Remember laser tag? You’ld strap sensors onto your arms and chest, and run around with goofy looking plastic guns shooting infra-red lasers at one another. It’s still extremely popular – competitions and tournaments are held on a local, regional, national and international level, with a yearly world championship games. Now Stage Two Labs is attempting to modernise it by releasing an augmented reality mobile game that replaces all of the laser kit with a single device; your iPhone.
What’s the game?
The game is called Gunman, and it’s available right now for iPhone. There’s a backstory of sorts including an agency called Shadowforce and rogue agents of some sort – but that’s not really important. What’s important is the gameplay, which is based around Augmented Reality (AR).
The idea of AR has been around for a long time, but smartphones are finally providing the means to make it a practical product. It works by adding information to the world around through your phones camera. By looking through the “eye” of your phone, you can see information layered across the real world on your phone screen. The information can be whatever you like, from an arrow pointing in the direction of the nearest train station, to nutrition information floating above a product in the supermarket. In the case of Gunman, the application augments reality by adding a crosshairs over your view of the world and turning your iPhone into a virtual rifle.
How does the game work?
You need to get some friends together, and you create a local game for your group. Since your opponents won’t be wearing laser sensors, the game scores your hits based on a color detection system – so everyone playing has to wear monochrome shirts. If you’ve got a green shirt on, you’re now the Green player. So if one of your friends centers their crosshairs on you and takes a picture (shoots their gun, effectively), then the app detects that you have been shot and your phone vibrates.
There are some very cool features – since the shooting system is based on taking pictures, you can save each “kill” you make. Very handy for settling disputes – and it also cuts out cheating. After all, in order to register a kill, all you need is to find something the same color as your friends clothes. But since the pics can be reviewed afterwards, if you’ve been cheating you’ll get caught.
There is one slightly terrifying game mode though, which is “Pro” mode. In this, you have to track down and take pictures of certain celebrities that Stage Two lists. Targets seem to mostly include celebrities with a heavy on-line and Twitter presence like Ashton Kutcher and MC Hammer. And while this does seem like Stage Two is rewarding people for being creepy stalkers, I have to admit to being somewhat thrilled at the idea of hunting down and shooting MC Hammer.
The game stemmed from a desire to play laser tag or paintball without needing a tonne of expensive gear. Stage Two founder and CEO Jeremy Toeman said “we’ve been big fans of games like paintball since our college days, but it’s so hard to find the time to go gear up and play. We realized that the iPhone has all the basic elements to make the same kind of gameplay possible without any extra equipment. Gunman lets us have the same kind of fun, but play it in the office, at home, or virtually anywhere you want, all you need is an iPhone – and probably an extra charging cable.”
Stage Two also claims it will be releasing updates and new game modes in the future, like CTF and Domination… and also new weapons like shotguns, grenade and knives. Knives?
What we think?
Part of me says “awesome!”, part of me says “test it before you decide it’s awesome”. First of all, this is a very nifty use of Augmented Reality – typical applications of AR require the use of GPS and accelerometers, but by having their system based on entirely on pictures Stage Two has cut out the need for those processes. The question is what kind of functionality they’ve had to sacrifice in the meantime? In the video above you see two guys shooting at one another in a car park. But if the system is entirely based on color recognition then if you stand in a shady area your opponent won’t be able to shoot you – the camera won’t register the color.
But for €2.39, this looks like it would provide at least a few hours of good fun, and probably more than that.
On another note, I quite like the firm behind this. Stage Two Consulting claims to be marketing firm aimed at consumer products – and also to fight off giant killer robots.