Vladimir Beck, Extended Reality evangelist and Board member of the IT service provider company Sigma Software, is really into gaming and new technology. As early as in 2015 when augmented and virtual reality was at the outset, he started investigating in the domain. Soon he became the owner of a Sony SmartEyeglass device and initiated an AR/VR RnD team at Sigma Software. The team became the development workforce behind the first commercially available mixed reality simulation game on a mobile platform where a player feels like they are in the center of a large-scale Hollywood blockbuster. However, as Vlad told us, it is much more than just a game.
Where did the idea of making an augmented reality mobile game come from?
It may sound surprising, but the idea of an immersive geo scale product came from retail. We discussed developing an AR solution for a large retail company to create a completely new experience for their customers.
The idea developed and transformed into a whole next gen platform for AR games on mobile and wearables. What we’ve created is a large-scale immersive AR technology suitable for creating next-gen games and more. And we made the Black Snow AR game as a showcase of the platform’s capabilities.
Sounds big. How many people have worked on creating the platform?
The core tech team is very compact and includes just six people. The total number of people involved in the project is much bigger of course.
More than 40 specialists took part in the development of the AR platform and Black Snow game – developers, game designers, testers, artists, animators, media engineers, lawyers, and marketing experts. Today, to further develop and improve the technology and the game, we have 15 people on the team.
What difficulties have you faced developing the AR technology?
There were many things. One of them was switching between the map view and the first person view as well as combining the map interface with the AR mode. To make it quick and seamless, we created a system for combining images from three virtual cameras and shaders. The method for seamlessly merging AR + geo was patented.
Since AR wearable devices like glasses and helmets, are still pricey, we decided to show how the immersion effect of holographic goggles can be achieved on regular smartphones with no extra hardware and no time-consuming pre-calibration procedures. Here we had to solve problems with smartphone performance and overheating. Our aim was to make the technology suitable not just to flagman smartphones, and we did it. The Black Snow game works fine even on an iPhone 6S.
What kind of games can benefit from AR?
First of all, it’s traditional game genres or cinematic IP. Black Snow tech can move them into the large-scale AR dimension. Imagine real-scale sports games like “Quidditch” or scenic city-scale RTS battles similar to “Master of Orion” — where the strategic gameplay is accompanied with massive and cinematic battles in AR.
The cartography aggregation and seamless calibrations present in Black Snow tech create a new experience for players making the game more real and engaging.
It looks like you believe in XR. Do you think we will see mass adoption of XR in everyday life any time soon?
My first encounter with XR happened in 2015. This was like a dream made real – an ordinary person interacting with computers via their bare hands like Iron Man. My first impression was that AR and VR were the displays of the future. Six years later people are not regularly wearing AR glasses, but it doesn’t mean that the technology development and adoption is standing still.
We’ve seen the success of Pokémon Go. And we know that big players, such as Samsung and Apple, are working on XR devices. Also, the AR market in China has grown from 10 to 17 billion dollars in 2020, almost double! The number of players has grown only slightly, however, their spending has increased by 40% which is quite a lot! It gives us some hints that XR for consumer applications is round the corner.
If we speak about B2B applications of XR technology, these are already completely feasible and reasonable. Especially in such areas as gamification in retail and AR navigation. I cannot tell you the details now, but we are working on an interesting AR solution based on our AR platform for a large retail customer.