Development Tools For Location Based Games Computer Science Essay

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Geo-based game or geogame is a kind of game in which the player is directly involved through his location. Under the terms of the game, the participants should pass certain areas through the static or dynamic checkpoints, sometimes for a certain period of time. Such games use GPS satellite positioning technology using a mobile phone or a tablet. These games are mobile in every sense of the word. For example, for a game of poker on your mobile phone it is of no importance where you are, whereas for a geo-based game your location is directly related to the process and mechanics of the game. Moreover, unlike usual mobile games the geo-games often have strictly limited timeframe.

Checkpoint or point is a display of an object on a virtual map. The object itself can be either real: a building, a cafe, a lake or virtually coined for a game mechanics. The object can be static, so that its position is steady, or it can be dynamic, so, in the course of time the object can change its location on the virtual map.

Abstract

Developing a geo-based game is not an easy task. A number of problems should be taken into consideration: planning and creating the game mechanics, creating friendly user-interface and imposing virtual objects onto real ones. My study is aimed at helping developers to deal with the last and the most important tasks. My project is a specific framework, which primary goal is to impose virtual objects onto real map using developer-defined rules and algorithm, which will spread these points in an appropriate way into zones by the developer. In addition, it can simplify creating the in-game mechanics between users and virtual points on the map. My project is of high contemporary topicality, the proof of which can be found in my paper in the corresponding paragraph. It should be added that it is unique and there are no analogs at all. There are two completely different ways of distributing this framework: developer can buy the whole library or just gain a temporary access (SAS).

Introduction

The object of this study is: "Development Tools for Location Based Games". In the main body of this research the following topics will be considered: core functionality, topicality, existing solutions and existing location-based applications.

While developing this type of applications developers need to mix the real world objects and the virtual map in one game mechanics. Sometimes these objects are already defined in both ways, for example, a bar: it is defined as a Foursquare place and a real bar. But sometimes it is necessary to create some strict and complex rules of locating these virtual objects on the map even without real-world objects. After that, developers must code the handler for this type of a point, which consumes a lot of time and money. Development tools for locations-based games will contain algorithms for map processing and separating it due to these rules, and some technology of pre-build classes and interfaces for creating in-game interactions. Now I should tell about the functionality in more detail.

Functionality

The analyses carried out have proven the need of the following functions:

Map processing and separation into zones with pre-defined parameters, such as: proximity to the city center, the number of public places, parks, water resources, beaches, monuments, subway stations, road networks, the population density in the area.

A set of methods and interfaces for customization of two basic types of interactions: «user-user» and «user-point». It is important that this interaction can differ depending on the type of point or user.

Game statistics.

These are the main problems to be solved during planning and developing:

Choosing an optimal algorithm for image analyzing and clustering.

Choosing and revising an optimal algorithm for spreading points into specific zones.

Developing an abstract mechanism and a set of rules for creating «user-user» and «user-point» interactions.

This framework will be designed for further development of location-based games. However, it is crucial to know if this type of applications is popular among users and developers.

Topicality

Fifteen years ago, a research firm Gartner came up with a concept of hype cycle. In Russian it is usually called a cycle maturity of technology, but the literal translation is rough. Hype is a wave of hype, rising around every idea that deserves at least some attention. Watching the waves allows making some conclusions about the future of technology. According to Gartner, the life cycle of each technology is divided into the same stages. At first the technology climbs on the "peak of inflated expectations", when it is much talked and written about. When the top is reached, the only way further is down to the "abyss of frustration". Even if the technology continues to evolve, it does not cause the former level of interest and enthusiasm, while the criticism is growing. Some technologies manage to climb out of the abyss on the "slope of enlightenment" and then - on the "plateau of productivity." The future of the technologies, which have already reached the plateau, does not depend on the opinions of people around. This year, the Gartner hype-cycles look the following way.

[2]

As it can be seen from the chart, augmented reality is close to the top, but it has already exceeded the peak of the analysts' expectations. However, according to iTunes Store "54% of all sold applications have geo-tagging element". Moreover, attention should be paid to the business side of things: if there was any doubt that location-based applications such as Foursquare and Hot Potato are the next hot web brand, the Southwest Interactive conference in Austin in March hammered the point home. The annual gathering of technology geeks was the site of thousands of "check-ins" from different places, and the emergence of flash mobs as all the attendees saw crowds forming at various spots and rushed to join them. Foursquare has gotten the most attention of all the location-based mobile applications, with Hot Potato and Gowalla taking second and third places respectively. Brightkite is coming up in popularity quickly, though. In part, Foursquare's profile is a result of having attracted the most users - it recently hit one million users, a number that doubled in less than three weeks, and it was only launched a year ago. There have been unconfirmed reports recently that some Internet giants are looking to acquire the startup: one rumor suggests that Yahoo is looking to pay as much as $100 million for the company. Twitter has implemented geo-tagging of tweets, partly by buying Mixer Labs for its geolocation API, and Facebook is highly expected to launch some form of location-based features. [3]

