Another in my ongoing series of ideas I’ll probably never act on. Do whatever you like with this. If you actually make the game and it runs on Android, let me know. I’d love to try it out.
The High Concept
Play through a role-playing game adventure on your mobile phone while moving around your local park, hiking through the woods, or wandering the streets of your home town. Participate in simple quests solo, or play with friends. Or if you prefer, develop your own adventures and share them online for other people to play.
In the 1980s and 90s there were a series of books called Fighting Fantasy that let players play through an RPG-like adventure without a gamemaster. Combine a mobile implementation of those books with geocaching and then let the users create all the actual content and you have GPS Quest.
Building GPS Quest would be straightforward:
Develop a simple RPG engine with monsters, loot, stats, and leveling up. Leave as many hooks as possible for user-generated content to modify things. Combat will probably want to be turn-based. Write a mobile app to resolve combats in the system. This is by far the hardest step. Probably do this with just one player for the first version.
Build a back end that can track a player’s RPG stats over time. Include a quest system that can unroll an adventure in front of the player as they move around the world. This would probably be waypoint-based so the user can look at the next place to go on a map on their phone.
Build quest creation tools that let a user (you) write new quests in the actual physical world.
Publish all this to the world.
Iterate until massively popular
There are many hundreds of features that could be added once the basic system is up and running. Some ideas include:
Multiplayer. First for small parties of 2-5 people and them maybe for raids of 20-40 people.
Audio for monsters, navigation, and quests. You could download it all before starting the quest so it could play quickly.
Custom art for quests. Might want to download this ahead of time too.
A builder-maintained bestiary
A builder-maintained loot catalog
Tools to remap existing quests onto new locations
Matchmaking tools to help players find each other
The sci-fi, zombie, pirate, superhero, spy, vampire, giant robot, caveman, and not-at-all-fantasy-medieval versions of the same game. That last one is so some SCA people can feel comfortable playing your game.
Leaderboards for quest builders, quest remappers, and players to give all of those people bragging rights.
More simple geocaching features like buried treasure and traps that players can leave for each other.
Ports to whichever platform you didn’t launch for in the first place.
Trading systems, auction systems, crafting systems
This is my talk from last Wednesday’s Seattle Augmented Reality Meetup. I will upload the discussion that followed as a separate video later today. Comments and feedback are welcome… just comment below or over on Vimeo.
If you follow me on Twitter you have probably noticed all my tweets about a mysterious Android app that I’m working on. Well that app shall be a mystery no more… I have made it available for download and encourage you to try it out. You can find the client here. (You will probably want to click that link on your phone. You can also find it in the navigation links on the right side of the page.) It should work on any Android device with GPS, a camera, and at least Android 1.6.
The working title for the app is Mobile Photo Hunt. If you give Photo Hunt a try and have feedback, I set up a User Voice forum to collect that feedback. This is an open alpha, so don’t be surprised if major changes occur over the coming weeks. I am making it available here well before it goes up on the app market so I can get some early feedback. Please tell me what you think.
The basic idea is this: People take pictures of cool or interesting things in the world and upload those as puzzles. Those pictures (and their GPS coordinates) are made available to everyone else and everyone else is encouraged to find whatever the thing is and take a picture of their own to prove that they found it. Other users can then compare the two pictures and vote up or down about whether or not they match. Some sort of game mechanics wrap the whole activity to encourage good puzzles, searching for puzzles, and confirming matches. Except for the game mechanics this all basically works now.
The game uses Facebook Connect to authenticate users. I expect to eventually add Twitter, Google, and OpenID logins as alternate ways to authenticate. I have no interest in maintaining a list of usernames and passwords, so creating a custom Photo Hunt account will never be an option. These login methods are only used to figure out who you are and and come up with something to call you. The app doesn’t publish anything to your feed, send any messages to your friends, or do anything else annoying in whatever social network you used to log in. I may eventually add the ability to automatically post new puzzles to Facebook/Twitter, but that will be something you can opt-in to when you upload the puzzle.
There are a few known issues up on User Voice already, and a few more minor ones I’ll list here:
After logging in you will see three paragraphs telling you how to play but no buttons. They appear after your phone acquires a GPS signal. Need a busy indicator of some sort to indicate what’s going on.
