By Haley Moore, October 23rd, 2009

Building game technology takes time, and early implementations are likely too simple for adult gamers who crave depth. While we eagerly await the next big thing in tech-augmented ARG, kids are already getting to play with some of the best tech on the market for expanding gameplay into the real world. Today, I look at two technology-enabled games that are geared toward kids, but have a cutting edge appeal that makes adult gamers drool.

MagiQuest – Creative Kingdoms

tech-enabled live action gaming

First up is MagiQuest, which is billed by its creators as “the world’s largest live action game.” A more apt description would be world’s biggest fully automated live action game. The experience, which takes place in a sort of childrens’ museum environment, gives players a magic wand controller and sends them on an adventure through a physical fantasy world, learning spells, collecting gold and – of course – fighting dragons.

Players use their wand by giving it a swish and then pointing its tip at an object marked with MagiQuest’s logo – these simple animatronics, video kiosks and elaborate battle environments. I had the chance to play the game a few months ago at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, TX. Although the controls are not deep – you simply find things to interact with and point your wand at them – the experience of waving a magic wand at a remote object and having it respond has a lasting appeal.

The technology used in MagiQuest combines a simple IR activator with a remote account reading system.* Your progress through the game is stored externally, and you can pull up your inventory, gold, and XP count at a number of video kiosks that represent some of the “characters” in the game. The game technology is also modular and can be retooled for different experiences. The technology has already been adapted to create DinoQuest, a dinosaur-themed interactive exhibit at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, CA.

Because the game is modular, the game’s developer, Creative Kingdoms, has been able to build it into varied environments. A standalone MagiQuest location incorporates the game elements into a full interactive set that enhances the feeling of being in a fantasy world, but in the Great Wolf version of the game, interactive elements are scattered through all six floors of the hotel. The lodge even offers special “MagiQuest Suites” fitted with unique interactions. This revelation leads the game designer in me to wonder what other, more mature experiences could be created with a system like this installed in a less fantasy-themed environment like an art museum, or even in a mundane public place. As it stands, the MagiQuest storyline is rigid and linear, but there is nothing to say that the same technology couldn’t be used to create deep, immersive experiences.

But for the moment, Creative Kingdoms seems content to run a childrens’ game, especially with all of the built-in merchandising tied to the game. Kids can buy replicas of the game’s magic items, and get them added to their in-game inventory. They can also buy hats, cloaks and other costume pieces in the game shop, which serves as the hub of the experience. All of these props are beautifully designed, including the wand itself, which costs $15. The polish of the designs softens the obvious commercialism of the game a bit, and can even add to the immersion, if you’re willing to pay for these optional addons.

You can play MagiQuest at any one of their locations. There are three stand-alone attractions on the East coast, as well as games in all of the Great Wolf hotels, and two multilingual branches in Japan. However, come prepared to spend some cash: most of the locations charge by the hour.

The Hidden Park – Bulpadok / James Kane

augmented reality GPS gaming

If you prefer your kid-friendly experiences less corporeal, you can hunt for dragons and fairies virtually with The Hidden Park, one of the first full Augmented Reality games for the iPhone, brought to us by Australian design group Bulpadok.

Using the iPhone’s GPS, the game takes you on an augmented tour through your local public park, on a mission to gather evidence of endangered magical creatures. When you find them, snap a photo of your find with the iPhone’s camera and send it off to headquarters. Some of the encounters allow you to pose with the characters, so at the end of the day you’ll some great photos of your family (ahem, or your group of twenty-something techie friends) getting up close and personal with dragons and other creatures. Bulpadok describes the experience as a collision of geocaching and ARGs.

The art of Hidden Park should also be mentioned. All of the characters are animated in a smooth, simple, kid-friendly style that reminds me of Craig McCracken, the characters are well-designed and the voice work is excellent.

In spite of its currently limited catalog of game locations, Hidden Park is already getting praise for encouraging physical fitness in kids, for promoting an environmental message, and just for being cool. The scope of the game is scheduled to expand in the coming months with the addition of a Park Builder function, allowing the game’s collection of park information to grow through crowdsourcing.

Hopefully, someday we’ll see these technologies grow into themselves and offer something for mature audiences; but for now, I’m cool with letting them make me feel like a kid again.

————-

* I assume that the system uses RFID to keep track of the wands, because they have a very low-powered battery inside that can’t possibly do much more than power the LED in the tip of the wand. However, neither Creative Kingdoms nor the patent for the game are letting on.

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Haley Moore is a newspaper reporter, artist, and playwright based in north Texas. She has worked on several indie, fan and commercial Alternate Reality Games.

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COMMENTS

  • I think the age groupings at the Grapevine MQ might be colored by the fact that it's in the Great Wolf and NOT freestanding. Great Wolf is a kid-oriented hotel; it has animatronics singing in the lobby and a freakin' indoor water park. Also, while I suppose you COULD just walk in and play by the hour there, the fact that its in the hotel has kept me from doing so, unless I know someone who's staying there. The quests are actually scattered throughout the hotel, including hallways outside rooms, so I always feel awkward hanging outside someones hotel room waving my wand at stuff.

    I didn't know they were interspersing it with retail. I'm not surprised, of course - CK is really good at turning childlike wonder into money. I have visions dancing in my head of something like this on the scale of Jejune or Accomplice, but I suspect the Obnoxious Teenagers would probably be a big obstacle to surmount in doing something like this on a larger scale.

    I had a wand from a Great Wolf promo event, and they had to swap out the ball on the end of the wand when I brought it in to play. I think they said it was mapped to the Myrtle Beach location. Did they change out the ball when they reset your wand?

  • Pixie

    When our battery died, our wands reset, they had to be reformatted from the main computers in the front, FWIW. Hubby & I go to the one in Myrtle Beach when we visit his parents. We started going on recommendations from adult friends of ours, and every time we go, it is crawling with more adults than kids. The one in Myrtle Beach also has an outdoor "quest". Broadway at the Beach is basically an outdoor mall of a sorts, and spread out around the mall are various magiquest items to "collect" - I am sure the idea is to get the parents to go shopping while taking the kids around to find them. Unfortunatly, it is currently broken due to obnoxious teens who decided to steal parts of it.

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