Now we should turn directly to the geolocation games. If the industry is actively developing, as shows the data above, then the subset of games needs to be evaluated. Location-based games are already starting to emerge. For instance, Angry Birds will soon include geo-based features that give players access to new levels, characters and content. Players will also be able to compete with one another on a unique leader board tied to each location. This feature will turn bars, apartment buildings and cafes into proving grounds for the next Angry Birds champion. This game can be an illustrative example of connection between marketers and customers. Products, logos and buildings can all be incorporated into the gaming environment through image recognition, GPS or barcode scanning. This type of games adds more depth to social check-ins, a field where developers are still trying to find out how to create worthwhile experiences. MyTown is an good and working example. Players buy and sell the locations they check in at, much like in Monopoly, and products are available through barcode scanning, which can unlock manufacturer promotions and virtual goods. The location-based gaming market is poised for growth.

According to Jane McGonigal, 183 million Americans report playing a game for an hour a day. That is more than half of the population. It is natural, that all it will take is one successful breakthrough and the market will explode with new players and more innovative games. A good example of a brand integration that improves the gaming experience is the Dreyer's Fruit Bars campaign that is running in FarmVille. Players have the opportunity to plant Dreyer's branded crops, which are more profitable than comparable usual plants and create the possibility of receiving recognition as a top player.

Furthermore, the promotion by Dreyer's is made even in the real world; a few players are selected to plant an actual fruit orchard in Farmville, Virginia. The market is waiting for the right game to combine the real and virtual worlds and to galvanize interest in experiences. Just as FarmVille put social gaming on the map and Angry Birds brought attention to mobile gaming in general, we could see app markets flooded by smartphone owners looking for location-based games and applications. This is a valuable opportunity to strengthen emotional connections with customers in different spheres of marketing and business. It is suggested to keep an eye on new releases and wait for the next big thing in mobile gaming. [4]

However, in this connection a reasonable question is bound to arise: how can location-based games affect the business, which is not connected to IT? They can create a "digital buzz" in a specific area, which can socially expand one's brand name and recognition. The key component would be for users to gain knowledge of the company and product that would direct them to experience this one specific brand. Then the conversion from the campaign can be tracked in to potential leads or sales.

In conclusion, it is necessary to point out that the urgency of the problem is huge: the entire market of the geo-based applications is growing, as well as the subset of the geo-games; the technology allowing playing and using such applications increasingly embeds to the mobile devices and as for selling apps - they speak for themselves. The next step is to consider currently existing solutions.

Overview of existing solutions

Unfortunately, there is no full-featured solution at the moment. Undoubtedly, there are powerful tools such as Google Maps API, Foursquare API, AlterGeo API and other services with geolocation, but none of them provide all the functions needed for the game development.

As it is possible to see from the chart, none of these four APIs provide even the minimum number of functions, which are essential for a complex geogame. Furthermore, abstraction of the interactions is also a fundamental part, which has no substitutions, because almost in every application the term «point» is monosemantic and the behavior is strictly defined in the source code. It was necessary to choose appropriate technologies for the framework and this question is going to be considered later on.

Technologies in use

Firstly, Java will be used to code the framework itself and the Reflection technology for creating abstract interactions. This language is chosen because it is the most suitable for APIs I am going to work with and the server-side applications.

Secondly, I am going to tell more about the chosen APIs and the reasons why they were chosen. The analysis has proven the advantages of Yandex Maps as a standard map type, because of the following reasons:

An access to static map image, which is easy to analyze.

Better color scheme for image processing.

Foursquare API will be used to receive public places and monuments due to the several advantages:

The biggest database of existing public places.

New spots are easier to be registered and edited.

In comparison with AlterGeo it has more available countries.

It is necessary to keep in mind that choosing appropriate technologies is an important part in planning and developing applications, especially this type of application. Nevertheless, the necessity of analysis of the existing location-based applications in order to identify common consistent patterns cannot be forgotten.