The FB Connect login has a yellow warning bar that says “Cookies Required.” Cookies actually WORK and your login is stored, so I don’t know what that’s about. Haven’t dug into it yet.
When you bring up an on-screen keyboard the FB Connect dialog freaks out. I’m hoping this will be fixed when I switch to the official Facebook SDK.
After you switch to another app it may still be using GPS. Killing Photo Hunt with a task killer will probably fix that. Eventually it will stop using GPS on its own.
So that’s my app. Please give it a shot and tell me what you think.
Here’s a QR code for the app in case you happen to be viewing this on your desktop:
The impending launch of the iPad has had me thinking a lot about where computers in general are going. Mobile computers are moving into larger form-factors and they are bringing their mobile operating systems with them. In addition to the iPad there are also about half a dozen tablets and a few netbooks coming out that run Android. I believe these devices are the start of a new wave that will eventually replace Windows and OSX machines for the vast majority of computer users.
This sort of platform has existedbefore, but previous attempts never really worked out. This time I think they have a real shot at it, and I think two factors will make the difference this time around. Both platforms have large libraries of apps, and both platforms greatly reduce the cost of owning a computer.
Previous attempts to build small, lightweight operating systems always included a big push to sign up developers. Then they failed to attract significant developer attention because they had no installed base. Then no one could figure out why they should buy one because they had no applications and the installed base never materialized. Both Apple and Google have used the mobile web to bootstrap both their user-bases. Many people are willing to buy the phones because they can read web-pages from anywhere. Nobody balks at developing for these platforms because there are millions of them out there. Then another wave of people are happy to buy the phones because of all the cool apps. As a result each platform have tens of thousands of applications when their mid-sized devices launch.
The cost of ownership factor is also a pretty big deal. For years I have had computer-savvy friends describe to me how they will no longer support relatives on Windows and have purchased iMacs for their parents. It is much easier for a normal person to break a Windows machine than to break a Macintosh, so the unfortunately tech-savvy guy in the family ends up spending more time supporting a casual computer user on Windows. Android and iPhone OS push this much further by removing most of the remaining pitfalls. This doesn’t matter much for powerusers, but for the average computer user it is a big deal.
Some previous attempts at midsized computers (e.g. Magic Cap and Newton) had a similarly low cost of ownership. Some previous attempts at midsized computers (e.g. Ultra-Mobile PCs, Windows-based Tablet Computers, and Netbooks) had a huge software library to draw on but a cost of ownership that was actually higher than their desk-bound brothers. These new mobile-derived operating systems are the first time we’ve seen both factors in the same devices. I think this could be as disruptive as the original Personal Computer revolution.
What do you think? Will these new mid-sized computers cause massive upheaval, or will they fall down the same dark hole as their predecessors and never be heard from again?
I am bad with faces. I mean really bad with faces. My brain just doesn’t seem to be very good at mapping what someone looks like with their name. This often makes things difficult for me at networking events and conferences.
A passive mobile application that scans the environment around the user for faces. When it detects a face that it recognizes the application speaks the person’s name to the user via their bluetooth earpiece. Ideally this solution would also involve a discrete camera that could operate without being obvious to the people it is operating on. The point is to serve as a passive aid to memory while not changing the behavior of the people you are interacting with.
There are a couple concept applications out there along this line including Recognizr and Comverse Social AR. Both of these applications have the same problem, which is that you have to hold up your phone to take a photo of the person you want to identify, then wait for the result to come back. That is intrusive enough that a simple “I’m sorry, remind me what your name is…” would be a better option.
Facial recognition. There are many providers of facial detection and recognition APIs, so it should be possible to license this piece. Unfortunately most of the providers don’t seem to be very good at licensing their SDK to people. I get the idea that these are all very small companies that spun out of someone’s PhD research.
Bluetooth camera – I bought an OptiEye. It works pretty well. If you ask them nicely they will send you the protocol documentation. The specs claim a four hour battery life, which is plenty for most networking events.
Text to speech – I haven’t done any research here. Many applications do it, though, so I would imagine SDKs are available. If nothing else the user could record the names and the software could just play back the recordings.
Mobile computer – Both Android and iPhone allow communication over RFCOMM, which is what the OptiEye uses. Existing devices are also too weak in the CPU department to do much visual processing on the phone, but they could stream video or individual frames up to a server for further processing.
What do you think? Dream product? Interesting project? Terrible idea?