Gaming in the Era of Augmented RealityAug 20, 2023 | 1 Votes
Augmented Reality or AR can be described as the integration of additional information like text, graphics, and sound into a real-world environment. A simple explanation can be adding information by overlaying it on top of what you naturally see. In today’s age, any computer-literate person would probably already have an idea of what AR is. However, before we go into the main discussion about AR and gaming today, let's take a brief look into the evolution of adding information to what is seen in the real world.
The earliest known use of overlaid information would be the scope crosshairs. A simple intersecting horizontal and vertical line with the intersection showing the center of the user's focus. By the 19th century, engineers began to imprint gradient scales on the scope lens so it can be used to measure distances and positions of target objects. This method was extensively used in range-finding equipment like sextants, survey transits, and magnification scopes. This was called “Stadiametric Rangefinding” where distances could be measured by reading the intervals on a graduated scale printed on the scope lens itself. This is what you see in WW2 movies when the Submarine or Tank commander peers into his targeting scope to know how far the enemy is and when to fire. This is already AR in low-tech form.
In the 1960s French test-pilot, Gilbert Klopfstein grew tired of looking back and forth between his cockpit instruments and his target sight to rangefind a target or another aircraft. This led him to invent the first modern-day Head's Up Display (HUD). For those who loved Top Gun Maverick, you know what a HUD is. This technology was first applied by the British military at the time to their Blackburn Buccaneer low-altitude attack fighter. The HUD was the precursor of today's Augmented Reality. It used both graphics and text overlaid on a transparent display to provide the pilot with relevant on-the-spot information, particularly in a middle of a fight. "Maverick has a lock, launching Sidewinders... and the fight goes on". Eventually, the process of displaying additional pertinent information migrated to both commercial and civilian use like cars, cameras, medical equipment, electronic telescopes, binoculars, and many more. Basic Augmented Reality had become a way of life.
When the use of cameras on cell phones became popular, augmented information was of course included. Game developers found out that they could use the camera and tracking devices on the phone (or tablet) to play games. It was just a matter of utilizing the augmented displays to create a game environment overlaid on what the camera was currently focused on. The first AR games started appearing around 2000 but they were so bulky as they required the player to carry a computer and gyroscopes. Eventually, by 2005, AR gaming had migrated to smartphones, as they were mobile, had enough computing power and, were also convenient to use. From this point, AR gaming started to grow as both cell phone and tablet technology advanced. Likewise, dedicated AR glasses and headsets became available at a much later date.
Today, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and a mixture of both have their own active niches in the gaming world. Unlike VR which required the use of a Head Mounted Display (HMD) strapped to one's head like goggles, AR has the option of being used with handheld devices like phones and tablets. Also, AR gaming is real-world-based. VR isolates you and takes you into another reality via sight and sound. You are blinded to the real world around you in order to accomplish this and therefore you must be confined to a specific location or VR game space for your own safety. AR on the other hand usually requires you to be up and about as you can see your surrounding and the superimposed game as well. The game uses your device’s camera(s) and tracking/gyroscopic sensors to position the objects in the game with reference to your device's current location (meaning you). You then interact with the game elements using your device or in the case of a mixed AR/VR headset, using your hand controllers to do so.
Just like any other gaming platform, the various game genres can be applied to AR gaming as well. Whether it be a tabletop tactical and strategy game, a puzzle, a mystery game, or an arcade game, one can play AR while staying put in one place. On the other hand, world action games have become quite popular in AR as well. These are games that require you to leave the comfort of your homes and wander the streets, roads, and pathways of both urban and rural environments in order to play, win, or complete within a game. Of the former example, AR Minecraft is probably the most popular as introduced by the MicroSoft HoloLens in 2016. Although Minecraft as a game was already available at the time, the AR version was quite impressive using an empty tabletop and the room you're in as the environment or area/biome of the game. With the HoloLens, one can use a game controller or directly with your hand when the game is projected in 3D onto your immediate surroundings. Unfortunately, the price of HoloLens is so expensive that most people opt to play AR Minecraft on either their phones or tablets. The same principle though, projected onto one's real environment.
AR Minecraft is a tabletop game. There are AR games that will give you the thrill of the outdoors whether you play them with an AR headset, glasses, or mobile device. Ingress is one such game where you have to compete with other players in capturing energy portals in the game that have equivalent real-world locations. Depending on the game server and its included locations, the portals can be found from the middle of a city to a quiet town in the suburbs. It will just be up to the player to physically visit the assigned places in order to capture the portals and win the game. Also, Ingress is a team-based game so whether one uses a mobile device or dedicated AR lenses, one can have lots of fun with one's friends and/or meet new ones.
There are many other available immersive AR games although currently, non can still compare to Pokemon Go. The game is so huge that affluent players would even travel the world to remote foreign locations just to catch that rare and special Pokemon. As for the rest of us, we just hope for the best that there are enough Pokemon available in our area that can be trained and well-suited for our gaming purposes. Regardless, the Pokemon are so cute running around in the real world when viewed through an AR screen withstanding the fact that if you turn the game off, they'll no longer be there. Then after catching your electronic dream pet, you can go against other players as your Pokemon gains experience on the Go, and gets stronger per battles won. You then finally get to live the life of Ash or Misty made available to you through the wonder of AR gaming.
As current technology advances, so does the applications and games in AR. With the recent release of advanced AR/VR headsets like the AppleVision Pro, AR is destined to reach new heights. The ability of Apple’s new AR/VR goggles to quickly switch back and forth between the two realities may no doubt lead to games that utilize both platforms in the course of a single gameplay. For now, we have the best that AR technology has to offer whether we use a headset or just a regular mobile device. Also, if one wants to stay put in one's reality while immersively playing a game, Augmented Reality gaming will no doubt be an awesome option.