Remember Virtual Reality, all hyped to hell, back yonder in the pre-millenium bug era? Promising all sorts of entertainment, communications and medical uses, it evaporated – mostly remembered now for adding ‘teledildonics’ to the english language. Googling ‘Augmented Reality’ will reveal where some of that energy has been reinvested – a global movement of tech-heads currently pushing the idea of graphics overlaid on top of your field of vision. A-Rage is an Adelaide company developing both software and hardware for AR, and creative director Joe Velikovsky is quite excited about it’s potential for making computer games which can be played outdoors. ( www.a-rage.com )
> What thrills about A-Rage and it’s possibilities?
Just how `sci-fi’ it is, I guess… except it’s happening right now. As a kid, I’d often get frustrated with games and their graphics, but with next-gen consoles – and AR, where you can overlay images and animations on the real world, it can often actually be better than your imagination. Sort of like, a hyper-real hallucination. That’s exciting to me! Just that level of immersion with the images and with directional sound is great. I consider that I’m very very lucky to be involved in this stuff. People talk about VR having come and gone in the 90’s – and that’s true – but this AR stuff really is a new experience.
> Unique narrative opportunities that Augmented Reality games and devices offer?
Just being able to walk around outdoors and play a game is unique. Our demo game Sky Invaders can be played anywhere (indoors or out) and with AR equipment you can do installations as well. With AR you can stream movies onto textures and stuff – so you can play movies anywhere – and also can have quests where you move about locations and place objects so the narrative is located in the real world.
In terms of location-based AR narratives, you can explore the history or a place – or even turn it into a giant virtual theme park. I find the location-based stuff really interesting. I’d like to see re-enactments of great battles in history – like they’ve done with the Normandy beach landing, even the Age of Empires series has a great deal of historical battle re-enactments… But just imagine seeing that stuff overlaid onto the real location!
> What sort of unexpected screen design issues have come up ?
People are disoriented by seeing a fake skybox over the real sky, when they play games outdoors. So if you’re porting a game, you have to take out the skybox, so that you can actually see the real sky at all times (which also means you never get motion sickness like with VR). Also – shadows in-game are disorienting, because they (usually) don’t match up with the real-world shadows! Another thing – is that the colour black is transparent in AR. So if you see any screenshots of AR games – and there is a lot of black, and no `real world’ in the image – you have to remember it’s transparent when played.
> What do you think film-makers and game-makers could learn from each other?
Some game makers need to learn that good satisfying gameplay often isn’t just about killing enemies/monsters/NPCs, its also about characters fulfilling quests – and the quests need a strong narrative, like you find in a lot of successful films. Filmmakers need to learn how to structure their stories around locations and scenarios that would make a compelling game – so that game makers can spin out a good game. Filmmakers maybe need to find new story templates and myths – as the Campbell/Vogler Hero’s Journey is getting a little worn out, even in games. And both filmmakers and gamemakers need to look at more indy films – as that is where the real edgy, artistic and creative `gold’ is coming from. Recently, I liked Van Sant’s `Gerry’ – and a French film called `Reconstruction’. Both could make interesting games, if done right.
> What were/are some of the biggest technical and conceptual challenges building A-Rage?
Hardware-wise, making a functional system cheap enough to be consumer grade, with off-the-shelf components. Conceptually, the challenge was picking the right game as our first demo. We did an AR adaptation of Space Invaders – as FPS games are fun, and so easy to pick-up-and-play. The biggest conceptual leap during actual playing, is using your head as a pointing device. It takes about 30 seconds to get used to it. ie The virtual gun turret is `slaved’ to your head so, where you look, it aims. People are more used to aiming with a joystick or mouse! But it’s very intuitive – and once you get into it, people seem to really dig it.
> If I understand the concept right – you will be able to plug existing consoles into the A-Rage hardware – and play any game on them as an ‘overlay – but games developed specifically for it – will overlay much better?
Yes that’s right. We will decide which platform to develop for first, then move to others. A game developed specifically for AR will always look and play better – as it will use the technology to its full potential, and be designed around the existing parameters of the hardware. But I for one am really excited about porting something like The Sims to A-Rage. You could come home to the Virtual Girlfriend!! (Or Boyfriend.) Now there’s a killer app… But there is currently a big demand for us to port stuff like Counterstrike, and Age of Empires. It’s early days yet – keep an eye on www.a-rage.com for news.
> What plans do u have for online and interconnected mobile gameplay?
Yeah – we want to do wireless multiplayer ASAP. We’re working on it! Till then, put on an A-rage headset – and take the blue pill, Neo! 🙂