Dustcloud is an Augmented Reality First Person Shooter game for smart phones and headsets. According to CEO Howard Hunt, it's the Holy Grail of Gaming - Laser Tag in Real Life.
Dustcloud started in Prague in 2012 as a live action game called Wetworks, where teams of frustrated urban gamers would congregate at a small bar in one of the city's signature narrow Harry Potteresque streets off Old Town Square, and, after a few beers, chase each other around the city centre with brightly lit electronic smart guns called Dusters. The games were played at night, usually when the city centre was crawling with drunken tourists and police, and miraculously, none of the players were ever hurt or arrested. The game was an exercise in stealth and suspense, and most of the digital hitmen (and women) playing the game found themselves spending more time hiding than shooting.
The Tech Sense sat down with Dustcloud CEO Howard Hunt to talk about the latest developments in Urban Gaming.
Tell us about the Dusters. What are they and how do they work?
HH: Dusters are Bluetooth-enabled Smart Guns that shoot invisible electronic bullets called Speks. Speks are basically Radio Frequency signals that switch off the Dusters held by enemy players, so the idea of the game is to shoot the Duster, not the player. We built twelve prototyped in 2012, hardwiring the circuit boards ourselves and printing the bodies with 3D printers, and we had a lot of fun playing live games in Prague. What happened very quickly was that most of the prototypes were smashed in the course of the game, so we knew at some point we would find some money, so we could start manufacturing Dusters that wouldn't break.
And you did this in China?
HH: Yes, We weren't thinking about a global game, just a better game in Prague, but we were discovered by Haxlr8r, a hardware Accelerator based in Shenzhen, China, and they invited us to come and live in China for four months to learn how to build and prototype Dusters.
How was Shenzhen? And where is Shenzhen exactly?
HH: Shenzhen is right next to Hong Kong. It is one of those cities that was built as the result of a twenty year plan by the Chinese government. Twenty years ago, it was probably a field full of chickens and goats, whereas now it's this huge metropolis that is four times the size of New York City. It's an incredible experience to go there, because on one hand, everything is amazing, the technology is way more advanced than you might expect, but on the other hand, things break down all the time. Riding the escalator up to our office at Haxlr8r was always an adventure, because you never knew if the elevator was going to break down so you'd be trapped for a couple of hours. It was fun though. China is amazing.
Did you play any Dustcloud games in China?
HH: We did. We organised a game for a journalist from The Economist, where we found some Chinese players who were basically boyfriend and girlfriends of people who worked in the office - the point was,we had never met them before - and we played a game in the mean streets where we gave them dusters and sent them off ahead of us, and then went into the ghetto to hunt them. Which of course was just silly, because when we were the only white guys in the mean streets, so we were immediately dusted as soon as we walked in. Again and again and again. It was like Blade Runner. Hot and crowded. And we're tracking our opponents via phone maps and their Agent profile photos on our phones, but it's dark and spooky, and of course they could see us coming so we didn't stand a change. But what we learned from this, and from playing in Prague at night time, is that this kind of game is very different from playing laser tag or paintball, because those games are all about shooting like crazy, whereas when you play in public spaces, it's a very different vibe, because you want to remain as inconspicuous as possible. So the Duster is in your pocket ninety percent of the time, and you really only pull it when you are ready to shoot.
And the whole thing is electronically connected to one central database?
HH: Yes. This is the plan. Let's say I dust you with my Duster. A number of things happen. Firstly I deactivate your Duster so you are temporarily out of the game. I also capture the Speks in your magazine, and score points for dusting you. Scoring points increases my efficiency percentage, which will eventually increase my rank within the game. So lots of things going on, and all controlled by the database. One Duster shoots another Duster, both Dusters communicate information to the player's phones, and this information is uploaded to the Dustcloud.
The latest thing you have done is built the Dustcloud game for Sony SmartEyeglass Headsets.
HH: Yes, Sony came to us last year to see if we could cooperate on a game for IFA (the big electronics trade show in Berlin). They gave us some phones and headsets to develop with, and we produced a cool Augmented Reality game, where it is kind of like Terminator. You can see on-screen graphics in your headset, where you have a picture of your opponent, and when you dust them, the graphics indicate that your target has been eliminated. The tech is still really primitive, but Sony headsets work differently to, say, Google Glass, as they really do simulate distance. The interface has a ten metre view and a two metre view, where you can see content in the distance - it could be photograph, it could be text, and when you walk up to it, it become bigger on the screen of your headset. No one else is doing this right now. I think it's really going to revolutionise the Augmented Reality industry, because you can do things with headsets that you can't do when you are looking through the cameras viewfinder of your phone.
So headsets are the priority for Dustcloud?
HH: NO. We're still developing our map-based phone games, but the thing with headsets is, there has never been a killerapp to make you want to wear one. This was the big mistake with Google Glass. The tech companies are concentrating on geo and medical and industrial applications, but when you look at it, the thing that drives technology sales the most is gaming. We want to be the killerapp for headset-based gaming. That's the long term vision for Dustcloud.
A quick guide to The Dustcloud can be seen below.
Howard HuntHoward Hunt is the Founder/CEO of The Dustcloud, an urban gaming platform played with Bluetooth-enabled Smart Guns (called Dusters) and GPS tracking.