It was just about this time last year that Apple introduced the 3.1 firmware update to the iPhone that allowed developers to access the built-in camera for games and apps. What followed was an avalanche of “Augmented Reality” games, or in other words games that utilized real-time images from the iPhone camera and added digital graphical effects over those images to create gameplay out of the environments in front of you. Unfortunately, nothing too spectacular ever emerged from this technology, and most games consisted of shallow gameplay with Space Invaders-type graphics slapped over the camera's view. There have been some interesting uses of Augmented Reality on the iPhone just to be clear, but as far as gaming was concerned it never amounted to more than just a gimmick.
Now it seems that developer Int13 is trying something a bit different to bring a more authentic Augmented Reality experience to the iPhone (and camera-enabled iPod touches) with their upcoming game ARDefender. The way ARDefender works is that you'll print out an image from a PDF file available on their website, and this special image will be read by the camera and create a tower where the image is placed. The goal of the game is to defend that tower from waves of enemies by moving your device around the fixed position of the tower to take aim and blast away at them. It may sound a little simplistic gameplay-wise, but what I really like is how convincingly the tower and enemies seem to actually be on the table, which can be seen in the video below.
We previewed a technology very similar to that used in ARDefender way back in March of last year at GDC, but at that time use of the iPhone camera APIs was off limits to developers. The technology has also been used in the Playstation 3 game Eye of Judgment, and even in this incredible Augmented Reality tattoo. Ideas like this are obviously possible on the iPhone as well, and it seems like ARDefender is a step in the right direction. All I've ever really wanted from an Augmented Reality game is for it to make me actually feel like something is being created in the real life space around me, and by the looks of things ARDefender does just that.
It shouldn't be too long before we can get our hands on the game either, as ARDefender has already been submitted to Apple. Interestingly, the game has been available for over a month on the Samsung Wave, and impressions from those gamers have been positive. They've even come up with some clever ideas on how to use the technology, like printing out a huge version of the PDF image to create a gigantic tower and playing the game from an elevated area like a balcony, or pulling up the PDF on their computer at work and pointing their phone at it to play the game directly on the screen. We'll be sure to take a closer look at ARDefender when it gets released in the near future.