Google Glass is a difficult platform for which to build a video game, but the extra challenge of the small screen and lack of traditional game controls doesn’t discourage mobile games designer Sean McCracken.
Instead, for McCracken, building his first video game for the diminutive Glass devices has been a journey into a realm of the unknown that has stretched his imagination to its limits, he said. In fact, when he applied in February to be one of the first Explorer users of Glass through Google’s #ifihadglass program, his proposal wasn’t even to build a video game for Glass.
“My idea was a game whisper system,” McCracken told eWEEK. “While you play games on your Android device, Glass would send you hint messages about your games and other information” to improve your game play, said McCracken. “With phones and tablets, even though the tablet screens are getting bigger, we still have limited landscape to use as game designers.”
Other developers are busy building video games for Glass as well, including Jon Lawhead and Daniel Estrada, but McCracken’s idea is certainly thinking outside the established game design environment.
So what was the inspiration for his “Glass Whisperer” concept?
“I was just thinking that more information could be received by users,” he said. But that original direction was put aside for a bit once he paid his $1,500 for Glass and picked them up in New York City July 31. “I’m a hacker, so I immediately started playing with stuff using Glass. Google had just released the ability to put APKs [Android application package files, which are used to create and launch applications on Android devices] on the device, so I just tried a little game that was a demo, hooked it up to my computer and it worked.”
That spurred McCracken’s imagination to create his first original game for Glass, which he wasn’t sure would work. So he began to explore and found that while he couldn’t access all the components of Glass (a Glass Software Developers Kit, or SDK, is not yet released) through code, he realized that what he could access were three key Glass components –its gyroscope, its accelerometer and its compass.
“And when I saw that I would have access to the gyro controls, that was it; that was all I needed,” said McCracken, who has long specialized in creating gyroscope games for others.
Because no code is available yet as part of an SDK to integrate Glass capabilities for voice, tapping or swiping, the early version of McCracken’s first Glass game, PSYCLOPS—which he describes as a “very beta” cross between “3D Space Invaders mixed with Missile Command”—has none of those game inputs. Instead, the lack of those controls forced him to create a gyro control that uses head gestures to play the game.
“When you look at various game parts in space, you can look at and access buttons using head gestures,” he said. “It’s a hard work-around, but it works really well. It feels like being in Ironman or something.”
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McCracken publicly unveiled his nascent game for Glass for the first time in an Aug. 4 post on his Google+ page. He even posted a short video of the game’s play on Instagram to show off his ideas. “I saw the opportunity,” said McCracken, who said he is the lead game developer for Highland Games. “I literally told my bosses that I am going to be one of the first guys to make Glass games. I had no idea how powerful glass would be.”
So far, the first level of the game is done, and he’s offered it for free to every early Google Glass Explorer who is using the devices. “It’s still very difficult to run the app because the operating system for Glass is still very limited,” he said.
He had posted a description of the game on Tumblr, through Google+ and Twitter, and on a special Glass page available to early Explorers. “I’m getting about 50 emails a day asking for the game and about another 50 a day from people saying that they can’t install it. You need developer tools to install it.”
McCracken said his plans for the game call for three levels that he’s planned out so far, which will include various features using the gyroscope and different design options for each level. “I don’t want to give too many details,” he added.
“This has been one of the hardest games I’ve ever made,” he said. “Luckily, I have the background in making gyro-only games, and I’ve done a lot of augmented reality projects for different companies.”
He’s looking forward to continuing the game’s development in the future, particularly by adding touch commands, he said. With a friend, he is also developing a Glass controller using an Android phone that mimics a traditional video game controller so that Glass games can get more typical controls.
Google Glass has been a topic of conversation among techies since news of it first arrived in 2012. The first Google Glass units began shipping in April 2013 to developers who signed up at the June 2012 Google I/O conference to buy an early set for $1,500 for testing and development, where it was the hit of the conference.
In February 2013, Google expanded its nascent test project for its Glass eyewear-mounted computer by inviting interested applicants to submit #ifihadglass proposals for a chance to buy an early model and become part of its continuing development. In March, Google also began notifying a pool of applicants who were selected to purchase the first 8,000 sets of Google Glass when they become available for real-world use and testing later this year by consumers.
Each Google Glass device includes adjustable nose pads and a high-resolution display that Google said is the equivalent of a 25-inch high-definition screen from 8 feet away. The glasses also feature a built-in camera that takes 5-megapixel photos and video at 720p. Audio is delivered to wearers through their bones, using bone-conduction transducers.