There’s nothing sinister about “feeding the fish” in Orbu, except that you might find it quite addictive.
There seems to be a trend in VR gaming towards using the immersive properties of the medium to induce relaxation and facilitate something of a meditative, Zen-like state.
Flutter VR was one such title we looked at just before Christmas, where players are transported to a forest where they can unwind after a stressful day by observing and cataloguing a range of pretty moths and butterflies, guided by a friendly capybara and the sights and sounds of the Amazon.
There’s no question that it’s nice to escape from the hectic, mundane, and often harsh reality of these post-Christmas winter months (I live in England, so excuse the downer tone, I haven’t seen the sun for months). But there is something even more satisfying about being able to transform and embellish that world. To instantly add a bit of magic and adventure to your surroundings.
And that’s what Orbu does. By using augmented reality (AR), the app turns your home or office environment into a magical garden full of fun and games. Developed using a combination of ARKit and Unity, this is the first AR game from London-based independent game studio Dream Reality Interactive (DRI).
DRI’s CEO and Founder Dave Ranyard was the former Head of Sony’s London Studio, where he led the development of several VR and AR titles. Most of the company’s team also worked at Sony on PlayStation VR Worlds, Singstar and many other titles, so although this is technically the studio’s first AR game, they are hardly new to the space.
Which is why Ranyard tells me they were keen to do something different. The first question they asked themselves when coming up with a concept for an AR game was “what can we do besides shooting?” Quite a lot, as it turns out.
“Augmented reality has enormous potential to offer new experiences for players, especially on mobile,” he says. “We wanted to make a game where people could step out of their busy lives and relax in beautiful Zen gardens. Guiding the Orbu creatures through obstacle courses is a fun distraction from modern life.”
Like in Flutter, you can engage in the ever-popular pastime of finding butterflies, or feed cute and friendly fish to your heart’s content without worrying about pulling a Trump-style gaffe and endangering the precious Koi.
Orbu’s art and sound design have been inspired by Japanese Zen gardens, and it can be played indoors and outdoors, adapting itself automatically to different environmental layouts and lighting conditions.
The game uses engaging and intuitive slingshot mechanics to let players guide their Orbu creatures – you get the choice between a Tanuki (raccoon dog), Noko (turtle) and a Konkon (fox) – back to their spiritual homes, via a series of intricate obstacles. The game’s surroundings transform as their journey progresses not only over space, but also across three different seasons, or chapters (three are currently available with a fourth one due to be released soon).
And it’s that sheer joy of exploration, and the ability to see your world in a different way that captivates Orbu’s Creative Director Albert Bentall, who compares working with ARKit to opening up doors to new dimensions. “It’s like watching a magician do a trick for the first time but instead of pulling rabbits out of hats we make fish jump out of the floor.”