With all the hype surrounding the recent announcement of Pokémon GO, it is safe to say interest in augmented reality gaming and games that use AR functionality is on a bit of a spike and possibly about to become a lot more widespread.
In a nutshell, augmented reality means projecting a computer generated image onto a real time, real world picture on a device that reacts to the user’s’ interaction with both the device and the images themselves – for example the map system on iPhones uses augmented reality to display directions, with the arrows moving and changing as the user turns, walks etc. Another example is the heads-up display that fighter pilots use to locate other aircraft, show information or give equipment readouts.
Augmented reality in gaming has been around for some time now. Earlier attempts with the technology has seen the ever imaginatively named AR Games a preloaded application on the Nintendo 3DS with multiple minigames, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Ƒ and even Dead Space with its (now defunct) AR website No Known Survivors as some examples of how the technology has been used. Sony has also been a great adopter, not just through their Playroom app on PS4 but going back to the EyeToy on PS2 and plenty of the Move games on PS3.
It can sound like a gimmick with a few practical uses in education, navigation or the military, but when it comes to games this potential is there. The technology has simply been rather limited from a gameplay perspective – it’s been around since the 1950’s, yet there has been no call for implementation in in-depth games or any big surge of approval for a series that would do so. What does a game like Pokémon GO have to gain from the use of Augmented Reality?
As it turns out, it could gain quite a lot. Pokémon is a game about exploring the world with the aim to complete your Pokédex (and to overthrow the team of villains in the region, beat gyms, and spend thousands of hours painstakingly tweaking EVs). You can trade with friends when you meet them and Pokémon are found in a variety of locations – now with regional differences and more. As such on a mobile device such as a phone with an inbuilt GPS, there’s potential for real exploration. You can keep contacts with whom information is exchanged. Gyroscopes and other sensors can tell light level, orientation, and number of steps taken. Perfect information for an augmented reality to use to improve interaction and immersion, which is the story of Pokémon; explore, capture, trade, work together. All these can all be accomplished with the phone and with the image of Pokémon being shown in the real world, either chilling out or battling. Add in Bluetooth or Wi-Fi trading and it’s the perfect way to get close to real life Pokémon without giving 10 year olds world-endingly powerful Pokémon for real.
Augmented reality isn’t needed to make a good game or a good Pokémon game. Pokémon isn’t needed to make AR a viable piece of technology. But combined, both can benefit from and both can help drive each other mechanically. I am looking forward to see just how deeply the AR is used and how responsive the virtual (hopefully shiny) Pokémon I’m trying to capture are, otherwise you might end up with a glitched out Pokémon on screen, no one wants to end up with MissingNo corrupting their save. Although it would save on the likely microtransactions in purchasing Master Balls and Full Revives – but that’s another story altogether.