A pair of trees spring up from a coffee table. Gardens grow out of coffee cups and couch cushions. A miniature island sits in the middle of a living room floor, with a fox darting in and out.
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No, this isn’t an image of an overgrown dystopian future where the plants have taken back the earth. It’s Luna: Moondust Garden, a new game out today for the Magic Leap Creator Edition augmented reality headset that GeekWire recently tested at Magic Leap’s Seattle outpost. The $5 sequel to the popular VR title Luna lets users plant interactive gardens, build islands, place ships and more all within the physical space by pointing and clicking with Magic Leap’s hand-held controller.
With easy-to-follow instructions, relaxing tones and tunes and fun interactions between the physical and digital worlds, the game makes for a nice introduction to in-depth augmented reality. Today, Magic Leap’s headset is aimed squarely at developers and content creators, but if Magic Leap has ambitions of mass market appeal, games like this that provide an easy introduction to the technology will be a must.
Robin Hunicke, a veteran game designer, professor and co-founder of Funomena told GeekWire that the game is meant to help those not familiar with the world of augmented reality adjust to it. It also aims to break down mental barriers of how people think about their spaces.
“You can imagine that at the beginning you’ll always put items on the ground and you’ll always expect trees to sprout from tabletops and and flat surfaces,” Hunicke said. “But over time those constraints will become less and less real for you as a player, and that means as a designer I can do more and more with space. We could be living in a space right now where we both have the headset on and we look up and there’s a whole garden on the ceiling, and there’s water flowing along and creatures bounding around.”
The beginning scenario that Hunicke lays out is exactly what happened to me when I started playing. After calibrating the headset to fit and getting a quick tutorial on controls, I started planting and placing items in the middle of the floor in a makeshift living room set up in the Magic Leap Seattle office. I was basically standing in one place, whirling around and planting items right next to each other.
But Magic Leap employees urged me to explore the space and power of the device. For example, it can read the furniture in the room, so I could put things in all kinds of different spots. Because the device is mobile, tethered to a cylindrical “Lightpack” that clips on to your pocket and powers the device rather than a computer, I had full range of movement.
As a whole, the game is a very relaxing experience. The low-pressure demo purely focused on exploration and getting comfortable with the controls. My primary task was to spot moondust — little floating power-ups that allowed me to grow the gardens and other items I had placed around the room — to make the previously sad fox happy once again.
Hunicke says the calm nature of the game is by design. Though the technology is becoming more established, most people still haven’t gotten a chance to get familiar with virtual reality and augmented reality headsets and controls. The idea of experiencing this technology in a full-body way is far from intuitive to all but the most experienced gamers, so most people, even the developers and creators using the Magic Leap platform, could use a soft landing.
“The idea is that as adoption continues and as it grows, more and more people will be curious to try it,” Hunicke said. “And if that experience is extremely tense, high-action, has a lot of things going on all at once, it can be very overwhelming for a new user, especially people that don’t necessarily have the experience with games. So you’re talking about people that are on the younger side, and people that are also on the older side, people that are not as open to new technologies.”
Hunicke spent more than four years at Electronic Arts, where she worked on titles like Boom Blox and MySims, and she also worked on the breakout PlayStation Network game Journey. She has a PhD in computer science, AI and games and is a professor at UC Santa Cruz.
Hunicke and Funomena have been working with Magic Leap since 2013, the same year the game studio started and long before any of Magic Leap’s hardware was fully baked. She counts herself as a big believer in Magic Leap’s “spatial computing” technology, and not just for entertainment.
Hunicke is excited to see what designers focused on day-to-day tasks like running a plant, or a shipping yard or air traffic control could do with the technology. And at some point, Magic Leap’s tech will probably land in the arms of the everyday consumer. Luna: Moondust Garden was designed with that eventual future in mind.
“Even though I’m working on this for creators to show them what’s possible, I need to do that with an eye towards a mass market and to do that with an eye towards an everyday person who is using this to entertain themselves in their room or to track something in their workspace or to get around the city,” Hunicke said.
“Even when I’m working on something that I know is on the bleeding edge, even when I’m working on something that I know is extremely forward looking,” she said, “I’m looking at it from the perspective of five years from now or 10 years from now, when this technology is ubiquitous, which I know it will be.”