Hands-On Preview: Chromian Wars

One of the goodies we found in our Halloween treat bag here at iFanzine was none other than a beta build of Miralupa’s Chromian Wars! In case you’re unfamiliar with this groundbreaking Augmented Reality (AR) title, check out our interview with the developers to see just how tasty an opportunity like this is.

Somewhere, far out in the cosmos, exist factions of little aliens who like to war with one another in little tanks. They can usually be seen trading cannon blasts in three-on-three engagements, rushing around the battlefield to collect resources before their enemies do likewise and blowing out barriers that bar their movement. Assuming the role of a key player in the Blue Empire – with Red and Green campaigns on the way – the player controls a squad of up to three tanks with hopes of leading that small battle group to glory.

Chromian Wars defaults to AR mode, which taps into the iDevice’s camera and lays in-game objects over the real world footage. Like most mobile AR games and apps we’ve seen up until now, Chromian Wars relies on a marker – in this case a printed Miralupa logo with associated QR code – as a reference for the placement of all in-game objects. Basically, the player needs to print out a PDF file containing the marker and point his or her device’s camera lens at it before the action can begin. You see my results at right — watch, staple boxes, and table top provided by yours truly! Before you get too excited, recall from our interview that AR gaming hasn’t quite reached the point where my staple containers and wrist watch physically box in the action; player and enemy tanks are content to roll right over real world objects for now. The game does intelligently react to the logo and QR code, shifting the angle at which the player views onscreen objects according to the view angle of the printout.

My hands-on time with Chromian Wars so far has really made me appreciate just how complex AR technology must be to implement. I mean, here we have a program that not only juggles all the typical videogame elements – screen coordinates, player and enemy health, ammunition stocks – but also has to combine those things with tons of visual input flowing in every second. I’m also starting to appreciate what a challenge the developers have in offering an experience that’s consistent from player to player. Lighting conditions and the exact camera specs of different devices will vary, and then there’s the placement of the marker to consider — where it’s set has a big impact on how stressful it is to play a game while keeping it in view.

Chromian Wars can also be played in non-AR mode, in which case the game furnishes pre-textured battlefield backgrounds. These put to shame the grainy imagery my iPod Touch 4 camera captures, I must say! What strikes me most about Chromian Wars is that it’s not completely riding on AR as a gimmick — it’s a downright interesting real-time tank combat game in its own right, flashy technology or no. The interface is shaping up to be simple, with the player tapping on a tank to command and then on a destination or a target to keep firing at. The no-nonsense controls are coupled with important strategic considerations. If you move a tank around to take cover behind buildings, collect power-ups, or retreat from enemy shots, its turret has to spend time re-adjusting its firing angle when it could have been bringing on the pain all that time. A tank that’s run out of ammo or suffered a crew member injury will have to be moved from the fray until an appropriate item spawns on the battlefield. What we’ve played so far has revealed great variation in mission goals, with escape, friendly city protection, and enemy city destruction mixed in with the expected enemy elimination.

Chromian Wars promises robust multiplayer action in the future, with co-op missions and player vs. player arena battles outlined in the game’s menu system. It appears Miralupa intends to hold a vote on which modes players want implemented first, and that will presumably appear on the Chromian Wars website once the game launches. Note that the game’s AR functionality makes a locally shared table top experience the developer’s first multiplayer priority, or at least that’s the sense we’re getting from early preview footage — no definitive word on online multiplayer quite yet.

The Chromian Wars website has recently gone live. Also keep an eye on Miralupa’s Facebook account for the latest news, and don’t forget that you can sign up to help QA test the game if you have an appropriate iDevice — check their Facebook wall for details!