Avatar, the movie, has been generating buzz since it was announced and that naturally leads to one thing – toys! But not just any toys, they feature augmented reality for a more immersive experience. McDonald’s have even gone as far as an augmented reality 3D game.
The first Avatar-related merchandise that drew my attention was a line of collectible toys by Mattel. What was interesting about them was that they come with a special card, an i-Tag, which combined with the proper piece of software and a webcam, creates the augmented reality magic.
“Augmented reality” basically uses a camera and draws images and information on top of that. Sure, explained like that doesn’t sound very impressive, what’s impressive is what and how it’s drawn. In the case of the i-Tag cards, a 3D model of a creature from Avatar (or one of the human machines) is drawn on top of the card and follows it around as you move the card – it looks quite cool. In case you are still not completely sold on the idea the promo video below should help you take the final step.
There are “buttons” on the cards – putting your finger on one of them triggers an action from the 3D model – for example the mech shoots or stabs.
Unfortunately, you have to install a special plug-in that creates the augmented reality. I would have preferred it if they used Flash for the job – there are plenty of augmented reality demos on the Net, so it’s possible and also avoids the need for an additional proprietary plug-in.
McDonald’s are using a similar approach but they call theirs Thrill Cards, which can be found on the package of Big Macs in the US or you can print one from their site.
Instead of just moving the character along with the card, the card is used as game controls for three simple games (e.g. balancing the character on a rope). The games themselves don’t look very challenging, but the novel control method makes them interesting. There’s a proprietary plug-in involved again, though.
I digged a little deeper and found that there’s a PlayStation 3 game called The Eye of Judgment, which is similar to Magic: The Gathering, but uses augmented reality to bring the creatures from the cards to life. It’s obvious that augmented reality games aren’t entirely new, but they aren’t quite mainstream either.