Mobzombies is a truly mobile, location-based iPhone game that pits you against zombie hordes generated by human activity at real places. Unique movement controls allow players to use their bodies as joysticks, turning mundane physical things (barstools or people, for instance) into tricky obstacles obstructing the path towards zombie destruction.
A quick dispatch (I rarely post things here anymore) about the importance of SSIDs in community / neighborhood life. As I was talking to my dad this morning, he recounted a story from yesterday where his neighbor had given him a case of beer, and left him a note saying something like “today your status in the neighborhood has changed.” On the face of it, seems like a pretty cryptic and odd thing to have happen to you, which you might think about while you were enjoying one of the beers. The rationale behind the beer + note, it turns out, was a result of a certain Andre Dawson being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday.
Dawson, who had a number of great years with the Montreal Expos and the Chicago Cubs, had a legendary arm from right field, which earned him the nickname “The Hawk” due to the ease at which he could throw out runners (his prey, presumably) at home plate. Anyway, so why the beer and ostensible status-shifting within the community? Not because, it turns out, that my dad is a huge Andre Dawson fan. Instead, at one point when I was at home and acting as IT support, I configured the SSID of his airport as “Andre The Hawk Dawson.” Now, most people, day to day, don’t know who the hell Andre Dawson is. But after yesterday, this mysterious name they see in their network settings suddenly clicked, as Dawson (after being inducted into the Hall of Fame) was instantly all over the news.
Just goes to show the little bit of magic that can happen when you put a little effort into choosing that SSID.
I’d totally forgotten about this piece by my former classmates Vince Diamante and Shelby Wong until it showed up in freaking edge magazine online! There’s something so dramatically cool about this project, it makes me want to get 10-20 of these things and make them accessible, zip-car style, around the city.
Using one of my most prized iPhone apps, MLB At-Bat the other day, I was struck by the above. This was a curious bit of crappiness. I had heard something about this app using location info, but I wasn’t expecting it to use my coordinates against me so literally. Clearly there are *legitimate* contract rules for blackouts and all that hubbub, and I guess having this requirement, if it means live games, is worth it.
Perhaps in my naïvety I’ve been sitting here thinking about using earth-coordinates to enhance some kind of mobile experience, when clearly there is this whole other realm of Location Based Disservices. How many other strange and anachronistic restrictions are out there that could be LEVERAGED in such a way? Certainly there are countless others in sports.
A few obvious ones spring to mind:
• Our iPhone NFL app can force us to watch the Raiders lose every week.
• If we are in Utah, we can be prohibited from downloading episodes of Big Love from the iTunes Mobile store! (second that for the iBeer app).
• Warning: all calls placed from California can not be routed to South Carolina
Ok? I’m immediately reminded of that little guy in WALL-E, you know that guy? (not WALL-E, that other little guy).
but hrm — is this something you like, watch, then replicate IRL? Or are you kind of like, moving and path-following the green line until you get to starbucks, with the thing tracking you? I mean, is that dude’s paper map was entirely insufficient? Or the GPS directions? Wasn’t GPS supposed to solve the “starbucks” problem first? It seems like the biggest problem with on-foot navigation systems is heading, especially if you have a bad sense of direction. I’ve used slippy maps + GPS, using the “walking directions” routing a few dozen times in various places I’m not super familiar with (most recently in Portland, OR, where everything is on a pretty map friendly grid), and the biggest issue in my mind is heading. Yeah, but once you are confident that you are walking in the correct direction, that problem is pretty much solved, in my mind.
I think, rather than using the go-to starbucks example on a city street, and framing the problem in relation to traditional or phone-based gps navigation, these kind of systems could be best shown off in corporate parks (or other complex indoor spaces). I think that’s how this stuff might better represent the *problems* they are attempting to solve. I definitely cringe when they show a picture of some poor schmuck with a paper map, and assume that he are such an idiot that he can’t follow normal human-generated directions along a grid.
I know that this is just a technical demo or whatever, but I think it’s important for these kind of things to think about what the actual problems are that are trying to be solved here. The situation they’ve covered seems like punting on what ultimately should be the most relevant or important part: why does this exist?
This marker based AR app from the USPS has me in a bit of bind, as typically I like to have a bit of fun with these style AR experiences. But I mean, it’s hard not to see the sheer practicality of this tool, however much a simple ruler or a quick eyeball measurement might suffice.
