Niantic, the studio behind Pokémon Go, is trying to break new ground in Augmented Reality technology, and the results have Pikachu looking better than ever.
The company has released a few videos of its most recent projects, and they contain a few interesting ideas for how Pokémon Go could be improved and what future mobile AR games could look like.
The most relevant one to Pokémon Go fans is dubbed Codename: Niantic Occlusion, and true to the name, it adds a type of occlusion to the game. In the current build of Pokémon Go, Pokémon seen through the AR camera are superimposed on top of the real world seen through your phone’s camera, like a sticker on top of a photo. In the Niantic Occlusion demo, the game tries to add depth and separate the ground from different objects. This means that when Pikachu runs behind a potted plant, for example, it actually disappears when it runs behind the plant and reappears on the other side.
“The recently acquired Matrix Mill team at Niantic has spent years building and perfecting deep neural networks that can infer information about the surrounding world from one or more cameras,” Niantic wrote in the video description. “This technology redefines how machines see and understand the 3D world and more importantly, how digital objects can interact with the real elements of it. Using computer vision and deep learning we are able to develop techniques to understand 3D space enabling much more realistic Augmented Reality (AR) interactions than are currently possible.”
The video showed off both Pikachu and Eevee, which might be hinting at upgrades we’ll see in Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee!
Niantic also released two demos for entirely different games. Codename: Tonehenge and Codename: Neon show how multiplayer games could work in AR. Tonehenge sets players to solving a puzzle by pulling AR statues around and turning them around to face each other, then coming together with the pieces of a puzzle. All players see the same statues and the same puzzle, and can collaborate to move it together. Codename: Neon is more fast-paced, letting players run around a room to pick up orbs of energy and shoot them at other players. It’s like laser tag, but with a phone screen in place of a laser gun.
All of these demos are just proof-of-concept exercises for now, and not full games in their own right. Still, it will be interesting to see what ideas Niantic comes up with, and if any of these demonstrations can become full games in time.