Lancaster University

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Computer Games of the Future

11/18/2005 14:31:25

If you thought computer games were all about sitting in a darkened room then think again.

Lancaster University is pioneering a new form of mobile computer gaming which brings together virtual reality and the real world.

Researchers in the Department of Communication Systems, based in InfoLab21, have been developing a new game which can be played by up to five players on mobile phones.

Unlike traditional mobile phone games, this game takes place in real space as well as on a mobile phone screen. Called Pac-Lan, in homage to the arcade classic Pacman, the game enables players to keep track of one another’s position through images on their mobile phones as they chase one another round campus.

Dr Paul Coulton, head of mobile game development at Lancaster University, said: “This game is using a traditional mobile phone game in a different way by mixing the real and virtual world. Players move around in real space interacting with one another, their environment and their mobile phone.”

Each phone has been programmed with a maze, which is based on a map of the University Campus. Players have to collect points from a series of Radio Frequency

Identification Tags, which have been attached to yellow disks on lampposts around the University.

When a player collects their points by holding their mobile phone against the disc the virtual reality maze on each mobile phone is updated with the player’s position. Each player shows up as an animated character (Pac-Lan or Ghost) moving round the screen. This enables a team of ‘ghosts’ to track the player down and catch them.

It is the first game in the world to use mobile phones equipped with Radio Frequency Identification Tags. RFID tags are small devices - like barcodes- which can transmit and receive data.

The Pac-Lan project builds on the group’s growing international reputation for research in mobile games development. This project was made possible by the group’s strong links with Nokia who provided these special phones prior to their commercial release.

Lancaster University is the only University in the UK to teach mobile phone game design. The MSc in Mobile Game Design & M-Commerce Systems was launched last year and its first graduates are currently entering the workplace.

Dr Coulton added: “This is a growing area and there is a high demand for the specialist skills which we teach. The mobile phone market is reaching saturation point, in terms of potential new customers, so companies are thinking more in terms of generating revenues from increased data usage by developing new applications and uses for their phones. Our game is a good example of that.”