With more daily users than Twitter, and more engagement than Facebook, Pokémon Go has instantly eclipsed every social network in popularity, something unforeseen by even the most optimistic Niantic executive. It’s a global phenomenon, an incredible call to action for all those dormant Pokémon fans that waited patiently for their game to be taken to the next level.
What is Pokémon Go?
On July 6th, Niantic, spun off from Google, released Pokémon Go, a free-to-play location-based mobile game that has generated unprecedented levels of interest and enthusiasm. The game allows you to go out and catch fictional characters superimposed on your real life view using the phone’s camera – in a technique known as augmented reality (AR).
Some parts of the gameplay are superposed on reality like in the picture on the far left and others transport you temporarily to a new world as in the gameplay modes on the right.
Why is it different?
Pokémon Go is a “real world adventure”. It uses your phone’s GPS and clock to decide which Pokémon appear in the game. If you’re at the park or near large green spaces, more bug and grass type Pokémon appear. If you’re by a lake or river, more water type Pokémon appear. If it’s night, more nocturnal ghost and fairy types do. That means it uses GPS and augmented reality (AR) to allow you to hunt and train Pokémon as you’re out and about in your neighbourhood, which all adds to the realism of the game.
This means… Exercise
Pokémon Go requires you to actually go out into the real world. And even though most gamers are thought to be a stereotypically lazy bunch, this hasn’t stopped them at all, in their quest to catch ‘em all. To catch new Pokémon, players must venture outside, and to hatch eggs, players are required to walk certain distances (2km, 5km).
In the very first week itself, social media was flooded with users complaining (mostly jokingly) about their sore legs. Within a matter of days, craigslist ads started to pop up advertising chauffeur services for Pokémon Go players who wanted to avoid even the slightest bit of physical exertion.
It requires you to… Explore your city
A game that uses real life maps as a geographical framework will obviously rely on real life places of interest. Poké stops, where you can obtain pokéballs and other vital game items, are located at churches, statues, memorial plaques and basically any place that can be considered a landmark (Even to the chagrin of the museum manager, at a holocaust memorial).
It’s possibly the greatest attempt at getting someone to visit tourist spots in their own city. Can you imagine humanity would reach a point where all the people thronged around the Statue of Liberty are actually New Yorkers?
And we’re not just seeing our city, we’re now actually forced to have some… Social Interaction
Hanke, the CEO of Niantic describes Pokémon Go as an “icebreaker” that “gives people a reason to spend time together”. The last ten years have seen social media carefully reach its absolute pinnacle – we’ve turned into a species that doesn’t need to physically interact with each other to be a part of a community.
Pokémon Go has arrived and basically thrown all of that out the window. Because it’s situated outdoors in the real world, people are organising Pokéwalks, Pokéthons and even Poké Bar Crawls. Heartwarmingly, anecdotal evidence shows that Pokémon Go is even helping depressed and lonely people get out and about.
One thing you might want to keep in mind though, this game plays on… Nostalgia
Go developer Niantic has a similar but non-Pokémon game, Ingress, that was significantly less popular. Both use maps and AR. The difference? Pokémon.
Pokémon Go hasn’t just been popular with kids – it’s drawing young adults. Pokémon (From the western term – “pocket monsters”) is a franchise consisting of fictional creatures, which humans known as Pokémon Trainers catch and train to battle each other for sport. It was invented by Satoshi Tajiri 20 years ago, hence making it perfect for the 25 to 35-year-old demographic who embraced Pokémon during their ‘90s childhoods to indulge in their old obsession. It’s true -Pokémon gives us a warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia and let’s face it, there’s something strangely fulfilling about watching your charmeleon finally evolve to a charizard.
Okay, so we get why the game is so popular now. But what is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality (AR) involves taking virtual elements and integrating them into real-world environments. It differs from virtual reality, where the real world is replaced by complete immersion in a computer-generated space.
Hence Augmented Reality is anything that does just that, augments reality. This can be done by adding sights (such as computer graphic pokemon), noises, and even smells in realtime to the our world.
