The price is right!
Iâ€™ve never really understood the whole concept of Augmented Reality (AR) gaming, with its requirement that player cart little cards around with them. However, the PS Vita - complete with camera and motion sensitive gyroscopes - lends itself beautifully to the technology.
The basic concept behind these AR games is for the player to utilise their actual physical surroundings in order to immerse themselves in a gaming experience. Users place printed cards with pre-designated symbols or barcodes on a flat, well-lit surface and the Vitaâ€™s camera recognises them and incorporates them into a gaming environment.
Graphics are then overlaid over the printed cards and the surrounding environment on the screen, allowing you to play football on your kitchen table, or shoot aliens emerging from your sofa - for instance.
Sony have released a triplet of AR titles on PSN for all Vita owners to try out for free, along with the six special AR cards included with every Vita system. And although theyâ€™re all a bit short-lived, theyâ€™re definitely worth the bandwidth to try them out.
One of the first titles in the Vita AR Pack is a fairly simple game. You play as an adrenaline junky (with rubber limbs) named Dan, who likes to chuck himself off ledges and (preferably) into water.
First off, players place an AR card on a flat, well-lit surface - such as their coffee table. This card becomes the landing spot for Danâ€™s mad antics and on the Vitaâ€™s screen users will see their coffee table literally morph, creating a sunken ditch filled with water where their AR card was placed. From here users can move the Vita around and see their â€˜coffee-table-swimming-poolâ€™ from all angles.You can use the touch-screen â€˜pinchâ€™ or â€˜expandâ€™ gestures to alter the size of the pool as well.
Next up, players have to create a diving platform by placing a second AR card. Using a few books or an upside down cup, you can set the height of the platform as you wish. Setting up perilous, death defying jumps in your own living room is a surprising amount of fun. From here itâ€™s up to you to ensure Dan performs his leap to relative safety.
To pull off the perfect dive, you must hit the â€˜Xâ€™ button when Dan runs onto a marker at the end of the board. By holding down â€˜Xâ€™, you can adjust the trajectory of Danâ€™s jump, ensuring that he lands somewhere in your virtual pool of water and not on your hardwood floor. Cliff Diving adds a few layers of complexity by adding in new diving techniques and challenges like jumping through hoops. Before long youâ€™ll have hapless Dan charging off helicopters and cranes, plunging into arctic water off ice-bergs or diving from multistory perches into tiny puddles of water.
Cliff Diving is a basic game that shows off the concept of AR nicely. Being able to create a custom cliff using surfaces in your home is a great idea and watching Dan slam into the edge of your catâ€™s food bowl generates a sadistic smile. Itâ€™s a great game to pass around at a party as it doesnâ€™t require a huge amount of setup and itâ€™s easily accessible.
This title is more of a tech-demo than a fully realised game, but it demonstrates some of the AR potential behind the Vita beautifully. Fireworks takes your surroundings (while adding an effective neon-glow filter to the cameraâ€™s view) and then overlays explosive fireworks on the screen. The â€˜gameplayâ€™, as such, involves tapping the fireworks with your finger, causing them to burst and light up the screen as if you were conducting Guy Fawkes.
The optional AR cards can be lined up in a row and, on the Vitaâ€™s screen, these cards become 3D buildings. Players can then pan and angle their PS Vita around the table (or floor) and see these buildings from different angles, zooming in and out and looking down from the night sky above. It basically means the user has complete freedom over the camera angle of the action, letting them fly through a fireworks show like a confused bumble bee.
Although it sounds basic, there is a definite skill to the gameplay for those who stick with it. Tapping the airborne fireworks at exactly the right time, as indicated by contracting circles, maximises your score. Meanwhile, chaining up combos and working up a pyrotechnic frenzy on the screen unleashes special firework effects and new types of projectiles. Fireworks isnâ€™t exactly a crowd-stopper, but it is an attractive and eyebrow-raising demo of AR for newcomers.
I was looking forward to this minigame. Although I wasnâ€™t expecting FIFA â€˜13 or anything, the concept of playing a bit of finger football on my workdesk was tantalising to say the least. Unfortunately though, Table Football is the least impressive of Sonyâ€™s free AR pack.
Table Football requires all six of your cards to be laid out in front of you and to be honest, positioning the cards is probably the highlight of the whole game. The first three cards are lined up horizontally, with the far left and right cards appearing as goals and the middle card acting as the half-way spot. Players can then adjust these cards depending on the size of their table, or surface theyâ€™re playing on. Spreading the cards out width-wise creates a longer football pitch, all of which appears dynamically on the Vitaâ€™s screen.
The remaining three cards can be moved onto the surface to create stadiums and a digital score-board anywhere around your virtual pitch. These donâ€™t really add anything and those hoping to recreate Old Trafford will be left disappointed when presented with a couple of small boxes filled with jiggling Cluedo figurines. But seeing a football field magically appear on your dining table is pretty damn cool.
But itâ€™s the gameplay that is the biggest shock in Table Football. As the name implies, the game is closer to foosball, where the users can control one player at a time and must use tactics and quick reflexes to score goals. The game uses the touch-screen, with swiping passing or shooting the ball to player tokens (or at the goal itself).
Itâ€™s like a digital form of flick football that our grand-parents may have played, where a little marble ball is moved around by flicking your finger behind wooden people. Imagine a time where there was no interweb or moving picture boxes (itâ€™s scary I know).
Itâ€™s a worthy idea and again, shows off the AR capabilities of the Vita nicely. But Table Football falls short in both the control and gameplay department and is unlikely to be played more than a couple of times. Mucking around with your six AR cards and creating football fields out of nothing does makes you feel like a magical wizard though - so perhaps this is worth the download in itâ€™s own right?
Overall, the price is right (itâ€™s bloody free!) so grab your AR cards and download this pack to try them out for yourself. All you need is a decent sized flat surface and some good lighting. It also pays to make sure your cat isnâ€™t around as having an animal wander into the middle of a football stadium and make off with the scoreboard isnâ€™t all that fun. Letâ€™s just say a lot of table footballers died that day.
Itâ€™s early for the Vita and this is just a taste of the AR goodness yet to come. Sony have announced that on top of these three launch titles, there will be future AR downloads coming soon too, so stay tuned to NZGamer.com to find out more at a later date.