At Game Developers Conference today, I went to see the latest on CastAR. The augmented reality company's founders, Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson, were holed up in a hotel meeting room looking to woo potential developers and members of the media.
There's not much to report that wasn't being shown at DICE a few weeks back (even though, at the time, the CastAR people talked up GDC as an upcoming big deal.) But there was enough to keep this intriguing project in the news, jostling among the crowds of VR-related stuff at GDC.
Ellsworth showed off a non-playable demo of World of Tanks, to demonstrate how CastAR can host some of the biggest gaming brands in the world. With CastAR, players don a pair of glasses and look down upon a board which springs 3D fantasies in holographic form. Tank battles are all about topography, movement and perspective, and so this is a very smart demo to show to journalists and developers.
The hills and building loom up at the player, offering the kind of hiding places that Rommel would have enjoyed. In a 3D setting, this has a lot more force than on a 2D screen.
For now, World of Tanks is just an internal demo created with the permission of publisher Wargaming. There's no commitment yet as to whether the game will actually come to CastAR. But it's easy to see the attraction. As a multiplayer game, this has the physical sensation of a board game, though with tanks rolling across elevated countryside and each player able to see only their reality.
It's a shame that multiplayer games will demand that every player owns the whole kit (the expensive part is the glasses, not the board), because CastAR obviously has a lot of potential as a physical experience between players standing together and competing around a table.
Ellsworth once worked in the toy business, and says she is completely aware of how important it is that the game works and is easy to play, right out of the box. No price has yet been announced for the device, which is due out in 2017, except that it will be "around the same price as a console," according to a spokesperson. The project has the backing of finance group Playground to the tune of $15 million.
Johnson also offered up a demo of The Mean Greens, an isometric toy soldier shooting game. It's already available on Steam. He made the point that this is the first game to come out of CastAR's Unreal Engine conversion tool, which makes it relatively easy for developers to port games to the system.
Ellsworth hinted that the company is working on a multiplayer solution that allows players to connect and compete online, but said that was something she would talk about more at a later date. This is a tantalizing prospect, but still, CastAR has a Wii-like feel to it. The promise is in physical, social fun, based on togetherness and movement. Don't bet against it.