TANK battles are really impressive to watch. Clanking tracks, guns firing, things exploding – it’s pretty much everything you’d expect to find in a decent war movie.
Of course, experiencing that up close usually means you’re actually in a war (not a fun place to be), on the set of a movie (where you’re probably more focussed on making sure the scene comes together properly), or maybe – if you’re really lucky – at a re-enactment event like the annual TankFest held annually in the UK.
Games publisher Wargaming – best known for free-to-play World of Tanks – has an additional option however, harnessing the power of augmented reality (AR) to allow digital tank battles to be shown on pretty much any flat surface.
The company developed an experimental platform named AR Spectate which, according to Wargaming, “uses cutting-edge augmented reality technology to show World of Tanks PC game battles on any surface, with tanks battling it out in front of the viewer in miniature.”
This is acheived by using an iPad with the Apple ARKit and was originally unveiled last year to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Kursk – the largest tank battle in history, when the German and Soviet armies clashed in Russia, with more than 6000 tanks involved – Wargaming partnered with The History Channel to recreate portions of one of the greatest tank battles in history using augmented reality.
At the event, Wargaming’s military relations head Richard Cutland narrated the The Tanks of Kursk in a series of videos where viewers could watch German and Soviet tanks fighting digitally on a tabletop via AR, using the World of Tanks game engine.
Last month the company was at the D-Day Conneaut re-enactment festival on the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio USA – one of the largest WWII living history events in the world – where they were able to demonstrate Spectate with the World of Tanks D-Day map and vehicles. As part of the demonstration, Wargaming and The History Channel also filmed the Kursk follow-up, entitled The Tanks of Normandy, with Wargaming’s North American militaria specialist Nicholas Moran narrating the proceedings as many of the in-game vehicles from World of Tanks which fought in the Battle of Normandy stormed the beaches and fought in the bocage landscape as part of the breakout following the D-Day landings.
Wargaming have said the AR Spectate experimental project was developed in-house and used “local cloud rendering” to achieve maximum quality and realistic experience for viewers.
“The iPad is connected to a PC like a 3D mouse, meanwhile PC does all rendering and sends that back to iPad as video,” their product information said.
“The AR experiences is based on ARKit for iOS and iPad sends its constant position/orientation to PC, in-game camera in World of Tanks on PC matches the iPad’s position/orientation and sends what it sees back to iPad as video.
“The World of Tanks skybox is made transparent, and the app controls what “slice” of the map in a replay the visitor is seeing at any time. The result is fantastic: World of Tanks PC on a table, super stable, as if the volumetric in-game objects are really there.”
While it would be extremely cool to be able to whip out your smartphone or iPad and play World of Tanks on the living room floor, Wargaming have said at the moment the technology is limited to playback of pre-recorded battles from World of Tanks instead of being a playable game in its own right.
This isn’t Wargaming’s only foray into the world of Augmented Reality either – in 2017 they digitally recreated a rare German Sturmtiger tank for an exhibition at The Tank Museum at Bovington in the UK, allowing the museum to display a complete ‘family’ of Tiger tanks together.
Given the advances in AR tech such as that being developed by Wargaming, it’s going to be interesting to see how the technology evolves in the future – and what implications that might hold for gaming too.