Names to drop John Hanke
The geek lord behind Google Earth is building a new kind of video game
“I CAN IMAGINE PLAYING INGRESS WITHOUT A PHONE, JUST USING A SMARTWATCH AND AN EARPIECE”
John Hanke has been helping people find their way in the world for years. He co-founded Keyhole, the ‘geospatial visualisation’ company that became Google Earth, then took over the team that created Google Maps and Street View. Not content with turning everyone’s phone into a near-perfect navigation device, he left the Geo division to head up Niantic Labs, one of Google’s ideas factories. Since then, he’s helped create Field Trip, an app that tells you about interesting stuff nearby, but that’s just the beginning: his goal is to get us playing location-aware games that use the real world as the ultimate level map.
I’ve always loved maps.
National Geographic was a big thing in the States when I was a kid. They always had the giant fold-out maps of the Nile and Egyptian culture, and I could spend hours imagining going to these interesting places. Back before computers, that was an escape.
I look to early video games for inspiration.
I worked on one of the first true MMO games, called Meridian 59. It was a precursor to Ultima Online, EverQuest and World Of Warcraft, and that taught me patience. That’s something I brought to Google Earth – to know that these things take time to grow in people’s minds. For the technology to evolve, you really have to be in it for the long run.
The technology I’m focused on right now is augmented reality.
There’s a book called Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge that paints a picture of a future where everybody has implanted augmented reality capabilities. Everybody lives in this stylised version of the world that suits them, and people play games overlaid on their surroundings. I think that’s a technology that’s going to happen – it’s going to take a decade or more, but it will happen.
That’s why we’re making alternate reality games (ARGs).
Our first is called Ingress – it’s a strategy game. Our first event was held in sub-zero weather, but 75 people showed up and played Ingress all day. At our last event we had 2000 people in Munich, plus another 1500 in the US and another 2000 in remote cities. All of those people are operating on tactical plans on the day, which they have been working on for weeks.
Wearable tech could make ARGs even better.
I can imagine playing Ingress completely through a smartwatch, talking to the people around me, tapping my watch, and every now and then using an earpiece: using the tech in a way that’s a lot less disruptive than the phone is now.
Our new ARG, Endgame, also uses an old-school technology: books.
We are taking a set of characters that are connected to the lead characters of the novel Endgame, and they are going to engage with the players of Endgame the game. We’ll evolve the story based on how the game develops, in much the same way we’ve done with Ingress, while the Endgame books are also progressing. It’s just a much more open-ended, flexible, immersive, longer-lasting way of telling a story. I think it’s the future for certain types of story, those where you really want to create alternative worlds. You’ll start with a giant palette, creating the universe, and then start making different narratives and experiences within it. If Tolkien was around today, he would do that.