While the tech world is tittering about Facebook's breathtaking $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift (and whether it is a boon or bane for virtual reality gaming), a tiny firm in Sweden hopes to ride a similar wave of initial crowdsourcing support.
The difference is, 13th Lab has a product people might actually use.
ReScape is a new project that uses your iPhone to map your environment and turn it into a virtual reality FPS game board. The phone is locked into a plastic, submachine gun-like controller and fitted with a camera that helps the program stitch together this AR game, then layers AI opponents on it to create an immersive shooter that reacts to player movements.
The application is based on NASA technology called Simultaneous Localization and Mapping, or SLAM, a technique the company said was largely used in robotics. 13th Lab is adapting the method for other applications, including ReScape.
The developers have taken a page from countless other gaming apps and are attempting to fund the project with a Kickstarter campaign, seeking $150,000 by April 16 to build the controllers and a software development kit that can be used to make any number of AR games. The firm has already made a shooter called Office Defender, which lets you turn your corporate HQ into a virtual shooting gallery filled with enemy soldiers — co-op players even get a digital makeover to look suitably well-equipped in game.
The company says an iOS shooter can be adapted to the technology, if you can't wander around your office pretending to shoot people for some strange reason. They use Quake as an example, and it appears to translate pretty well.
Reports say there are some growing pains with the product, as some obstacles are difficult for the software to read, but that's to be expected from early version SDKs. More importantly, the very idea of what ReScape offers is quite literally a game changer.
Developers have been trying for years to make VR and AR games work. There have been some mild successes, such as games that use the PlayStation Eye and Xbox Kinect, and some spectacular failures, like Nintendo's Virtual Boy. Lately the talk has been about the Oculus Rift, and how it will revolutionize the industry. Rift creator Palmer Luckey has said the acquisition by Zuckerberg and company makes a lot of sense, because it "accelerates our vision." But just from looking at what has kind of worked and what certainly hasn't points to one big problem.
No one wants to wear those damn goggles.
It doesn't matter how cool Oculus Rift may be, because people still simply don't cotton to having to put things on their faces to experience entertainment. At the movie theater, sure, but report after report shows that as impressive as 3D television has become, sales consistently fail to meet expectations. Besides cost, one of the biggest factors cited is having to wear the glasses.
ReScape removes all that. Even with the advent of voice- and motion-controlled games, people are used to holding a controller in their hands. The technology lends itself quite well to the FPS genre, seeing as how shooter fans — populated with coveted early adopters — are used to playing games that involve a firearm-like controller, even if home consoles have shied away from the gimmick in recent years. Plus, how easy is it to strap your phone to a controller and play for 10 minutes, rather than get out a set of VR goggles and make sure the room is empty?
If it sounds like a smartphone is a poor substitute for wraparound vision or even a large TV screen, 13th Lab points out it's all a matter of perspective. Take your iPhone and hold it 9 inches in front of your face. They argue it's the same as a 50-inch TV at 9 feet away. And your peripheral vision isn't ruined in the process.
Whether ReScape ever makes it beyond footnote status in the annals of gaming history is up in the air. But if it makes it out of the planning stages, I wouldn't be surprised to see it perform better than however Oculus Rift ends up. At the very least, ReScape is sure to please its Kickstarter backers much more than Luckey's initial supporters have been the past few days.
Joshua Gillin writes about video games for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at email@example.com.