Overview of existing location-based applications and games

It is very important for my work to define two types of geo-applications - geo-apps themselves and location-based games. The main criterion wherefore the application is different from the game - is a custom competition, which is expressed in earning specific points or bonuses. The application in which there is a procedure of earning such points and the statistics that help to compare the user, the application, according to my terminology becomes a game. The game itself needs more features than the application. By functions in this context should be considered: the availability of internal social statistics about the points and other player's information, the descriptions of interactions, built on the principles of "user-user", "user-tags", "user-event" and the presence of rules that are described programmatically. Why is it important to distinguish between two basic types of geo applications? To begin with, it is necessary to understand the amount of user interaction, or rather its theoretically possible amount. An example of such a geo-application can be Google Maps, which clearly shows that the application itself can be just a map with a minimum of user points, which, in this case, refer to the real geographical features highlighted in such a way. The purpose of this application is to help people find required addresses and help navigate them in the terrain. This is the function, which is needed for the majority of geo applications: the ability to see the map and post a point on it, the interaction with points is often optional. Here is the main purpose of conventional division into types. After all, for a game with a competitive part the interaction is a key part of the process and meaning.

The objective of my work is creating the framework for developing geogames, and as it has already been mentioned geogames have wider range of options. Therefore, it is also possible to develop just location-based applications.

Subsequently, I would like to give a short description of the most popular geolocation games according to the well-known and authoritative resource «thenextweb.com»:

Geocaching

Cult phenomenon Geocaching sees players hunting down real objects hidden by other users at locations all over the world. Almost a million items around the globe were hidden and found by over 3 million participants in its ten-year history. When player finds a "geocache" (a hidden container) he might even find items left by other users who have visited that location before. The game can be played with any device with GPS technology using information from the website, and there are applications for both iPhone and Android.

Red Quest

Red Quest is the Russian version of the Geocaching granted by MTS mobile operator, launched in 2010, based on the Transformers. The main goal of the game - is to save the city from the invasion of the decepticons. Herewith, the game uses a real city map with the marked location of the decepticons. In the summer of 2011, the number of participants of the Red Quest exceeded 2.5 million.

FoursqWAR

The objective of this game is to attack and defend different Foursquare locations, competing to reach the top of a leaderboard. The amount of fun from this game is proportional to amount of players in the local area. However, the game's developers are working on improvements and if a player can get a few friends involved it could well become an obsession.

Waze

Social driving service Waze is not a game in a general meaning; it is a way of sharing information about accidents, conditions, and traffic jams on the road. The idea is, that application automatically publishes user information such as speed and location over time. And this information can be significantly useful to other drivers. However, in order to encourage users to contribute additional data to the service, Waze has added items called 'Road Goodies' onto its map. The player by making his way through items like candies or snowflakes can earn points, which are not, on their own, much of an incentive, but the fun way to improve the game process.

Turf Wars

A little like FoursqWAR, Turf Wars sees players battling for real world territory against other participants. However this game has a crime theme and involves building up a Mafia mob, taking part in missions, and evading the police. The goal is to gain 'turf' in your local area in order to gain income for your crime syndicate. The player can take part in missions to increase your experience levels, invite friends to join your mob and equip virtual weapons to take on rivals. In strongly contested areas, the game can get quite frantic but it is recommended to start gaining experience in a quiet, mob-free area in order to level up before taking on tougher players. [1]

These descriptions make it possible to conclude that each of these games contains several items: points (in Waze it is called 'Road Goodies', in Geocaching - 'geocache' and so on), statistics and specific zones ('Localzone' in TurfWars for example). Interaction with all of these elements and distribution of these elements are going to have the core functionality of my framework.

Some patterns can be seen from the table above. First, almost all of the applications are available on the iOS platform, except Tourality, application for iPhone, which is currently under development. The second most popular platform is Android, which hasn't got only two applications for popular stamp. For Win7, there is only one application that is not a game. Therefore, we can conclude that this platform is experiencing a lack of the mobile geo-games, but, it is easy to correct. Second, the type of card used is always Google Maps; Waze application uses a customized version. The rest open maps with API for several obvious reasons that were outlined earlier were not included in the list. Third, it is impossible to say anything about the API, as on the developer's website such data is obviously not shown, or if there is no access to the source code. All these data is taken from the analysis sites of developers, because the source code is protected by copyright.

Conclusion

The analyses proved the advantages of developing geoframework. However, a more thorough study of image processing algorithms is required. At the moment there cannot be found one solid solution, because of the specific type of processing. The abstract rules for separating the map and interactions between objects and users constitute fundamental parts of my work. The whole game mechanics is going to be processed inside this framework and that is the reason why the singular accuracy is needed in this part.

In conclusion it can be said, that the framework for developing location-based games is going to be high demanded by developers, because there are no analogs, all the required functionality is present and the market itself is highly growing.

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