I am a huge gamer and for the past few years have watched the major consoles try to reinvent their platforms with motion-controlled gaming eSports through Wii, Kinect, and Playstation Move. You have also seen augmented reality trying to find a way to break through into mobile gaming but with no real success. But this week I saw something that might just make both dreams come true and change the course of video games.
Sphero is the world’s first robotic ball that you control with a tilt, touch, or swing from your smartphone or tablet. You can drive Sphero, play tabletop games, multiplayer games, hold Sphero in your hand to use it as a controller for on-screen gameplay, learn basic programming, and even explore augmented reality. It was that last feature where you can explore augmented reality that really caught my attention with the release of a game for Sphero called Sharky the Beaver. Sharky uses Sphero as a moveable and controllable augmented reality marker that lets you play an AR game, unlike anything you have ever seen since you aren’t anchored to one place like you were with a traditional paper-based AR marker. This means you can play the game by looking at your smartphone that is using Sphero as the AR marker to place Sharky in your physical space and you can then move around that space playing an interactive AR game. Also by a team using up Sphero the robot with your mobile device that is controlling Sphero, it lets you create sophisticated interactions like touching your smartphone screen to throw out a cupcake which Sharky will then go chase and eat. Watch the above to see the whole thing in action.
I look at Sphero and see a very viable new direction for video gaming, the kind that may be talked about on gaming blogs like flashbackcomicsandgames.com in the future. By freeing the player up from a stationary augmented reality marker to play the game and by teaming it up with a smartphone opens up gaming to a whole new dimension with amazing interaction design possibilities. I know people generally think of mobile gaming as going for a Wordswag download and playing that, or other simple games, but this really uses the power in the phone. Imagine playing Super Mario Brothers on the furniture in your house, racing Sonic the Hedgehog away from your dog, playing a first person shooter where the characters are running around the halls of your office, and the possibilities just keep going on. And this is just the first game on the first generation of the hardware…
Sphero is $129 and is available online or in store at retailers like The Apple Store, Target and Barnes and Noble (Xmas present anyone?). I have a feeling once I publish this article there are going to be a lot of Sphero’s flying around my design studio this holiday season.