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The Future of Gaming: The Hot Potato Experience

The next generation of pervasive games are beginning to appear.

It’s no secret that the Nintendo Wii has changed the landscape for gaming. The question is what comes next.

Sony has been developing camera-based games for some time and Microsoft has a similar system in the works. But there are plenty of people who think that neither of these approaches will be game-changers (ahem).

Instead, the most exciting developments are coming from the world of mobile phones or other sensor networks where engineers are testing a new generation of games that can be played anywhere there is a mobile phone or wireless network. These games are location aware, involve multiple players, rapid physical activity and Wii-like gesturing.

So-called pervasive games generate an entirely new set of challenges–and not just for the people who play them. They must work with multiple types of input-an iPhone must be able to play against a Nexus One. They involve many players communicating rapidly, so these devices need to synchronise with each other.

To test how such games might work and the problems they generate, Ioannis Chatzigiannakis and a few mates at the University of Patras in Greece created one called Hot Potato. The game works like this:

A hot potato is a kind of virtual timer that is passed between mobile devices that players hold. During the game, the hot potato counts down to zero when it explodes. When this happens, the person holding it is out. The game repeats until only one player is left. Players can “throw” the hot potato to another player by moving close and making a throwing action with their arm (while holding their device).

Moving too far from the other players increases the chances that a new hot potato will be generated on your device. That keeps the players together. Until one of them receives a hot potato, in which case it pays to move away from them so they can’t throw it to you.

Chatzigiannakis and company created the game using Sun’s Spot sensor network device, which has an 180MHz ARM 9 processor with 512KB of RAM and 4MB Flash. It is IEEE 802.15.4 compliant and relies on a CC2420 Chipcon transceiver for communication. The device has two buttons, eight LEDs and a number of sensors such as an accelerometer, a thermistor, and a light sensor.

Today, the team reveal the results of tests with the game including user surveys. And it looks as if it works well. They say that players reacted very positively to the game.

As for the limits of the gaming experience, they say: “Up to 14 players can participate in a game session simultaneously in a completely distributed environment; above this limit, inherent technology factors come into play and prevent a seamless gaming experience.”

Hot Potato isn’t the first pervasive game, by any means. But others such as CatchBob!, SupaFly, and Human Pacman have had limited impact. This is an area that is waiting for its breakthrough game.

Hot Potato sounds like fun and a potential money spinner too. But now comes the difficult part: the final beta testing to take any rough edges off the product and then the sales and marketing.

iPhone app, anybody?

Ref: The “Hot Potato” Case: Challenges in Multiplayer Pervasive Games Based on Ad Hoc Mobile Sensor Networks and the Experimental Evaluation of a Prototype Game

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