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Augmented Reality and LARPing: Will We Ever Get A Holodeck?

| 11 Oct 2010 22:32
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Experts in the field of augmented reality consider the core question to which we all want the answer: Is a holodeck like we saw in Star Trek: TNG ever going to be a reality?

At a thinking-man's panel at New York Comic Con called I'm from the Future and I LARP - RPGs, Augmented Reality, and You, the experts were split on whether the holodeck could actually happen, or if that's something we really even want in our gaming life. The Escapist presented the panel consisting of publisher and gaming expert Alex Macris, famed RPG and mobile game designer Greg Costikyan, and Robert Rice, who is from the future while also being an entrepreneur and consultant in the augmented reality field. The Escapist's own Senior Editor Susan Arendt started off by asking what augmented reality is all about. She supplied current example of the line of scrimmage lines on TV broadcasts of American football or the glowing hockey puck. But we're not very far off from using glasses to change the person you pass on the street into an orc if you both happen to be playing an augmented reality role-playing game.

"I think of augmented reality as using visual technology developed from or inspired by videogames to come into your real world and your everyday lives," Alex Macris said. "Whether that might be a game that knows where you are in the real world or a game that overlays fictional elements onto your real-world setting like showing a ghost when you look around the room, those would be minor current elements of augmented reality. The future would be things like a dream park or the holodeck."

Greg Costikyan disagreed. "Let's bring this back to LARPing for a minute," he said, referring to the act of Live Action Role-Playing in which players might fight with foam weapons or roleplay face-to-face with costumes and sets. "We don't need techonology for this. I read recently about a LARP run by the Dogma 99 people in Kosovo called Europa." In this LARP, people played refugees from fictional fascist Scandinavian countries while the gamemasters were the guards and justice system. "One of the basic rules of the LARP was that you could not break character for the whole three days. Just from reading some of the reactions of the people who played this game, it was one of the most emotionally affecting experiences of their lives. We can do that, and we should do more of that. We don't need technology for that."

"Augmented reality could make them all look like zombies," Robert Rice said. The man's got a point.

For Alex Macris though, it was about merging real world immersion with visual enhancement technology and he related an example from his time playing a LARP like NERO. "The sense of immersion between the fighting was very high. You had a shield, you were whaling on the other guy, he was whaling on you, you would try and parry, that was great. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, some dude would throw a beanbag at me. And then I was dead." In NERO, a beanbag denotes a spell going off like a Fireball or a Magic Missile. "The point at which my gladiatorial awesomeness was leveled by a beanbag was the point at which my immersion broke. I was like, 'That's a beanbag.'

"It's at that point that if augmented reality transformed that beanbag into scorching abysmal ball of flame that left me wetting my pants in terror, that would be pretty cool. I think we need to blend the real world and the digital, and that's why it's augmented reality and not virtual reality," Macris concluded.

One older audience member was worried that such "whiz-bang" special effects would ruin his LARPing mojo and Robert Rice countered that he was interested in creating tools. "I want to build a tool and a platform and a backend system that enables and facilitates people like you that are creative and interesting to not have to worry about how to model this whole thing in 3D or I have to program this over here," Rice said. "I want a drag and drop magical experience. So you can walk in here and if you've got a good eye and you're creative, this whole place should look like a jungle."

So there you have it. These augmented reality experts don't want to create the holodeck per se, they want to have a system that will allow LARPers to easily craft their own worlds. We will likely never lose the face-to-face interaction but augmented reality will be able to enhance how we play games. We will still have to wait for the 24th century for the holodeck, but we could be less than five years from goggles or glasses that can overlay graphics over real-world locations and provide that awesome fireball blast.

Of course, when technicians say five years, that can mean anything. Try asking engineers when some theoretical project that they are working on will be ready. "If you ask that question, their inevitable response is, 'Oh maybe five years,'" Costikyan said. "The thing you need to know is that when you are talking to an engineer and they say 'Oh maybe five years' it means they have no fucking clue."

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