NEW INNOVATOR:Trinity College academic, Mads Haahr, is the force behind Haunted Plant, a Dublin-based gaming company with a fondness for ghosts, vampires and all things spooky. Haahr first started thinking about the possibilities of location-based gaming in the early 2000s.
However, appropriate technology was not available to support the concept at that time. The arrival of the smartphone changed this giving Haahr access to a well accepted and widely used device on which to base his games.
Haunted Planet was spun out from the National Digital Research Centre in 2011 and now employs three full-time and three part-time staff.
“We have developed a completely new, technically sophisticated, type of game for smartphones that uses the handset’s camera, GPS compass, and sensors and audio to offer a highly immersive experience,” says Haahr, a lecturer in computer science.
“It is based on augmented reality which means that we overlay the game world on top of the real world, both in terms of visuals and audio. Essentially we turn an Android or iPhone into a paranormal detection device and when people play, they take part in a mystery adventure. A unique feature is that the games are played outdoors, either in a theme park, historical site or simply in the player’s local neighbourhood.”
Haunted Planet launched its first two games in October this year, Pirate Ghost Hunt and Bram Stoker’s Vampires. New games will be added in early 2013. The project has been supported by Enterprise Ireland under the Competitive Start Fund and the company is in the process of raising €250,000.
“There are a small number of companies in our space but we are differentiated by our content. Many of the games out there have a conquering theme. With our games the player is a detective,” Haahr says.
“We are very story driven and our games can be staged anywhere. We have developed an algorithm that places the encounters where the player is.
“As part of the game players have to move. It’s a bit like a treasure hunt – they have to find things in the environment. For example a clue may be on the other side of a wall and they have to navigate the space to get to it.”
The company’s research into what ages the games appeal to showed up a much wider spread than expected. “It’s from 10 to 45 years and appeals to both males and females which makes targeting our marketing a bit of a challenge,” Haahr says. The games are free to download while a customer base is established but a combination of free and paid for games is likely to be introduced next year.