A living breathing magical fairytale world within our own

Genre: Augmented Reality
Publisher/Developer: Funomena
Platform: Magic Leap One
Rating: Rating Pending

By Gieson Cacho

My first Magic Leap experience felt like a living children’s book. In Luna: Moondust Garden, I planted seeds and watched as trees, flowers and bridges grew atop a coffee table, couch and a rug. I walked around the digital sculpture, inhabiting the space. The short game was surreal.

It also highlights the differences between what Magic Leap is doing with its Lightwear headset and what companies such as Oculus are doing with their technology. Whereas virtual reality encases your head and fills your vision, the Magic Leap One mixes the real world with the digital one.

It’s augmented reality, but done on another level using spatial computing so that virtual objects fit seamlessly with the real world.

“In ‘Moondust Garden,’ we wanted to see how interactive, juicy and delightful we can make the experience,” said Robin Hunicke, co-founder of Funemona, the maker of the game. “How good does it feel to place objects in the environment? If you touch an object, it wiggles and makes a sound. It’s an interactive sculpture.”

Like virtual reality, the technology is still in its growing phase. Developers such as Funemona are learning the rules of mixed reality. They’re developing techniques to figure out how to make a game like Luna: Moondust Garden fun.

The mechanics I encountered were simple. Owl is talking to Bird and tells a story about Fox. As the narrative unfolds, the players take an active role in pushing the story along. They discover seeds and harvest moondust from the moon in the virtual sky.

They can plant the seed anywhere in the environment, and they must make it grow by showering it with dust. This creates islands of digital sculptures. That’s where Fox emerges and his story unfolds.

“We wanted to make things about self-care,” said Hunicke. “It’s a fairy tale about helping, helping them feel safe again so they can come out.”

Aside from telling a short but sweet story, Luna: Moondust Garden is a game that requires players to use a bit of creativity. They have several seeds to plant in this 30-minute experience, and players have to arrange the objects in a way that’s amenable to them. I chose to cluster the flowers together on the ground while putting a wrecked ship on a couch. I tried to put the objects together so they stayed within my perspective and I could see all the objects at once.

It was more difficult than I expected because the range of mixed reality space in the Magic Leap One lenses is limited. Objects drift in and out of your periphery, ruining the illusion that the virtual objects can exist in the real world.

When arranging the seeds, I could walk around each object and look for the best spot. It’s an unusual experience for any sort of augmented or virtual reality experiences. Most of them are tethered, leaving players to sit, stand or walk short distances. Because the Magic Leap One has a small computer that can be clipped to one’s pocket and the goggles are unobtrusive, players have the freedom to move throughout the environment.

They use the controller to point at a spot in the environment, and the Magic Leap One maps the marker to that space. It’s impressive to see how the system adapts to a setting. The cursor glides across the couch cushions, desktops, walls and floor. The way the device and game does this seamlessly is part of the magic.

Hunicke said that the Magic Leap technology could be used for more practical purposes instead of just games. It could allow architects to analyze a building together, zoom in and out of the structure and blow it out so they can see what it’s like to walk in it.

It can help with communication by virtually putting friends from far away in a seat next to you so they feel like they’re there. Ideally, virtual, augmented and mixed reality will meld into a device that unites these experiences, she said.

Right now though that future seems far away, but games such as Luna: Moondust Garden are taking the steps to bring that to reality.

Magic Leap One owners can purchase the game today for $4.99.