Augmented reality in video games, much like 3D or motion gaming, has yet to shed itself of the label as just another gimmick. Indeed, in the decades since the first home console, almost nothing has changed. We still sit on the couch with a controller in our hands playing a box that’s plugged into the TV. I can say with confidence now that the hype surrounding the Wii has worn off, and the Kinect/Move failed to enact any serious change within the industry.
If there is one element of gaming that is in a constant state of flux, it’s mobile gaming. The 3DS is almost alien technology compared to the original Gameboy. And don’t get me started on the technological marvel that is the PS Vita. So while new tech struggles to take root in console gaming, it may find a happy home in mobile games. That is if it can ever get off the ground.
What I’ve noticed about all augmented reality technology is that it makes for one hell of a YouTube video. We all drooled over Google’s Project Glass video. Vita’s November trailer demonstrating a number of augmented reality games in development raised more than a few eyebrows. I vaguely remember a video wherein an iPhone was used to shoot space invaders attacking an augmented city skyline. But when push comes to shove, either these technologies were never realized, or the realization just wasn’t what people expected or wanted.
I remember after buying my 3DS, my sister stole it, and proceeded to play all of the included augmented reality games that came with it. Spinning around my living room shooting a picture of my face was fun for her, but the novelty wore off within minutes.
The current state of augmented gaming is multi-dimensional and looks to be a no-lose situation. The PS Vita, with its Sixaxis motion control, and front and back camera has already debuted with some weak augmented reality titles, however the system is young and its future promising. Integration with the insanely powerful PlayStation 3 could offer soon what Nintendo has fumbled over for years with the Wii U. Further, Sony’s strong collection of system-exclusive developers practically guarantees that eventually the Vita will receive the augmented title it deserves.
Nintendo’s 3DS is likely the strongest contender for a solid augmented reality title. The 3D cameras and display make it perfectly poised to host one hell of an augmented reality game. Unfortunately, it’s attached to a company notable for crippling developers and, in turn, themselves. The Wii U falls into the same category. The upcoming console has oodles of potential, and the controller could definitely be used to make some neat titles incorporating your living room. At the end of the day, however, it will come down to Nintendo recruiting developers to make games that will actually entice enough consumers to keep the system relevant.
I’m not sure if it’s actually a thing, but I am an unrepentant Google fanboy. As such, when Google releases their Project Glass augmented reality glasses, I will buy them day one; my wallet be damned. Ignoring the potential for everyday use, the gaming potential of these glasses is limitless. I picture a Virtual Boy that doesn’t give you a brain aneurism. I’m envisioning Google glasses making use of your hands—à la Tony Stark—to make any game possible. Think about a first-person shooter utilizing finger guns or an Infinity Blade wherein you are actually holding a sword. If anything would make us feel like we’re in the future, it would be this.
Most of the previously mentioned platforms will likely never host a game that will hold mass appeal. It’s a bold statement, but it’s an honest one. If any platform is to host an augmented reality game that everyone will play and talk about, it’s going to be Apple’s iOS. Chances are that you have an Apple product within 10 feet of you and you’ve used it within the last hour. This ubiquitous nature deems the iOS a solid platform upon which to build a great augmented reality game.
The Apple App Store is already riddled with an assortment of fantastic augmented reality applications, like the famous star mapping app or even a mini-game that allows you to juggle a virtual soccer ball with your real feet. Though a fully fleshed out title is still forthcoming, Apple does have a history of supporting developers in making games that push the limits of their systems, like Infinity Blade; the first game to use the taxing Unreal Engine on the iOS. If you’re an augmented reality fanatic, my professional opinion is to go out and buy an iOS device.
At the end of the day, the main problem with augmented reality gaming is one of human nature. We are now, unfortunately, a sedentary species. Nowhere is this truer than in the world of video games. Spinning around your living room shooting floating space monsters or delicately holding a system above your coffee table to play a soccer game will never hold the appeal of sitting on the couch with a controller in your hands. I speak from experience, having reviewed Kinect and Wii titles. After I’m done with the review, I’m back on my ass playing Skyrim.
Only by striking hard on the mobile gaming front can Sony, Apple, Nintendo, et al. hope to capture a significant market to make developing augmented reality games worthwhile. Playing an Angry Birds-style game on the train, bouncing projectiles off fellow commuters’ heads would be awesome. But laying out cards on a table is not, and never will be, something gamers (or anyone, for that matter) will get excited about.
Nationally unacclaimed freelance writer Jonathan Deesing loves video games and puppies. If you can't get enough of his musings, check out his Twitter feed.