Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rant: Augmented reality-the way of the future.. really?

When Hasbro released their new Lazer Tag Augmented Reality series of laser tag blasters, we all thought it sounded like a fantastic idea. Hell, tech writers were all over it and thought it made for a great concept, bridging that “real life video game” concept that has constantly been thrown around since laser tag was even invented.

Hasbro seem to have a fair bit of faith on the AR idea, as we’ve seen them port the idea over to the upcoming new Rebelle line to be released later on this year. Once again, the toy/tech media have been all over it and claim this to be an innovative way to bring the tech worlds and the toy worlds together. Hasbro aren’t the only ones, with other toy companies releasing similar wares. Kickstarter funded App Tag brought out their App blaster because hundreds of people believed it a phone based blaster would be a great idea. Tek Recon is the new kid on the block that we’ve only seen glimpses of but is about to make the humble rubber band gun seriously bad ass with iPhone apps to have a near “Halo” experience with your friends. This MUST be the way things are going.. Right?

I’m still not convinced.

Last year, the LTAR series of laser tag gear got a fair whack of attention. The whole AR functionality looked AWESOME and seemed to make perfect sense as a natural progression.. in theory. I even ensured I was in the US when they came out so I could pick up a set, THAT’s how keen I was. The fact they were also going to be available domestically meant Australia’s long standing drought for good home laser tag gear was over; surely anyone with a Nerf blaster would want these too, right?

Flash forward six months and the sales of these blasters haven’t been as epic as we’d have liked nor does it look like it was the jumpstart for laser tag that we were all hoping for.

Which is a shame, because the LTAR series of blasters really are some of the best home laser tag blasters ever made and that's WITHOUT the AR cradle. (as a side note- really- pick yourself up a pair of these- some stores are selling a two pack for 35 bucks which is a bargain.)

The thing is, I don’t know anyone who actively uses the AR features of these taggers.

Firstly, all of the info surrounding the LTARs incorrectly suggested it was mandatory to have an iPod touch or iPhone 4GS. This turned many people off because 1) they might not have HAD an iPhone or iPod touch, and 2) they might not have wanted to attach a 500 dollar phone to a 40 dollar toy gun. The fact the LTARs don’t require the iPhone/iPod touch cradle to perform actual laser tag functionality was not obvious and therefore that vital piece of info was lost on so many people.

That’s one part. But the other part is if you do fire up the AR app and give it a go, you’ll realise pretty quickly that augmented reality- well it kinda sucks:(

I can’t quite explain it but there’s something very unsatisfying about firing at nothing. It’s not the same as a video game. With a video game, you’re immersed in the video game world. With AR, you’re kind of still in your world, albeit with a few uninspiring graphics flying around for you to shoot. It doesn’t really change your view of reality, it just looks like, and feels like, a gimmick. I liked the idea of a tracking/motion sensor ala Aliens style to compliment the blasters because it’s adding a useful element to the gameplay. But adding the visuals of the lasers and even the weapons changes just didn’t work for me- they didn't feel real. And sure enough, most people I knew who tried it, regretted fitting their blasters with the permanent iPhone cradle in the first place.

The Nerf Rebelle line is going to have a similar cradle system, with added social media elements to share “missions” and what have you. In the privacy of your lounge room, you’re happy to “go on missions” with your friends via a headset. COD and a PS3. But as far as physically walking around your neighbourhood with a Nerf gun/bow ? My eccentric extroverted friends are already self conscious of playing the “Zombies Run” app and that just involves running fast so do we really believe that the self conscious ‘tweenies’ market is going to be happy with patrolling and sharing such activities over their phone connections? Market research says yes, right?

Problem is market research says a lot of things that sound great in theory; most people would respond pretty positively at the idea of AR tech and in our heads, it sounds like a great idea. Just like the idea of the LTAR sounded fantastic and was much anticipated by all of us, but the harsh reality is it rarely gets used. And that’s the thing about all of these new cross over tech toys; the concept sounds fantastic but they rarely meet user expectations in reality.

