Wingnut AR showed off its first augmented reality app for the Magic Leap One Creator Edition. It was a pretty wacky game, as you might expect from the creative minds at Peter Jackson’s AR studio in New Zealand. Wingnut AR Pest Control puts you in the shoes of an exterminator, and it is narrated with dark humor by a guy with a British accent.
I saw the demo at Magic Leap’s coming out event, the L.E.A.P. conference in Los Angeles. Magic Leap certainly has a sense of humor, as it is selling its augmented reality glasses for $2,295. Apps like the Wingnut one won’t justify such a price for a pure entertainment device, but they are just the beginning of what Magic Leap hopes will be a burst of creativity around “spatial computing,” which blends the physical and digital worlds.
The Wingnut demo was one of the first that I tried out with the Magic Leap glasses with a prescription lens fitted for my eyesight. I put the computing puck in my pocket and then donned the headset, which went on much more easily than any virtual reality headset I’ve worn. It was easier than putting on an Oculus Go VR headset. The demo guys put a remote control in my hand with a couple of buttons and a trigger. It was quite easy to figure out how to navigate.
Unlike in VR, you can see the environment around you while wearing the Magic Leap One. And that is one of the points the app was meant to demonstrate. I got a clue to what it was about when the demo guy asked, “Do you have any fear of spiders?”
The narrator, talking through a speaker in the wall, welcomed me to my first day at Wingnut AR Pest Control. Before me was a table with virtual lab equipment and a box. I picked up a stick and was told to “take care of the spider problem.” The spiders were colorful things in a cartoon landscape. I had to move around a bit and squish them. Then I got a baseball bat, and moved around more aggressively. It reminded me of other games with the silly British accents from I Expect You to Die.
Since the glasses have only a wire leading to the puck in your pocket, you are free to move around. So I did. I went up to the spiders crawling around and squished them with the bat. They turned into spider jelly. I barely noticed that they were climbing on real world furniture, like chairs and tables. The narrator suggested I upgrade and so I traded the bat for a sawed-off shotgun. It wasn’t really that accurate, but it did the job.
The Wingnut demo highlighted one of the biggest problems of the glasses, the limited field of view. When you’re looking for spiders, you can’t use your peripheral vision because you don’t have any. You have to turn your head to see things on the edge of your vision. So when you are searching for spiders emerging from the walls and corners, you have to keep moving. I got the feeling that if I swung the bat in the right direction, it would squish a spider, no matter how far away it was from me. I had trouble judging the exact distance for optimal swinging, and I had to make sure no human was in the way.
I eventually got a flamethrower to burn the spiders and other bugs, like roaches. But of course, the flamethrower started a fire, which then caused the chemicals on the table to spill. Green acid fell off the table and melted a hole in the floor. We looked down to see it was a bathroom. Then a giant octopus tentacle emerged from one of the toilets. I had to use a freeze gun to freeze the beast. Then I looked around for a weapon. I was advised to use the shotgun. So I blasted the monstrous tentacles and they burst into a million pieces.
Wingnut AR has been working for about two years with Magic Leap, and it was working on this app for a number of months. It also reminded me of Jackson’s other Magic Leap collaboration, via his Weta Workshop studio, which released Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders for the Magic Leap One. It was a fun and silly demo. And it took away some of the gravity of the spatial computing crusade, and simply showed how you could do yet another weird thing in AR.