Augmented reality--in case you haven't been following, is a technology blending video cameras and computer graphics enabling you to interact with virtual creations in the real world. In practice, it looks like virtual reality crossing over into actual reality. You may have heard the buzzword, but as of late, it's becoming a serious gaming trend. At last week's PlayStation holiday preview in New York, one of the most talked-about titles in Sony's fall lineup was its hi-tech attempt to take on Nintendogs, called EyePet.
While it was definitely one of the most impressive augmented-reality game demos we've seen, it's far from the only one. Here's a rundown of EyePet as well as some other augmented-reality games of the future we're looking forward to playing. And is it just us, or is the angle of most of these titles to "make little animals appear next to you?" Clearly, if this is any indication, get ready for a whole lot more hallucinatory ghost creatures dancing on your coffee tables for holidays to come.
Sony's been quietly leading the pack in U.S. augmented-reality game development, starting with 2007's bold but unsuccessful trading-card battle game Eye of Judgment. Although interactive PlayStation Eye software has been available on the PSN Store that achieves other AR effects, EyePet is their first major push at a mainstream home entertainment product. The critter (which CNET's Natali Del Conte noted looks likes a MonChiChi) comes alive on your living-room table (or floor, if you're table-free) with the help of coded cards, dancing around and following your gestures. Additionally, opening a virtual "hole" in the table generates additional toys and gear for the EyePet to play with. We even tried one that simulated an X-ray--we passed a real card over the space where the EyePet was and watched onscreen as his cartoon innards were amusingly--and creepily--displayed. By holding your artwork up to the camera lens, the game can also scan a picture you've drawn and turn it into an EyePet toy, a LittleBigPlanet-evocative feat.
To understand what we're talking about, watch the trailer--but understand that the EyePet actually engages with you on your TV screen along with the video of your living room collected by the PlayStation Eye camera--it doesn't leap into your actual living room and taunt your children. As a tech demo, EyePet is amazing, taking the virtual pet revolution that Nintendogs kicked into overdrive and pushing it forward a generation.
Ghostwire (Nintendo DSi/cellphone)
The Nintendo DSi has two cameras built in, which means it's tailor-made for augmented-reality gaming. In fact, some of the included camera toy software and Nintendo's own WarioWare Snapped! scratch the surface of camera possibilities. Still, Ghostwire is another beast. Ingeniously turning your DSi into a pocket ghost-tracking machine, players look through their own reality through the DSi camera lens, where apparitions appear and communicate. It's in development from Swedish developers A Different Game. With a decent storyline, this could be a great idea.
Kweekies (Windows Mobile/iPhone)
AR demos for the iPhone have existed for years in jailbroken forms, since Apple to this moment has not allowed third-party access to a live camera feed in any application. OS 3.1 is said to change that with an augmented-reality-friendly SDK, in which case we might see games like Kweekies sooner than later. Developed by French company int13, this Windows Mobile game works off the storyline assumption that somewhere in the universe, a terrifying planet of cartoon animals is just waiting to leap across an Einstein-Rosen bridge into our world. What that amounts to is a real-time fighting game between roly-poly aliens. The demo promises "iPhone," but we'll remain cautiously optimistic until then.
We blogged about this during E3, but it's worth noting again. First of all, the PSP does not have a camera in the U.S. Yet. Second, this looks like a companion piece to EyePet, with more of a Pokemon/Pocket Monster flair, and added blow/shake controls to further interaction. Release date unknown, but you can dare to dream.
Project Natal's Milo (Xbox 360)
Microsoft's E3 demonstration of Project Natal might have been gaming's 2009 shot heard round the world, but the controller-free camera-based peripheral for the Xbox 360 got one of its biggest booster shots from Peter Molyneux's demonstration of Milo, a boy AI who directly interacts with the player through the TV screen. More of a magic window into another world than a true augmented-reality concept of overlaying objects into actual reality, Milo did have one neat trick up its sleeve by allowing handwritten notes to be passed seamlessly from our world into Milo's. It's a tech demo more than a game, but hopefully it will develop into something more substantial and seamless.
Catapult (Gizmondo, RIP)
Gone and forgotten, the hyped but never released game for the long-defunct disaster of a mobile platform known as Gizmondo was noteworthy because it was so ahead of its time. It also, as you might note, does not use little animals--the augmented-reality magic instead helps illustrate atype of tower defense game. We're rooting for this to be released again, or for AR game designers to make sure that real-time strategy is a part of future plans.
Which sounds like your favorite? Any others we forgot? Let us know below.