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Augmented reality designers look forward to the embrace of their platforms.



COURTESY POKEMON GO - The Pokemon Go logo combines a location indicator with a pokeball, which players throw at the pocket monsters to catch them.

The rise of Pokémon Go has everyone aflutter, from executives drooling over Nintendo’s stock price (up from 13,835 Yen to 31,770 and back down to 22,305, all in a month), to parents who see a chance to walk their offspring and dogs at the same time, to nostalgic Millennials and little kids who just want to have fun.

It has made Augmented Reality a household concept. (In Virtual Reality you are immersed in the images inside a headset. In Augmented or Mixed Reality, computer images are projected on to a screen but you can still see through them to the real world.)

“Pokémon Go has made it much easier for me to explain what I do,” says Portlander Zachary Raven. “It makes them familiar with the basic concepts.” He is a Founding Partner at Object Theory which makes software for the Microsoft HoloLens platform. Currently they are not working on games, but on enterprise software that allows architects, engineers and construction workers to don goggles and experience a building remotely.

Raven points out that the game maker, Niantic, simply reskinned an old location-based game, Ingress. Making it a Pokémon property gave it huge appeal, but the underlying technology is the same.

Ingress runs on massively scalable servers worldwide, and is able to populate any “real world” map with character. Niantic refers to Ingress and Pokémon Go as Real World Gaming.

“That said, my kids have told me that a lot of kids turn off the AR functionality to make it easier to catch Pokémon,” adds Zachery. They noticed that if the camera is on, the Pokémon are more elusive. Without it they are just cartoon characters on a map and move more slowly.

“Kids have learned to optimize this game in the last month.” He points out that location based gaming — for example Ingress — never really took off and the industry was wondering where it was going. Pokémon Go gave it a boost because of two things: collectability and competition. The 151 characters are collectible, and they can battle each other in “gyms”.

Until now, AR was mostly used as a kind of educational scavenger hunt.

Zachery says his kids now leap up to walk the dogs with him and his wife because it’s a chance to play the game, which can best only be played outside. One of the elements is egg hatching, where you have to walk for the eggs to hatch.

He expects the novelty of this game to wear off, although the maker will undoubtedly come out with lots of updates. He also predicts a wave of new AR games in 60 to 90 days, which is about the fastest you can make, test and market a mobile game. “Flappy Bird, Temple Run, theirs is always a break out mobile game a couple of times a year that everyone tries to copy.” He believes that the richness of Augmented Reality games — how they get people outside and still immersed — is a game changer.

Holo Lens will have consumer applications in a couple of years, he says, and that will include games.

Map impact

Justin Miller works at Mapbox, a company which develops open source tools for mobile app makers so they can customize the maps. Apps for locating a store, booking flights or ride shares need to a source to draw upon.

Mapbox uses the open source map OpenStreetMap, which is like the Wikipedia of maps — anyone can edit it to correct it.

If a game calls for a vintage look, or a futuristic look, the map can easily be made to look right. Maps are by default beige or grey. “The maps on Pokémon Go have a blue and purple hue. That really upped the bar on map styles for people making games,” says Miller. Mapbox’s clients include National Geographic, The Guardian and the Financial Times, and Portland’s new bike share system Biketown.

Miller is employee number 12 at the company and was the first one working on mobile maps.

The 150-person company is based mainly in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., but has developers in Liam, Peru, and Bangalore India.

A fitness app might have a map that focuses on trails for running on and downplays interstate highways. Map editors have a tool that looks like Photoshop, full of menus for customizing

“Pokémon Go hasn’t changed what we do substantially,” says Miller. But it has excited them for what may come soon. Online maps are massively popular but they are not that creative or dynamic. Yet. He sees the company’s job as “rebuilding infrastructure.” Every time someone on OpenStreetMaps flags an intersection where it is no longer possible to make, say, a left turn, Mapbox makes sure it is noted by the people who use the maps.

He is a FourSquare user and a lover of Swarm, apps he uses for keeping track of places he has eaten. Swarm gamifies going to new places — you compete for rewards.

He likes the power and flexibility of mobile platforms — the fact that you can use them while doing something else, such as walking the dog, commuting or waiting in line.

“I think (AR games) could be used for things like reporting potholes or community crime, you could maybe make a game around that.

He has seen businesses use Pokémon Go as an incentive, with signs welcoming people in to play in a gym and get a discount. For now the impact on Mapbox’s world is stylistic more than changing the business model.

As Saman Bemel Benrud, a designer at Mapbox, put it on their blog, “The designers at Niantic, lead by Tatsuo Nomura, just set a new bar for AR maps as dynamic real-time representations of our world. Now all other AR app teams will need to design the look and feel of their maps to make their games stand out. Pokémon Go’s use of custom design shows the power of vector tiles, and the need to let application developers customize every part of their game’s experience.”

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