Last week Hungry Hippo came to Microsoft Surface. As a child I munched my way through many a white plastic marble so I am fascinated to see how this classic children’s board game takes to a digital makeover. A number of puzzles, board games and arcade games have already been given the Surface treatment. Last month the Microsoft Surface Games Pack brought some classics to this interactive table, along with the Tetris-like addiction of the all-new Tiles game. These games demonstrate some of the amazing features of Microsoft Surface; multi-touch, multi-user, gestural experiences which are playful, rich and immersive.
Touch is important as consumers ditch controls in favour of manipulating digital content using natural gestures. It's early days for touch and there is understandably a novelty element around gestural interfaces so despite many of the games being relatively basic, they are still engaging the users. As we become more familiar with multi touch we won't be so easily satisfied and will demand more.
Gestural interfaces are the future, and wherever the future lies you'll always find gamers. Microsoft Surface is not intended as a gaming device but emerging technologies such as Surface give gamers a taste of where gaming can go. Gamers are demanding types with an appetite for innovation so like many of us they want to squeeze the most out of these technologies. And that takes me to the point of this ramble. During demonstrations when I'm illustrating the features of Microsoft Surface I am regularly asked why none of the games utilize object recognition, why Microsoft Surface’s most compelling feature, and the feature that sets Microsoft Surface apart from other touch screen technologies is not used in any of the games so far?
Multi touch devices recognize multiple simultaneous touch points. Natural user interfaces enables users to interact in a far more natural and intuitive manner. Yet Microsoft Surface offers more than this. It houses five cameras inside the Surface unit which reads information from data (domino) tags and triggers events when physical objects are placed on the surface. This is about recognising the object, not just detecting the presence of an object. We have seen object recognition used to good effect in many other Surface applications, but not gaming. Surface has its limitations. It can't detect finger pressure and it doesn’t provide haptic feedback. Surface needs to play to its strengths and one of these is object recognition.
I'm not advocating we implement frivolous object recognition as it needs to enhance the experience. So whether it is as simple as an event occurring on the outcome of a throw of a dice or a playing card being placed on the table the object recognition must add to the experience. Take a look at Identity Mine’s Air Hockey. This is a great illustration of natural gestures and showcases the magic of blending physical and virtual worlds, not to mention achieving complex events such as collisions and acceleration. The success of this game is in its simplicity and naturalness, but this is a game that clearly wouldn't benefit from object recognition.
Educational games lend themselves well to Surface and we're already seeing some interesting applications in this area. Object recognition lends itself so well to child development as the technology can provide a richer sensory environment. For non-educational games we’re not seeing the same uptake. The absence of object recognition is not a criticism of Microsoft Surface or the talented designers out there but aren't we missing an opportunity to demonstrate the role of object recognition in interactions of the future.
I know that there are plenty of creative minds out there so this is a challenge to the Surface community to conceive a gaming experience which benefits from object recognition.
If you have any suggestions on games or gaming events that would benefit from object recognition please comment on this post or post a tweet to #surfacegame.