Heads Up! is the latest app to take mobile gaming into reality. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired
When somebody says “mobile game,” you imagine someone with his nose inches from a smartphone screen, deftly flinging birds at pigs or halving flying fruit with a virtual katana. It is a solitary experience, a bubble into which we enter every time we launch a gaming app. Even if you’re playing with other people, the experience on your end is private. The “social” aspect is limited to onscreen sharing and messaging.
That is changing, however. Mobile games are transcending the screen and bringing the action into the real world.
Take, for example, Heads Up! This game, born of The Ellen Degeneres Show, is similar to old favorites like Taboo: A card is displayed on your iPhone’s screen, and in traditional party game fashion, your friends shout out hints while you guess what’s on the card. The app uses the gyroscope to track whether you got a correct guess or are passing on that turn (flipping the phone downwards after your guess means you got it correct, an upwards flip passes to the next card).
“These are the real social games in a sense — a game you actually play while hanging out ‘with friends’,” said app developer Phill Ryu.
Smartphones and tablets are being used to bring more than just party games to life, though. Ross Dixon, executive producer at mobile game maker XMG Studios, believes real life mobile interactivity is a growing space for mobile games.
“It allows for different types of gameplay than most people are accustomed to,” he said. We’re seeing a wide variety of games beginning to incorporate aspects of the real world into their virtual one.
Augmented reality is one of the more apparent ways these two paradigms are combining in gaming. XMG offers an iOS and Android game called Ghostbusters Paranormal Blast which has a location-based ghost hunting feature that lets you terminate pesky ghosts plaguing your city. WowWee, which offers a line of toys called App Gear, uses AR so kids can seamlessly blend digital and real world play. In one game, the iPhone becomes a sight for a toy gun, letting you shoot aliens that pop out of your physical environment on the phone’s screen; in another, you’re a WWII fighter pilot embedded in aerial combat.
Other apps have taken traditional board games and given them a mobile-friendly spin. Ticket to Ridewas among the first, and most critically acclaimed, board games to hit the iPad. The sharpness of the iPad’s Retina display gave the game graphical detail far richer or better than the real deal. And an iPad accessory called GameChanger combines a traditional game board and pieces with an iPad. The pieces interact with the iPad’s screen, so the game itself knows whose turn it is, can track who’s in the lead, and can create a gaming experience that fully integrates the real and digital worlds. It comes with two games, and you can download a handful of others when those get tired.
Virtual board games are getting prolific. This site lists more than 100 titles available in the iOS App Store. Games range from the strategy tile game Carcassonne to the classic word game Boggle.
And while some may miss the tradition and experience of setting up a board game out of the box, taking traditional boardgames to the digital world has its benefits. Games can become more interactive, more engaging through integrated animations, and more easily updated. Ryu said his team had a lot of fun making the virtual cards in Heads Up! do things real cards can’t.
“They shuffle automatically, take clips of your friends being silly, clean up after themselves at the end of a round, and we can fit like five thousand cards in your pocket,” Ryu said.
Instead of gathering dust on a shelf in your living room, you’re ready to break out the game anytime, anywhere, with the option to expand the game through in-app purchases or additional downloads. And you have the option to share videos of your friends making fools of themselves as they play, and that’salways fun.
WowWee CEO Richard Yanofsky says the success of any of these games attempting to bridge the hardware-software gap hinges on that experience being completely seamless.
“The joining of those two worlds has to come off as one, if it doesn’t, it’s a lackluster experience,” Yanofsky said.
And that’s where many titles pioneering in this space have failed so far. Indeed, both Ryu and Dixon noted that this gaming category has yet to see a true “breakout hit.” But there’s huge potential — and endless creative possibilities — for these types of games. And with more options like Heads Up! entering the space, it can’t be too long before such mobile games start hitting the mainstream.
Read the article on wired.com here.