The lights are on
As our online networks have evolved, gaming has become more isolating as it has grown more connected. We used to rush through our homework to get over to a friend's house to pass the controller. Now we blast through our chores to get online to play with pals.
CastAR is bucking the trend of alone-but-together by giving players a reason to gather once more. The device, which is targeted for 2017 release, diverges from the VR/AR trend. Unlike the Rift, Vive, PSVR, and HoloLens that bring the image close to your eyes, CastAR uses miniature mounted projectors.
This also means you need a specific surface on which to play. The CastAR board is coated in highly reflective material that bounces light directly back at the source almost entirely. Two projectors mounted above polarized lenses complete the loop by filtering out cross-noise created by the dual images and other players.
The result is a personalized augmented reality image projected onto a table, wall, or anywhere the reflective material is mounted. Via brief tech demos, I was able to get a sense for how developers can use the technology.
CastAR can be used with a Wii Remote-like wand or gamepad. Both work well, and the ability to look around objects is fascinating.
I played a top-down multiplayer game taking place in a city. Because of depth of field afforded by the augmented reality projection, I needed to physically move around the table and peer around buildings to find my opponent. This was a great deal of fun, and I can see enormous potential for made-for-AR experiences.
Where CastAR sold me was with a board game prototype using Robo Rally (a game about to go into print once more after many years). The benefit of CastAR is you're still able to play around a table and see your friends. You're looking at the same table (though each view is different), and the computer handles the rules.
And if you can't get everyone together, you can still play with friends. CastAR supports online multiplayer.
One of the things to note about augmented reality is it doesn't offer full field of view. HoloLens is like standing two feet away from a 15-inch monitor (visual representation). CastAR's field of view is significantly larger at about 70 degrees (compared to 100-degree plus FOV in the three leading VR headsets).
The model we used is early prototype, but CastAR believes it will be priced around the cost of a game console. Between now and the product's release in 2017, the company will be working to improve the brightness of the projectors.
The company is currently recruiting developers to build for the platform. Hopefully when next we see CastAR, it'll be with more robust demos and improved fidelity.