In front of a packed room, Blair skips the typical introduction to augmented reality (he knows his audience) and dives right into demonstrating how fun AR is. What better video to explain it in a game conference than showing Roku’s Reward.
Blair explains the essence of AR play: tight integration between the real and the virtual. He then shows examples of existing handheld AR games: The invisible Train, a Gizmondo game, and of course his own baby: ARf running on an iPhone.
He’s excited about the next generation of handhelds (e.g. from Nvidia Tegra, TI OMAP) which are going to make the experience more pervasive and popular.
But why do AR at all?
How can you go beyond just an eye candy?
You have to use the new game mechanics that are made available. And as always create compelling stories and game play.
Now a little bit of technology for the geeky audience:
how do you do tracking?
He quickly goes through various types of techniques: markers, natural feature tracking, and 3D tracking. Daniel Wagner from Graz is mentioned multiple times.
Handling camera and lighting is mentioned as key for a good experience.
And of course graphics. In order to create a more believable and tangible look don’t forget shadows, occlusions, physics, and how about a rotoscoping-like look?
Now for some more examples of games developed by his students:
There’s a whole category of table top games which emphasize interaction between players. It’s fun to see when players get into the game, they point into thin air, refering to the virtual objects.
Blair describes the game Bragfish: using a Gizmondo, multiple players around a game board navigate virtual boats to capture fish in a pond. Interesting social interactions emerge such as pushing and obstructing each other…
Art of defense: a co-op game for 2 players running on Nokia 95.
ARf: a virtual pet toy on the iPhone. where you can interact with a pet that walks on your table. Scratch the table and the cute virtual dog will sniff it.
Joe Warpin: flying in a helicopter and shooting terrorists in a building. Only the building is really a chair covered with markers…
AR Zombies (just finished this Saturday): running on Nvidia Tegra – this time – shooting Zombies. Graphics are nice. Lighting changes to reflect the themes.
Outdoor AR and large area AR will become reality in the near future and will be really cool.
And with that optimistic note, he’s opening the floor for questions.
Question: How can you go and play in a ad hoc site and play with no pre-prep?
Blair: in the future games will be able to recognize with no prep. Example is SLam which maps the environment while playing and then allows to play there.
Question: Are you using other sensors such as infra red?
Blair: I don’t do that stuff – but others do…there are some expensive sensors systems that work well and open up very interesting stuff.
Q: you could solve the problem of outdoor modeling with a captive audience (I am an ARG guy…)
Blair: absolutely. See what Microsoft is doing with Photosynth. Military has done that in submarines to track people in case of emergency.
Q: You mentioned that AR could be exciting and terrified…what did you mean?
Blair: When you can see an alternative reality it could be really fun (and scary)…that’s what I meant.
Q: Could we use the same indoor markers for outdoors purposes?
Blair: too much work…too many markers are required. They’re ugly. But you could overcome thee challenges with clever design.
The time is up but a long line is stretching in front of the podium – people want to hear more.
After the talk, I had a couple of hall conversation; folks were totally intrigued with the new opportunities.
I have seen the future of games and I wasn’t alone.
Such a shame this is the only AR session at GDC. I am back to my pursuit of more AR vignettes.
Did I just see Ron Azuma (one of the fathers of AR) in the room?