When VR headsets hit the high street in 2016, it seemed like a watershed moment for the gaming industry. But as it turned out, 2016 was a monumental year for gaming in alternate realities — primarily because Pokémon Go launched that summer. Suddenly, augmented reality found its way into the limelight.
If you’re a follower of AR’s progress within the video game industry, there’s plenty of cause for optimism. By 2023, the industry’s forecast is over $75 billion thanks in part to the growing interests of billion-dollar companies like Facebook.
One major innovation that’s already reached our app stores and is continually gaining momentum is remote AR, a way for multiple players to share an augmented landscape whether they’re on the other side of the living room or the other side of the world.
As with AR in general, remote AR is still finding its feet alongside developing technologies. But when it comes to gaming we’ve already been blessed with some exciting titles that have harnessed the fresh tech well. The future’s certainly bright, but there’s nothing wrong with living in the present too — so here’s a look at some of the best examples of remote augmentation in video games today:
Just when you thought you could rest easy following the conclusion of Game of Thrones, Knightfall AR brings a world of sword fighting, castles and large-scale battles to life in both iOS and Android app stores.
Knightfall AR overlays richly detailed battlegrounds along with assembled armies. Users can freely explore their augmented world by physically moving around the battle scene around them. Thanks to remote AR, Knightfall has finally been able to allow multiple users to connect through WiFi and do battle with each other through the use of slingshots to hurl rocks, fire, and proverbial kitchen sinks at their foe’s augmented land.
This effort at building an immersive medieval world that we can interact with is excellent — and very short-lived. The Apple App Store’s 3.9 user rating for Knightfall typically comes with reviews stating that the whole experience felt more like a demo than a fully-fledged game.
But given historically-oriented developers A&E Networks are the brains behind the operation, you can expect many more offerings in the realm of history-themed remote AR titles once the technology becomes more supportive of the company’s lofty ambitions.
There’s certainly something of a trend emerging when it comes to the type of games we’re seeing arrive on our app stores. Both consumers and developers want fighting, it seems — by any means necessary.
The Machines is one of the most successful and engaging approaches to the beat-’em-up-in-AR genre of mobile multiplayer gaming. Macworld recognizes The Machines as “one of the most polished multiplayer experiences for iOS that we’ve seen so far,” and given how much the app can at times resemble a big-budget on-location episode of Robot Wars, it’s not such a fanciful statement.
It’s through its use of remote AR that The Machines really excels. Online leaderboards and three-dimensional battles with real opponents across the world make for an immersive experience that precious few AR-enabled apps can replicate.
Sadly, The Machines’ biggest drawback is its reach. Developer Directive Games Ltd have priced their flagship release at around $4.99 on both iOS and Android app stores. For app stores, this is a hefty fee, even though it may feel justified given the quality of technology at play. But it’s impacted a young userbase that’s looking for cheaper, or free. As a result, many reviewers bemoan the lack of competitors available when going into battle. The Machines’ use of a top 100 leaderboard brings a level of engagement that very few Remote AR games can boast, but today there are still too few battlers populating said boards.
Temple Treasure Hunt
Hailing from the heady days of 2014, Temple Treasure Hunt would be recognized as one of the founding fathers of multiplayer AR nowadays — which is more of a homage to the pace in which the industry’s developing rather than a comment on this innovative title’s age.
Brought to us via MobiTech Solutions, Temple Treasure simply acts as an indoor or outdoor multiplayer treasure hunt. Simple? Well, on your quest you encounter a range of treasure protectors and guardians. Users also have to discover the trails that lead them to the bounty that they seek.
The app is free on Google Play, and the number of players involved can be scaled up accordingly. While the AR capabilities of Temple Treasure still makes for a great experience for users young and old, it shows its age a little in requiring physical paper markers to be placed when using the game’s “indoor mode.”
Using a concept that can be recognized in Niantic’s earlier game, Ingress, Temple Treasure incorporates GPS into its format in a bid to encourage more movement among participants, paving the way for users to have a treasure hunt like no other. However, given that there are recurring complaints from players who have been tasked with breaking and entering into private property in order to find their treasure, this app also demonstrated some of the negatives of early AR games.
AR Smash Tanks!
There’s nothing like a good old fashioned shoot ‘em up title, and there are few more effective ways of shooting things than through a heavy artillery augmented reality tank.
Smash Tanks! lets users of different devices come together to fight it out over a real-life battlefield. Carrying something of a highly interactive Worms vibe, Smash Tanks! challenges players to overcome obstacles to win their battles.
In what’s undoubtedly an early triumph for remote AR technology, Smash Tanks! gives us an early glimpse at the potential of shoot-em-up and battle royale games with an added dose of realism in the surroundings — available on the App Store for $1.99, or Google Play for 99 cents.
With great excitement comes great patience, though – and it seems that if you want a glimpse into the near future of remote AR-driven apps, you’ll need to get used to a little bit of lag and delay in finding opponents in which to do battle. The game has some bug issues, but developers are expected to continue improving it.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite!
Following on from the groundbreaking success of Pokemon Go! Comes Niantic’s much-anticipated multi-platform follow-up: Harry Potter: Wizards Unite! The format within Wizards Unite! is similar to its predecessor in that users are invited to get up and out of the house in order to succeed.
Budding wizards venture outside to find inns, greenhouses, and fortresses where they can gain spell energy, brew potions or do battle with enemies respectively. While Wizards Unite! is yet to showcase the levels of remote AR autonomy than the aforementioned Pokemon Go! users can still team up in order to battle ever-increasingly aggressive beasts in order to progress in a game, which much more focus on pushing the boundaries of multiplayer play in the near future.
It may have taken a little while for AR to make the jump from the movie screen onto our mobile devices, but today its arrival can certainly be felt. Remote AR promises to take the loneliness out of augmented reality and turn it into an immersive experience that can be fully shared between friends.
While VR is still finding its feet today, augmented reality and remote AR has very much arrived in a practical sense. So let’s celebrate five years of innovative releases in this brave new world of AR gaming for a moment before we resume looking to the future — those potions won’t brew themselves.
Peter Jobes is a tech, crypto, and blockchain writer having worked with the Press Association and clients like Tesco, RAC and HelpUCover. CMO at Solvid.