Blame it on the Zeitgeist. I am spending most of my time at the moment developing and conceiving AR Services and Games for clients and my own company MUVEDesign. Also in my lecturing/consultancy roles across transmedia and multi platform in Sydney such as at the Australian Film TV and Radio school earlier in the year and at the moment at MetroScreen, I would say that more than half the projects, being collaboratively created as part of curriculum, have a strong, story based Augmented Reality component. I posted last year on these emerging AR entertainment services but there are still not that many ‘story rich’ examples created for market. So is there a future for these new forms? A hybrid combination of story, social location gaming all delivered on the latest camera based smart phones? Read on for some case studies and a couple of my own examples.

AdTech Tokyo Main RoomFirstly I am presenting on an Augmented Reality panel later this week in Tokyo, part of Ad:Tech and now most folk are ‘caught up’ on simple AR business models and current delivery (see my post from over a year ago) I will be speaking more about a near term future – especially in the area of branded location based augmented reality games and services, adveraugrealitygaming anyone 🙂 I also thought it would be a good opportunity to show one of three developments in this space I am doing called ‘Time Treasure” – a rudimentary, story rich LBARG (location based AR game?!) that I am currently story designing & coding for Android tablets. Short 2 minute taster video embedded below…

Story in Augmented Game Worlds

Without giving the plot away, the structure of this game is quite straightforward. There are ten layers of time from 2050 back to 5000BC that you slowly penetrate following stories, clues and trails all based at POIs (points of interest, precise locations) around your city. The traditional MMOG talking-head quest and story givers are a unique part of this as well as a range of capture & loot quests that require you in some cases to do a little ‘real world’ grinding… ok not too much 🙂 For me the challenge as always is about creating strong ‘call to actions’ and constructing a narrative backbone to make it worth your while walking and in some cases running around town! I will do a post when this reaches a full working pilot.

Speaking of early trailers it is a shame that Ghostwire, which has been around the blogosphere for over a year and that I have written about a few times, is now shelved while they find another publisher. I think this may be a platform issue being created only for DSi (tablet, iPhone 4 anyone), but the horror or crime genre this is set in is obviously rife for the taking, in this locative form…hence perhaps why we are starting to see the release of simple AR locative story services appear more regularly in this genre, such as zGhost 2 for the iPhone, iTouch and even iPad…ready for Halloween but I think they missed a ‘branded entertainment’ trick, in that it wasn’t tied into the release of Paranormal 2 film?

Expect lots and lots of horror, crime and murder mystery social and murder mystery based locative AR games popping up in the next few years and months given the ease in which those genre can be adapted to ‘location’ points around any urban area and hunt for clue or task based play – the fact that there have been over five hundred games made in this genre on the main consoles and PC suggests it is a no brainer – but those games lacked the killer element, outdoor team work and we can expect many like this Ghost Blasters FPS title which has limited social play, beyond the leader board that is something at least.

Crime is a key genre for Augmented Reality Game formats and the scavenger hunt’ness was certainly used earlier this year in Operation SC Revelation (a transmedia extension and campaign in support of the launch of Ubsoft’s Splinter Cell). In the game you are an agent completing missions across the city but using the Layar browser meant it was far from a fluid game but certainly garnered interest in this new form. From the YouTube info

We set up an extra level in augmented reality, for die-hard fans and to generate free publicity, as a prequel to the new release for the xBox/PC-game Splinter Cell Conviction .This brand experience was a real-life fox-hunt played by walking through Amsterdam whilst looking through a smartphone that used the Layar-AR-browser. Layar showed what was around the players by displaying augmented reality seen through the camera of their smartphone. The press wrote en mass about Operation-SC-Revelation. A media value of over 300.000 Euros was generated within a couple of days.

