Road to GDC: How HoloGrid: Monster Battle Became An (Augmented) Reality
Published 3 years ago
Forging the Future of AR & VR Board Gaming
HoloGrid: Monster Battle™ is an original, next-generation augmented reality game by HappyGiant and Tippett Studio. A "hybrid" board game, collectible card game (CCG), and digital game all-in-one, it delivers to players a glimpse at the future of AR and VR board gaming. Currently available for iOS and Android mobile devices, the game supports cross-platform multiplayer, and is coming soon to VR and next-gen AR devices. Created with two-time Academy Award winner Phil Tippett, designer and animator of the original HoloChess scene from Star Wars; the developers used a technique called "Photogrammetry" to scan in physical creatures Tippett had made over the years, turning them into 3D models and bringing them to life with Augmented Reality. The mobile game comes with two sets of cards, two stands and a rule sheet, is available for purchase from Amazon now.
Phil Tippett
A Long Time Ago …
Star Wars “HoloChess” Scene 
Mike Levine, the founder of HappyGiant, is a veteran of LucasArts and worked on many of their classic titles from Sam & Max to Full Throttle and The Dig; as well as Star Wars games like Dark Forces: Jedi Knight. During this time Levine worked closely with people from ILM; some of whom now work at Tippett Studio. A couple of years ago, they began talking about doing some "tests" with the vague intention of making some kind of game.
"It was a journey into the unknown," says Levine.
During this time, Tippett was making his studio’s indie stop-motion film "Mad God." Levine had  had recently been discussing Photogrammetry with friend Chad Taylor, an ILM veteran of 20 years. Photogrammetry is a new technique by which taking 360 degree photos of a physical object, you can then turn those pictures into a 3D model. It was arranged for Taylor to go over to Tippett Studio, and "capture" a few creatures, and set pieces. Levine wanted to see if they could capture one of Tippett's handmade creatures, and turn it into a 3D model, and then rig and animate it. An early test looked amazing, but the actual game wasn't leaping off the screen .... yet.
Early Photogrammetry Test with Mad God Set Props
Enter AR
This was all happening about a year before the introduction of Pokémon GO. HappyGiant was doing some separate tests with Augmented Reality technologies. They had been working with Vuforia for years, and advancements in the tech meant new gaming experiences were possible.
"So we had our Reese's Peanut Butter Cup moment," says Levine. "We just said, ‘Hey, let's see what these photogrammetric creatures we made look like in AR’. We did a quick test and all our jaws kind of hit the floor. It was Star Wars Chess!"
It’s Cool, But Is It Fun?
Levine saw Star Wars when he was 10, and cites the HoloChess scene as a reason he got into games in the first place. Now, he and his team had the challenge of turning their inspiration of a nine-second scene, into a compelling, replayable and engaging game. Fortunately, HappyGiant happened to be full of former Magic the Gathering, and Hearthstone players. They looked to those games, in addition to Final Fantasy Tactics and many others as reference, to turn their inspiration into a real game. The current game has over 4000 team combinations, made up of Champions, Minions and Spells. Matches play out on an AR generated Board via a Card Marker, and matches take about 10 minutes. Players can play on a single device, head-to-head with two devices, or remotely. HappyGiant hopes to release more cards packs over time to add even more depth and strategy to the game, and a single player mode.
AR, Unity and Vuforia
HoloGrid: Monster Battle made use of Vuforia's Image Target tracking, which allows camera image recognition of stylized images, compared to the big black & white markers often see with AR. Learning they could track pure card images, was also a big breakthrough for HappyGiant, as that fit best with the inclusion of physical, collectible cards with beautiful character art on them. In addition to utilizing many of the out-of-the-box Vuforia features, HappyGiant also spent months developing their own tech inside Unity, to allow HoloGrid, and their platform to bring other digital AR/VR social games to life.
So Many Platforms, So Little Time
The first release of HoloGrid is on mobile using Vuforia for their AR Tech.
"From day one, we believed mobile AR gaming could be a 'thing' in the current market … and this was all before Pokémon GO," says Levine.
HappyGiant’s plan was always to start with mobile, and then have a game ready to bring to next-gen AR platforms such as HoloLens, ODG and Tango, as well as VR platforms. HoloGrid: Monster Battle will the first cross platform AR/VR Multiplayer game available. On the back end the game is using Playfab and Photon for multiplayer support.
Microsoft HoloLens Version (In Development)
HoloGrid was built as a platform, and HappyGiant plans to not only extend it with new forms of gameplay, monsters and spells; they also have plans to make new versions based off known and loved IP.
“Every time we show the game live, the top questions we get are ‘When are the Star Wars and Yu-Gi-Oh versions coming?’, so the company is exploring those and other Licensing deals that make sense for the HoloGrid platform. They also hope to release new card packs for the core game over time as well.
GDC/Made With Unity
HappyGiant will be at GDC March 1-3 showing off the mobile version of HoloGrid: Monster Battle at the Unity booth as part of the Made with Unity Showcase. Please come by and check it out!
Michael Levine
Founder and Creative Director - Executive