Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
New games for mobile devices make the city their playing field
Video and electronic games have typically been an indoor activity, but they don’t have to be. There are several new games available for smart phones where you, the player, are forced to physically move outside into the real world. It sounds so old-fashioned, playing outdoors. But as GPS and mapping become ever more accessible tools in our phones and gadgets, it’s easier than ever to enter a game’s alternate universe right in your own city.
The following four games take advantage of a mobile device’s awareness of its location to turn the real world into the game playing field. And when combined with in-phone cameras, the game can be virtually overlaid on top of the real world in what’s commonly referred to as “augmented reality."
Par-Tee is a golf game for iPhone that allows players to essentially create their own holes, placing them on a map centered around the current location. This can be as close as across the room or, depending on how far you want to walk, all the way across town. The graphic of the hole is overlaid on the screen in either a real-time video view of the surroundings, or for longer shots, an aerial view. The game requires players to locate their holes in the real world, which can make for some interesting walks.
Parallel Kingdom is a location-based adventure game for Android and iPhone. A fantasy world is overlaid on a map of the real world, and involves players interacting and trading with each other to build their communities. It’s a massively multi-player role playing game so players can interact with each other, make friends (or enemies), build things or fight monsters as they navigate through the real world. One of the goals is to build cities within the game. Parallel indeed.
SpecTrek is an augmented reality fitness game for iPhone and Android in which the player navigates through the real world to catch ghosts. It’s intended for joggers or runners looking to spice up their routine. The game places ghosts on a map based on the runner’s location, and the point is to run to where those ghosts are and “capture” them. When a ghost is found, it’ll appear on the video display. The play space is a circle on the map, and its size increases as players complete levels. The game also operates on a timer, so it becomes more difficult to catch all the ghosts in a larger section of the city within the allotted time. Serious joggers might not want to be running around staring at their phones, but it’s at least an interesting way to blend a game into the surroundings.
Strategically opposite, Zombies, Run! is a game in development where the player has to run to avoid being eaten by zombies. Like SpecTrek, the map of the player’s surroundings is the playing field, and zombies are sprinkled around it. This game’s intended to be a little more elaborate, with story lines, audio and tasks that will “help rebuild civilization after a zombie apocalypse.” What’s maybe more interesting about this game to serious runners is that all the directional cues are audio-based, so the phone and screen don’t have to be in hand at all times. The game also has a post-run element of assigning supplies to zombie-ridden parts of town, but the real appeal of this is the interactivity between the game and whatever space the runner chooses.
These games are just the start of what’s possible with location-based games. By taking advantage of the tools more and more people are carrying in their pockets, game designers are finding new ways to think about the city as a physical play space.