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Alternate Reality Games

TGS: Open Me, open you, open everything in the room

Sep 22 // Conrad Zimmerman
To keep those bands from popping up, I had to hold them down with my fingers while my partner opened the lid to reveal a coupon in the box. Tapping the coupon to retrieve it, the lid grew teeth and snapped back down, which gave me a bit of a start (and a laugh). The box's lid would need to be held by the other player in order to prevent it from causing injury. A hand with one bandaged finger appeared in the lower right corner of the Vita's display, which serves as a health meter (a second hand pops up once the first is fully injured, for a total of ten mistakes possible before total failure). And that's a very simple example. The next box was metallic, with a button on its top. Pressing this button caused panels to open on two of the sides, one displaying a five digit number and the other a nine button keypad and both with a meter indicating a limited amount of time to properly enter the sequence. There were five of the sequences to enter and, after each, the buttons for the keypad player would change their composition, introducing symbols as well as numbers. Once several of these codes were entered, the box changed again, producing a laser beam which had to be reflected over to a sensor on the opposite end using the two Vitas. This was probably the most challenging to pull off, as it was kind of hard to tell where the laser was in relationship to your partner, and getting the angles right was tricky. I love this idea so much. It's not a complicated game, but the possibilities for challenging and creative puzzle designs is vast. The multiplayer element is really cool, and it's fun to work on a puzzle cooperatively with another player, but I can't help thinking that the chances of my encountering another person with a Vita who wants to play Open Me! when I have one with me are kind of low. So, I'm highly interested, but I'd have to know a bit more about exactly how much single-player content will be available in the release before I would throw my money down. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more on this as something to snag when I finally invest in a Vita.
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"Come on man, WHAT'S IN THE BOX?!"
Augmented Reality games are a neat thing, but there aren't a lot of them which have captured my interest beyond that. But I've finally found one that I'm really into in the Sony booth at Tokyo Game Show. Open Me is a game whe...

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Sony to show off 3D VR headset prototype at TGS


Sep 11
// Dale North
A new video on Sony's Japanese YouTube channel teases a prototype head-mounted display set to be unveiled at this year's Tokyo Game Show, during the public days (Sept 22 and 23). They call it the Prototype-SR and it features...

