Google Glass enthusiasts believe that the wearable device will have a profound impact on gaming, but few are sure exactly how. One programmer has demonstrated a possibility: playing "Grand Theft Auto" with the game on a traditional screen and the helpful mini-map beamed directly to your eyes.
The hack comes from Mike DiGiovanni, an Android developer for media agency Roundarch Isobar, TechCrunch reports. The concept is fairly simple: In "Grand Theft Auto," you can see where your character is going based on a mini-map in the lower-left corner of the screen. By putting this map directly in front of your eyes, it's easier to navigate the large, sprawling environs in the open-world crime game.
"Grand Theft Auto V" players may want to think twice before running out and begging, stealing or borrowing the first pair of Glass they come across, though: This is a PC-based hack, and "Grand Theft Auto V" is currently only available on consoles. In fact, DiGiovanni had some trouble starting up "Grand Theft Auto IV" as well, which means that the secondary display functions only for "Grand Theft Auto III," first released in 2001.
Still, the hack as a proof of concept is arguably more important than the 12-year-old game to which it's attached. DiGiovanni created a PC program that isolates the mini-map and broadcasts it via Wi-Fi. He also developed a Glass app that receives the mini-map signal and displays it right in front of a user's face.
The app runs at almost the same speed as the game, so it's theoretically possible to ignore the main screen altogether and navigate entirely from Glass. Even if you're dying to dive back into "Grand Theft Auto III" and have Google Glass handy, though, don't expect a commercial release anytime soon. DiGiovanni plans to share his creation eventually but has no solid time frame in mind.
Since the Google Glass development kit is not yet out, DiGiovanni created his hack using a standard Android SDK. Even so, he explained that programming the applications was very simple, and took only a few days.
If DiGiovanni's app is indicative of how future second-display gaming apps might look, though, it may give developers pause: Mini-map streaming in a 12-year-old game eats the entire Google Glass battery in less than an hour. A more efficient app would be necessary for streaming a persistent feature of a large, open-ended game.
Currently, game developers are already toying around with second-screen displays. The Nintendo DS and its successors are systems based entirely on the concept of watching two screens at once. The Wii U tablet often functions as a secondary display, and upcoming Ubisoft games like "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag" and "Watch Dogs" will let users control certain game functions from their tablets or phones.
What sets Glass apart is that it's not necessary for players to split their attention between what's happening on the main screen and what's happening elsewhere. A Wii U controller or a tablet forces the player to glance up and down constantly; a player's eyes must jump constantly from screen to screen on a DS. Glass presents an unobtrusive display that complements the big-screen action.
The day of wearable peripherals as affordable second gaming screens is still far-off, but when it arrives, at least developers will have some idea of what to do with it.
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.