Let’s start out by learning a little about the people who work behind the Miralupa logo. When and why did you decide to venture into the mobile games industry together? And can you tell us a little about any game projects you’ve worked on prior to Miralupa?
Elie Charest, Creative Director: We officially started Miralupa in January 2011, so the company itself isn’t even a year old. I started a bit before that, doing some groundwork during a self-imposed sabbatical from console game design. I brought in two friends as associates, outsiders to the industry but both with the ideal set of complementary skills to start a micro game studio.
Before this, I worked 10 years as a game designer, then creative director for Behaviour Interactive (formerly A2M). Most of my work has been on games based on movie or TV licenses, which means you’re likely to never have heard of them (grin!). The two games I’m happiest with are Scooby-Doo! Unmasked and MySims Racing, even though the latter got some hate from die-hard Nintendo fans who didn’t give the game a second chance.
After working for many years on other people’s IP, I had a few ideas of my own I wanted to explore. I became interested in the mobile gaming market, which offers many advantages over consoles for start-ups: low barrier of entry, lots of quality tools (such as the Unity game engine) and games that tend to focus on gameplay rather than movie-like graphics. I decided to take the plunge with my associates and we’ve been working on the MARGE platform and Chromian Wars ever since, along with a bunch of talented freelance artists.
Mathieu Dupont, CTO: I have been in the software development business for the last 20 years, working mostly as a system architect on realtime object-oriented distributed systems for various industries except gaming. I have also designed and deployed a few large scale computing and telecommunication infrastructures while employed by telcos.
This blend of software and infrastructure expertise, combined with my personal gamer experience, was key in my decision to join Elie and Serge in the Miralupa adventure. Having started my first company the day I turned 18, I have always been an entrepreneur at heart and could not resist a partnership offer in such an exciting venture.
Serge Landry, CEO: After being a business executive for over 20 years in the sale and marketing of various products and services for companies throughout Canada and at the international level in a B2B and B2C environment, I was tempted to join my long-time friends in putting together an innovative mobile gaming enterprise. Backed with a double MBA degree from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) and Université Paris-Dauphine, I am bringing my personal touch in putting together new competitive approaches to win market share, while generating revenues and profits to our venture and integrating all the financial and legal aspects of managing a successful business.
How does Augmented Reality factor into Miralupa’s creative vision? And can you give our readers just a brief overview of what AR is, as far as it relates to videogames?
Elie: Simply put, AR is the real-time compositing and positioning of 3D computer graphics inside real-world environments, as seen through a camera-equipped device, either through use of markers (i.e., computer vision) or spatial positioning sensors (GPS and accelerometers/gyroscopes).
It’s not a new technology, but it wasn’t getting much traction until smartphones and tablets came along. Even since then there haven’t been lots of AR games, and the few that have been out there were rather limited from a gameplay point of view. I think part of the problem is that these games often feel more like technology demos instead of actual games. They’re impressive, but don’t engage the player for more than a few minutes. We aim at making AR games that go beyond simply being cool gadgets.
How will AR make the Chromian Wars experience different from a non-AR videogame? Has the technology gotten to the point where, say, if I set my coffee cup on the table my iDevice is pointed at, that coffee cup will actually become an environmental obstacle in the game?
Mathieu: Unfortunately, the technology isn’t quite there yet, at least not if you want playable frame rates on the current generation of phones, but in my opinion it’s a question of months, not years. What you suggest is definitely on our roadmap, however — though you may have to upgrade to the latest phone once we get there!
Elie: I think it’s important to note the AR feature enhances the game, it doesn’t define it. Take another old technology that has once again become popular: 3D films. What set Avatar apart wasn’t that it was made in 3D, even though the technology had greatly improved: it was because it was a good movie even if you saw it in 2D.
Quality content trumps technology to a large degree, and that’s how we’ve been approaching this. Basically, our game has to be fun even without the AR feature turned on, and in fact you’ll be able to turn the AR off if you want to (for playing on the subway, for example), if your phone is too old to get good performance, or for other platforms that don’t have a camera.
As to how AR enhances the experience, one of the most important aspects is clearly camera control: players get pretty much complete control over the camera (as long as they keep the marker in view). This opens up some interesting gameplay opportunities, for example looking around the environment to find hidden foes and/or goodies.
Tell us about the MARGE* system you’ve developed for Chromian Wars and presumably for future Miralupa games. How does it shape the game’s multiplayer experience?
Elie: The fact that the Augmented Reality space is shared in multiplayer mode provides a totally new experience: there is something very cool about two people separately looking at the same marker and seeing the same 3D scenes from two different points of view. This allows some cool hide-and-seek gameplay for a game like Chromian Wars.
Serge: It’s also part of our plan to bring people together to play. We’re all big tabletop gamers and card players at Miralupa, and this technology brings back the same kind of “face-to-face” gaming experience, though this time with the help of Augmented Reality and mobile devices.
Mathieu: MARGE is the cornerstone of our technological strategy. Working together, its various modules – whether they are on the customer’s actual devices or our cloud-based back-end – will help players connect together, keep track of their progress and help them provide feedback to us in order to improve the games.
We also have have plenty of cool MARGE modules slated to be released as future updates, including a geolocalized Epic Campaign mode as well as the ability to unlock and/or purchase new levels, tanks, weapons, crew members, etc.
*Editor’s Note: MARGE stands for “Multiplayer Augmented Reality Gaming Experience.” Sounds cool to us!