November 26, 2004 The latest application of augmented reality has hit the streets of Singapore - a physically interactive version of the classic arcade game 'Pac-Man'. Developed at the National University of Singapore's Mixed Reality Lab, the "Human Pac- Man" is a working prototype that recreates the groundbreaking 1980 game within a new kind of computing experience.
Unlike Virtual Reality, "Augmented Reality" means that with the help of data glasses, a computer overlays digital information onto what the viewer physically sees. Where the original 1980 arcade Pac-Man used a joystick to manoeuvre a small, yellow avatar through an energy grid, eating power points whilst being chased by "Ghosts", Human Pac-Man is a real-world-physical, social, and wide area mobile entertainment system that is built upon the concepts of ubiquitous computing, tangible human-computer interaction, and wide-area entertainment networks.
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Players interact with each other and the digitised, 3D "Pacworld" environment overlaid on their field of vision through the use of wearble computers, a headset and goggles. One player acts as Pac-Man and the others roleplay the Ghosts, tracking each other down real-world streets or corridors with GPS receivers and motion technology linked to a central computer by a wireless LAN network. Extra helpers are linked to the system through the internet, making it possible for anyone in the world, not limited by her geographical location, to take part in the game and send players messages. Helpers can also"fly" into any part of the virtual world and advise the mobile players on the positions of all the cookies, treasures, and enemy mobile players in the game.
Human Pac-Man has the same game rules as the original arcade game with the added bonus of real world/virtual world interaction. While players see yellow, glowing 3D power points augmented on their goggles, physical objects like sugar jars are filled with Bluetooth radio receivers to collect and mirror the virtual challenge. When the "Ghosts" catch Pac-Man in the virtual overlay, the real-world players must physically touch the Pac-Man player to win.
Created by Dr Adrian David Cheok and a team of eight research staff and students at NSU's Mixed Reality Lab, Human Pac-Man is a working prototype that, if commercialised, may just be the gateway application to real-world augmented gaming. The branding recognition of the classic 1980's Pac-Man character is immense, and the wearable computing needed to play the augmented version is already trickling into modern arcade gaming, where games such as Dance Dance Revolution and ParaParaParadise require dancing as part of their digital interaction. Researchers at the University of South Australia have also created a take on the popular 90s computer game Doom that overlays augmented reality on a player's field of view.
"Current games are restricted to static and monotonous interfaces where players stayed glued to their seats in front of a screen," says Dr Cheok. "We felt a need to explore into the untapped frontier in human computer interaction where users are immersed physically in the game. We believe that Human Pacman ...has the potential [to] create a new genre of gaming."
Funding for the game prototype came from the military, who are also interested in the applications of augmented reality and participant networking for battlefield conditions. Augmented reality is also being used in engineering for virtual schematics that overlay complex mechanical jobs and could be used in medicine to provide enhanced information for surgeons - a system that would be particularly useful in telemedicine.
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