Review: Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir

Apr 13 // Jim Sterling
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir (3DS)Developer: Tecmo KoeiPublisher: NintendoRelease: April 13, 2012MSRP: $39.99 Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir keeps its association with the Fatal Frame series off of its packaging, but once you get into the game, you'll notice that the main story mode is supposed to be a spin-off of the classic horror franchise. Those expecting a chilling experience on par with Tecmo's survival horror games, however, are in for an immense disappointment.  The convoluted premise sees players coming into possession of the Camera Obscura, a magical camera that can see supernatural phenomena. The 3DS itself proudly takes the role of the aforementioned camera, while a provided AR book, full of pages that the handheld system can recognize, acts as the Diary of Faces. Over the course of the game's two-hour campaign, players will interact with this diary, solve inane puzzles, and do battle with ghosts.  More of an interactive novel broken apart by light challenges, The Cursed Memoir's story trots out the same tired Japanese horror tropes you've likely experienced a thousand times, with long-haired spirit girls, wearily "creepy" children, and arcane rituals all making their familiar and trite appearances. It's like a class reunion of every overplayed Eastern horror movie, with dialog that is only randomly delivered via voice acting, and a ghostly companion that players are constantly prompted to talk to in between narrative moments, for no reason whatsoever.  The biggest problem with Spirit Camera is that the "gameplay" isn't worth the hassle of getting it to work. First of all, the 3DS doesn't have the best camera in the world, and it requires a lot of light before it will recognize the AR book, which itself needs to be constantly folded to stop the pages sticking up in the air. I was actually restricted to playing Spirit Camera during the day, for the lights in my house are too soft for the 3DS to work with. During afternoons, I was moving from window to window, attempting to chase the setting sun as it shifted over my house. To play it at night, you'll need rather bright lights which, for a ghostly horror game, really seems to defeat the object.  When the 3DS can actually recognize the book, players will need to find the right pages to make the contained pictures come to life. Every now and then, there will be a simple puzzle -- usually involving changing the camera lens with a D-Pad press in order to see something special. At one point, there's a game of hide-and-seek with a child who gives vague clues as to which page he's on. It's all very remedial stuff, intended to show off the system's AR capabilities ... which are too limited to deserve showing off.  The action picks up a little with combat sequences, during which players will need to stop hunching over the book and stand up to take photos of ghosts that could attack from any angle. Battles will be familiar to those who have enjoyed Fatal Frame, as players focus the camera on a ghost to charge up a power meter and snap photographs to reduce its health. When the meter turns red, the opponent is going to launch an attack, countered by quickly taking a picture. While these fights are interesting at first, the predictable attack patterns, limited interaction, and miserably slow pace cripple any potential excitement that could have been had. Eventually it becomes a case of walking around in a circle until you see red on the screen, hitting a button, and repeating.  Not to mention, you can get a near-identical combat system in Face Raiders, which is packaged for free on the 3DS already. The only difference is that Nintendo's free game is a lot faster and far more engrossing than the trudging waste of time presented in Spirit Camera.  Between the requirement for a strong light source, the need to either hunch over a book or spin around the room, and a number of puzzles that seem to require players having three arms, Spirit Camera presents itself as a game that truly doesn't care about the player's time or convenience. As is often the case with glorified tech demos, Tecmo Koei's "horror" game selfishly puts its own ideas above its user's entertainment. It's simply not fun to have to hold down a page on a book while pressing the D-Pad with a single hand, as the other hand is trying to hold the 3DS at the right angle and distance from the page. It's not fun to constantly twist the 3DS around and talk to some gormless fool sat "next" to you in order to continue a dull story. It's not fun to wander in a circle taking pictures of ghoulies that sound as bored as you are. Spirit Camera is everything a game should be not -- self-absorbed and gleefully dismissive of the consumer.  It's almost a mercy that the drudgery lasts less than two hours, but not enough of a mercy to escape criticism for being such a swindle. There's an "extra" mode and a few minigames that try to pad out the running time, but they're all fairly forgettable, mostly centered around taking photographs and finding pretend ghosts in them. In all fairness, these minigames represent what could have been a good idea. If Spirit Camera had dropped the lame story and geared itself more toward spontaneous ghost hunting, it might have been fun. It also wouldn't have relied on the ridiculous AR book that contributes so much to the destruction of any and all atmosphere.  To top it all off, the game looks like garbage as well. There are a few nice FMV sequences, but the on-screen chicanery is a joke. When the cursed diary "comes to life," players get to see superimposed images appear on the page, desperately trying to look authentic but coming across as embarrassing B-movie green screen effects. Characters are simplistic and poorly animated, and the 3D effects will likely need to be switched off, given all the moving around that the 3DS needs to do. After all, it's not like Spirit Camera actually cares about its ideas working properly. It only matters that we see how clever it's been.  The only good thing to say about Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is that somewhere, maybe, at one point in time, there was a laudable ambition at play. As I said at the top of this review, I respect the thinking behind this project, and the potential of augmented reality gaming to provide some unnerving adventures. The result of Tecmo Koei's attempt, however, is a demeaning waste of time. Shallow, predictable, awkward and pathetically brief, Spirit Camera isn't worth the paper that its silly ghost diary is printed on. You'll have a scarier time using the AR features already packed into the 3DS and making spooky owl noises with your mouth.
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In theory, the idea behind Spirit Camera is brilliant. Exploiting the 3DS' augmented reality features to turn players into ghost hunters is a marvelous undertaking. I love the thought of scurrying around the house, pretending...


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Club Nintendo peeps and more get free Kid Icarus AR cards


Mar 14
// Tony Ponce
One of the hooks of the upcoming Kid Icarus: Uprising is the use of AR Cards to play special augmented reality minigames. The game itself will come with six cards randomly drawn from a pool of 20, but there are still tons of ...
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GDC: Sony shows markerless, cardless AR tech on Vita


Mar 11
// Dale North
On the GDC show floor Sony showed several working examples of Magnet (working title), a new series of demos showing off augmented reality technology that does not require AR cards or any other type of special markers to funct...

