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Page last updated at 14:55 GMT, Friday, 6 August 2010 15:55 UK

Living life in augmented reality

Conspiracy For Good tag
What does this symbol mean? Enter the world of augmented reality to find out.

By Marc Cieslak
BBC Click

Augmented reality smartphone apps allow users to view the world through their phone's camera with an overlay of useful local information. But with the advent of augmented reality games, could fantasy finally become reality?

A shadowy organisation is stalking a lone individual across London. Its goal? To capture a young woman who has knowledge which could blow the lid off this outfit's nefarious activities in Zambia.

Can a group of ordinary people protect this whistleblower and expose a conspiracy involving oil, a sinister multinational and a library in an African village?

This is not a movie script, but it is the scenario being played out in an augmented reality game called Conspiracy For Good.

This interactive game invites players to engage in a modern day treasure hunt, and springs from the mind of Tim Kring, the writer behind superhero television show, Heroes.

Tim Kring
Conspiracy For Good was created by Tim Kring, creator of TV show Heroes

Tim explains that he wanted his audience to become involved in the story, which involves real-world philanthropic campaigns.

"By becoming a part of the story, they actually affect the outcome and in this case, it actually has a positive real-world application, funding the building of a library in Zambia, stocking it with books and giving 50 scholarships to schoolgirls."

The game does not require a video games console, there are no special moves or weapons to collect and your character has no levels to work their way through.

You simply have to get up off the sofa and venture out onto the streets of London equipped with a mobile phone, which becomes part of the gaming experience.

GPS location

Players are guided around London by clues from mysterious characters encountered on the streets - played by actors - and special painted tags which reveal further clues when the phone's camera is pointed at them.

In many ways, your environment becomes the virtual lot for the narrative to play out on
Tim Kring, Conspiracy For Good creator

Lester Madden of Augmented Planet explains how augmented reality games like Conspiracy For Good work.

"Augmented reality is about two things. The first is image recognition, used to identify QR codes [2D barcodes]. The second is the presentation of data to users through use of the camera, taking into account the user's GPS location."

As Tim explains, this technology has been crucial to the interactivity of Conspiracy For Good.

"The exciting part for the participants is that they get to interact with the backdrop of the city. In many ways, your environment becomes the virtual lot for the narrative to play out on."

Conspiracy For Good is an ongoing project and the story is set to resolve on the streets of London later this month.

Drone dogfight

If running around trying to solve an international conspiracy is not for you, then you can still enjoy augmented reality through one of the many other games making their way onto smartphones and handheld devices.

The Parrot AR Drone
The Parrot AR drone will soon be firing augmented reality missiles

Invizimals combines trading card gaming with augmented reality using Sony's handheld PSP. When two players point their phones at a special gaming card, miniature monsters appear on the PSP's screen and players can do battle.

And for those with deep pockets, there is the Parrot AR Drone, a miniature quadricopter controlled via an iPhone - setting you back £299 ($478).

Owners will soon be able to enjoy a series of games due for launch, one of which features two Drones engaging in a virtual dogfight as augmented reality missiles and explosions appear on the phone's screen.

As this new technology develops, smartphone users are certainly going to see a lot more of augmented reality in future.

And with such hefty price tags possible, it is clear that games developers have noticed its potential to turn their financial fantasies into a very profitable - or philanthropic - reality.

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