Many new services as well are rich on story (containing as they do lots of video clips, pages from books, text etc) but it is a moot point whether you can call them truly ‘integrated’ augmented reality storytelling vs just being a web experience ‘out in the local tourist centres’. A good example in this mould was one I tweeted and blogged about back in April, the award winning ‘Murder on Beacon Hill‘ from UnTravelMedia – which won the award really for the short episodic film/s attached. Regarding ‘street games’ there is a good article from a couple of weeks ago featuring Thomas Alt (who runs Metaio in Germany) called Urban Games, Storytelling with Augmented Reality that covers some high level, mostly tech, issues in this space. I quote from that article:

We have actually got a creative team from an Art School working on that, and just, you know, with very little programming skills coming up with things you can do with Augmented Reality on a day-to-day level. And it could be a scavenger hunt game, in the city, with monsters flying around, it could be the normal POI routine, it could be marketing purposes, and so on and so forth. And I think that’s really the roadmap, and this is a little bit similar on a more technical level, to what Qualcomm is doing, ’cause they’re floating out possibilities or capabilities I want to call them, and Metaio is doing that, but on a higher level [re the tools] meaning on a Junaio level.

As you may recall from my much cited post on Augmented Reality Business Models I certainly think ‘Intertainment’ as I called it (immersive AR ‘play’ services) in the centre of my commercial/adoption chart, are on the roadmap and companies like Metaio, Layar and Qualcomm will in time provide a ‘flash’ like browser so those wanting to move beyond basic informational or classified apps and into these richer story and game formats – but we are still a ways from a robust platform, so most development has to be done at the OS level of the smartphone for the forceable future. This also means less of a middle man type affair – in other words having to boot the browser ‘then’ the game is likely to be a barrier. Of course things are changing fast here which leads onto this Layar based example – Great to see another example squarely in the horror space from Manchester UK Digital agency Gencia who created a cute iPhone and Android based game called Monster Hunt (which has a web based version here too). They took the trouble in the trailer to show it actually running on the iPhone, and some social network api links too – but not much of the game, which is basically simple static images linked to a traditional Layer – but some basic game principles are definitely coming through this app.

It is obvious that the social stickiness we are seeing with Foursquare and Gowalla like services will be incorporated into quest or shooter type games – so there is quite a lot of R&D looking at the multi-player aspects of AR gaming such as this Layar (another) first person shooter R&D demo from last month, called Google Zeitgeist

OK not a staggeringly good game but once the technical ability is there to easily track and map multiple players across a city environment the real social and story rich possibilities can open up. A likely area that will take off very quickly once users actually get used to this new type of interaction will be ‘replacement or orientation’ AR. This is where the space around you, viewed through your smart phone or tablet, is completely overlaid by another storyworld and the accelerometer gives you that 360 degrees of fun. The environment very easy to create, the accuracy of the 3D graphics and first person shooting devices are another thing entirely 🙂 Sky Siege below from New Zealand based Simbiotics actually has a range of modes including complete overlay and is available for 3G iPhone and Android – now only if there was a nice, love story integrated into this 🙂

Naturally the big story film and TV brands will be jumping on AR Locative bandwagon in a big way and already we can battle in true Star Wars FPS mode with this title from Vertigore Games called Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner – surround these FPS titles with a sprinkling of transmedia story and voila, combined with good skill based play there is something compelling in shooting down spaceships over a live New York backdrop!

Early Days – Technology Still Plays a Big Part

Of course everything doesn’t need to happen ‘inside’ the screen, as real time virtual layers – we can consider some games based on real world objects being remotely controlled by our smart mobile devices, such as this viral AR Drone game from earlier this year…

It is clear that hybrid combinations of remotely controlling real world elements alongside virtual overlaid characters and story components could really work down the track too. This infamous live demo from an R&D conference way back in 2008 takes us neatly into a world of Terminator like group games (kind of Halo in the real world) at one of the spectrum but also training and social simulation at the other…

A big part of the adoption of these richer AR experiences and also the time spent playing them and general engagement is the interface. Looking through iPhones tiny windows doesn’t do it for me, carrying tablets with cameras, even smallish ones like the new 7″ Android ones is OK, has a ‘portal’ story appeal but in the end is only I believe a transition to a simpler solution. The previous video showed the guy wearing non-practical, traditional 80s-90s wearable computing, now imagine a world where we are all wearing AR glasses! (20 years away?) – I still talk about myself sitting on trains commuting in London for 3 years or so in early 2000s wearing my JVC video glasses, watching part movie (from a Video disc portable player), part other commuters (the opacity was controllable) long before it was even planned to be fashionable! Now we have interesting ‘fictional’ kit such as the StarkHUD 2020 from Fujikawa (HUD = Heads up Display of course!) – OK based on Iron Man & Terminator – but interesting how the interface itself is inextricably linked to the story world…BTW this is not as way off as it seems…see the next video…

