Rob Talk: Joining AEG & AR

Hello! I’m Rob, the first full-time employee of Alterego Games and this is my very first blog post! As a game developer at Alterego my job consists of programming games and apps, designing mechanics, testing our games and doing research on emerging technologies and development tools.

The initial contact between Alterego Games and me came about when I was still in college. I was lucky enough that a teacher of mine recommended me as a potential intern to Alterego Games. They were searching for an game developer intern at the time. What followed were two full internships at Alterego Games, during which I witnessed the Woven Kickstarter campaign, moved to three different offices and learned an incredible amount of new things concerning game development.

When my final exams at college were nearing their end, I received a message from Alterego Games, who offered me a 2 month contract to work on a small app once my exams were over. Quickly afterwards they extended my contract and I’ve been with them as a Junior Programmer, ever since.

The Project

For the past 6 months my main focus has been on developing AR apps using Unity and a variety of AR plugins such as ARCore, ARKit and AR Foundation. Augmented Reality or AR, is a quickly emerging technology which most people got acquainted with during the Pokémon Go craze of 2016. By using their phones, people could see wild Pokémon walking through the streets and parks, which they could then try to catch and collect. AR has come a long way since then and has been adopted by companies ranging from Ikea with the Ikea Place app, BMW with the BMW I Visualiser and Snapchat with Snapchat World Lenses. In short, AR is getting hot!

When it comes to developing AR games and apps in Unity one will quickly notice that there are a plethora of AR plugins. At Alterego we’ve mostly stuck with ARCore for Android and ARKit for iOS, which are the most advanced yet still easily usable plugins. Both plugins posses some powerful features such as vertical and horizontal surface detection, face recognition, object recognition, image recognition, augmentation and tracking and multiplayer functionality. Unity is also developing its own AR plugin, AR Foundation. This plugin is actually a combination of ARCore and ARKit and builds off both, it is however still lacking features and not as stable as the plugins it derives from.

My personal greatest hurdle for developing AR content with these plugins is the state of their documentation, which is often incomplete, somewhat unclear, outright outdated or a combination of these things. This makes sense, seeing these plugins are owned by Google and Apple. They update their software monthly and implement new features every few months or so. But searching for the cause of a crash or guidance on how to implement a new feature often ends in hours of scrolling through the Unity forums, Github issues and Stackexchange posts. The fact that you need to build your project to an actual device before you are able to completely test the AR functionality doesn’t speed up the development process.

Nonetheless, once you cultivate some understanding of the plugins you’re able to quite easily apply your regular Unity development skills to an AR game or app. Based on my experience with building AR content, game developers even have an edge when it comes to designing and building non-game AR apps. As a game developer you’re already familiar with Unity, a powerful and multi-platform engine. You’re also no stranger to designing and programming UI, controls for manipulating 3D models and implementing interactive elements to them. Because of AR support in Unity, game developers could potentially find themselves working in a new, non-game related environment while still using their game development skills.

AR In the industry

AR is seeing more and more usage by the day and has been used for games, social media, apps and industrial applications. As more powerful smartphones make their way into the hands of consumers the potential user base of AR technologies continues to grow. And with the ability to be applied to so many thing, who knows what AR technology will be used for next!

– Rob Out!