SAN FRANCISCO — Virtual reality doesn't have to mean covering your eyes with a visor or helmet. The Rescape mobile-gaming platform, on display at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) here this week, transforms your smartphone into a pocket-sized window onto a virtual world.
At the same time, Rescape software on the mobile game scans your surroundings to make sure those virtual worlds match up with your actual physical surroundings. This lets players actually move, run and shoot in the real world and have their actions incorporated into a virtual gaming experience.
The Rescape demo controller we tested was an iPhone accessory loosely shaped like a gun. The iPhone was mounted where the gun's scope would be, placing it right in front of players' eyes. On the demo controller, the trigger flipped a magnetic lever, which the Rescape iOS software read as a trigger pull using the phone's built-in magnetometer; the finished controller will have a Lightning port connector instead.
Using an iPhone's internal accelerometer, gyroscope and camera, the Rescape software scans a room and calculates the user's position in it. The controller comes with a fish-eye lens to go over the iPhone's camera to expand its field of view.
We went hands-on with a demo of the Rescape at GDC. Developed by Stockholm-based developers 13th Lab, the device is currently on Kickstarter for a minimum of $149 and will ship this summer. An Android-compatible version will follow, 13th Lab told us.
We played the classic first-person shooter game "Quake" on an iPhone mounted in the Rescape controller. When we moved forward, our game character in "Quake" moved as well. When we adjusted the controller's scope, so to did our aim in "Quake."
But "Quake" has players moving through pre-designed levels that probably won't match up to the physical reality of your space. What do you do when you have to move forward but your living-room wall is in the way?
13th Lab's answer is twofold. For games like "Quake," the finished controller will include a directional pad with which players can control their avatar's position with their thumbs, similar to a regular video game.
But 13th Lab also wants developers to create games that create their levels based on the player's actual physical surroundings, and are currently working with developers to create augmented reality and virtual reality games for the platform.