visible game boundaries in AR

Should gameplay area boundaries be visible in AR Games?

Today I came across an AR game called Galaxia AR. It’s a simple Space Invaders game in augmented reality. Now, I’ve already got to play a space invaders style game called Alien Invaders which was an enjoyable experience in AR, quite intensive, but still fun.

While taking a look at the gameplay video on Twitter, the game itself is visually boxed out and the presentation isn’t seamless as the one I saw in Alien Invaders.

Here is the video from Twitter showing how the game plays out.

In Galaxia AR, the entire game is taking place inside a box. This is, in my opinion, the least attractive way to present a game. I saw it in many other ARKit games, but in some games, it’s slightly different. The boundaries are visible, but the top area is open therefore the game blends better with the real world.

I like my AR games to looks less like board games and take place around the real world space.

I saw something similar in the game Guns Royale AR mode and it was annoying. Here is an image of the game in AR.

Guns Royale AR Mode
Playing Guns Royale in the AR Mode on the floor in the living room.

It makes the entire AR experience very claustrophobic and it makes the game feel like a board game. I have no idea why the developer has decided to surround the gameplay area with a wall. I think that making the boundaries gradually move from opaque to transparency can make the game blend more seamlessly with the environment and look better in AR.

Here is another example of a game called Reflex Unit AR. The boundaries are more open-ended not like 3D walls, but still, it’s annoying moving in a big map while having those boundaries. Of course in this type of game, the developer had no choice because it’s a big map.

Mech with a shield boost, Reflex Unit AR screenshot
My mech got a shield boost which protects me from incoming projectiles for a short time.

I actually think that’s visually “boxing” a game in AR is a bad practice. The whole idea in AR is not to bring the same screen view experience to the user. After all, I’m already using the screen of my mobile phone or tablet to view the game, why do I need to see another screen (boundaries) inside the game itself?

The whole idea is to make the game seems like it’s part of the real scene. The more interaction with the physical scene the better. Furthermore, in Alien Invaders, you play as the platform and the game takes place in a three-dimensional space. Alien Invaders also made the alien shoot the player to encourage movement in the real physical space.

In Galaxia AR the enemies shoot the player, but because this game doesn’t play in the first-person perspective, the player isn’t required to move. This makes Galaxia AR more comfortable to play for those who prefer a more casual and easy gameplay. Sometimes I just enjoy playing an AR game while sitting on the bed and you can do that in Galaxia AR.

When I mentioned the word “boxing”, I referred to the visual aspect. Of course, many AR games are played within a restricted area. However, the game blends better with the environment if you don’t show boundaries to the user. some games like Splitter Critters and Flat Pack are boxed out, but they built a unique mechanic around their restrictive gameplay environment. Still, the immersion is negatively impacted. Why visually box a game in AR? The great thing about this technology is to allow seamless integration of 3D objects in the real space.

In Galaxia AR, it seems that the developer wanted to stay loyal to the classic arcade game and have that dark universe background with the stars. Now that’s OK, but I think there is a better way to have this presentation available in the game while still keeping the visual “magic” that AR brings. There is an option to put a semi-transparent background with stars like it was done in YuME: Alice’s Dream.

Here is an example:

YuME: Alice's Dream night sky at the ceiling
The entire living room ceiling was covered with that beautiful night sky display!

Now this one is probably not great for Galaxia AR because it’s too spread out.

Maybe this one looks better but still, the background creates a separation between the real world and the virtual. I still think to put the aliens straight into the world without any boxing or background works much better.

Space invaders in AR example
To make things more visually attractive, the developer can use more splashy visual effects to spice things up. This is what many developers are doing in AR and it works really well. I think that ghosthuntAR is a great example of that.

I want to open this thing to a debate and hear what you guys think of this type of design in AR, does it impair immersion, is it bad or good?

By the way, here is a link to the Galaxia AR game page on iTunes.