Do you ever have that feeling that you’re sleeping during your waking life, or that you’re awake, walking through a dream, painting and manipulating the world around you as if it were a canvas? If this happens often you may want to see a doctor. If it’s when you’re on a smartphone, you’re probably one of the countless users who have chosen to experience everything that augmented reality (AR) apps and games have to offer.
Augmented reality blends digital graphics with the real world, using the physical realm as a canvass to overlay images on, bringing the offline and online world together.
AR is not immersive like VR (virtual reality). It doesn’t block out the outside world and seclude you in a total sensory experience. AR combines the outside world and the digital world – you’re always using your own senses to take in what’s happening in the real world, with the features and graphics of the AR program superimposed onto the world around you.
Is AR the next big thing? It’s hard to say, but according to a Forbes article from November, 2016, by 2021 augmented reality technology will be a $5.7 billion industry, and if you ask Apple chief executive Tim Cook, AR is "a big idea like the smartphone.”
Cook may be getting ahead of himself, but AR is definitely here to stay, and there is potentially no end to the ways in which companies and individuals could benefit from using AR. Business owners can integrate it with their products in order to improve customer service and create guerilla marketing campaigns. For instance, car companies could offer customers the option to hold their device up to their car while they highlight where to do what to make simple repairs. If you’re trying to find a store in a sprawling suburban mall, an AR app could light up the path, a la the “Billy Jean” video (if you’re old enough to remember that), while also having ads or info about the stores you’re passing pop up on your screen in real time.
In the here and now though, one of the main ways that AR is making an impact is in the world of gaming. It presents a new, interactive way for gamers to incorporate the real world into their gameplay, and the possibilities are endless.
The Game Changer: Pokemon Go
Unless you were stuck somewhere outside of Earth’s orbit for the latter half of 2016, you’ve probably heard quite a bit about Pokemon Go, a free, location-based AR game available both on Android and iOS devices. The game uses the player’s mobile device and GPS to send them chasing through the real world after little virtual creatures called Pokemon. These imaginary creatures appear on the device screen superimposed over the real world, as part of one of the most addictive and interactive gaming experiences to come down the pike in a long time. Critics might not have loved it, but that didn’t stop Niantic from racking up over 500 million downloads of the app.
The release of Pokemon Go was a watershed event for the field of AR, bringing it to a massive and mainstream audience, and showing the potential for the technology’s melding of the virtual and the physical. Even more shocking, it got untold numbers of teenagers to actually go outside willingly, in a sort of collective “exergaming” movement the likes of which had never been seen. Sure, their eyes were still glued to their smartphones, but it’s a good start.
Exergaming is a term used to describe games that give you a nice workout – and also an excuse to spend hours hunched over your smartphone screen (you can shout “I’m doing cardio!” if anyone asks). These games break the sedentary mold and get you outside, while the technology tracks your movements and location as a central aspect of the gameplay.
Ingress is a leading mobile game in which two opposing factions compete against each other capturing “portals” that are scattered over a public area. By seizing these portals or destroying or damaging ones belonging to the opposing side, they’re able to control territory and score points or “access points.” In a sense it’s similar to “capture the flag,” just played on mobile devices – and you don’t have to go to summer camp to play.
The backstory involves a mysterious “exotic matter” scattered across the Earth, and players split into two opposing sides – “the Enlightened” and “the Resistance,” represented by the colors green and blue, respectively. The location of the portals and the territory held by the opposing sides are demarcated on a map corresponding to the real world locale in which the players are located. The potential hasn’t been lost on advertisers, who have paid to have their storefronts used as portals in the game, attracting potential customers.
If you’re looking to bring the spirit world out of your phone and into your living room, you should give “SpecTrek” a shot.
This exergaming experience puts you in the role of a Ghostbuster, just with a smartphone in hand instead of a proton pack. The game is available on Android only, and bears the tagline “protect the world, stay in shape”.
In the game, you navigate across a haunted Google map that corresponds to your location, searching for ghosts. When you find one, you wield your phone like a weapon, and capture the sucker.
The length of the workout is up you - you can go on short ghost hunting treks that last 15 minutes, medium ones for 30 minutes, or longer ones for 60 minutes or so.
Zombies, run is another AR game that will make you break a sweat. Released in 2012, it was the highest-grossing Health and Fitness App on Apple’s App store after its release, and it’s been going strong ever since.
Players literally run through the game, listening to an audio narration as they jog through missions to save the town of Abel Township from a zombie takeover. While they battle the undead, the app records the distance, time, pace, and calories burned by the user on each mission, and users can adjust the speed and resistance as a form of interval training.
Many AR games have used the technology to build a real-world meets digital scavenger hunt experience. In Temple Treasure Hunt, you can play either the treasure protector or hunter, safeguarding or stealing the secret treasure of the gods locked inside the hidden Temple of Shiva. There are 11 treasure guardians called “The Rakshaks,” who must be found one by one during the game. Finding the Rakshaks leads you to the temple.
