“I was thinking about a mobile game where you might bounce objects off of the skyline, like when you watch a sunset, or the horizon, and find a way to turn that little action into part of a story where people are having fun and are learning to see the world in a different way.” – Tom Meyer, founder and CEO, oMobio
Tapping into mobile CPU for a greater GPU experience
When it comes to mobile, games are essential. A good or even great game can alone sell tablets or smartphones. Mobile game developers salivate at the thought of hitting it out of the ballpark, earning their team millions, and contributing to the ongoing evolution of mobile gameplay. So when Tom Meyer, founder and CEO of oMobio decided to go for broke and follow through on his fixation with edge detection, coupled with photography, and marrying it to the power of today’s GPU, it was only a matter of time before the mobile gaming world would begin to take notice. Selected as one of seven finalists to present at the Who’s Got Game Innovation Showdown at this year’s GamesBeat 2013, Meyers presented A Vision Quest, a game where you use your phone’s camera to snap photos to help you solve puzzles, and prompting you to look a little harder at the lines and edges of what’s around you in the physical world.
Meyer is no stranger to app development. One of the earliest employees at Dropbox, he created their Android app. Meyer was also the architect and lead developer of Smule’s Magic Piano app, also for Android. A software architect, Meyer kept puzzling over the years on how to tap the power and speed of today’s mobile processors with their numerous device sensors and convert them into GPU driven applications. Spending time with researchers at the University of California, Berkeley Meyers decided to push the envelope of CPU bound algorithms and create his own mobile app game.
I pressed Meyer further on this idea of edge detection. “I was looking for edge detection because it constitutes a fundamental tool in image processing and is a core component to these algorithms. Our eyes perceive edges very strongly. In order to teach computers how to see, it’s instrumental that they understand edges and see the world the way humans do.”
What is a Vision Quest?
A Vision Quest tells the story of two armadillos, Ardee, a courageous test pilot and his ace mechanic girlfriend, Arnette. While both in love, a coyote named Istaqa, out of jealousy, uses his umbrella ray gun to blast both Ardee and Arnette into separate universes. It’s up to the user to play various levels and work on getting Ardee and Arnette back together again.
When I first observed Meyer showing me his game, I thought “easy enough,” just snap a photo and voila, you’ve integrated it into your gameplay. But then when I tried playing the game, I quickly latched on to exactly what I believe is Meyer’s true calling card. With a game that forces you to interact with your surroundings, it’s necessary you spend time reviewing its geometry. In this case, the lines and angles that you rarely spend time observing in your daily life, which now become integral players in the quality of your gameplay. Being lazy in how you photograph can cost you if you expect to easily try and finish each level. I asked Brian Blau, Research Director in Consumer Technology at Gartner about the significance of the mobile camera as a core feature of A Vision Quest’s gameplay.
“It’s refreshing to see a game make different use of the device sensors, especially the camera as smartphone users love their on board cameras for imagery and video on the go. Incorporating the camera into a game is a bold move but one that really brings the player into a deeper relationship with the game content.”
Mobile games that tap into feelings and inspire discovery
A Vision Quest advances the concept of unique and personal
What is the most addictive emotion possible that a game can bring out in any player? For Hunice, it’s a sense of achievement. Rewarding achievement is how you keep your fans coming back for more. In the case of A Vision Quest, Meyer is gambling on a gamers’ attraction to the real world and integrating it into the gameplay for a more personalized experience. I have to admit, when I first tried playing, I didn’t quite get edge detection. Using Meyer’s tablet, I took a photo but soon realized it wasn’t the appropriate angle that would help me finish the level. It took a few attempts to get comfortable, snap the right shot, and finally get Ardee into the next dimension, pushing me on to the next level of play. Over time, I grew to understand and appreciate how examining those lines and angles in real-world constructions naturally enables a unique gaming experience each and every time. Using the camera for each level of play is pure genius. The game remains consistently fresh and forces your eyes to spend more time appreciating those angles around you. You’re not going to be playing this game as fast as you can. Adults, teenagers, and kids who maintain their child-like appreciation of the world will be most attracted to A Vision Quest.
To my knowledge, no other mobile game is currently exploiting the camera as part of its gameplay experience. According to Meyer, A Vision Quest will be released for Android by Christmas time as free-to-play, with power-ups for sale. iOS users will have to wait until Q1, 2014. Plans are also in the mix to make available extra photo packs that consist of stock or licensed photos where you would have to hunt and find the way to solve the levels with only those pictures.
The game will launch with two worlds, one tied to a holiday-theme and the other a jungle. Myer says both worlds will start-off with a minimum of 20 levels to complete. Users can share the results of their playing on Facebook and also import photos from their friends to feature as part of their own unique gameplay.
What about the Armadillo?
When you’re busy brainstorming the types of characters for your next mobile game app, what comes to mind? Animals? Superheroes? What about two star-crossed studded Armadillos in love? According to Meyer, there’s more to an Armadillo than you might think. “Armadillos can role into a ball; they are not fast or adventurous creatures per say, but when are threatened, they can jump 3 to 4 feet into the air. Armadillos can also swim by inflating themselves.” A Vision Quest’s title refers to the native American ritual. Carlos Castenada, wrote a collection of books based on his experience with a Shaman named Don Juan. Meyer told me he was inspired by Castenada’s writings, in particular, his mention of identifying lines of force to help one cross a waterfall.