Jul 13, 2016 | By Benedict

Pokémon Go, released on July 6, is the most downloaded and most talked-about smartphone app of the week, with over 7.5 million downloads as of Monday. But could its augmented reality technology pave the way for a wider embrace of AR games and applications?

If you’ve been anywhere near a computer screen (or a marauding Rattata) over the last few days, you will no doubt have heard a great deal about Pokémon Go, Niantic’s new augmented reality game for smartphones. If the phenomenon has somehow eluded you, here’s how it works: you take a walk about town, point your phone camera around while looking at the screen, and try to spot (and catch) digital versions of Pikachu and the gang hanging around real-world locations, such as your local convenience store, post office, or park. With Pokémon Go, Pokémon are, quite simply, everywhere. Understandably, the game has proved incredibly popular with kids, but has also been a massive hit with adults, presumably looking to relive their Gameboy-based Pokémon-hunting days of the 1990s.

Since the US release of Pokémon Go on July 6, the game has also attracted a lot of attention for the wrong reasons: grown men and women have been spotted wildly tossing Poké Balls in highly inappropriate locations, prompting staff at police stations, shops, and museums to deliver official warnings to overzealous players. Others, meanwhile, have highlighted the manifest danger of trying to navigate the world through a three-inch smartphone screen, especially in the presence of traffic. Even the game’s developers have warned players to remain “safe and alert” while on the hunt.

But while most players and commentators have been talking about a) how they caught Charizard by the fire station or b) how idiotic everyone playing the game is, a smaller group of people have been talking about something potentially more significant: that is, from an augmented reality perspective, the game is absolutely groundbreaking. Yes, it’s only a game, and more “important” AR developments can be found elsewhere, but the way in which Pokémon Go brings digital characters into real environments is something that many casual tech users have never encountered before.

The immense early success of Pokémon Go has caused members of the tech community to start speculating wildly about the future of consumer AR products. While the popularity of the game is, of course, in no small part down to the familiarity of its characters, enthusiastic players have shown that smartphone-based AR play is something they can devote a lot of time to, potentially paving the way for all sorts of copycat games and new AR concepts. Even before Pokémon Go, Snapchat, the ephemeral messaging app, took the selfie-taking world by storm by adding a set of AR filters to its photo and video messaging feature, enabling users to adorn themselves with, amongst other things, giant cartoon eyes and—inexplicably—a kind of rainbow vomit effect. Despite the relative triviality of both Pokémon Go and Snapchat’s fun filter effects, the popularity of both bodes well for AR developers in other fields.

Images: AFP

Originally conceived of in 2014 by Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata and The Pokémon Company’s Tsunekazu Ishihara, Pokémon Go later received the support of Tatsuo Nomura of Google Maps, who then moved to Niantic, the game’s developer which itself was once part of Google. Niantic, however, had actually been building the groundwork for the game before the Pokémon concept was ever mooted: its map-based technology had previously been incorporated into Field Trip, a mobile app for uncovering local secrets, and Ingress, the company’s first augmented reality success, a massively multiplayer sci-fi game which turns real-world landmarks into game-world “portals.”

By combining advanced smartphone and location technology once again for Pokémon Go, Niantic has built what will certainly prove to be its biggest real-world gaming experience yet (7.5 million downloads as of Monday); one which, alongside other clever features, turns real-world locations into “Pokémon Gyms” where players can battle others to earn points and gain control of the location. The developer believes that this explorative and interactive approach to gaming encourages players to get outside and explore the world around them in a way that, for example, traditional console-based gaming does not.

Pokémon Go has given a glimpse of a bright future for augmented reality gaming, but the massively popular Pokémon franchise has also proved an inspiration for many figures in the 3D printing community. Earlier this year, as Pokémon celebrated its 20th anniversary, we compiled a list of 10 awesome 3D printed Pokémon creations. And what better way to celebrate catching Bulbasaur on Pokémon Go than by 3D printing your favorite seed Pokémon as a mini planter?

 

 

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