can you see me now? a citywide mixed-reality gaming experience

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  • Can You See Me Now?A Citywide Mixed-Reality Gaming Experience

    Rob Anastasi1, Nick Tandavanitj2, Martin Flintham1, Andy Crabtree1, Matt Adams2,Ju Row-Farr2, Jamie Iddon2, Steve Benford1, Terry Hemmings1, Shahram Izadi1, Ian


    1 The Mixed Reality Laboratory, The University of Nottingham, Nottingham, NG8 1BB, UK{rma, mdf, axc, sdb, tah, sxi, imt}

    2 Blast Theory, Unit 43a Regent Studios 8, Andrews Road London E8 4QN{nick, matt, ju, jamie}

    Abstract. Can You See Me Now? was a mobile mixed reality game that tookplace on-line and on the streets of a city. On-line players moved across a mapof the city that they accessed over the Internet. Runners equipped with wirelesshandheld computers with GPS receivers chased them by running through thecity streets. Players communicated with one another using text messages andalso received walkie-talkie communication from the runners as an audio stream.Can You See Me Now? was staged publicly. Evaluation based on ethnography,discussion with participants and analysis of system logs, revealed a number ofdesign issues for future citywide mixed reality games. Gameplay issues focuson the tactics of the runners and players, the need to enhance local knowledgefor the players, the role of audio, and designing entry into and exit from thegame. Orchestration focus on improving monitoring interfaces in the game con-trol room and better supporting participants on the streets.

    1 Introduction

    Can You See Me Now? was a mobile mixed reality game in which up to twenty on-line players were chased across a map of a city by three performers who were runningthrough its streets. The game was staged as public event over a weekend in late 2001,providing a valuable opportunity to study issues surrounding the design, deployment,and experience of mobile games and related experiences.

    Can You See Me Now? was a collaboration between the EPSRC-funded EquatorInterdisciplinary Research Collaboration and the artists group Blast Theory. Equatoris a six-year research programme investigating the interweaving of physical and digi-tal interaction [21]. It began in 2001 and involves researchers from computer science,electronics, social science, psychology and art and design, spread across eight aca-demic organisations in the UK. Blast Theory is a group of artists based in Londonwho make live events for theatres, clubs, galleries, and the street [22]. The four mem-bers of Blast Theory have developed cross platform projects since 1991 and have ahistory of creating performances that involve computing technologies.

  • The motivation behind this collaboration is to take emerging technologies out ofresearch laboratories and to quickly create professional quality applications that arethen deployed and studied in public. We believe that the discipline of working inpublic enables us to more fully appreciate the often subtle issues involved in creatingsuccessful experiences and also to gauge the future potential of new ideas. Our studytechniques involve a combination of ethnography and discussions with audiences anddesign teams, backed up with statistical analysis of system logs, an approach that hasbeen honed through a number of previous public experiences [11,13].

    In this paper, we apply this approach to the study of a mixed reality experience thatinvolved deploying mobile technologies outdoors.

    2 The research challenge

    Technologies such as mobile phones and handheld devices have an establishedrole in gaming history. The most notable examples include the Nintendo Gameboyand the abundance of interactive arcade-style games on todays mobile phones. Webelieve, however, that such games do not even begin to exploit the huge potential ofubiquitous gaming, especially the possibility to combine the world of the game withthe physical world in novel and engaging ways. This idea has been explored in arange of previous projects.

    Several projects have focused on the use of commodity technologies such as mo-bile phones and handheld computers to create games:

    Majestic from the computer game company Electronic Arts is a conspiracy theory-inspired game, which communicates with its players via email, fax and terrestrial andmobile phones.

    Pirates! [4] integrates some of the social aspects of traditional game play into com-puter games. Set indoors, it utilises handheld devices connected to an 802.11b wire-less network to engage participants in a variety of activities such as exploring islandsand taking part in sea battles.

