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For 30 years, Phil Tippett has been creating monsters for the movies, including the memorable Holochess game in the original Star Wars film. And now he’s made the monsters for a new augmented reality mobile game, HoloGrid: Monster Battle.

I traveled to Tippett Studio in Berkeley, California, yesterday to view a demo, which is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It is a hybrid of a board game, a collectible card game, a mobile game, and an augmented reality game — all in one. The game from HappyGiant features monsters designed by Tippett himself, a two-time Academy Award winner for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Jurassic Park.

Tippett created sculptures of the creatures, which his team then captured through a technique dubbed “photogrammetry” and converted into digital form. Then computer animators took over and made it so they could move. The results are some highly original, realistic creatures that don’t look like they were designed for a video game. HoloGrid will be on display this weekend at the Google Play Indie Games Festival.

“Some of these creatures I made more than 30 years ago,” said Tippett in an interview with GamesBeat. “I had a bunch of these things on the shelves. Some I pitched for movies that never got made. Some were for Mad God.”


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Phil Tippett, founder of Tippett Studio, shows off creatures he hand-crafted for HoloGrid: Monster Battle.

Above: Phil Tippett, founder of Tippett Studio, shows off creatures he handcrafted for HoloGrid: Monster Battle.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

“Phil Tippett made his name as a visual artist who handcrafts stop-motion animation creatures,” said Corey Rosen, the vice president of creative marketing at Tippett Studio. “These creatures look more organic. But you can turn them into a digital asset with photogrammetry.”

The project started as a collaboration between former LucasArts game designer Michael Levine (president of HappyGiant) and Tippett, who first formed his studio in 1984. They raised $101,311 in a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year to build a tactical-battle collectible card game based Tippett’s monsters. Now they’ve got a working version of it, which I played at Tippett Studio, a kind of wonderland for tinkerers and nostalgic movie buffs.

“It’s a demented Santa’s toy shop,” Tippett said. “We had been talking a lot. I’m very interested in the whole [virtual reality] thing. We were playing with photogrammetry. He asked me for some monsters, and we used them to get the Kickstarter going.”

Tippett focused on the creative assets while HappyGiant created the gameplay. While Tippett Studio works in all kinds of media, Tippett still creates his creatures by hand.

“We wanted something that is super modern yet honors the past that is handmade,” said Rosen.

“Our goal was to make a fun, engaging, original game that people wanted to play,” Levine told GamesBeat. “The second goal was to make something in the spirit of the original Holochess.”

But back when they were making Stars Wars in the 1970s, the creators hardly gave Holochess a second thought. It was an 8-second scene, and there was no elaborate game conceived around it. They did the work in a week, but it caught a huge amount of attention when the film came out. Levine’s team had to start from scratch to create something fun to do with Tippett’s characters.

Tippett Studio has hand-crafted creatures from lots of movies.

Above: Tippett Studio has handcrafted creatures from lots of movies.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

HappyGiant made physical cards and tablet stands so you could play 1-on-1 against another human player. You throw down a card in front of a tablet camera to scan the card. On the tablet screen, the monster on the card comes to life in full 3D in an augmented reality scene that blends the animation and the real world together. You throw down a board card to play on a particular board grid.

Then you choose your big monster, three minions, and two spells. All told, you’ll have more than 2,500 possible combinations based on all of the creature options. Then you tap on the screen to make the monsters move and attack. It’s a lot like Hearthstone as a card game, but the creatures move and roar as if they were coming to life. All told, Tippett created 18 unique monsters for the game.

Phil Tippett's creatures.

Above: Phil Tippett’s creatures.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

I chose one set of creatures and squared off. You can use so many “mana” points to move or attack, and you keep making moves until you run out. The monsters execute your orders in animated sequences, and you alternate turns with your opponent until there’s only one monster left standing.

It’s not like the Holochess game in the famous scene in Star Wars, but it feels like a spiritual successor. Tippett created that scene in the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope movie, and then he re-created it for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Tippett used photogrammetry to re-create the characters for the new film. In the movie scenes, the animations are blended with the real world as augmented reality holograms.

That whole process of rebuilding the old characters for the new film inspired the team to create the HoloGrid.

HappyGiant created a version of the game that works with Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed reality glasses. In that version, you use your fingers to pinch a digital character to pick it up and move it on the game board. I have to say that part didn’t work so well as it’s not easy to control anything using HoloLens. But the potential for AR gaming is certainly exciting, and the company is making Google Tango and other AR versions as well.

Michael Levine, president of HappyGiant, shows HoloGrid: Monster Battle on Microsoft's HoloLens.

Above: Michael Levine, president of HappyGiant, shows HoloGrid: Monster Battle on Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

“We want to create it as an AR game today on mobile and then be ready for the next-generation AR platforms as they come out,” said HappyGiant’s Levine.

Tippett Studio is currently in production on a large format ride for a Chinese theme park. It’s not yet clear when the HoloGrid game will come out, but the company believes it will be a matter of months. The game will have no microtransactions. Instead, you’ll buy the cards for around $30 or so to unlock the mobile game.

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