Gamescom 2013 - Gaming on Google Glass
The focus of this year's Gamescom in Cologne, Germany is of course on new hardware. With the release of new consoles from both Sony and Microsoft lying just around the corner, there's no shortage of showbiz filling out every square inch of every last hall. But in a quieter corner of the sprawling Koelnmesse convention center, there's a booth manned by AMA, a company that wants to help mobile gaming take its next evolutionary step via Google Glass, the new augmented-reality headset that's currently enjoying a limited beta release.
The game on show at the event - Escape - is an extremely simple one, and it's one that was originally released for Android devices. In Escape you have a series of levels built out of grids that are sprinkled with markers. Your job is to simply swipe a character up, down, left and right around the screen from one marker to the next, never back-tracking, and ensuring that every marker is touched upon once.
Simply though this gameplay is, there's nothing primitive about the experience of playing it on Glass, particularly if you've never used the technology before. Stare straight ahead of you so as to ignore the projection, and you can still see it hovering in the upper right-hand corner of your vision, like a speck of dust that's become stuck in your eye. Direct your gaze into that upper corner, and the world at large may well think you're in the throws of a medical emergency.
Combine this with the control mechanisms for Escape, and you can expect to look like someone who's not just experiencing a medical crisis, but has also become inexplicably pre-occupied with swatting flies away from his face. The reason? At this stage of development, the only way to control the game is by making finger swipes up, down, left and right across an arm of the Glass hardware itself, although voice controls will be implemented in due course.
There's something more pressing that needs to be tweaked though, if gaming on Glass is to really take off. At present, AMA only has a prototype version of the game, and it's one that requires a tethered laptop to power the gameplay - not exactly mobile, then. But once AMA has its hands on fully-fleshed out development kits, we can expect something a little more revolutionary.
"If we were to distribute the app as it is right now, we would kind of be in trouble because we would have to provide a user manual!" says Marine Fradet, product manager at AMA. "We would like it to be much easier, and we are actually discussing things with Google, to see if they are happy with what we are doing on this, and if they can at some point help us and how we distribute the game."
"The only thing we're waiting for right now is the Google developer's kit that will help us improve the game, put the voice control in, and make sure that we can remove the cable and everything to be [truly] mobile. Everything depends on when we will have the dev kits."
When that moment arrives, AMA has grander plans that go beyond simply porting over existing Android titles, a process which right now feels more like a gimmick than something of any real and revolutionary substance.
"We are actually trying to start a little studio in France, " explains Marine. "We're trying to find business investment to help us found a studio, and we would like to have a few people working on this. We would like to develop more games and applications that are dedicated to Glass."
Even with voice controls, gaming on a Google Glass is likely to be restricted to traditional, simple gaming concepts for the foreseeable future - those found in slow-paced puzzle games or automatic endless-runners, for example. Much will depend on the functionality that makes it through to the commercial release of the hardware, a time when developers will not only have an understanding of the full technology available to consumers, but access to feedback from those same consumers about the gaming experience they actually want from the device.
Right now, the entire concept of gaming on Google Glass feels like nothing more than a fascinating - if limited - experiment. But when you consider the potential for feeding live information into your gaming experience, one that's powered by hardware connected to the most comprehensive source of information the world's ever known, you can't help but feel it's an experiment worth pursuing.