Google Glass and the rise of the Smartwatch

Is gaming’s future in wearable tech?

Once upon a time, if you wanted to play a video game, you needed a dedicated piece of hardware, a compatible console or a computer. In recent years, the rise of the smartphones - and the increasing power of the technology they contain - has led to the medium breaking out of its ghetto and into the mainstream. Everyone who owns a similar device is never more than a couple of taps or swipes away from the ability to play - and soon games may become even more convenient.

Google Glass is the obvious next step, as the technology giant prepares to introduce an Android-powered dual-core device which you can wear on your face, and which weighs less than an average pair of sunglasses. Developers have had the hardware for almost 18 months now, and more and more videogame ideas have emerged since. The potential is enormous. But will the first iteration of Google Glass be able to realise it?

The most off-putting element currently – setting aside for now concerns about invasions of privacy – is the price. The early Explorer units will set you back around £1000, though Google insists that the consumer version will retail for a price approaching that of the average smartphone. Although with less functionality for a similar cost, it’s unlikely to be a mass-market proposition off the bat, even if it’s bound to have its fair share of early adopters, keen to test out this revolutionary piece of tech. In terms of raw power, it’s not as capable as most current phones and tablets, boasting around 1GB of RAM (of which roughly two-thirds is available to developers), while the 360p Prism Projector display is said to be the equivalent of viewing a 25-inch screen from around 8 feet away. With the inbuilt camera capable of taking 5 megapixel snaps, and shooting video at 720p, it’s clear that Glass is geared more toward other media than games.

Mind Pirate’s simple shooter Global Food Fight was released simultaneously on Google Glass and iOS.

The hardware responds to voice commands (playing a game is as simple as saying “OK, Glass – play a game”) and menus are controlled by swiping a touchpad on the side of the frame. It also has a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and sensors that track ambient light and proximity. These unconventional inputs represent a challenge to developers, but Google has already crafted a number of experimental games to encourage developers to build new gaming experiences for Glass, including rudimentary clay shooting, balancing and tennis-themed minigames. They’re basic, but as Google happily admits, they’ve been quickly “hacked together” as examples designed to inspire.

And inspire they have. Recently, Augmented Reality platform Blippar demonstrated a pair of AR games, including its own take on popular app Fruit Ninja, titled Kung Food. Here, you’re asked to slice up various pieces of fruit that are hurtling towards you in 3D space, chopping them with hand gestures before they hit you. Another demonstration saw the company’s CEO, Ambarish Mitra, turn a real-world painting into a game which asks players to dodge and shoot asteroids.

As with many smartphone games, these prototypes aren’t particularly sophisticated, but perhaps they don’t need to be. Like the top-selling titles on the App Store and Play Store, they’re chiefly designed to fill gaps in your daily routine - with the added convenience of being able to leave your phone in your pocket. And while most people would be too embarrassed to shout “pull” in public to release a clay pigeon, or wave their arms around to cut a watermelon in two, these ideas are just the beginning.

There are more ambitious games on the way, too. GlassBattle is an Augmented Reality take on multiplayer Battleships, while Swarm is a new breed of MMO, as players become members of an ant colony. The latter uses both GPS data to track player movement, with bonuses for staying in one place for a certain length of time, and even taking photos.

"Swarm is a new breed of MMO on Google Glass, using GPS data to track player movement.”

In truth, it’ll likely be a few years before the technology is good enough for Google Glass to become the next must-have gaming device – at least until the resolution improves and the hardware itself is streamlined and less intrusive. Yet Google is already leading the way when it comes to wearable tech. Smartwatches are growing in popularity, and while smartphone-like ubiquity might be some way off, they’re already proving an attractive platform for studios looking to reach new markets.

Samsung’s Gear Live has an in-built heart monitor, making it a likely target for developers looking to make fitness games.

Google’s Android Wear initiative has started to bear fruit this month, with two watches of similar price and specifications now available from the Play Store. Both LG’s G Watch and Samsung’s Gear Live are powered by the Snapdragon 400 quad-core CPU, and feature 4GB internal storage with 512 MB RAM. In other words, for such small devices, they pack plenty of grunt, and while a 280x280 resolution (or 320x320 for the Gear Live) doesn’t sound like much, on a 1.6-inch display, images look sharp and vibrant – ideal for games. Indeed, just this week developer Unit9 Games released Swip3 on the Play Store, the first game designed specifically for Android Wear smartwatches. It’s a simple, minimalistic match-three puzzler, but it looks stylish and its intuitive swipe-based controls make it easy to play. It’s also compatible with other Android devices, but it’s surely a sign of things to come – Candy Crush Saga, one suspects, might not be too far behind.

"Smartwatches are already proving an attractive platform for studios looking to reach new markets."

With games accounting for almost 90% of app revenue on the Play Store in the first quarter of this year, it’s hard to imagine other developers not following suit. Again, it may be a few years before the technology – and specifically the battery life, which in the case of the two leading Android Wear devices, lasts around a day – is capable enough and the market penetration widespread enough to make it an attractive proposition for the industry’s biggest publishers. But the signs so far are extremely promising - and with Apple currently rumoured to be developing a smartwatch of its own, we could well be witnessing the birth of a new gaming platform.