‘Pokmon Go’ is getting players off the couch.
Niantic’s Pokmon Go, the augmented reality mobile game, has become a global phenomenon since it launched Wednesday in Australia before rolling out in the U.S. The game requires players to explore the real world to find Pokmon, collect items at Pokstops and conquer gyms, and a lot of work has gone into the game’s mapping.
John Hanke, the CEO and founder of Niantic, is a Google veteran.He was one of the founders of Keyhole, the company Google bought to start Google Earth, and had a hand in Google Maps before forming Niantic. The company spun off from Google’sparent company Alphabetin 2015.
For Hanke, accurate mapping was integral toPokmon Go. “A lot of us worked on Google Maps and Google Earth for many, many years, so we want the mapping to be good,” he told Mashable.
How Pokstop and gyms locations were chosen
All thosePokmon Goobsessives out there owe some serious thanks to a whole other set of gamers.
Ingress, theaugmented-reality multiplayer game,was launched in beta by Niantic in 2011. Its users are responsible for helping create the data pool that determines wherePokstops and gyms appear inPokmon Go.
In the early days of Ingress,Niantic formeda beginning pool of portal locations forthe gamebased on historical markers, as well as a data set of public artwork mined from geo-tagged photos on Google.”We basically defined the kinds of places that we wanted to be part of the game,” Hanke said. “Things that were public artwork, that were historical sites, that were buildings with some unique architectural history or characteristic, or a unique local businesses.”
The team thenasked Ingress players to submit places they thought were worthy of being portals. “
The Ingress portal data set became so robust, it was chosen asthe starting point forPokmon Go.Some of the mostpopular Ingress portals within a certain geographic location are gyms in the new game, while the next most popular have become Pokstops.
Thanks to the efforts of Ingress users, you should beable to findPokstopsalmost anywhere, although you may have trouble in some of the more remote corners of Australia.
“We had essentially two and a half years of people going to all the places where they thought they should be able to play Ingress, so it’s some pretty remote places.
“There are portals in Antartica and the North Pole, and most points in between.”
Which Pokmon appear where
Deciding which Pokmon would appear where required a whole extra set of mapping data.
Geographic markers in the map created forPokmon Gohelp determine Pokmon habitat. “We assign values based on whether there is a water body in an area so a stream, a river, a pond whether areas are designated as zoos or parks, or other kinds of mapping designations,” Hanke said.
That means, for the most part,water-type Pokmon likeMagikarpand Squirtlesshould appear near water.
Although he could not disclose its origins, another data set used in the game is drawn from thegeographic classification of an areabased on climate, vegetation and soil or rock type. “That gets into more [geographic information system]
Keeping players safe
SincePokmon Golaunched, there’s been plenty of hype on social media about players going to extremes to capture the elusive creatures.
According to Hanke, however, safety has always been a priority. One of the criteria for Ingress portals, which are now Pokstops and gyms, is that they be safe and publicly accessible. “The goal is they are places that are pedestrian-safe,” he explained.There have been reports of Ingress players running into trouble with the authorities for lurking in odd locations, however.
As for Pokmon, players shouldn’t have to go out of their way to capture them. “W
“Once a Pokmon spawns, you can tap on it and start interacting with it. You don’t have to go any further than where you already are the assumption being that you are safe.”
Of course, having your head permanently bent over your smartphone is not the safest way to walk the streets.
“When the app is opened, it launches with a warning message for users to keep their wits about them.”It is something that you would have with exercise apps, or geo-caching apps, or mapping apps, where people are moving about,” he added.
Hanke said Niantic hopes to encourage people to stay safe, while alsobuilding a game that gets people off the couch. “We’re trying to strike a good balance,” he added.
The future of Pokmon Go and augmented reality
Hanke has plans to add new, immersive features to Pokmon Go.
In particular, there are plans to developPokstops and gyms to add depth to game play. Currently, it’s possible to add a lure module to a Pokstop to attract Pokmon, but extra capabilities are in the pipeline.
“We imagine teams building up their gyms and Pokstops in certain ways and tailoring them to their tastes,” he said.
Trading is also part of the roadmap. “We think that that in particular is going to drive a lot of cooperation, competition and social interactions between people,” Hanke said. “Some of the game design features that we have in mind for Pokstops and gyms are designed with the idea of encouraging cooperation and gameplay between players on the same team.”
While the technology is not yet mature, Hanke also sees the game potentially working with augmented reality goggles.
“A lot of those systems will probably only work well indoors in the beginning,” he said. “But I think certainly within a decade we’ll see that kind of immersive visual eye wear that you could wear outside and play games likePokmon Go,and see Pokmon appear in a three-dimensional context.”
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