Sky Siege: iPhone Augmented Reality Gaming, Still Rough

By  |  Monday, February 8, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Thanks to Gizmodo, I got wind of Sky Siege, an augmented and virtual reality game for the iPhone, and I plunked down $3 at the App Store so you don’t have to.

Using the iPhone 3GS to look around, you must track down little helicopters, blimps and fighter jets, taking them out with a machine gun or missile launcher before they get you. You can either play the game with its own grassy field background graphics, or switch on the camera to use your real life surroundings as the battlefield. The game plays the same either way. Here’s a video showing the action:

After playing Sky Siege for about 20 minutes, I’m a little bit dizzy from all the spinning and twisting, and believe me, 20 minutes is all you really need. The virtual reality target practice is amusing at first, but it’s a one-trick pony. It wasn’t long before I had enough of the augmented reality gimmick, cool as it was.

Seeing as Sky Siege is the only augmented reality video game I could find in the App Store, it comes off more as a tech demo than a fully-realized game. Other than using your room as a backdrop, there’s no actual interaction with the real world, which might’ve added some nuance to the experience.  There’s also no dodging or other movement required besides spinning and twisting to aim. As a game, Sky Siege doesn’t stand on its own; if it used virtual thumbsticks instead of an orientation-tracking algorithm, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it.

But there is potential here. I want to see more games that take the real-world theme deeper, like the upcoming Ghostwire for the Nintendo DSi. Sky Siege proves augmented reality gaming is possible on the iPhone — and if you’ve got $3 to burn it might be worth getting just to impress your friends — but it’s not the definitive example of what augmented reality can do.


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4 Comments For This Post

  1. David Says:

    Hey, I was using yourversion and your blog came up. Cool stuff. Thanks for the review of an AR app. I think that there is a lot of potential in the field for sure and there should be some exciting stuff coming out of the shoot shortly. The problem is that you can’t really just put an image over your environment and call it an AR app. You need to have whatever is in your game actually interacting with your environment, and it seems like that is the real challenge of the future.

    On the other hand, that app looks pretty good and I agree that it’s a cool tech demo if nothing else.

  2. Shane Says:

    Im a researcher in this area, and this is legit Augmented Reality in the sense that Nearest Tube etc. apps are – an overlay onto the world, which the graphics are registered in space. Interaction with environment would require very robust computer vision techniques detecting arbitrary surfaces etc. and I think it will be a while before any technique especially on the iPhone is fast enough to support a game like this with rapid viewpoint motion. But this really is a sign of things to come and is easily worth it to get a taste for games to come. Aside of the AR, the game is impressive and a lot of fun in the the VR mode (I kind of like looking at the virtual sky instead of my office ceiling) – and it does represent a technical achievement in the tracking. You can also twist the view and it keeps track. The VR mode gives slightly faster gameplay too.

  3. Benny Says:

    There’s also a game called Gunman in the App Store that relies on augmented reality. It is equally unimpressive though.

  4. Peter Hundleby Says:

    I bought this game today after Bruce Sterling mentioned it on Wired and really enjoyed it – I read your comments but I think there is something much more to it than just the Augmented Reality feature. What makes it different from any other mobile or computer game I know is the (physical) spatial awareness required to play it. You don’t sit slouched in front of a computer screen or bent over twiddling your thumbs but you have to really move. I alternated between visualizing where to point down to reload (the ammo is placed around your feet) but at the same time mentally trying to keep track of where the target was in space (I can imagine how an air traffic controller would feel when he tries to find his coffee)
    So while augmented reality games have been done before (with less polished graphics) for phones I think the whole package here is highly original… and at least it will make kids exercise a few more muscles!