Augmented Reality and Gaming—How does it Work?

Games 08/05/2016

Virtual reality entered the market this year through devices such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and the technology is already well understood by gamers, using a headset to immerse users into a new, virtual world. However, the concept of augmented reality, despite a number of applications and games using the technology, is less clear for many.

Augmented reality, as the name suggests, extends the perceived reality of the user through a particular device. The most recent and, arguably most successful, example of an AR game is Pokémon Go—a game that puts smartphones in gamers hands worldwide to catch Pokémon in the real world. The map on which you navigate corresponds to the real world, and the Pokémon caught are projected onto this map that combines the real world and the game on your screen. Pokémon Go shows what is at stake in the world of AR gaming and the extent of what is possible.

Augmented Reality—Beyond Gaming

Beyond gaming, the concept of augmented reality has already been used for numerous applications, particularly in the smartphone market. For example, many applications display information relating to the surrounding area, allowing people who want to explore a new city to look at the screen of a smartphone and get real-time tips and information. This happens when the camera is pointed at a specific building and, where information is available, it is displayed on the screen. The reality is extended through input from the GPS, compass, motion sensors and the camera in order to situate the user and determine the direction of perspective in order to show relevant information. However, smartphones and tablets are not technically optimal solutions since the user is always looking at the screen and holding a device in hand. With this in mind, the industry is already looking to create additional augmented reality devices.

Wearables: From Google Glass to Microsoft HoloLens

To increase accessibility and better integrate augmented reality into normal perception, various manufacturers have begun to develop so called wearables. These take the form of glasses with a camera and mini-computer, where content is projected directly onto the lenses and information integrated directly into the surrounding environment without the need to look at an additional screen. Google has pioneered this technology, introducing Glass four years ago with a beta version available in the US for almost two years. Other manufacturers have approached the problem in a similar way to Google Glass, especially in the sports sector, for example ski goggles that display GPS data in the style of a navigation system. Also worth a mention is the Microsoft HoloLens which is of great interest for augmented reality games as it is controlled with gestures, language, head, and eye movements through a Kinect sensor that scans the environment and three dimensional planes generated.

Present and Future of Augmented Reality Games

Since wearable such as Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens are far removed from the mass market, most AR games are currently designed for smartphones and tablets. With the help of cameras and sensors, virtual content is displayed on the screen. The hype surrounding Pokémon Go brought plenty of attention to AR gaming, however it is not the first game of this type. In fact, the developers of Pokémon Go, Niantic, began the augmented reality trend in 2013 with the alternate reality/augmented reality game Ingress that uses a similar technique. Two teams battle to conquer areas of a virtual world by dividing buildings, monuments, and other landmarks of the real world into zones.

Another interesting idea for the AR world is Paintball Arena, a game that can be played by several people through WLAN. The mobile phone display acts as your visor and players shoot opponents who are then notified by the phone app—a painless and paint-free version of real-life paintballing. Shooting is also a big part of Zombies Everywhere, which projects zombies rather than Pokémon into your surroundings and which, as is the case on TV and in films, must be eliminated as quickly as possible.

The future of wearables promises to be interesting, particularly when devices like Google Glass or Hololens are officially released. In particular, the device from Microsoft has huge potential for augmented reality. At a presentation of the HoloLens, the company introduced a variant of Minecraft set in a living room, allowing the Minecraft blocks to be built on carpet, couch and coffee table alike.

Conclusion: The Enormous Potential of Virtual Reality

Just like virtual reality, augmented reality holds enormous potential for both games and other applications. Would it not be convenient to view navigational instructions in your glasses when travelling to a new city? Or see Pokémon directly in front of you instead of staring at your screen? For games especially, the question is what would be more in-line with the needs of players—a completely virtual world or an extension of the real one? A major advantage of augmented reality games as opposed to virtual reality games is that the user is not sealed off from the world. In fact, games like Ingress or Pokémon Go actually promote social interaction and cooperative gaming. Unlike VR however, AR is a much quieter part of the industry, with the exception of Pokémon Go. We can only wait to see If AR has a glorious future or whether it will merely be left in the shadows of virtual reality.