Apps Use GPS Technology to Put Runners into Smartphone Games

By Keller, James | The Canadian Press, February 27, 2013 | Go to article overview

Apps Use GPS Technology to Put Runners into Smartphone Games


Keller, James, The Canadian Press


Games mix smartphones with running

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VANCOUVER - Tapping into technology has long been part of the routine for runners like Craig Slagel, from using stopwatches to digital music players to sophisticated GPS trackers.

But Slagel wanted a more engaging experience, so the Vancouver-based app developer set to work on a smartphone game he could play while his feet hit the pavement below him.

The result is "Vancity Dash," an experimental iPhone and Android app that tracks a runner's progress using GPS technology, putting the user in the middle of a retro-style video game, complete with low-fi graphics, music and sounds that harken back to the early days of Nintendo and Sega.

Runners collect coins as they go, which users who live in Vancouver can use to unlock local landmarks. Those unlocked landmarks, when a user runs by, provide bonus coins. Anyone using the app outside of Vancouver can collect the coins, but not the landmarks.

The entire game is designed to take place in users' headphones, allowing them to concentrate on the task at hand: running.

"My running friends are always looking for ways to enhance their running experience, whether it's music or looking at their GPS or timing themselves," says Slagel.

"I thought, 'How about something that's a bit more interactive and a little different? Really something to get you out?'"

"Vancity Dash" is part of a relatively obscure trend of location-based games, which use the GPS information from smartphones and tablets to allow users to interact with the real world.

They can range from simple tasks like racking up check-ins on FourSquare to complex apps such as Google's Ingress project, a so-called massive multiplayer game set to debut on the Android system that will use real-world GPS maps to put players in a science-fiction story involving global mind control.

Slagel created Vancity Dash with two other students who graduated from Simon Fraser University's digital media master's program.

He says the game, which is free, is primarily an experiment designed to test the technology. He says he and his colleagues at Leaping Coyote Interactive will use the lessons from Vancity Dash when they launch a new game later this year, pairing runners with a virtual running buddy, which will require food, water and gear that users will be able to purchase using points earned in the game.

Slagel says location-based gaming is a natural next step in a world where most people are carrying around smartphones and gamers are becoming accustomed to physically interacting with games through devices such as Nintendo's Wii and Microsoft's Xbox Kinect. …

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