Still 10 years away? The glasses in the video below, DoCoMo’s AR Walker, are more likely to become our interfaces to those locative storyworlds over the next few years not decades. This is a real world prototype – 1- 3 years away? Sadly the cost is still prohibitive for these wrap around glasses, Vuzix finally launched their Wrap 920AR glasses but at a ridiculous $2000 US – there again I can buy a Plasma 42″ TV that was $2500 2 years ago for around $500 now!

Another interesting development is where, in the context of the earlier examples above, CG game like story characters overlaid into your real world space, are actually being controlled remotely. It would be possible for more collaborative storytelling to take shape for example if people could easily create CG like ‘residual’ characters using a much more simplified motion capture system than this – but this video of the RT2CharaAR Project posted a few days ago from the Digital Content Expo gives an idea of the potential where the virtual AR elements can be fully motion captured by either real time actors passing networked MoCap Data or using a simple XBox Kinect-like two camera system at selected locations, normal users who are playing inside these AR storyworlds, can leave their mark, virtually.

and of course the fifth of my five definitions of Augmented Reality include virtual elements appearing ‘naturally’ in real space, Holograms will be appearing more and more in controlled situations. Again Japan leading here with virtual anime rock chick “Hatsune Miku” performing 34 songs to a sold out concert recently. (Incidentally the voice is artificially generated too – I have been using Vocaloid software for a few years now on a variety of tracks and with a fair wind it can fool the best of us!)

I am still adding key examples, many in my YouTube playlist and oodles of my Tweets over the past months, I will stop in a couple of days but keen to add some sekret Japanese games a few people have promised to show me!

If you have any good recent examples please comment and share too!


Back from Tokyo and forgot to add this into the mix from earlier in October which is a nice example of what I like to call a PLARG (Proximity Location Based Augmented Reality Game), well that rolls off the tongue. But this is a social game that is not about overlay but a focus on being in the right place at the right time. A virtual, single token (in this case a car) can be captured if you get within 50 meters of the person (also playing the game) currently carrying it – if you can keep the token for a week, or be the last person to own it, you win a real car. A nice combination of social Augmented Reality Game, played over a long period of time and in the story world of this case, the product – running around the streets to win a car, so you don’t have to run around the streets 🙂 There are many variations on this model of course that involve you tracking down other individuals, passing product to each other, team work and so on…enjoy. BTW you can track the players live at the MiniGetaway site

Finally, really finally another thing that will in the near term drive the uptake of Augmented Reality Story Games will be capable and standardised technology. So it is no surprise to see this week Apple file a patent that tries to own the PLARG camp. “Interactive Gaming with Co-Located, Networked Direction and Location Aware Devices” is the Apple patent that basically says the iPhone will know where and how it is orientated, this info is shared with other players over WiFi, bluetooth and Cellular connection, creating a shared AR space…and that’s it. Well good luck Apple in getting that ‘precise’ patent approved – but as Industry Gamers points out

The application uses a virtual hunting game as an example. Gamers could aim and fire at another player, and using the sensor data, the game could determine if the target was hit. The implementation described by Apple within the application would require a calibration period, with gamers placing their iPhones together on a flat surface. “The game devices can include attachments,” reads the application, explaining the ability to add peripherals to enhance the experience. “For example, a ‘gun’ can be attached to a game device and used by a player to target other players in the real world game environment. In this case, the orientation of the ‘gun’ relative to the game device can be determined.”

Much IP and legal fun ahead but I seriously hope we don’t end up in IPTV or EPG like wars over who owns the tech while the creatives twiddle their thumbs on the sidelines…very very unlikely, this already has too much momentum.