuitive gaming experiences. Another notable feature of this device is its 90 degree Field of View which is 3 times more than any other headset in existence.
MOST POPULAR GAME GENRES
Now that we have an idea of what the tech has to offer, let us see how much games have leveraged these features.
- Geo-location based AR games are perhaps the most popular one today mainly because of Pokemon GO. Niantic had already been using this technology with Ingress that had launched a couple of years before Pokemon GO. Ingress was widely popular but it is the novelty of catching Pokemon in the real world that made this genre spread like wildfire.
- Next on the list comes AR Shooting games. AR is no exception to this wildly popular genre on almost every platform. Some of the more popular recent games are Zombie GO and Real Strike. These can sometimes take advantage of spatial mapping abilities to provide a more immersive experience to the player.
- AR tabletop games especially card games have been one of the oldest and most popular indoor genres. The novelty of seeing the creature pop out of your card was something everyone wanted particularly because card collecting games like Magic:The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh have been around for a couple of decades now. This genre basically takes advantage of the marker recognition (i.e. the cards) that AR has to offer.
There are also other genres like Horror and Sports games that are quickly gaining popularity. Even with these genres, we have barely scratched the surface of what AR has to provide us.
Next we will discuss some design possibilities that AR can explore.
DESIGNING FOR PHYSICAL SPACE
One of the many blessings that AR gives us is the ability to design in 3D physical space. This affords new opportunities that features like spatial mapping and markerless tracking has provided us. While working on my ETC semester long project; where my team is trying to design an AR tabletop experience where the player is encouraged to stand up and move around the table while playing; we found that players enjoyed exploring the AR space using their phones and tablets. They wanted to look at the static world from all the different angles and absorb what AR has to offer. This curiosity and awe of the player can be turned into cool game mechanics like attaching your spaceship to the phone. So now your phone becomes the spaceship. When the player points their phone in different directions, they are basically aiming the weapons systems of their ship in different directions and this is just one example.
Who does not want a holographic workbench like Tony Stark? We have all dreamed of and now it is here. Mixed Reality headsets like Meta 2 and Hololens allow you to overlay virtual object in the real world. They also provide inbuilt gesture recognition systems that allow users to interact with the virtual objects. This paves way for a revolution in the interface industry. We are all used to 2D interfaces in our day to day life, but AR provides us with the opportunity of 3D interface space that blends in with the real world. This is much better than what VR provides us, as AR or Mixed Reality can turn your hand into a keypad or your lego blocks into buttons. The possibilities are endless!
We have only discussed a few design spaces that AR can explore. But the point here is that it is high time for AR to move past its comfort of ‘cool tech’ and move towards serious game design.