If all goes as planned for video game developer Abhishek Singh, he’ll get a cease and desist letter from Nintendo in the next few days.
“That would be so cool,” the 28-year-old said, referring to the potential legal letter as a badge of honor of sorts. It would mean that his new creation — an augmented reality version of Super Mario Bros. he developed on Microsoft’s HoloLens headset — went so viral that it caught the attention of some of the video game world’s most important people.
“Maybe I’ll tweet them today,” the 28-year-old added with a laugh.
But he might not have to. Singh’s game is already the talk of several popular video game websites, including Sploid and Kotaku, thanks to a clip he posted to YouTube on Wednesday that shows him playing the game in New York City’s Central Park.
To onlookers, who only saw a “weird guy in a Mario suit with a weird contraption on his head,” as Singh described himself, Singh was making his way down the park pathway punching at empty air and stomping on nothing.
But if those onlookers could’ve seen the world as Singh saw it, through the $3,000 HoloLens he was wearing courtesy of New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program where Singh is doing a one-year residency, they would’ve seen blocks of bricks suspended in the air and little brown goombahs creeping toward him.
Unlike virtual reality, which cuts off people from their real-life surroundings, augmented reality superimposes computer-generated images into real-life images. This, Singh said, is what makes his game safe to play in outdoor settings, kind of like Pokémon Go.
Singh said that unlike Pokémon Go, which gamers play by swiping at augmented reality images on their smartphone screens, his game on the HoloLens doesn’t limit where you look, which means there’s less of a chance for any would-be criminals to swipe your wallet thinking you’re distracted.
“It frees you up from looking at your hands,” he said about playing the game through a headset rather than on the phone. “And you’re looking up which might be good in a way.”
Singh, who has been coding for only three years, said he stumbled upon the idea to create a real-life Mario Bros. level “about a month ago” when he first started playing with HoloLens coding.
“I placed a cube into the scene, then for some reason I decided to go under it and jump and as soon as I did that, all the memories of playing Super Mario came rushing back,” he said.
Knowing HoloLens’s limitations, however, including that Microsoft created it to work best in contained, indoor environments, Singh went through quite a bit of trial and error before he was able to finalize his version of the classic game’s first level, the only level he’s created to date.
He knew he would also need to find the right outdoor environment to test it in because of issues with lighting and other technicalities, so he chose a long, straight, flat path in Central Park and made sure the morning sun was casting just enough light on the trees to create enough shade.
The rest was up to him, which is what attracted him to developing the game for the HoloLens in the first place.
“I’m excited about the prospect [of being able] to have fun on the everyday walk,” he said.
And although he didn’t specifically create the game to encourage gamers to get outside and exercise, he’s excited about that possibility, too. While Singh wasn’t sweating after completing the level, which ended up spanning 110 meters of ground at Central Park, he said players can make it more intense by setting their height levels higher, which would mean you’d need to jump higher to reach those floating blocks of bricks.
Those hoping to try out Singh’s game for themselves will have to personally visit him in New York. Because of licensing issues, he said he’s not likely to make the code available for others to recreate anytime soon, which means to get your classic Super Mario Bros. fix, you’ll have to sit back down on your couch and fire up your original Nintendo.
That’s not all bad, said Singh, who said he eventually plans to create more augmented reality games, including perhaps more Super Mario Bros. levels.
“That’s like a classic, so I don’t think that will ever lose any amount of charm for me,” he said.