Is Pokemon Go the first and best AR app out there?
Nope. AR is not new technology. Your new Snapchat filters, which allow you to swap faces with a wolf or grow some swanky facial hair – that’s AR.
We’re also not saying that Pokémon Go has the best AR system in the world. If you want state of the art technology, you’re looking beyond Augmented Reality to a full blown virtual reality provided by Oculus Rift. The digital Pokémon often seem sloppily superimposed over the real world, and they do not interact with physical objects. However, the game has undeniably vaulted the entire concept into the public consciousness in a big way and in a very short amount of time.
Okay, now a bit of technology. How do AR Displays work?
At the heart of AR applications available today, like google glass, Layar and Pokémon Go is the display technology that merges the real and virtual world. There are 3 ways to combine computer generated graphics with reality.
Method 1: Direct projection
This is possibly the coolest AR, visually. The computer graphic is physically projected into the real world. No cameras are required, your Pikachu will literally appear in front of you in a 3D hologram such as the little girl’s house below. See how happy she looks!
However, you can’t just take your projector out for a pokéwalk in the hope of catching some exciting new Pokémon as it needs specific lighting and surface conditions. Sorry folks, but holograms popping up everywhere just isn’t feasible right now (yet). The next two methods involve potentially portable technologies.
Method 2: Optical See through displays
Overlay time. The concept here is that the computer generated image (your Pikachu) is overlayed onto the real image with the use of an optical combiner. This is simply put, just a half silvered mirror or holographic material. The combiner takes the light from the environment and superimposes onto that the light from your Pikachu as shown below.
Seems perfect. However, whilst this technique gives a direct view of the real life environment, it sacrifices on brightness, resolution and overall image quality of the poor pokémon. Basically, your Pikachu isn’t going to look that great. It might appear transparent and only appear in a single plane, compromising the effect of the AR. It’s also a computationally expensive technique as it requires advanced calibration and tracking which all results in your battery power draining irritatingly fast. That’s something we can’t deal with.
Method 3: Video Through Displays
In this method, our mulleted mate views the real world through a camera connected to the computer (or phone) which then superimposes the computer graphics itself before showing the user the combined output.
Pokémon Go works using this technology, and the camera here is simply the phone camera. Your Pikachu is much happier now existing in higher def. The resulting quality is better than method 2 as the superimposition is controlled and done more accurately by the computer than the optical combiner.
Another advantage of using a mobile device is that the inbuilt gyroscope will tell the program the orientation that the camera lens is pointing in, making calibration and perspective much easier to achieve.
Remember, nothing is perfect. This method has its flaws too, the quality of the real life environment is only as good as the camera resolution. The computational load associated with intensive image processing means that most video see-through systems handle less than 1 megapixel video resolution at interactive frame rates (often 640×480 ≈ 0.3 megapixels, at 30 frames per second). Further, the camera also differs in sensitivity to the human eye making performance in darker lighting particularly bad.
A Glimpse of our Augmented Reality Future
So there you have it. The reasons why Pokémon Go is the new gaming sensation. Who knows how this game will develop? We’re not sure even the crazy psychic Jynx knows.
One thing we do know for sure is that this is only the start of the augmented reality sensation – and there is far more to come.
For one, the future holds the promise of headsets. Walking around hunched over your phone is annoying – Pokémon Go is screaming out to be played on an augmented reality headset like the Hololens or Magic Leap. Niantic is already aware of this, and developers have already stated their goals of integrating this exciting new technology into the game as it hits the market.
Interaction is also going to change greatly. You can interact with AR in a number of ways – based on either touch, gesture, speech or good old fashioned hand held joy sticks. Right now we’re running around our cities trying to see Pokémon and catch them, in a few years time we could be actually chatting with them or pointing things out for them to attack – What a time to be alive!
Pokémon Go may have brought a very basic version of Augmented Reality to the limelight, but trust me, it’s just the beginning.
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