Just a few years ago, augmented reality games seemed like a futuristic idea that was limited to SciFi films. Even as virtual reality games started to gain traction and become a feasible possibility, the incorporation of real-life elements into these videogames just seemed like a step too far.
That’s no longer the case. As anyone who has been keeping their finger on the pulse of recent developments in the gaming space would be able to tell you, augmented reality technology is developing fast.
One of the companies bringing this futuristic tech firmly into the present is the San Francisco startup Tilt Five, with its holographic tabletop gaming concept.
Yes, you heard that right. Not only are Tilt Five producing a state-of-the-art holographic gaming glasses, but they’re also merging it with a board game system. What’s more, you can pick one up at an affordable price within the budget of the average consumer.
Let’s take a look at the past of AR games and how Tilt Five is disrupting the industry.
Augmented reality games beyond Pokémon Go
Back in 2016, a Pokémon Go craze swept the world. It was the start of a new and mainstream mobile GPS-based AR gaming revolution.
The popular game was played by opening a phone app that mimicked the original Pokémon, except players had to move around in real life to be able to ‘catch’ their Pokémon. As a result, people from every country leaving their homes to set off on their quest for Pokémon.
AR games integrate the visual and audio content of a game with the user’s real-time environment. This is often confused with virtual reality games, which require a confined area to take over the environment instead of incorporating the current environment into the game. T
his was the case with Pokémon Go – users simply walked around their local area and this was integrated into the game.
It wasn’t the most complex or advanced technology, but further developments followed.
The second generation of mobile GPS AR games
Two augmented reality games currently being tested are Minecraft Earth and Dragon Quest Walk. Minecraft Earth is based on a similar concept to Pokémon Go: it builds on a longstanding, popular game (Minecraft) but incorporates the user’s real-time environment.
Instead of building structures on their phone, users are able to build things using the objects they come across in real life. They can also collaborate with other users. The game is currently being tested in a select few cities across the world
Similarly, Dragon Quest Walk uses digital landmarks and the user’s location to localize the player in the game and help them to earn rewards. Imagery and characters from the already popular Dragon Quest game are incorporated in. The user fights monsters and completes quests.
The mobile application is currently available only in Japan and hasn’t yet been released to the rest of the world.
The user fights monsters and completes quests. The mobile application is currently available only in Japan and hasn’t yet been released to the rest of the world.
The Success of Tilt Five Kickstarter
Tilt Five is the lovechild of former Valve engineer Jeri Ellsworth. Ellsworth has been in the process of creating Tilt Five for years, ever since a previous job had inspired her to use projection-based AR glasses six years ago.
Firstly, this leading to her creating a business called Technical Illusions; the company later became known as castAr. After some initial success, the business, unfortunately, met financial ruin. Yet Ellsworth was not so easily defeated; over time, she bought the assets back along with her previous employees. Just like that, Tilt Five was born.
Ellsworth is now the CEO, meaning she has greater control over the direction and the finances. Things are looking promising: Tilt Five Kickstarter has raised over $1.3 million dollars (at the time of writing) of its $450,000 target – and that number is going up constantly.
Each pledger pays $299 in return to receive a full Tilt Five AR set:
- AR glasses
- nose pierce variety pack
- USB 3 cable
- square game board
- introductory games pack
- basic box
- access to SDK (used by game developers)
As the money raised increases, extra ‘stretch goals’ have been unlocked – a gamification of the fundraising process. First, a new color for the board was released, and second a new color for the glasses; the next stretch goal hasn’t been announced yet, but it can be expected any time soon.
The success of the AR startup is mostly due to its uniqueness. Two popular concepts are merged together: traditional board games and virtual reality. This means a wide variety of games can be played, including board games like Dungeons and Dragons but also action games. There are two very special features pledger obtain funding the Tilt Five AR set: its retroreflective gameboard and its AR glasses.
Tilt Five AR Glasses and Holographic tabletop system
The retroreflective gameboard allows the headset to be high performance yet also comfortable for the user. The board has completely passive tracking: the head tracking camera looks for the dots in the border of the board. Due to the focus of the pixels on the board, users can see both real-life objects and virtual objects – generally, it’s impossible for the lenses to focus on both.
The infrared LEDs around the camera in the glasses fire down to the board and light it up, so that everything functions fine – no matter what the light conditions are. No calibrations or setups are needed – users can simply open up the board and get started straight away.
The AR glasses both look and act in a special way. The silver, polycarbonate shell gives them a futuristic appeal, and the engineering gives them a lightweight touch. The glasses are made with polarized lenses that project images from a machine – like a computer or a phone – which bounce images to the eyes.
The glasses have two cameras: one to track the location and movement of the head, and the other as a vision camera for the hands, used for playing cards or touching other objects. The maximum light is also transferred to the users, resulting in a richer experience.
Another neat feature is multiplayer: the games can be played with users in different physical locations. They’re also great for tutorials.
However, because far-eye projection is used, you only see augmented images on the board. This is a slight limitation of the game, but it’s well worth compromising for the impressive other features.
Due to the uniqueness of the project, creating Tilt Five was no easy feat. All components had to be specially made – even the projector – because nothing already made was suitable. That’s why the console has been so long in the making, but it appears to have been worth the wait
AR holographic gaming
Holographic gaming uses holograms: a physical structure that uses light diffraction to make an image appear 3D. The technology of Tilt Five might not have quite arrived at the holographic technology we see in SciFi, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
As mentioned already, the idea of augmented reality tabletop games is a new one. However, the use of a headset borrows from virtual gaming – other innovations in tabletop gaming haven’t had the same approach.
Tilt Five may be unique for using a holographic board game, but it’s far from the only big player in the holographic gaming industry. Microsoft’s HoloLens and Magic Leap are also making big advances with holographic technology.
Their equipment is impressive: they use near-eye projection, which means that users see holograms outside of the confinements of a board. However, the complexity is reflected in the prices: unlike Tilt Five, these consoles – almost only B2B devices, at the moment – aren’t within the reach of standard consumers.
So, why board games? They may seem to some like an old-fashioned type of entertainment, but they’ve seen plenty of innovation recently. Board games are extremely popular among Millenial and Generation Z gamers. The release of apps, smartphone integration and incorporations with assistants like Alexa are all recent developments.
If the interest Tilt Five has received thus far is anything to go by, various big players within tabletop gaming will soon become interested in entering the AR tabletop gaming market.
Tilt Five already has some partners, such as Fantasy Grounds, the maker of a virtual tabletop app for games like Dungeons and Dragons. There’s also the possibility of more partnerships in the future; at GenCon (the largest tabletop convention in the USA), Tilt Five attracted a lot of positive attention. The future of tabletop gaming in 2020 looks bright.
Tilt Five may not quite be at the level of holographic gaming seen in SciFi movies of the past, but it’s one of the most significant recent advances.
As time goes on, we’ll see how much money Tilt Five are able to raise from their Kickstarter campaign and what new developments this brings. You can expect new partnerships, new third-party AR tabletop games, and who knows what else.
We’ll also be watching eagerly as other AR games, like Minecraft Earth and Dragon Quest Walk, go from their beta phases to being released for the public. Was the popularity of Pokémon Go a fluke, or are we still in the early stage of the growth of augmented reality games?
2020 is looking like it might just be the year of the hologram.
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