Designing great AR games part 3

Designing Great AR Games: Tips & Suggestions – Part 3

In the third part of my “Designing Great AR Games”, I will talk about more topics that I think can help you design better AR games, or at least inspire you on your journey to develop the next big augmented reality game or aid you in improving your current game.

If you haven’t read the first and second parts of this series, I highly recommend doing so, although you can read them in no particular order.

Atmospheric effects & Filters

explosion effect seen by thermal camera

Unlike standard mobile games or even Virtual Reality (VR) games, the scene in most augmented reality is the video stream of the camera, which projects the real world at where the user is pointing his mobile device’s camera at.

Although nothing stops the user to completely block that view with a virtual scene, the “magic” of AR is that blending of the virtual with the real world. Without, a game will just feel kind of a room-scale VR game with pretty bad presence experience.

There is one exception though, is when using portals, like in Alice in Wonderland AR quest, which actually turned out to be quite fascinating. I’ve seen many users using portals in their apps, but I’m yet to find a second game that got me really excited. I think that portals are overused with no really great particular reason. They do render a nice transition effect,t but they don’t really add anything substantial to the game, or at least I am yet to see a very good implementation of that. other than Alice in Wonderland AR quest.

There are things however that you can add to the scene to beautify it, like filters and atmospheric effect. Regarding filters, I am not a fan of filters in games that are persistent throughout the game. I first was really excited about it, but over time I start disliking it.

Filters can change the tint or apply special effects to the camera stream. In some particular cases, a filter is necessary. For example, you probably already know that a good lit place is needed for ARKit or ARCore to detect surfaces. Now, what if the developer wants his game to appear like it’s taking place at night?

We don’t want all our games to look like they are in daylight and sometimes we want to make the visual effects pop with shiny glowing colors. The only way to make this happen in AR is by darkening the environment.

The problem with it is that the lighting intensity of the real world doesn’t match that of the game, thus leading to a poor AR experience. If it was using AR glasses, it wouldn’t be a problem, because the entire field of view would render with that particular filter effect.

If you don’t have any other option, by all means, use it. You can also give the user an option to disable it in the settings.

Take a look at this game called Nightenfell: Shared AR. I’ve played this game in a bright room but the gameplay seems like it was taken in a pretty dark environment. The game would have been much less impressive has it was played in a bright environment, as it relies heavily on glowing, bright and colors visual effects.

Another good example is a game called Zombie Gunship Revenant, which heavily relies on image filtering to deliver its experience, and it does that brilliantly.

There is another option to improve the look of your AR scene is by adding atmospheric effects other than full-screen filters.

It might not be suitable for every game, but it definitely can help improve the gameplay experience and help you deliver a unique experience regardless of where the game is being played it. BY the way, just imagine a game with objects that change based on the environment you play the game at!

A few of the atmospheric effects that you can use that are less obtrusive to AR:

As you can see, there are different less intrusive touchups that you can use to personalize the scene and making it match your game’s theme. The AR can still shine through as you can see from the images, so the virtual can blend more naturally with the environment as you see both through the mobile device and with your own eyes.

In fact, I was quite surprised that not so many AR games make use of that. I’m not saying it’s for every game, but this is definitely a nice touchup that can help you create a more interesting and more visually appealing theme for your game.

Out-of-screen location cues

Out-of-screen location cuesThe second thing I want to talk about in this article is out-of-screen location cues.

When designing a game that is played with proportions which large larger than the screen’s boundaries, it might be good to use location cues to point where the player, enemy character or other important objects are located.

I found it to be particularly important for 360° AR games. I’ve played lots of 360-degree shooters. One thing I really hate is when I need to guess where I need to turn around like mad to find where enemies are located. I found myself turning right, left, looking up, only to find out that an enemy was behind me This constant rotation was very annoying. There are some ways to tackle this, one of them is using out-of-screen location cues.

This signals the user where a character or other important game element is located. I’m not saying to use it for a hide-and-seek game, but it can save players a great deal of dizziness and disorientation issues that might arise in certain games.

How you do it, simple, you need to create a symbol, like an arrow, that constantly moves alongside the screen’s edges and pointing where the specific game element is. In the image above, you can see me playing Lightstream Racer AR game in my little room. The track is huge and doesn’t fit on my screen. When the car is crossing the bounds of the screen, an icon with the car appears, with a little arrow that points to the location where the car is. I can quickly move the device and focus on the car again if I lose track of it.

To be continued…

I hope you enjoy Part 3 of Designing Great AR Games guide series. There are a lot of other important topics to talk about, so don’t forget to subscribe to my Facebook page and other social channels so you can stay informed when I release new articles and other useful and cool content. Thank you.