Enter the exciting world of augmented reality gaming with PlayStation - your journey into the future starts here.
Videogames are changing all the time to take you deeper into the amazing fictional universes created on-screen. Exploring incredible new worlds with you as the protagonist affecting everything around you has always been a strength no other medium can compete with, and there's a growing trend that's making videogames even more immersive and powerful: augmented reality.
An introduction to your new reality
Augmented reality is a brilliantly simple concept wrapped around fascinatingly intricate technology. It's the combination of showing a live version of the world around you (usually through a television, camera, goggles, glasses or something which you're looking through) which has computer generated images placed over it. These images show the real world with effects and abilities which are seen and interacted with through the screen in front of you. In short, you literally become part of the virtual world.
It's something PlayStation has been exploring since the launch of the EyeToy USB Camera on PlayStation 2, which helped push augmented reality gaming into the mainstream. Games such as Lemmings had you making bridges with your body to guide the green haired creatures to safety, while the popular EyeToy: Play series had a variety of titles that brought augmented reality into homes like never before.
"Something like EyeToy: Play was probably one of the first strong statements of augmented reality because it was about putting the player in the virtual world and interacting in a believable way," says Nicolas Doucet, senior producer on the augmented reality PlayStation 3 title EyePet. "Humour was a massive part of it and it wasn't trying to be realistic, but it was still believable."
The challenges of augmented reality
Believability and consistency are key components for any augmented reality game, regardless if they're dealing with magical creatures roaming around your home or just typing in your name through a virtual keyboard. It's a challenge all developers have to confront to keep the illusion of mixing the virtual world and reality while being playable. For revolutionary PlayStation 3 card title, The Eye of Judgment, keeping the PlayStation Eye camera locked in one place and focused on static objects made this complication less of a worry. However, a game like EyePet, which places a virtual pet into your living room to raise and play with, has to deal with a tricky issue most augmented reality titles still confront.
"Everyone's rooms are different so you're working with a setting that isn't particularly controllable, so as well as making the game you also have to deal with this constant task of preserving the illusion as best you can," explains Doucet. "Because EyePet is a family game it may be perceived as something quite easy to make, but we had all the challenges of a normal game on top of the issues of augmented reality, which is very difficult and a massive source of stress! You don't want a family to have a bad experience."
The importance of a quality experience regardless of the technology behind it is something Pete Smith, executive producer behind PSP augmented reality title Invizimals, agrees with. "Invizimals was quite a risky project at the start, we didn't quite know how people would take to it." While the game deals in a popular genre - trapping and trading creatures called Invizimals - it required a card-like trap peripheral for the PSP camera to recognise and respond to your actions.
So the development team worked hard at creating a backstory and mythology that made the use of the trap as natural as possible. "Players don't see it as giving technical data to help the game position the Invizimal on the correct plane and scale. Behind the scenes it's doing some complicated stuff, but people don't care about that, they care that the creature is sat on the table and then he can respond to their reactions! We wanted to make sure the reality and the experience of the game isn't broken for the player and we don't make it technical, it's just a nice and simple game to play that's fun - that's really important."
Stay tuned for the second part of this feature which looks into the use of PlayStation Move and the future of augmented reality.