Unleashing the Titans – The Ancients AR Interview with Piotr Baczynski

May 30, 2018

As augmented reality grows in prominence, so too will the possibilities we can explore with it. We sat down with Immersion’s CEO Piotr Baczynski to talk about what his team’s cooking up for AR fans with The Ancients AR.

Appolicious: How did Jakub Rozalski’s art lead to the birth of The Ancients AR?

Piotr Baczynski: I originally came up with the idea for the Ancients universe. We were fans of Jakub Różalski’s art for quite a while – especially pieces in which he painted gigantic creatures and monsters. When we were in the early stages of planning The Ancients for virtual reality headsets, we saw his new painting depicting a huge giant in the Baltic Sea, painted for the anniversary of the German invasion of Poland. It perfectly captured the menacing atmosphere and perspective that were important for us. We thought that Jakub’s talent would be ideal for creating the visual interpretation of The Ancients AR’s universe.

Jakub treasures his privacy and lives in a very beautiful and secluded mountain region of Poland. We drove there and showed him an early demo of The Ancients AR – and he immediately agreed to work with us. By that time, Jakub was already doing concept art for some Hollywood blockbusters, so we were very happy that he found time to support this project. Jakub has laid down his vision onto the canvas, creating a unique and mysterious fantasy atmosphere.

App: Who are the Ancients and how do they factor into the Icelandic battles in your game?

PB: The Ancients are gigantic creatures that are summoned to help the player defeat enemies. There will be three Ancients available at launch – each with a different set of skills. The player needs to obtain enough energy (i.e., be active on the battlefield) to summon them. It’s also possible to upgrade the Ancient’s skills. The origin of the Ancients is unknown, but they live in symbiosis with the people that inhabit the islands – helping those in need. As you might expect, the Ancients get their powers from those who worship them!

App: What inspired your team to build The Ancients AR upon ARKit?

PB: The Ancients was already in development for VR before we saw the true potential of ARKit. Shortly after the ARKit beta was released, we posted a video on YouTube showing a simple naval battle on our office floor. It got a lot of attention:

Naval battle using new Apple iOS ARKit – Immersion AR Labs

Testing the new Apple ioS ARKIT http://www.immersion.pl

So we decided to act on it and turn the prototype into a full game – placing the gameplay in the Ancients universe. The idea was to capitalize on ARKit’s ability to project realistic battlefields right at the players desk or floor.

App: How has augmented reality shaped The Ancients AR’s design?

PB: Augmented reality allows us to add special visual effects to the game, and it also makes it easy for gamers to view the battlefield in a more realistic way. The game development process is different as well: You need to design AR-specific gameplay that takes full advantage of the hardware.

Since the device becomes your camera and targeting system, it allows the player to see the map from any angle and distance – and it makes targeting units with special skills very easy and intuitive. AR control in an RTS ads another axis of camera control, which means that you don’t have to cover the screen with your fingers. It’s dead easy to move the phone to select the area you’re targeting with your skills, weapons or units.

App: What sort of game development challenges arise when translating an RTS experience to AR?

PB: With an AR game on iOS, the player uses an iPhone or an iPad for basic navigation – adjusting the view like you would on a cell phone camera. There’s a specific set of characteristics (considering the currently available hardware) that needs to be taken into account when designing an AR game as well. For example, a single play session should not be overly long because the slight discomfort of holding an iPad can impact the player’s enjoyment. AR is also quite performance-intensive, so it requires a lot of optimization! One of AR’s coolest features is the ability to “zoom in” and “zoom out,” which translates into better interaction with the game itself. ARKit needs flat surfaces and bright environments, so it’s not the best solution for situations like playing in a car or on a train. This is why The Ancients AR is fully-functional in a non-AR mode as well *smiles*.

App: What’s been achieved here that you never could with a traditional screen-based experience?

PB: The interaction between the real and virtual environments provides countless opportunities for totally new and awesome effects. AR technology augments the real world, adding unique elements to a game and creating a captivating experience. With AR we are also able to summon in-game objects and characters in real scale. For example, there will be a feature that allows the player to summon a real-scale, 300 feet-tall Ancient. Here’s a “small” example:

The Ancients AR

The ANCIENTS ARE COMING! Wage ferocious sea battles and use the magical powers of the Ancients to crush your enemies! The Ancients AR is one the first real-time strategy games for ARKit, combining its unique capabilities with stunning art and graphics, exciting gameplay and a compelling storyline. Available in AR/Non-AR mode.

App: Why do you feel augmented reality games are on the rise?

PB: Pokémon GO paved the way – but for us, it was more of a geolocation-based game. Augmented reality games are becoming more popular, but they’re still a tiny drop in an ocean of games. We believe that the real “Age of AR” will come with head-mounted AR displays (like the one recently leaked from Apple), but its already an interesting market. There are more than 500 million iOS devices compatible with ARKit, and there will be even more Android devices using ARCore. It’s a huge market with amazing potential. AR is something new that brings the player closer to the game; we believe that it will find more and more fans each year.

App: Your website alludes to plans for more titles in The Ancients AR universe. While your debut title is still awaiting release, one has to wonder, is there any more cutting edge tech your team is considering for future projects?

PB: The Ancients’ universe will be the origin point for several very different games. Apart from The Ancients AR – which is a mobile RTS – we are developing a VR action game (Ancients VR) where the player gets to be the Ancient and smash enemy ships and soldiers with massive strikes, weapons, and spells. Developed in cooperation with HTC Vive, that game will be released later this year. Another step will be creating games set in the Ancients universe, but for PCs!

For more on ARKit, be sure to check out our interview with the ambitious holographic software’s developers here!

The Ancients AR
The Ancients AR
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Elijah Beahm

Elijah is a man who can't stop talking about games, geeky things, and to the chagrin of his colleagues, horrible puns. He's been working as a game journalist for several years now, and in addition to Appolicious, His other work can be found at GameCritics.com, I Need Diverse Games, and The Unabridged Gamer on YouTube. When not reviewing games, you'll probably find him ranting on Twitter, writing, or replaying Dead Space 2 for the zillionth time.

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