Is 2016 the year of augmented reality? Digital meets real world interaction, our gameplay is changing and it’s exciting to see new ways to play and learn. After a string of virtual reality headsets took to the market recently, there has been a boom in virtual world development. And the new launch of Pokémon Go has set the conversation of digital-meets-real-world-fun ablaze.
It’s exciting to see a digital world overlaid onto our physical world; that’s the gist of augmented reality. While we often lament the takeover of screen time in our daily lives, it’s not fair to lump all games and digital experiences into the mindless timewasters category.
I’m intrigued and besotted with the concept of mixing the two worlds together. The realm of crossover imagination is a place where we can express the creativity and ideas inside our head, and combining that idea with our reality. Many of them combine my love of board games with online play, and there are a few games out there that are really thoughtful and well made, so here are a few that stand out.
I love the basic simplicity of encouraging our kids to play with wooden blocks in this straightforward but thoughtful prototype game by Václav Mlynář. These blocks also happen to have magnetic joints to all of them to build up stable creations, and create new worlds.
The blocks and boards themselves are well designed and pleasingly aesthetic. But as many children these days are demanding time with devices and screen time, this is a fun way to use both the physical and make-believe.
A touchscreen device works as the mirror-mirror-on-the-wall, with the camera picking up on the objects in front of it. It allows players to build the physical world, and virtual characters are imposed on the screen.
There are tokens that are used to create ladders, trees and waterfalls, which the characters can interact with. While at the moment Mlynář’s game software is in development, I can see how this could be totally used in other settings. Games involving your favorite Disney princesses or cartoon characters, for example, would really offer many different universes for play. It would break up the sameness of screen time, because of the interaction with real world objects.
KOSKI was part of Mlynář’s display at the Royal College of Art ShowRCA 2016 exhibition, and I asked him a few questions about KOSKI and whether he worries about too much screen time.
Are you aiming to push this into commercial application in the near future?
Yes we do. We are now working intensively to prepare the KOSKI project for market and make final product out of it.
Another exciting game that combines the physical and virtual is Beasts of Balance by Sensible Object. Suitable for ages six and up, it’s familiar concepts in a new format. The game play is a physical tabletop piece with elements that you hold and build, with enhanced play also taking place on an app on an iPad or tablet.
Using a series of animal shapes, you aim to stack a tower in a Jenga-like attempt to make it higher and higher without it all crashing down.
The beasts used in the game look thoughtful and cool, with their many edges for stability and building up the fun. As you mix and match the animal species on the podium, they show you which cross-breeds and mixes you have made in the online world.
I look forward to seeing how this game is growing and adding more features. Product is in development so you can pre-order now, with expected delivery in November 2016.
This game has been around for a year or so now, so while you’re waiting for your Beasts of Balance to ship out, you can try out Keep Talking.
While the other two games featured involve a lot of building and shaping, this game is played with clear communication and fast paced action. The basic premise is that one of the players is locked in a room with a ticking bomb, and has no idea how to deactivate it.
Other players, who cannot see the bomb, are in control of the bomb manual. They work as the bomb diffuser expert, who relays the information back to the player with the bomb.
The players have to communicate without seeing the other component. And hilarity ensues. For each different bomb module there is a mini challenge, based on numbers, words and logic, with a set of complicated instructions.
You can use the PDF version of the manual online, but for ease of use it’s a good idea to print it out. It’s probably not necessary for casual play, but… I laminated the pages! It helps me out during the mad rush to find what’s going on next, and allows you to write over the top with wipe-off marker pens.
It’s another fun way to combine digital and real world game play. It’s easily played on PC, but also available to play on VR headsets. Although it’s maybe a bit too complicated for the youngest kids, you are able to adapt and choose easier modules to play with older children and teenagers. And of course, it’s enjoyable for adults too! So try it out, grab a bunch of friends and divvy up the manual between you. I hope you make it through without exploding..!
Do you have a favorite game that blends digital and physical play? What do you recommend and why? Would love to hear about what you and your kids play at home together. Have you tried the Crayola Color together? Let me know!
Update: 15th July added interview questions from Václav Mlynář.
This interview has been condensed and edited.