I was very excited by my App Tag blasters (hell I was one of the backers who funded the kickstarter project) and had big dreams about bringing them into the office and having mad wars with my fellow colleagues around the floor. The reality? They’ve never seen longer than 2 minutes of battle. They are well made, and do exactly what they said they would do, so what was the problem? The problem was my reality of Augmented Reality was different from what theirs was:P

Tek Recon Havok- Pic courtesy of

This whole ideal of the ‘real life video game” sounds fantastic in theory, but I just find AR technology at this stage feels very artificial and gimmicky. In the virtual video game world, we have our avatar and we have our blaster of choice. In the real world we like things to be real; Nerfers already struggle with the idea of laser tag lacking actual projectiles to fire, so how do you think they'll relate to an AR cradle? I noticed these very cool looking new blasters from 'Tek Recon' look fantastic but again are also relying on the AR cradle to appeal to users. Maybe they'll bring something out different that captures this cynical Pocket's imagination, but for now.. the jury's still out.

What about you? Are you sold on AR?


  1. I have long stated that laser tag, by its nature, is already augmented reality. The game is just the same as running around shouting ,"BANG !" with a toy gun, but the sensors add the extra layer of video or role playing game style health. Just look at the videos from Dropzone in the UK to see how this gets used for role playing and combat games.
    The problem is not the nature of augmented reality but rather the idea that we want to play real life video games. We don't. We use the analogy to explain what we do to our friends and co workers, but we don't want the limited virtual world of Doom brought to the real world, we want the real world plus something more. Hasbro and App Tag are trying to make the real world more like the video games, rather than trying to add to the real world experience.
    The first error that these games make is that the forget that in the real world the game screen is a allowed only a tiny little segment of my senses. I don't have the time to pay attention to the drones on the tiny little screen or watch for tiny simulated giant explosions (I like the little ones as hit confirmation, though). The features they choose to add do mot enhance my game play. My phone has voice recognition, so let me tell the gin to switch modes like Judge Dread's Lawgiver. Where is the radar screen so I can see my team mates or have a team mate tag an enemy location? Where are the location based objectives and game editing interface to add them?
    And then lets just rant about all the bad design decisions that went into the LTAR. They based it on iPhone, but made it so it was harder to interface to any other phone. The case was not removable, and keeps you from easily touching the screen (so any touch interface is out). They used the iPhone gaming center rather than a third party scoring system like Scoreloop which now forever separates current players from future Android, Blackberry or Windows Phone users. The games draw a lot of power and there was no thought about how to add a power feed so phones could stay charged. Finally they used a data encoding scheme that uses the audio jack from the phone to connect to the tagger, which is hard to implement on anything other than an iPhone and ignored the usb serial or Bluetooth options in favor of profit margin (shot themselves in the foot with that decision). In short, they never planned for a continuous presence in an ever changing smartphone market. And still they sit on the API so that third party developers who do get the ideas can't make something better (thank you for the open API, App Tag)
    My point, after much digression, is to not give up on the idea of augmented reality gaming, but rather watch for someone to actually do it right.

    -Andy in Indy

  2. I've been playing Laser Tag for over a decade now. While I'd like to say that the AR part of the new LTAR has been groundbreaking and innovative, it's practical application to the games that we play is pretty useless. The limit to iOS devices (and now those devices are outdated) and the fact that you can really only enjoy these new features if everyone is using the LTAR with an iOS device kind of kills it. Not to mention in outdoor games, the iPhone and iPod screens aren't the best things to try to aim a blaster with.

    As a standalone blaster, the LTAR is fantastic. Simple to use, performs great, looks cool. That's what we've been doing with these blasters.

    1. It comes right down to, "Does it make it better?" Until the game is better because of the device/app, it is not going to sell.

  3. While sure laser tag can shoot farther than pretty much any fake weapon system, I think that you still can't get that cool feeling when someone shoots you and the whistler dart screams past your face, and just misses you. Sure laser tag is fun, but Nerf still seems more real to me, plus I feel like there are more options for nerf, whereas with laser tag most systems are not compatible with each other.
    I do think that in the coming years as technology gets better though that laser tag will be more realistic, and therefor more fun.