[image by flickr user Drewje]
In preparation for Where 2.0 next week, where I’ll be on a panel called “Mobile Reality,” I wanted to jot down some recent thoughts on the matter, both as a way of helping me better understand what I might say next week, but also a kind of beginnings of a more deliberate effort to think through some of the projects I’ve been involved with recently, both at work, and on my own stuff.
(I should mention that all of what comes next is entirely in the context of my personal work, and in no way is endorsed by or has anything to do with my current employer.)
I guess Mobile Reality is an attempt to define some different kind of Augmented Reality (AR) that is about focusing more on real spaces and location awareness, and stuff that runs on mobile devices. (Although AR in general I think is based around the same ideas idea of “enhanced” mobility). So perhaps this new variation is slightly redundant, except maybe to contextualize this stuff as being available on “today’s” mobile devices instead of on some crazy setup with a 100 pound backpack full of gear. In any case, I’m going to just refer to this stuff as Augmented Reality, and completely ignore the whole hologram side of this, where you show your computer’s camera a AR Code, and some 3D model is magically displayed on top of the code. That’s just called magic. [note: see this]
So most instances of Augmented Reality don’t interest me a whole lot. Julian’s been writing about a bunch of overlapping ideas, so I’m not going to spend much time discussing why I’m not 100% on board for this particular vision of the future. As He writes,
All [this] kind of stuff that would turn spatial experiences into some kind of database inquiry seem very much different from what I enjoy about the world when it is mixed with humans — curious interpretations of objects and moments that are not salted with uniform resource locators, pop-ups, soft synthesized voices telling me that I’ve got mail or to turn right at the next intersection.
What he’s getting at here is important, at least to me. The entire idea of many types of AR is to ostensibly make our lives easier, to help us learn about our environment. See Wikitude for a pretty insane example of how this kind of future might look. But in this entire process of becoming more at one with the world through this technology, the world becomes entirely mediated by a computer. It literally becomes a simulacra of itself, as though we weren’t close enough already. In some cases, AR requires use of special glasses that beam the real world into your vision through a camera mounted on the glasses, effectively taking the human part of you completely out of the physical world that the system is supposedly augmenting.
There’s a kind of Uncanny Valley effect that goes on in these experiences. The more that reality is augmented, the less real it becomes. The similarities to the Uncanny Valley here is not surprising considering that AR is a descendant of virtual reality, which itself was an offshoot of computer graphics, where the term comes from.
Clearly in this genealogy, there is a tendency to try and make virtual things real. AR I think is a little different in that it aims to (by definition) make the Real World itself more real, or at least more defined and accessible. In all cases, the inclination is always, “wouldn’t it be cool if…”
Ok, so that’s enough of that. But what I, and I think probably lots of other folks are interested in, is the idea of applying Augmented Reality to virtual spaces. This is the idea of lots of pervasive games and stuff, layering virtual worlds on top of the real world. This concept video from HP is a pretty archetypal version of what this kind of entertainment looks like. A kid, using his HP device, sees a virtual world layered on top of the real world. He’s running around, dodging virtual enemies in the streets, navigating the normal, real world which acts a kind of game field. So this is kind of one of the promises of AR as well, a way to create mobile and pervasive game spaces that blend (or mix) realities.
I think this stuff is pretty cool, in general. I think everyone is on board with the idea that your real life can kind of turn into a game at any moment, your cubicle or whatever turning into some kind of evil lair. If you haven’t seen The Game, or heard about Majestic, maybe you should check those out if you are interested in this kind of thing.
So, most of these type of things are based on this idea of spatial correspondence. If I’m in a park in the real world, there is some virtual space I’m walking around at the same time, that shares the spatial characteristics of the real world. The virtual world is the real world, reskinned, with enemies and obstacles that conform to the same constraints as you would in the real world. The HP video linked above is full of examples of this. I was also part of an early attempt to do similar things (albeit much weirder). Using spatially correspondent worlds makes sense I guess if you really want to turn the real world into a game board. Paradoxically, this kind of Augmented Reality really does more to connect you with the real world, forcing a more complete connection with physical space as you navigate the virtual layer.
In trying to define this kind of stuff, I’m realizing that the kind of stuff that I most interested in is similar to the virtual worlds stuff, but much less concerned with spatial correspondence.
