Finnish game development studio Rovio is bringing its flagship property, Angry Birds, to one of the most forward-looking devices on the market, the Magic Leap One. First unveiled early last month, the One is the first commercially available mixed reality headset from secretive Florida startup Magic Leap, which has amassed more than $2 billion in funding to create what it thinks is the future of media. The company is not quite there yet, as my colleague Adi Robertson argued in her hands-on impressions of the headset.
But Rovio, in partnership with Swedish virtual and augmented reality developer Resolution Games, is signing on to be one of the earliest game makers to build for Magic Leap’s platform as it evolves. The result of that investment is Angry Birds: FPS (short for First Person Slingshot). The game is your standard Angry Birds experience: you’re given a set of colorful anthropomorphic birds and a slingshot, and the goal is to fling your feathered friends into increasingly elaborate wooden and stone structures to take out nefarious green pigs. Although this time around, the structures, birds, and slingshot appear as virtual and interactive 3D objects existing in the real world.
I tried the game on a Magic Leap One Creator Edition, which is what Magic Leap is calling its first run of headsets, in a hotel suite in downtown San Francisco. Although it was my first time trying the headset, I found it relatively straightforward to acclimate to. Rovio makes use of the One’s controller for drawing back the slingshot, and that’s the only physical action you really have to perform outside of selecting a level and retrying a current one through visible floating buttons you can pick. Within a minute or two of figuring out how the slingshot functioned, I was knocking down structures and scoring points.
I spent about 30 minutes playing the game, and I can say that it is a remarkably intuitive, high-fidelity, and an all-around impressive display for Rovio’s first foray into AR. The company worked closely with Resolution Games, which has experience making VR games, to develop the game first as a VR title and then later as a full-fledged AR one that runs exclusively on the Magic Leap One.
Although the field of view for the One is roughly 50 degrees and still quite limited compared to, say, a VR headset, I found that to be about the perfect width and height for a full stage of Angry Birds to exist in front of you on a standard coffee table. So it’s clear Rovio and Resolution designed the game with the One’s FOV top in mind.
The studios also took into account how AR can fundamentally alter how Angry Birds is played. Numerous times, I was encouraged and then rewarded for getting down on my knees and peeking behind corners and inside structures to find hidden pigs and TNT barrels. Many of the stages can be replayed for a two- or three-star score, in signature Angry Birds fashion. But instead of trying the same thing over and over again, you can physically walk around the tablet and try the entire stage from a different perspective.
There are quite a few neat features to play up the realism of the AR effect. When you rotate yourself to the other side of a stage, the remaining birds will trot over to stand in front of you. And if you peer up close at any one of the pigs, you can see and hear them react to you with jeering grins and unintelligible verbal taunts. Knock a boulder off a tall tower and it will roll onto the real-world table and even topple down to the floor.
For an AR game, Angry Birds: FPS has quite impressive graphics, and I only noticed some minor blurring at the edges of my field of view while playing. Even leaning in close to view the characters standing within inches from my eyes on the table didn’t distort the image all that much. While the virtual images are noticeably more transparent than the real-world objects they’re interacting with, spending more than 10 or 15 minutes playing the game is enough to forget completely that interacting with only an environment and characters you can see.
Of course, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition is a product a very small number of people have their hands on; the device costs $2,295 and has only been shipping in the US for about a month. So this version of Angry Birds won’t be accessible to most of the mobile audience Rovio built with its wildly successful iOS game nearly a decade ago.
In that sense, the game is more of an early investment in the mixed reality space that the company hopes will pay off down the line, when the technology is more widely available. Rovio is also entertaining the idea of making this version of Angry Birds more widely available as a standard app that takes advantage of mobile AR frameworks. As it stands, Angry Birds: FPS doesn’t have a concrete release date, but Rovio says it will be available in time for Magic Leap’s first developer conference in Los Angeles taking place on October 9th.