Tech Watch

Tech Watch


Entertainment is a big word and real-world experience a money-minting domain. Can we ignore the fact that reality television pulled back the bored viewers of the nineties? If the concept really works then the present video-gaming industry, which already accounts for a whopping USD 13.5 billion, is in for a big surprise. The use of global positioning technology in gaming is giving developers as well as avid gamers a new area to explore with Location Based Gaming (LBG).

A keen player knows that gaming is not a child’s play anymore. The toys (if you like to call them so) use various technologies, including GPS, motion tracking, large-scale video projection and Bluetooth. Game developers are coming out with bold ideas and discern players are ready to try and splurge their dollars on the best in the market. The E911 directive and the rise in distribution of GPS-enabled handsets introduced the idea that location is the next big thing. The challenge for the developers remained how to milk the ‘location phenomenon’ to enhance the gaming experience. Geo-caching, a real world treasure hunt and Pac-Manhattan, a real-world version of 1980’s video game sensation Pac Man are the examples of a ‘little’ variation in the traditional gaming.

Location Based Gaming is a means of playing a video game using technology like Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) that combines player’s real world with a virtual world on the handset. The physical location becomes part of the game board allowing the player to interact with his/her physical environment. Players move through the city with handheld or wearable interfaces. Sensors capture information about the players’ current context, which the game uses to deliver an experience that changes according to their locations and actions. In collaborative games, this information is transmitted to other players, on the streets or online.

LBG might include tracking a phone as it moves through a city during a treasure hunt, changing the weather in the game to match the weather in the players’ location, or monitoring players’ direction, velocity and acceleration during a high-intensity “fight”. The location technology also enables bonus features like challenging players close to one’s location for the ultimate fight or seeing comparative scores by vicinity. The net result is a game that interleaves a player’s everyday experience of the city with the extraordinary experience of a game.

But the success of any new concept hugely depends on its being commercially viable. Throwing light on the issue LBG expert Ricardo Cruz, YDreams says “Due to the E911 issue, all the carriers are now making available location technologies on their network. The industry became more aware of location based services and of course the need to monetize on their investment, not to mention the enormous growth expected for the next years. Location is available through A-GPS (when supported by the network) and GPS enabled phones. As the game is still in the final stages of development we’re still studying the possibility of integrating other network based location technologies into it.”

When Sony added GPS functionality to its flagship gaming console, PSP, it raised the bar for the designers. Nintendo, X box, Gizmondo and many others were quick to follow the suit. Now the gaming software developers are expected to come up with games that blur the edges between the virtual world and the real one. Of course, enabling global positioning technology will also materialize the idea of integrating standard navigation features and geo-tagging in gaming devices, but their survival will hugely depend on the ultimate gaming experience they are expected to deliver.

Market research firm In-Stat defines new market environment as an “ecosystem for location services”. And a reality-check compels us to believe ‘yes it is’. But the big question remains will LBG hit the right chord? The speculation is on. Meanwhile gaming companies try to score on competitors by dishing out original innovations. Some of them includes the following:

Wall Street Fighter
The latest from YDreams Wall Street Fighter, powered by KnowledgeWhere’s Location Application Platform (LAP), is a location-based game (LBG) where the world of business works as the backdrop for some fun fighting antics.

The objective of the game is to make it to the top of the business food-chain by fighting everybody at the Bonds Office. The location based features include Location-based scenarios that change with your real location, multiplayer game that allows the player to challenge players close to his/her location for the ultimate fight and location-based rankings that shows comparative scores by vicinity. The game was a finalist in the NAVTEQ LBS challenge under Entertainment & Leisure Applications category.

Can You See Me Now?
Performed by Blast Theory, a UK based adventurous artists groups using interactive media, Can You See Me Now? is an artistic performance in the form of a game in which online players are chased across a virtual city by three performers who were running through the actual city streets.

The concept for CYSMN is a chase game, played online and on the streets. Blast Theory’s players are dropped at random locations into a virtual map of a city. Tracked by satellites, professional runners appear online next to your player. The runners use handheld computers showing the positions of online players to guide them in the chase. Online players try to flee down the virtual streets, send messages and exchange tactics with other online players. If a runner gets within 5 metres of you, a sighting photo is taken and the game is over.

Can You See Me Now? won the Golden Nica for Interactive Arts at the 2003 Prix Ars Electronica and was nominated for a BAFTA Award in 2002.

Swordfish and Torpedo Bay
Blister, a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian firm KnowledgeWhere Corp. published location-based game called Swordfish on the Bell Mobility network across Canada in July 2004 and later on Boost Mobile. To play Swordfish, a location-based fishing game, the player uses his/her mobile phone to find virtual fish and go fishing. Using Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Swordfish simulates a deep sea fishing experience on a mobile phone turning the players real world into a virtual ocean. The player has to move around to play this game.

Using GPS technology in the mobile phone, the player’s position is determined via a fish-finder so that the player can see where the nearest school of virtual fish is located in relation to his/her current position. The fish finder also features navigational assistance by providing the direction of the closest school of fish and an optional localized street map of your current location with virtual schools of fish.

Also by Blister Torpedo Bay is a location-based naval battle game in which the player uses mobile phone to shoot various aircraft carriers, destroyers and submarines. The game uses Location Application Platform (LAP) that allows users from multiple carriers and multiple networks to interact within the same gaming environment. To tackle the problem of GPS and A-GPS signal fading Torpedo Bay implements predictive positioning algorithms that improve the accuracy and availability of GPS locates within problematic areas. Apart from that the game uses real map data to assist in the locating of enemy ships, weapons, and health.

Currently available in Austria, Tourality is mobile game that combines sporty outdoor activity with virtual gaming experience. The challenge before player is to reach geographically defined spots in reality as fast as possible. Player’s movement directly influences the gaming progress. To play Tourality the player would require a mobile phone that supports Java and Bluetooth GPS receiver. The player will also require an internet connection (GPRS/UTMS connection) of the mobile network operator.

The player equipped with a mobile phone and a Bluetooth GPS receiver has to reach spots before his/her opponents. A spot is a certain point on a virtual map that the player has to reach in reality. The player’s real position is transmitted from the Bluetooth GPS receiver to the player’s mobile phone and is shown on the display. Tourality shows the position of all participating players as well as the spots to reach on the player’s mobile phone. The player will know the spots still to reach and their location.

Will this scenario trigger a change where we can expect refreshing gaming innovations distinct from big-screen wonders and high-resolution displays? We have to wait a little longer for an answer. But one thing can definitely be zeroed upon is that, in-spite of LBG having a tough time taking-off, many big players as well as new start-ups are ready to stake on what they believe is the future of video-gaming.