It started as an April Fools’ joke in 2014 from Google, with help from Nintendo. They were advertising the Google Maps service by pretending that there was an Easter egg “game” function of finding Pokémon using the map data. It was such a great “real” game idea that Niantic Labs developed it into an actual app for Nintendo called “Pokémon Go”, the surprise augmented reality (AR) phenomenon that took the world by storm back in 2016. Several franchises would follow Nintendo’s lead in making location-based mobile games using Google Map data. Now Google is opening that up to all developers.
The Verge has it that Google is inviting mobile app developers to use Google Maps as a platform for new location-based games in the vein of “Pokémon Go”. Already two other big-name franchises have started their respective projects: AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and Universal Pictures’ “Jurassic World”. Google has already promised full access to Google Map data for software developers interested in collaborating with them, but the internet giant is also helping these outfits with the heavy data crunching by introducing two computing aids, a software development kit (SDK) and an application programming interface (API) to work with Google Maps.
The SDK is based on one of the world’s most used gaming engines, Unity. Its purpose is to incorporate mapping data of real-world locations to translate onto a game environment. Google’s Unity SDK essentially helps so that even programmers with minimal knowledge of Google Maps utility can program an app using its data. Meanwhile, the API works on the visual element of the app, to assist developers in, as Google puts it, “[finding] places that are appropriate, unique, and fun to play anywhere on Earth”. Google even prepared a tech demonstration to illustrate how the whole package comes together functionally.
Google product manage Clementine Jacoby gave a short version on how Google Map data translates into a realized game experience. Take for instance a fantasy RPG app that interprets map data of the player’s city into a realm, where locations of hotels become registered for example as “inns” that restore “health” to players visiting them. The Google project’s lead engineer Patrick Donelan notes, “In this way you can create unique game environments that still feel connected to the real world.”
While all this new development buzz going on, Niantic Labs is busy with their next AR game app after “Pokémon Go”. Building off from the same Google Map data, they will soon launch the mobile game “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” based on JK Rowling’s newly-minted Wizarding World franchise universe. Google plans to expound on its Maps offer to developers in San Francisco next week during this year’s Game Developers Conference.
Photo courtesy of mashable.com