New Scientist about Location-Based Games

Science E-Zine New Scientist has a good piece of location-based games: Gamers turn cities into a battleground. The article summarizes the best-known project such as "Uncle Roy..." or "Pac-Manhattan", "Digital Street Games" and the game designed by It's Alive. It also describes next avenues. Some exerpts:

While many of the first real-world games involved using separate GPS receivers and handheld computers, mobile phones and PDAs that integrate such technology are catching up. "There's an evolution using the mobility of the phone to create completely new gaming experiences," says Tom Söderlund, who worked as a games producer for Swedish games company It's Alive, based in Stockholm. "I think we are going to see more and more games that blend with our real lives."

Definitely, instead of transposing console games to mobile devices, the crux point here is to take advantage of the handheld features (mobility, voice, positioning...) to design innovative game scenarios.

The end of the paper is the msot interesting since it describes what's next, focusing on Gizmondo's plan:

Games console makers are also embracing the trend. Portable console maker Gizmondo is soon to launch Colors, a gangland game where players play a conventional arcade game to earn credits and money. These are then used to buy turf in the real world - Soho in London, say. Walk into a Soho cafe and attempt to play Colors, and the GPS embedded in the console might tell you you're playing on another gang's patch, and you need to beat them in a virtual fight to claim the turf and continue.

The company has even bigger plans, developing a game that exploits a digital camera already built into the console. Virtual creatures live at specific GPS coordinates, and when a player views the location through the camera they will see the real world with a three-dimensional animated digital creature laid over the scene.

Finally, it points the many problems that arise with these location-based games:

For some games to work, you need a quorum of players. "If I'm a good terminator trying to find a bad terminator to fight, and the only bad one lives in Sweden, then I'm not going to see much action,"

And in Uncle Roy, for example, not only does the game involve innocent bystanders - the woman dressed in black who Matt followed had no knowledge she was taking part in the exercise - but it culminates in the street player climbing into a stranger's car, which means the player has to trust the organisers.

game designers face the challenge of how to preclude "cyber-stalking", and protect the safety of the public and players, especially children, who might wander into unsafe situations or places.

A very interesting summary of what's going on lately!