  4. Reading a little more about the Tek Recon Havok & Hammerhead, they seem to have a better idea of how to make the AR app work - team radar, cross platform, etc. . . I look forward to seeing how that comes out.
    Also, I want to make that Havok into a tagger. MilesTag or a re-cased Steradian with a thermal sensor on the rail . . .

    1. That Havok looks like it was born to be re-cased over LTAR internals.

  5. I liked the comment about the misconception that people want real life to be more like a video game. It's a very good point, and probably brings in the ultimate failing of any AR system now and in the future until they decide to solve it in some way.

    The LTAR is a tagger second-to-none. It is built for realistic, practical play with options and features that make for a fast, balanced game. It is designed with good dimensions and weight distribution with a realistic price point. Everything on the LTAR is effectively a useful system. The IFF and infrared warning receiver aren't just gimmicks, they're in effect based off of a very much practical and in-demand application; why do you think fighter aircraft use them? Why does the U.S. Military want to fit an IFF on their soldiers? Its a system that not only has a use players have probably wanted for a long time, but allows for faster team-based gameplay with less mistakes and more action.

    Video games were built more to give you the experience without having to engage in the realism where you can't or shouldn't. To apply that in reverse defeats the purpose of the Lazer Tag blaster. Map selection? The WORLD is my map! Music selection? I already have an MP3 player... Weapons selection? In the case of the LTAR, already built in. The focus on the AR has essentially been reversed: I don't want the world to be more like a video game, I want the video game to be more like the world, and I want the world to be like the world. Give me useful features for the environment I'm in, and we'll talk again, but in the meantime, I'm quite happy with the base tagger.

  6. What really annoyed me was that My Iphone 5 I got the day before didn't fit...
    None of the new apple products fit...
    The new Ipod Touch and Iphone (obviously not the Ipad...) Don't fit and It is annoying me. It would have been an amazing idea if they got it right...


  7. Personally I prefer Light Strike to Lazer Tag, the Light Strike have more features built into them, although I have a circle of friends who I play both with...

  8. In my humble and slightly uninformed opinion, ITouch functionality is going the wrong way.
    Use Oculus Rifts and webcams or something, restricting it to a tiny piece of the player's FOV is tactically inane.
    That said, I'm an old fogey and will ambush the AR_augmented blaster users while they are trying to get the (doubtlessly) buggy or hard-to-use app to work.
    The real world is underrated.

  9. i remeber watching the video of tek recon it actually looks promising like real life halo stuff, tdm and all that not like shooting the fake target floating around but seperate into teams in a lobby with ur real friends and ligimately shoot them, with minimap and all. dosent mean im gunna buy it or at least not 4 the cradle system, but tek recon seems to be getting the idea.

  10. I have way to many hasbro/nerf taggers, from the LTTO and Pheonix LTX lines. Just got some land and am looking for more. Very dissappointed to see the LTAR taggers be a dumbed down version. The guns seem very simplified versions of the LTX. I too have an iPhone 5 and am out of luck. I have no interest in the AR aspect, but would have openly loved a companion app that connected via Bluetooth to choose modes, change gun types, etc. That could have worked with any phone (that had an app) and would have been functional and not just a throw away gimmick. It seems to me that hasbro needs to really invest in their marketing and their R & D department and I don't know why they don't actively engage their enthusiasts and fans for feedback

    1. Not true. The LTAR's aren't a simplified version of the LTX. They do everything the LTX's do, but also have the added functionality of the "proximity alert" that the LTTO's had and they're still compatible with the LTX's and LTTOs. They're actually really good, dismissing the optional AR junk.

      I feel they just got lost in the iPhone connectivity aspect so people assumed they needed one to operate the LTARs.

  11. The failure to communicate that you didn't NEED an iOS device is EXACTLY why I hadn't gotten one of these, I have 14 blasters from compatible previous series (LTTO, LTX) and am interested in these now!

    I hope the AR cradle can be easily removed, and is not necessary to select firing modes or anything of the like.