Ralph Wrecks AR 🔨
I began the project with one goal in mind: ESCAPE the rectangle.
Today, our entertainment is consumed almost exclusively through rectangles, small and large. Movies suffer from this especially: it is costly, and typically infeasible, to bring the movie into the user's world. 3D and iMAX movie theaters are impressive, and awe-inspiring, but fail to significantly reduce the aesthetic distance of the experience. What if movies weren't limited to that rectangle -- what if they spilled out into your world?
My first attempt was horAR: an AR horror experience. Imagine this scene: you are watching Child's Play (the first Chucky movie) on TV and all of a sudden, you hear a noise. You look to your right and he's there -- it's Chucky. A gun suddenly appears and now it's you versus him, just like the movie.
Sound horrifying? It is. After exploring other possibilities in this genre, like the movie Saw, I decided against this direction. Horror in Augmented Reality can be, frankly, disturbing. I also felt like horAR sufficiently explored this domain. Instead I asked myself -- what other genres could spill into the world? That's when I had the idea of Ralph Wrecks AR, a movie based on Wreck-It Ralph. In the movie, video game characters take on a life of their own. They travel between games using the power strips as railway stations. They're also strangely physical -- in the movie, for example, they are able to see through the glass of the arcade machine and into the physical world. I decided that this narrative would be an excellent fit for our project.
Our next step was determining the game. I had many ideas, like perhaps a version of the big race with Vanelope, or being able to see Ralph wreck a small model building in AR. After some brainstorming, I decided that those ideas were not spectacular enough. After revisiting Media of Attraction, I determined why -- they lacked scale. That led me to imagine -- what if Ralph wrecked YOUR room? Suddenly, the experience became more visceral.
I then closely evaluated the mechanics of the original game. I decided that the user should play as Fix-It Felix. Then, I brainstormed how Wreck-It Ralph should wreck it! My original idea was for Ralph to walk up to the windows and punch them. This became impossible due to the scale of the game. Because Ralph was so large, he would have to awkwardly walk around the player. It was hard for Ralph to Wreck-It, and Felix to fix-it, at the sametime using these mechanics. Instead, I took a cue from the original game: we had Ralph throw bricks at the windows as Felix fixes it! The player has a golden hammer that they can use to fix the windows as this happens.
Ralph Wrecks AR relates to three key themes of the class, aesthetic distance, narrative, and spectacle. Aesthetic distance refers to to difference between what a viewer perceives as reality and the fictional reality of a game or experience. Spectacle invokes wonder and curiosity in its viewers. Narrative focuses on how the design of a device, and out behavior with it, fit into the narrative of the interaction.
Aesthetic distance was integral to the design. Wreck-It Ralph takes place inside arcade machines, which makes it twice removed from reality. Not only is it an animated movie, but in the movie the characters are inside their own animated worlds inside their arcade machines. The movie also relies on fantasy to imagine the worlds inside the arcade machines are real. In our design, I have Ralph jump directly out of the arcade cabinet and into the real world. I decided that this was a great way to integrate AR and the imaginary world that Ralph comes from. In this way, the experience will massively reduce the aesthetic distance experienced when compared to watching the original movie.
The design adapts the narrative of the movie to fit into the design constraints of current AR technology. ARKit was used to recognize the space a user is in and adapt that to our needs. Many narrative elements of the movie would not have worked for our design, but I believe that the game captures a strong moment and brings its own story to life.
The project relies heavily on spectacle. It incorporates 3/4 of the components in the spectacular design model. For dramatic effects, there is Ralph's grand entrance: when he shatters through the arcade cabinet. Grand scale "helps audiences feel like they’ve wandered into a new world ... Playing with scale helps create a simulated authenticity which allows participants to focus on and believe what they see." The project does exactly that. Ralph is massive -- far larger than any human currently on the planet. Seeing his large hands throw bricks at you can be fun, and even a bit scary.
Lastly authenticity -- with AR, we are able to use room scale to make the scene look like it is a part of their real world. Objects shatter and break in a very natural way, and the sound effects help reinforce this.
There are also several accessibility features included with the goal of making the game more enjoyable for people with hearing or visual impairments. The first feature, implemented by a classmate, was a virtual “walking stick” that pinged the distance of locations to the player with the speed and pitch of the sound. This feature can be toggled on and off on the main screen. The walking stick makes a huge difference for players with visual impairments, as it makes it much easier to navigate in the game and find key points in the space around you as the player. This feature can also help visually impaired players know what objects they are looking at and not bump into the objects in the real and virtual world around them. Another feature was a stereo/mono toggle that makes the game for accessible for people with asymmetric hearing disabilities. Asymmetric hearing loss means that one ear is significantly more impaired than the other. Other accessibility features included tutorials to help players set up the game and an option to adjust the speed of the game. To get the full experience of AR, players need to be able to physically move around the space the game is played in. Adjusting the speed of the game can be beneficial to people with cognitive or physical impairments. Hopefully, these features will make it not only possible to play the game, but possible to have an equivalent (if different) game experience.