To the best of my recollection, Fruit Ninja was one of the first touchscreen games that appeared to really take advantage of the new paradigm of user input, turning the player's finger into a produce-slicing katana.
At first blush, the latest title from Halfbrick Studios, makers of that mobile megahit, is a bit indecisive on whether it wanted to be an AR game or a VR game. In the end, it demonstrates the ingenuity that the studio applied to its earlier effort.
That title is Shadows Remain, which takes the episodic approach around which Telltale Games (publisher of Walking Dead: The Game) has built its entire business model. It is part paranormal thriller and part puzzle game.
Using ARKit, the game takes place within a dollhouse model of a room anchored to your tabletop. The story unfolds from the point of view of the main protagonist. From this perspective, players examine clues within the room that advance the narrative.
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Within the first few scenes, you would be excused for wondering why this wasn't developed for VR instead. However, as the game progresses, players are challenged to use their perspective to solve puzzles. By rotating the game board with on-screen gestures and adjusting the camera angle by moving their device in and out of the scene, players merge ghostly beams of light and assorted creepy items to uncover more clues.
"Shadows Remain is a huge departure for Halfbrick," said Shainiel Deo, the CEO of Halfbrick, in a company statement accompanying the game's release. "The tone of the original prototype caught everyone off-guard, myself included, but there was something about this concept that just had to be explored. It's different to anything we've ever done, and I'm excited to see where this journey takes us."
The app and the first chapter of the story are available for free via the App Store. Chapter two is forthcoming; chapter one ends with a survey where users can vote for whether they would pay $2.99 for a longer chapter with more puzzles ($1.99 for the same length and quantity as chapter one, or $0.99). To complete the first chapter, it took me about 30 minutes, or less than the time of an average episode of American Horror Story, which would cost $2.99 in HD on iTunes. Meanwhile, an episode of Walking Dead: The Game runs $4.99.
In the end, Halfbrick is able to harness the immersive qualities of a VR experience and blend it with the point of view of an AR interface. I'm reminded of how The Machines utilizes the camera angle as part of the game's mechanics, though Shadows Remain operates on a smaller scale. While I felt that The Machines was a game that begged for a headset experience, Shadows Remain benefits from the touchscreen interaction.
An ongoing debate within the augmented and virtual reality communities is whether both exist as different ends of the same spectrum, or if they are separate and distinct technologies. Shadows Remain could act as a proof point for both sides of the argument. It demonstrates how the difference between AR and VR can be as simple as the change of the camera's perspective and the degree of immersion. At other times, it shows how both exist side-by-side as complementary technologies.