With the release of Apple ARKit in 2017 being touted as “the biggest thing that’s happened to the AR industry since it began” the technology in augmented reality development tools is catching up with the ambition of people’s imaginations in creating new worlds that effectively overlay our real-world environments.

But for augmented reality to make a lasting impact, great content is needed; from the practical, such as helping you to choose furniture for your house, through to the frivolous spectacles that capture people’s sense of fun. By opening up its developers’ kit, Apple has been able to tap into the creativity of developers to deliver content that can do just that.

For SMEs working in immersive technologies, ARKit has opened the door to developing both creative and financially viable projects, and this is something that new company, Dream Reality Interactive was keen to embrace.

As a new company, developing Orbu had a dual purpose for Dream Reality Interactive team. “In developing a high quality and fun product with a mass market appeal, we aimed to test the mobile gaming market with a relatively low-risk project, whilst also creating a product that could act as a calling card for potential new clients” explains Dave Ranyard, CEO of Dream Reality Interactive.

About the game

Launched in December 2017, Orbu is a physical augmented reality game that overlays the real world with a Japanese Zen garden. Players can set the size of the game, which can be played in a small space, such as a table top, or scaled up to a space 3m squared, so it feels like you are walking around a digitised space. Similar to mini-golf, the player moves around the game by propelling a ball around the obstacle courses.

Players are invited to transform their everyday surroundings and take a journey of discovery through four different chapters of the game, with 36 levels to explore. Each chapter introduces players to a new creature; Tanuki, a raccoon dog, Noko, a turtle, Konkon, a fox and Pombo a panda; who accompany the player throughout, where the name of the game is to guide the creatures to find their way home.

Designed for the i-phone and i-pad, the game is simple and easy to play, making it as appealing as possible to a broad range of people, from children through to adults looking for a quick escape from everyday life.

How Orbu was made

The game grew organically out of a couple of key ideas that when combined, created a unique gaming space for people to play whilst on the move.

“We initially started to play around with the tech by building prototype balls. We wanted to experiment with an object that was universally recognised as we all understand how it works and moves” explains Dave. We then introduced building platforms and decks, exploring how the ball moved around different environments.”

Giving the game a sense of place, as well as movement was crucial, and the team decided to take the concept of a ball-based game and place it within spaces based around a Japanese garden. Adding in a slingshot mechanism to project the ball around the garden formed the basis for the game. “At this point we had created more than just a mechanical device, we had the foundations of an engaging game that combined ball and physics in a beautiful space” says Dave.

Orbu took around five months to develop from concept through to launch, with an average of four people working on the project, covering coding, design, art and production. The team used both Unity and ARKit to develop the final product.

Orbu image 2

Importance of testing

As with all games, pre-launch testing provided the team with crucial feedback on how people play the game, giving them the chance to iron out any issues in advance of launching.

Reflecting the potential audiences that would be downloading the game, it was tested on a group of children and also adults in and around the Dream Reality Interactive office. From the testing, the team realised that teaching people how to set up the game and navigate around it was something that needed to be addressed, which was in itself a challenge as there is limited space to explain further. “What we found was that people didn’t immediately know how to use the AR; for example, they didn’t realise that they have to move around the game physically, rather than using navigation on their device. Knowing this led us to adding additional tutorials to address this” says Dave.

Launching the game – a learning curve

Orbu was Dream Reality Interactive’s first foray into AR, as well as the first project they had launched on the Apple App Store. The main challenges the team faced weren’t technical during the development phase, but around working within a new marketplace.

The world of mobile gaming is highly competitive, so making the game an attractive prospect for potential customers was crucial from the start. To test the financial viability of creating profitable AR games, Orbu is a premium product, meaning customers are faced with an initial purchase price to download the game in order to play it. This in itself created an automatic barrier to potential customers. “When you’re producing a premium game, your product has to really attract people’s attention and interest in order to persuade them to spend their money on it. In the environment of mobile games this is not an easy task, given you’re competing with thousands of games that are initially free to download and play.”

Raising awareness of Orbu by making it easy to find and highly visible was the first step Dream Reality Interactive took to addressing this issue. AR is a new category in the app store so gaining visibility in this section has been very helpful.

The future

For Dream Reality Interactive, Orbu has been a great opportunity to test the AR market and helping to attract new clients. The team are also looking to build on the existing version of Orbu by introducing new characters and by prototyping new mechanics. The team have just released an update with a new section called The playground which contains some interesting ne AR prototypes based on the Orbu characters: photo opportunities with the gardens & characters; spray painting a statue of the characters; and adding stickers to walls. They want to see how their new audience reacts to these new ways to interact ion AR.

Dave can certainly see the commercial potential of augmented reality in the future. “It’s a very different market to virtual reality, which is limited by the need for additional hardware. With the proliferation of mobile devices, and a potential audience of half a billion, AR has mass market appeal.” Combining this with the revolution in content creation with the release of ARKit, the future of augmented reality holds exciting possibilities for the immersive tech sector – and beyond.