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January 6, 2010 / Joe Osborne

Coffee Talk: Have You Augmented Your Reality Yet?

Welcome to Geekadelphia’s weekly discussion column, Cofffee Talk, where we talk about the finer issues and topics concerning video games, technology and all the other things you can’t talk about with your slightly-less-geeky friends. Have a question for us or a suggestion for a discussion topic? Send an email to or tweet with us. Follow me on Twitter if you’d like to keep this week’s discussion alive.

Generally, the goal of absorbing story driven media like film or interactive media such as video games is to briefly escape into another world, right? It would be difficult to disagree that the reason why novels like the Harry Potter series or the Twilight saga are so popular is because they take iconic fantasy tropes like magic and vampires and insert them into our world. Since the birth of the world wide web, web designers and software developers have made several attempts at recreating this faux-realistic fantasy experience in real time using the internet and more recently, smart phones.

The term ‘Augemented Reality Game‘ (ARG) has recently become a buzz word in the tech world as visible progress has been made towards the ultimate goal of being able to see the world through RoboCop‘s eyes. We agree, that would be awesome. After the break, let’s see where ARGs are right now and discuss the future possibilities of what I like to call “holy-crap-there’s-a-dragon-in-my-living-room games”.


I recently became part of the cool kids clique with my very own iPhone and have had my face surgically attached to it’s screen like everyone else (comes free with the two-year contract). Since then, I picked up a little gem of a freebie app called Parallel Kingdom, which is an MMO that uses your iPhone or Android based phone’s GPS to determine your location. It then throws magic, monsters and other fantasy essentials at where you are on the GPS map. It’s incredibly addictive once you start claiming territory and resources that are represented on a GPS map of wherever you are physically.

This is a bare-bones ARG game, but it’s effective. Other programs like Acrossair take the ARG concept literally and use the iPhone’s camera, GPS and digital compass to provide a lens for your eyes that contains floating tags of whatever you’re looking at. Want to see what this restaurant is rated? Open up the app and take a look (seriously). The issue many have, however, is how jumpy the tags are when moving the phone around. It’s fair to say that ARGs aren’t quite there in terms of image stability or realistic tag placement, but we’re getting there.

So, what are we looking at in 2010? Wired recently posted a story that featuring Earthmine‘s new 3D imaging technology as well as the developer’s kits they issued to cell phone developers. Their new imaging techniques claim make tags appear more realistically on our screens while increasing the accuracy of smart phone GPS tech.

Will this new technology make ARGs more immersive and, more importantly, practical? Well, what you see above is Earthmine’s goal. Notice how the dragon actually inches closer as the guy holding his phone does. Does this cause you to see a future in ARGs or are you more interested in realistic applications of AR tech like restaurant ratings or theater reviews? Maybe you think it’s all silly. Either way, drop in and give the Geekadelphia community your two cents.


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