The game is highly customizable. Users can create both outdoor and indoor interactive maps, and the game can be played with a customizable numbers of players or by a single would-be Indiana Jones holding up his smartphone and looking for ancient treasure stashed at the food court of the nearest mall. The game is full of options, but the graphics do leave a bit to be desired.
In Geocaching, players set out into the real world to search for containers called “geocaches” or caches, which are hidden in locations across the world. Typically the boxes don’t contain much, just a book and a writing utensil for the finder to sign off. Finders will often take a picture of themselves at the spot or email the cache hider with information they found inside the box, to confirm they found it.
There have been mixed results. After all, finding the boxes requires wandering around looking for hidden items in public, which can easily draw the suspicion of police, or say, well-armed locals who have never heard of Geocaching and only know that there is a stranger poking around on their private property. In addition, in many countries on earth if someone finds an unattended, mysterious box, they call the bomb squad pretty damn quick.
Players bury the waterproof containers and record their coordinates which are posted on a listing site. The hiding spots vary in difficulty, and some require taking to the air or water, even to the extent of needing scuba gear or a hang-glider.
Parallel Kingdom was a great example of the potential AR has for role-playing games. Users were transported through the proverbial wardrobe into a parallel world on top of the real world, where they fought monsters, explored dungeons, battled over territory, built kingdoms, collected precious resources, and (inevitably) went to war. Parallel Kingdom was a hit after its release in 2008, eventually surpassing 1,000,000 users in 2011, before finally closing its doors in 2016 due to what the developers said was “aging tech” that just wasn’t up to the job anymore.
Your phone has been hijacked by aliens. They have also invaded Earth. Regardless of which scares you more, in the game Clandestine Anomaly the user has been enlisted to fight an alien invasion of Earth, largely through building and maintaining armed structures called “pulsars” from where they fight the interstellar hordes.
The title of this game is a real mouthful, and it matches the ambition of the game. It takes your GPS and builds a playable map of where you are, with alien enemies scattered about and on the move. You have limited resources and you have to move around (in the real world) in order to get more resources to build pulsars and to battle the space invaders.
A nice feature of the game is that you can switch back and forth between playing “on the map” and fighting the aliens as they are superimposed over wherever you are. Taking the battle into the real world is fun when you want to turn it into a first person shooter game, and the option to switch back to the map is great if you’re say, in the waiting room at the dentist’s office and you’d rather the other people don’t see you holding up your phone battling imaginary aliens that only you can see.
Shoot ‘em up
You can probably guess what Zombies Everywhere! is about. The product of a company called Useless Creations, Zombies Everywhere! lets you massacre the brain eaters in your daily life. You hold up your Apple mobile device (it isn’t available on Android) and the undead appear integrated into your surroundings, stumbling forward to devour you.
There are 2 settings – a survival mode where your life is on the virtual line, and a safe mode, where the indifferent zombies don’t attack, but you get to blast them anyway.
Ultimately, the game is a simple shoot ‘em up. There is no wider storyline or missions, just spray and slay. You do get to have a flamethrower though.
Let er rip
Have you ever wanted to do donuts on the football field at your old high school, burning rubber and peeling out as your heart rate accelerates? How about driving a car right through your living room, leaving skid marks all across the kitchen floor?
Toyota86 AR can replicate these feelings, with an exciting AR that puts you in the driver seat of a car that uses any landscape around you.
It’s a free App and works on Apple and Android devices, and has simple, intuitive gameplay.
The App uses the scenery around you, allowing you to race the miniature car across whatever surface you’re pointing your device’s camera at.
Calling itself “the world’s largest augmented reality game”, Toyota86 lets you take the sensation of a racing game and play it on top of the real world, and you never have to worry about getting pulled over.
The Bottom Line:
When trying to decide which AR game to try, it all comes down to what you’re looking for. Zombies Everywhere! is a pretty safe bet for simple, interactive fun, but there isn’t much story or strategy there. A game like Clandestine Anomaly is of ambitious scope, with a richly-carved out storyline and an attention to detail that is pretty stunning. Thing is, you might not always be looking for something that deep.
Pokemon Go is a great option if you want to see what all the fuss is about, and to get a grasp of the interactive potential of AR.
Zombies, run is definitely the best exergame option, with a seemingly endless array of customizable workouts to create, with the fun of fighting zombies providing a little extra motivation to keep pushing.
For the adventurous, GeoCache is the most engaging, with a sort of real-world mystery and excitement to what appears to be a contemporary reboot of letterboxing and other forms of scavenger hunts, which have been around since long before AR stood for augmented reality.
The bottom line, there are more than enough AR options out there for you to find a game that you want to play – and keep playing. This will only increase in the coming years; you can say you heard it here first.