Last week, augmented reality startup Proxy42 released Father.IO, a multiplayer game that turns any indoor or outdoor space into a laser tag arena.
A $40 Bluetooth-connected, infrared sensor-equipped device called the Interceptor converts your standard iPhone or Android smartphone into an AR gaming weapon capable of hitting targets up to 150 feet away. Proxy42 provided us with a pair of Interceptors for us to try the game out.
The set-up process is fairly painless. First, install the Father.IO AR FPS app from the iOS App Store or Google Play and sign up for an account by entering your email and a password or authenticating through Facebook.
Next, you'll need to connect to the Interceptor. After confirming that you have an Interceptor in your possession, you'll be asked to scan the QR code from the box of your Interceptor. This initiates the Bluetooth connection process.
I ran into some trouble here at first. The wide-angle lens on my LG V20 is damaged and, somehow, the app selected that camera as the default for QR code scanning (most apps typically select the standard camera). So I switched to an iPhone 6S, which was able to scan the QR code, but I couldn't connect to the Interceptor until I plugged it in via the Micro-USB port (this was true during subsequent sessions as well).
The LED lights on the Interceptor act as indicators for the status of the device. If the lights are orange, the device needs charging, green means it's fully charged, and blue indicates a successful Bluetooth connection.
Once your devices are connected via Bluetooth, you then need to attach them to their mounts. The Interceptor connects to a mount with a spring-loaded clasp, so it should be able to accommodate most phones, although some wider phones, like a Nexus 6 or a Lenovo Phab2Pro, won't fit. The included quick start guide recommends aligning the laser sight as close to the device's camera as possible.
The game has two primary gameplay options: quickmatch and headshot. For quickmatch, players can join other matches, or host their own game. Hosts decide whether the match will be indoors or outdoors so that the app can calibrate infrared strength.
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Quickmatch can be played in deathmatch mode, where every shooter fends for themselves, or team deathmatch, where players pair up into two teams — Human or Evolved. Each mode can be played in elimination style or with respawns; for the latter, the game's host can designate respawn zones on an aerial map of the area.
Once the rules of engagement are set, each player selects one of four classes. Each class has a handgun as a secondary firearm, a special primary weapon, and specific GPS-enabled abilities. The assault class carries, fittingly, an assault rifle and drops ammo crates. The sniper class is also armed with an eponymous primary weapon but can place claymore mines. The medic and the engineer each carry a submachine gun, with the former distributing health packs and the latter equipped with EMP grenades, which I presume disrupt enemy radar.
The other game type, headshot, works if you're playing solo, or if you're the only player with an Interceptor. The objective, as the name implies, is to shoot as many faces as you can in two minutes. Your targets need not be limited to other Father.IO players; anyone with a human face is fair game, so you can play a high-tech version of tag and virtually hunt down your friends (you sadist). The game also recognizes pictures, so you can setup your own target course with magazines and mirrors.
Regardless of game type, the in-game experience consists of an interface familiar to players of first-person shooters, with a virtual gun and hands framed by a heads-up display. Shield and health stats are found on the upper left of the screen, with radar shown on the bottom left; during outdoor play, touching the radar toggles to an aerial map. The special ability button is situated immediately above the radar and doubles as the cooldown timer.
The weapon trigger is located at the bottom right; snipers can tap this button once to bring up zoomed sights. The reload button is just above the trigger, and the weapon swap button and ammo counter is to the top-right. There's also a record button below the health stats, however, it only appears to work during headshot games.
I played a couple of rounds of the deathmatch mode as well as the headshot type. In one-on-one action, the Interceptors interacted as advertised. Haptic feedback lets you know when you've been hit, and a message pops up on your screen when you've been eliminated. After a few matches, we did have trouble with shots registering. It was during these matches that I was screen recording; the in-app button just wasn't working, so I toggled to the quick settings to start it. After rebooting the app, everything was fine. We probably would have played a few matches if not for my son's phone battery dying.
For the headshot game, Father.IO proved to be fairly accurate. At close range, headshots did not have to be overly precise to register, and I found that I was also able to hit a moving target. Proxy42 claims a headshot range of 65 feet and, in my evaluation, I found this to be true to an extent. I was able to register one out of six shots from the maximum distance with an assault rifle. Interestingly, it appears that at close range, the app is able to register shots without the Interceptor attached.
As far as the augmented reality aspect, I think the game left a few things out that might have been helpful. For instance, while respawn points and items appear at real locations, they are only shown on the radar. If I walk up to the location, I should be able to see it (virtually, on my screen) on the ground in front of me. But perhaps I'm being too picky. For example, no one expects to see PokeStops or Gyms in their camera view.
Overall, I found the game to be as fun as I expected. In this brief demo, just running around without regard for tactical discipline was hectic enough. While it can be played solo, you'll want at least two Interceptors to make this game worthwhile. If I had a few more players involved, maybe I'd duck behind cover, or flank an opponent.
Can it catch on without the attachment of a major brand name? It's probably too early to say. Maybe there's a business opportunity for some enterprising AR entrepreneur to buy Interceptors in bulk and open a laser tag arena. If so, be sure to circle back and let us know how it goes.