SAN FRANCISCO — I was people-watching while leaning against the wall of a tire and rims shop on 16th and Shotwell when a woman, who was walking parallel to a black SUV, sauntered up to me. The vehicle crept forward, matching her pace, like she had the gigantic beast on an invisible leash. “Mr. Kleckner? We’re going to take you on a family road trip through the Mission District,” she said as the back door of the rumbling truck swung open.

Like most family road trips I had as a kid, this drive started off like an abduction.

I climbed into the back seat and was introduced to the person who would be playing the role of my older, annoying sibling for the trip, a Nokia rep with a Lumia 2520 tablet. Playing Dad was a silent and surly driver, who after grumbling at nobody in particular jerked the vehicle into early afternoon San Francisco traffic.

Around the point where the Nokia rep and I should have been kicking the backs of our fake parents’ seats, he fired up Dragons Adventure, an augmented reality game being codeveloped by Nokia and DreamWorks that’s based off of the animated series How To Train Your Dragon. It was a relief to know we’d have something a bit more entertaining than “Slug Bugs” to play during the drive.


Above: So as you can see, we’re passing by the Poncho Villa taqueria and heading toward the BART sub-way station.

The game started us off on a rickety wooden cart in the middle of a dirt road, flanked by various plots of land, grazing sheep, and random buildings. As the tablet’s GPS backend figures out where we are in the physical world, it begins to shape the trajectory of our dirt road and all crossing paths, which mirror the cross streets in the Mission District. A creature follows our cart, and it just happens to be that dragon who we’re training.

About a block into the trip, our SUV rumbles toward a 76 gas station. The game recognizes the location and adds a building onto the dirt road representing the gas station. We click the building, and gold bounces into our cart. It becomes apparent that the road-trip portion of the game is where you do most of your grinding for your dragon.

It’s not all just collecting items from random buildings you cross along the way. The Nokia rep then pulls out a Lumia smartphone, which can link to the game so a parent can control certain aspects of Dragons Adventure from the front seat. One of these are the predetermined Driving Quests, which people can load into the main game remotely, enabling parents to customize game times and objectives. Parents can also toss in real-time updates to the tablet game in the middle of the trip. So if Mom thinks we’re being little angels in the back seat, she can send some extra gold to us as a reward. If she gets tired of listening to our crap while we argue over who gets the last juice pouch in the backseat cooler, she can activate a rival dragon attack to distract us from our fight.


Above: No time to gawk out the window at 16th and Mission — we have to fly this dragon through this winding ravine!

Dragon attacks send the game into a third-person chase-cam game, and the challenges can either be flying through a ring path as quickly as possible or going into an air battle against a rival dragon. Supposedly, DreamWorks had a very significant hand during development, especially in the art department. The real-time friendly version of the in-game dragon models and textures that appear in the dragon attack sequences are supposedly all from the high-resolution prerender version of the models used to create the movie.

I’m about to wrestle the Lumia from the Nokia rep and complain to our parents in the front seat that he’s hogging the game when I notice the SUV is slowing down and pulling next to the curb. Before I could even ask if “Are we there yet?” I look out the window and see that we’re back at the tire shop. We had taken a full family road trip around the Mission District, and I hadn’t even noticed! No one got yelled at. No feelings were hurt. No threats of turning the car around were made.

Dad, however, still seemed surly.

Dragons Adventure is available free and pre-loaded on the Nokia Lumia 2520. Nokia provided me with a 20 minute ride around the Mission District while my older sibling hogged the tablet … I mean the Nokia rep demonstrated the game. Our driver was actually silent yet cordial.