I’ve played Angry Birds many times before but never like this.
For the first time, I tried out the Magic Leap headset, playing Angry Birds FPS: First Person Slingshot, in a demo in San Francisco. The Angry Birds game plays just like any other version of the title that originally came out in 2009 and has accumulated 4 billion downloads since. But this game adds a see-through augmented reality effect and 3D spatial gameplay. You can place the virtual fortresses of the green pigs on a real-world table and then walk around it, viewing it from 360 degrees.
When you find the right vantage point and target, you squeeze the trigger on the one-button controller, pulling back your virtual slingshot. Then you let go and a bird shoots out at the target, knocking down some of the blocks on the table. You can’t help but crack up when you see this happen for the first time. The birds chirp and the pigs grunt, and it’s like playing Angry Birds again for the first time.
“It becomes very intuitive to understand because you control the camera with your hand,” said Tommy Palm, CEO of Resolution Games, in an interview with GamesBeat.
Sami Ronkainen, creative director at Rovio, added in an interview, “The original game is based on a physics model, which is a natural fit with this. It is very similar to the original, with the added gameplay of three dimensions. It’s not only a tech demo. It’s fun to play.”
I’d agree with that.
You can take your time when you aim. You squeeze the trigger to pull the slingshot back. The bird in the slingshot will look back at you. In front of you, as you look through the Magic Leap goggles, you’ll see the virtual game superimposed on the real world. When the blocks fall, they take into account the landscape and physics of the real world. So most of the blocks will fall down onto the real table, but a few will fall off the edge to the floor of your own home.
If you point your bird at a pig, the pig will start cowering with fear. Your object, as in the original game, is to shoot a bird at a key point in the fortress and trigger a Rube Goldberg-style effect that brings everything down and pops all of the green pigs. You can aim a yellow bird at the wooden blocks and knock them out or shoot a red bird at a box of TNT to set off an explosion.
Stockholm-based Resolution Games, cofounded to do virtual reality and augmented reality games by Candy Crush Saga leader Palm, built the game in close collaboration with Helsinki-based Rovio.
Resolution Games has also built other virtual reality and augmented reality games such as the fishing game Bait!, Bait! Arctic Open, Wonderglade, Narrows, and Solitaire Jester. But this is the first game that the team built on Magic Leap, which debuted its Creator Edition in August for $2,295. It’s pricey, but it’s probably one of the most coveted tech devices around the world right now.
“What’s going on with Magic Leap One Creator is we’re going to have those pockets of people who want that right now. They’ll start living 10 or 20 years ahead of everyone else,” said Rony Abovitz, CEO of Magic Leap, in an interview with GamesBeat in August.
“It has been an incredible experience bringing Rovio’s massively successful and beloved entertainment franchise to mixed reality,” said Palm. “Developing for the Magic Leap platform was a very unique and inspiring process for our team, and we’re confident fans will love how the game is brought to life.”
I felt a little like that as I pulled the slingshot back and let it go, causing occasional mighty crashes that Palm and Ronkainen could hear as they watched me play. When I had a question for them, I could simply look up and ask, and I could see them through the glasses, even as I continued to see the virtual Angry Birds game in front of me.
The gameplay is actually different from a two-dimensional version of Angry Birds that we’ve all played on our smartphones. Since the pig fortress is in 3D, you have to walk around the entire structure, as it sits on a table, in order to see exactly where the weak points of the structure and where a well-aimed bird can cause a domino effect that brings the structure down.
“One of the things we had to think about when we created this game was how to make people understand that they can view the level from different angles,” Ronkainen said, in an interview. “They tend to stick to one position when they start playing. So we built the levels with pieces that stick out like dominoes, and then you can see that you can view them better from another side.”
Sometimes, when I made a bad shot, the pigs would snicker and mock me. But once in a while, I would shoot at one object, knock it down, and then trigger an unintentional collapse of the entire structure. When my companions heard that big crash, they knew that I had made a good shot and yelled some encouragement.
“You’re not so isolated in augmented reality as you would be in virtual reality,” Ronkainen said.
Rovio and Resolution Games are anticipating a fall 2018 release for Angry Birds FPS: First Person Slingshot. The game will be available for free, as it is meant to show off exactly what the Magic Leap goggles can do. Magic Leap will show it off again at its Magic Leap conference in Los Angeles on October 9-10. The Resolution Games and Rovio crew have been working on the game since January. They had early versions of the headsets but were able to get a headstart by building in VR, Palm said.
I played for less than half an hour, as I got through as many of the 20 levels as I could. It was a simpler version of Angry Birds, with the basic red birds for most tasks, yellow birds for taking out wood, and blue birds for taking out ice pillars. If I squeezed the trigger while the yellow birds were in flight, they would speed up and smash into the target with greater force. The blue birds would split into three projectiles if you squeeze the trigger in mid-flight.
The graphics looked quite convincing, as the slingshot would obscure the view of things that were behind it in my field of view. The blocks did the same. However, the blocks and other things “sitting” on the real table do not cast shadows, as you can see in the image. That limits the realism of the virtual layer on top of the real world. Over time, this kind of thing can change.
The Magic Leap device got a little warm, and I had to pull it out and restart it once, since the computing puck can overheat in your pocket. I wanted to play all the levels, but I ran out of time.
Ronkainen said it’s not clear how many more levels the companies will build, as the launch details are still being worked out.