Microsoft’s “Share Your Idea” competition drew app ideas from 5,000 applicants. The goal was to find an app they could create for the HoloLens headset. Zaid Abouqamar found the finalist entries lacking in scope, and set out to create his own game called AR Zombies. He wanted to create an app that wasn’t merely an experience, but something that had functional use. Abouqamar also thinks that augmented reality has potential as a market. VR Fitness Insider spoke with him about his upcoming game, as well as his thoughts on the utility of augmented reality.

Behind the Programmer

Abouqamar is a Qatari mechanical engineer who received his master’s degree from the University of Manchester. During his free time, which seems to be the pattern with a number of developers in this field, he learned about developing applications in a field that he’s had a lot of interest in since childhood: the VR and AR industry. After hearing about Google’s Tango platform, he decided it was time to take the English-focused technology and aim it towards his own culture.

Abouqamar’s main motivation is bring his culture to the VR and AR industries. He noticed that the companies that were producing apps and games for VR and AR weren’t targeting the Arab market at all. In fact, as far as he knows, AR Zombies would be one of the only apps out there that spoke his language. He knows that will change in the future. Many of the entrepreneurial events he attends are full of youths. Until then, he has AR Zombies.

Behind AR Zombies

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As a mechanical engineer, Abouqamar began his development process thinking about why he needed to create the app and who he was trying to reach with it. He wanted to create a game that was more interactive than what he called “experiences,” or an AR or VR app that didn’t offer much in the way of interaction and user input. Abouqamar said those sort of apps will eventually fade from popularity. He also wanted AR Zombies to be accessible to as many users as possible, saying that he “wanted to make the game everyone would copy.” He referenced the popular app-turned-franchise Angry Birds in this regard. With this in mind, AR Zombies was created to be as user-friendly as possible.

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In fact, AR Zombies in its current state reminded me of platform video games like Adventure Island or Crash Bandicoot. Of course, this includes the games featuring everyone’s favorite plumber with the red hat. The user navigates levels from start to finish while making sure to avoid hazards like pitfalls and collapsing bridges along the way. There will be coins to collect and keys to unlock the way forward. Encouraging players to pick up the pace will be the titular zombies. Since it is an AR game, it will only require a compatible mobile device to play. But why augmented reality?

The Benefits of AR over VR

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Abouqamar faced a number of challenges in the creation of AR Zombies. The first being one of his app’s strengths: Tango itself. Tango is a platform developed by Google that uses imaging to allow mobile devices to track their location sans GPS or other external signals. He had chosen the platform because of how it catered to applications created for mobile devices. But, he remarked how “many of the articles about Google Tango say it isn’t ready yet, that it’s a failure.” In his opinion, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, the apps that being developed using Tango technology were “immature.” He admitted that this classification included his own game. At the moment, while AR Zombies does not fully use Tango’s computer vision capabilities such as 3D scanning and area learning, it is using Tango’s motion tracking to its advantage.

The developer also brought up the safety issues. VR sickness is avoided in an augmented environment. On top of that, he also created a fence around the game’s levels not to restrict the player from moving beyond the game’s bounds, but to allow them to see where they are in space. To this end, the player would avoid walking into something they shouldn’t while they are immersed in the game. The fence is being used as a point of reference.

Design Choices for Accessibility and Fitness in AR Zombies

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Abouqamar wanted to create a game that would be easily accessible yet still challenging. This is mainly the reason why the player can’t just sit to play the game, but doesn’t have to scan their entire room for the game. A number of smart design choices, like showing the player a pit is dangerous by the skeletal dressing it receives instead of just telling them, and including a cross-hair on the floor that marks exactly where the player’s feet are in the game world, contribute to Abouqamar’s vision of a game everyone can play.

He called the design of his game “counter-intuitive.” Indeed, when a player hears about a game about zombies, they might first imagine shooting down their adversaries. That’s not the case with AR Zombies. Abouqamar wanted to be sure that the player kept moving. If they had the ability to shoot the zombies, they would just stand there and shoot away. So, guns and bullets are a very limited resource in the game. In the same line of reasoning, there is no jump function to the game either. He reasoned that if there was a jump button, then “why not add a button that makes them walk, too?”

The Tango Community

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Abouqamar believes that right now is the best time to get into game-making, where new markets are being discovered everyday. While he does not know where the AR market is headed yet, he believes that what will be intuitive five years from now could seem like the silliest idea today. With forward-minded goals in mind, what he ultimately wants to do is design what the new normal will be like. That includes fitness in the context of VR and AR.

Abouqamar is currently a member of the Google+ Tango Developers community. It is a place where developers can share their ideas, as well as hold international Skype meetings with one another.

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