    Bot-Fighters [5] utilises standard features of mobile phone technology such as cel-lular positioning and SMS to provide an indoor and outdoor location based combatgame. While moving around in a city the players receive SMS messages regardingwho is in their direct vicinity and their attack status. By replying to these messagesthey can select to retaliate or flee from an attack.

    Geo-caching [9] is a web-based treasure hunt that utilises GPS as its chief under-pinning technology. Players hide items of treasure in different real world locationsand then register these items with the geo caching website. Other players then huntout the treasure by downloading hints and riddles, together with GPS position dataand a short description of the treasure from the site.

    Unearthing Virtual History is a museum experience in which participants use wire-less handheld devices with GPS to locate buried virtual artifacts outdoors. They thentake them back indoors in order to view them on a virtual reality display [3].

    Other projects have begun to explore the potential of augmented reality interfacesfor gaming. Conventional augmented reality employs physical or video see-throughdisplays to overlay a virtual world on the physical world [1]. Recent projects have

  • begun to move augmented reality outdoors, for example exploiting handheld devicesand wearable computers with see-through head-mounted displays [2]. Projects in thisvein include:

    arQuake [19], an extension to the desktop game Quake, that creates an outdoorand indoor mobile augmented reality gaming environment, based upon moderatelyaccurate six degrees of freedom tracking that combines GPS, digital compass, andvision-based tracking.

    AR2 Hockey and RV-Border Guards from the Mixed Reality Systems Laboratory[18] employ high-precision body tracking and see-through head-worn displays tosuperimpose virtual game elements onto the players worldview.

    MIND-WARPING [16] has explored issues in wearable computing and augmentedreality through games.

    PingPongPlus [12] used a sound-based tracking system and a ceiling-mountedprojector to throw graphics onto a ping pong table.

    The focus of our research is on the social nature of mixed reality games. In particu-lar, we believe that there is great potential for games to draw upon relationships be-tween online players and players on-the-ground. Exciting new games can be createdin which these different kinds of participants collaborate and compete in differentways, exploiting their different perspectives, different capabilities and access to dif-ferent kinds of information. Can You See Me Now? was intended to support an initialexploration of the challenges arising from this kind of game. Specifically, we wantedto address two key questions:

    What kinds of relationships are possible between on-line participants andthose on the streets? In Can You See Me Now?, the public players would ac-cess the game over the Internet and a key issue would then be what kind of re-lationship could they have with professional performers on the streets.

    What activities are required in order to stage and successfully manage such amobile game? In particular, what work is involved for professional performersand behind the scenes production crew and how do the technologies support orhinder this.

    3 An overview of Can You See Me Now?

    Central to Can You See Me Now? was a relationship between up to twenty on-lineplayers (members of the public using the Internet) who were moving across a map ofSheffield, and three runners (members of Blast Theory) who were moving throughthe streets of Sheffield. The runners chased the players. The players avoided beingseen.

    Everyone, runners and players, saw the position of everyone else on a shared map.Players sent text messages to each other, which were also received by the runners. Inturn, runners talked to one another over a shared radio channel, which was also over-heard by the players. The performance took place over an area of Sheffield that wasroughly half a mile square and that consisted of a mixture of open spaces and narrowstreets lined with tall buildings.

  • 3.1. The player interface

    A players experience began at the Can You See Me Now? homepage [21] wherethey entered a name for themselves in response to the prompt is there some one youhaven't seen for a long time? They then joined the game queue, and from there wereeventually dropped into the map of Sheffield. They used the arrow keys on their key-board to move around this map. They were unable to enter solid buildings and otherrestricted areas.

    Fig. 1. The player interface

    Figure 1 shows an example of the player interface. A player was represented as apair of icons on the map. A simple white icon showed their current position accordingto their local client, providing immediate feedback as to their movement. A blue iconshowed their position according to the game server, and this would trail closely be-hind the white icon with a lag of a few seconds (due to the communication delaybetween the client and the server over the Internet and the time taken to process play-ers movements at the server). Other players were represented as blue icons. Therunners were shown as orange icons.

    Each player was able to exchange text messages with o


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