I’m really compelled by the idea that mobile games or other experiences can be used to further connect people to physical environments. At the same time, I’m realizing that my work, and the work of others that I find the most interesting in regards to this, is really experimenting more with the idea of Abstract, or Abstracted Reality. To me, this is more like using aspects of the real world as game pieces rather than using it as the game board itself. There are any number of components that define the real world, from concrete objects like trees or buildings, but also less tangible things about how we interact with the real world like distance, speed, if this house is my house or this bar is where I meet my friends on the weekend.
This is one of the nice things about foursquare, for instance. On the face of it, it’s a type of mobile social network where you can see where your friends are. The thing that’s interesting to me about it though, is that it begins to use some of these more abstract layers of space (call it place, if you want) in a game context. For example, if I check into my bagel shop 3 times in one week, I unlock the “local” badge, or if I am at my local pub more than anyone else, I’m deemed “the mayor” by the game. In this way, dennis and naveen are using a more abstract concept of the physical world, one that connects me to my world a lot more than seeing some pop up overlay of the pub menu, or a little sound blip that tells me where the nearest place to get beer x is. (clearly, it’s getting closer to the beer part of the day…)
It’s probably also useful to look at how traditional games go about getting players to figure out the game environment. Games are often all about figuring out an environment, whether it’s a puzzle, or figuring out how you can get up to the coin on that high platform. But that’s probably enough of this for now.
Sorry, can’t resist making some visual juxtapositions here.
Screens from wikitude:
Two interesting posts from Julian Bleecker, both dealing with the idea of Augmented Reality, have been on the top of my mind and wanted to catalog them here. “AR” is something that I’m (for better or worse) now confronted with on a daily basis, I find his thoughts comforting, and an intelligible starting point for ideas that I’m trying to articulate.
Aram’s project, in my mind, playfully pokes at the vision of a near future world of such things augmenting our daily, pedestrian realities. I’m a bit skeptical when it comes to the levels of alteration to quotidian life by glasses that tell you compass bearings or map sites of interest. All that kind of stuff that would turn spatial experiences into some kind of database inquiry seem very much different from what I enjoy about the world when it is mixed with humans
I like how Julian talkes about AR as a series of database inquires because I think it nicely highlights the idea that this is a fundamentally technologically oriented system we’re dealing with here. For all the promise of AR data overlays making-stuff-easier, or somehow alerting us to always on access to our environment, this promise in many ways takes us farther away from understanding our environment on a human level. This kind of system is essentially simulating the real world, rather than really connecting you to it in any sort of non-trivial way.
In the comments, Adam Greenfield notes how bringing up certain realistic concerns about this particular vision of the future (which seems to be circa 1987, or 1995 in julian’s timeline) is entirely unreasonable for certain types. He writes,
This is what happens when technological literacy is allowed to reside solely in the class of people who benefit from the widespread adoption of technology, and why I believe we should work to extend such literacy as far outward into the far larger pool of “(l)users” as is practicable.
Agreed. Being somewhat contrarian in nature, I do enjoy being on the outside looking in towards this particular vision of the future, and making snarky comments (or reading them and nodding my head, at least). But there does seems to be a bit of a disarming dependance upon “the system” here, and a kind of a for-us-or-against-us mentality.
So after this kind of high level discourse, I loved the next bit about the Machine Project forest, and in particular the Birdsong Identification Tour, where puppeteers guided birds around a fake forest spouting songs generated from an iPod Touch strapped to their backs.
Further to augmented reality and its discontents, I wonder if this sort of augmented experience might not suffice in many situations. Human-to-human interaction of some sort, high-fi, low-tech, or material that makes rough use of digital interfaces and technologies without fetishizing the technology and its inevitable hiccups.
Herein maybe lies the sweet spot. Using just a bit of digital help to augment or otherwise enhance some kind of real or fabricated situation, where the emphasis is still based on real environments and human to human interactions.
Update: immediately after I write this: http://www.mobilizy.com/wikitude.php comes percolating up through the twitterverse.
Scheduling note: I’m speaking on a panel at this year’s Where 2.0 Conference, which should be a lot of fun. The panel is based around the idea of Mobile Realities, and I think a lot of it will be talk about how people are pragmatically creating alternative realities using the mobile platforms that are with us today instead of the laptop+backpack+differential GPS setup of days past, present (and unfortunately) future. Instead of dreaming about circa 1987 views of the future like 100% spatial corresponding “mirror worlds,” I hope we can focus more on what people are actually building now, and and how they are using various constraints with the current systems create cool new interactions and experiences.
If you want to come (and you should), use the code: WHR09FSP for a 25% discount!