Apparently, my project is very controversial. That is why I have to answer, and make things clearer about my project and its aims.
The aim of this project is to make the frontier between video game and toy gaming progressively disappear by offering a new type of gaming experience linking both sides.
Following the researches of Trond Nielsen in Augmented Reality gaming, I listed some important points which directly guided me to my final concept:
War gaming has two essential elements that are missing in computer war games:
• “First, computer war gaming lacks support for the social aspect of traditional table top war gaming. […]”
• “Second, war gaming is both a hobby of gaming and a hobby of modeling. Some players gain a great deal of satisfaction out of painstakingly assembling and painting an army. […]”
“With augmented reality, designers can build games that draw elements from traditional real world games and modern computer games. This is particularly clear in strategy games, where the strengths and limitations of both platforms are complementary.”
Nilsen, T., Linton, S., & Looser, J. (2004, June 26-29). Motivations for augmented reality gaming. In Proc. of the New Zealand Game Developers Conference (pp. 86-93).
After having studied theses aspects I decided to follow the direction of tabletop game and imagine how we could merge strategy video games and toys.
Therefore, I defined some important objectives to be reached with my concept game.
• Merging the best of tangible toys with the best of video games.
• Keeping the tangible toy with its emotional value as a base.
• Giving a new lease of life to toys.
• Enhancing the toy capabilities thanks to the advantages provided by the Augmented Reality Technology.
• Introducing a part of imagination in the game essential for the user immersion.
• Interacting with the game through a Augmented Reality tangible user interface (AR TUI).
• Assisting players through the game mechanics & rules with a software support to focus on the game content.
• Transforming drawbacks of AR system into parts of gameplay rules.
I want to show through this project that children, teenagers, and even older people, could get off the screen and play everywhere, in a children room, even in the backyard (wireless is possible). In the game Army Men, the virtual characters evolve in a virtual environment that looks like a real house. I propose here to go a step further by using the actual environment of the player to make it the world in which the characters of the game evolve.
Children could still use their imagination and creativity to develop strategic skills by setting up the tangible environment and imagine a kind of battlefield like they already do with, e.g., Warhammers. With my project they could play not only on a Warhammer table but everywhere they want and use every object of the real environment as a part of the game, e.g., using a shoebox for a wall, hiding behind a plant to protect the toy, etc.
Children like to customise their toys, and that is why I kept the emotional value of the toy at the centre of this project. They could also enhance the capabilities the toys through virtual features, bringing them to life, somehow.
The gameplay of Warhammer is really complex and almost requires reading a book, while strategy video games assist players through rules and game mechanics. This virtual gameplay could be transposed to tangible games and thus virtually enrich the user gaming experience with rewards, goals, downloadable games and by increasing the immersion through virtual sounds and special effects. We could imagine that on the same system they would create stories and levels as in the game Little Big Planet and share it to others on an online community. I am envisioning that players could connect online and share their experiences, objects, advices, tricks, etc and be rated by others, etc.
I am not trying to make a Bloodwar game here. I am just thinking about how we could merge Gaming with toys and gaming with video game and create a new gaming experience taking advantages of both. For this I am making a prototype which is a crossover between Warhammer and Armymen.
The use of the Lego minifig in my demo merely is an example and is there is no political view in this. I am actually working with simple figures for technical reasons. I need the 3D virtual model corresponding to the original to make an occlusion between tangible object and virtual things and be able to display virtual objects behind real ones which is completely impossible otherwise.
For the technical question, I am using Head Mounted Display (It is still a screen, I know…) but soon technology will be almost as natural as wearing sunglasses. Once this is achieved, children should be able to play AR games as if they were playing naturally in the backyard under the sun… Keep in mind that this project is a prospective example of the future of using Augmented Reality for gaming.
I do not think that transposing weapons on toys like I do with my concept is a big problem here. Action figures carrying weapons as well as strategy wargames have existed for decades and have been played by people who are not necessarily violent. Here, I am just merging the two kinds of games through a new medium. I do not think I am creating something more dangerous than what already exists. We can assume children know how to make the difference between toys and reality. I appreciate this could be debated, and it is true that video games are getting more and more realistic and some day children might not see the difference any longer. This might be the real problem at stake. I am not here to argue this point, but if I had to defend myself, I would say that my project does not transform the player but the toy into a warrior.
I am happy that my project is in the centre of a lot of discussions. I hope it will give other ideas to game designers to use RA in other ways… and increase gameplay experiences making video games more tangible than virtual…
This project is still work in progress and will be presented at the international meeting of virtual reality "Laval Virtual" 2009.