Sony Pushes Augmented Reality With New Games
Sitting alone in your room one night, a mysterious crack begins to form in your bedroom wall. The lights flicker ominously. Suddenly, an alien tentacle, belonging to some horrific monster, breaks through the crack. One exploratory tentacle and then another reach into the room, looking for prey. Sensing your movement, they sniff the air in your direction. Terrified, you jump to your feet and use the only thing at hand, an aluminum baseball bat, and begin landing blows on the arms as they dart around the room. Grabbing a ballpoint pen from your desk, you stab it deeply into one of the fleshy appendages and it quickly retreats from whence it came. Having survived another onslaught in the augmented reality game Parallax Shift, you hit the autosave on your PS4 and remove your goggles. Welcome to the future of augmented reality, coming very soon to a video game device near you.
Augmented Reality has been looming on the horizon for a while now, but it is finally poised to become a huge part of mainstream gaming. The basic principle is that gameplay incorporates the player's real surroundings into the action, blending the distinction between virtual and real. Hideo Kojima was one of the earliest to experiment with augmented reality in games. His vampire slaying action game Lunar Knights used a light sensor attached to the Gameboy Advance to determine whether the player was in daylight or darkness. In Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, players could download new game characters by driving around and connecting to new wireless hotspots.
More recent examples range from games that use the player's geographic location via GPS, to games that use camera input to project 3D characters into a local scene. The 2008 game Eye of Judgment used a camera attached to the Playstation 3 console to augment a card game similar to Magic: The Gathering. Players would lay their physical cards down on the game surface, and the Playstation 3 would render the monsters represented by each card, which would then do battle on screen. It was a cool trick, but there are many other ways that game developers can exploit augmented reality.
Portable game systems are expected to play a significant role in augmented reality gaming over the next few years. Sony's PSP can accept a camera and other peripherals to give it augmented reality capabilities. The recent title Invizimals is a fantastic example of how the virtual and real can be combined to create new opportunities for gameplay.
In Invizimals, players roam their surroundings with their PSP camera on, scanning the environment for the eponymous creatures. The game will periodically render in a new creature, which players can capture, raise and train to do battle against other stronger beasts in the real/game world. The game has already sold a respectable half million copies in Europe, and it is expected to be a big holiday seller when it launches in North America this fall.
Other manufacturers have taken note of Sony's massive success with Invizimals. Nintendo's upcoming 3DS handheld will come equipped with two forward facing cameras, allowing the device to take 3D stereoscopic images of the surrounding scene. It also has a camera facing the player, allowing their likeness to be automatically downloaded and used in games.
What is next for augmented reality gaming? Both Sony and Microsoft have made it a big part of their launch lineup for motion controllers due later this year. Gamers on Microsoft's Kinect system will be able to compete based on their real-world dancing, jumping and swordplay skills. Sony's Move controller will be complemented by a series of augmented reality minigames called Move Party. The technology is also expected to spread beyond the innovative world of video games into other applications including advertising, retail, medicine and education. Watch maker Tissot recently experimented with augmented reality to allow visitors to try on new watches without having to enter the physical shop.
Move Party for the PS3 puts players at the center of the action, literally.
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