Impressions: PS Vita's free AR games

Feb 22 // Jim Sterling
Let's get the first game out of the way, Table Soccer. This is the most ambitious of the games on offer, and it's also the least fun. The premise is quite interesting, as it allows you to build your own soccer field using all of the cards available. Three cards are positioned lengthways to create the pitch, a further two are required for the stands, and the final one creates a scoreboard. You can move the cards around to increase the size of your stadium, which is quite cool.  Table Soccer is, essentially, what it sounds like. It's a table soccer game in the same vein as Subbuteo. Little toy players are scattered around the pitch, and you flick them to kick balls, move into positions, and tackle other players in a turn-based scenario. Frankly, however, I barely spent much time with it due to the controls being rubbish. Even when you zoom in, the players were far too tiny for my fat penis fingers to control. If you are Jack Skellington, you might have a better time, but make sure to wear protective gloves so that your bony hands don't scratch the Vita! In all seriousness, people who are really into soccer might get off on it, but it's too much of a hassle to set up when you could just get FIFA instead.  Next up, we have Fireworks. This is something of a rhythm game, although there's no real rhythm to speak of. You set up your cards to serve as the foundation of a twee little house. Fireworks shoot from the house and your job is to tap on them so they explode in a shower of pretty flames. Fireworks can be detonated as soon as a target appears on them, but timing the detonation until the target's curved lines are joined in a circle is the key to achieving perfect scores.  Fireworks looks quite nice, and having a miniature firework display on your desk is cool. However, the game's biggest challenge comes from seeing how long you can keep playing until the four-note background tune drives you absolutely insane. The monotonous music -- though I use the term "music" loosely -- is enough to turn a sane man mad and a mad man sane, but if you are possessed of a steel will, then the actual gameplay provides some simplistic amusement that shows off the AR features in a clean, solid manner.  The standout game is Cliff Diver, despite how bland and unexciting its name is. Cliff Diver uses a card to erect a diving board and pool of water, and requires your timed button presses to make Diver Dan perform perfect jumps. It's a little more involved than the other games, but it is far from complicated.  First, you have to tap the rear touchpad in time with a beeping heart monitor so that our half-naked hero can build enough adrenaline and make his jump. You'll then have to wait until he reaches the optimum point on the diving board (indicated by a marker that flashes green at the right moment) and hold the X button. The longer you hold down X, the further Dan will dive. As he falls toward the water, he'll pass through several hoops, and you'll need to press one of the face buttons (shown on screen) as the hoops turn green in order to increase his score.  It's pretty simple, but there's enough variety in terms of diving boards and hoop patterns to make for quite a neat little distraction. If you're going to test any of the AR games out, I fully recommend Cliff Diver as the first download. It's barely much of a game, but it does a decent job as an entertaining little tech demo.  Besides which, they are all free, so don't expect too much and you might end up having a little more fun than you bargained for.
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Just in time for the PlayStation Vita's North American launch, a trio of free games bounced onto the PlayStation Store, hoping to demonstrate the handheld's augmented reality gameplay. You might notice that your Vita came pac...

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CES: PlayStation Vita has augmented reality cards too


Jan 12
// Conrad Zimmerman
One of the neater aspects of portable gaming to come about in recent years is the advent of augmented reality experiences. We're seeing them crop up all over the place now, as every handheld device with a screen, a camera and...
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Kojima: Cloud is the future, games need a 'head chef'


Oct 06
// Jim Sterling
Metal Gear Solid director Hideo Kojima has embraced a future where Cloud delivery and augmented reality take hold, joining a growing cabal of developers who believe that consoles are on the way out and game streaming is on th...
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SDCC: Check out Nintendo's big ol' AR cards for 3DS


Jul 23
// Dale North
Nintendo has a gaming lounge set up right next door to the San Diego Convention Center, where Comic-Con is taking place. In the San Diego Ballroom at the Marriott Marquis & Marina, right outside and to the right, is the N...
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Project Mimicry lets you play a real-life sandbox game


Jul 08
// Maurice Tan
The Dutch indies at Monobanda have created a true digital sandbox in the most literal sense possible -- one with real sand. Using manual labor, you shape and create an augmented reality landscape that is affected by, and proj...
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E3: Here are your special E3 2011 Pokedex 3D AR cards


Jun 07
// Jonathan Holmes
Crap! The media room at E3 is about to close! We've got crap loads of work to do, but before I'm totally buried, I wanted to give you these E3 exclusive Pokedex 3D AR cards. Download your free Pokedex 3D app from the 3DS store, touch the gear, select AR Viewer, then watch them Poke-mans pop out of your computer screen. I love it!

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