Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wherigo geocaching

Today I had the opportunity to test Wherigo. It's a toolset for creating GPS adventures for GPS devices. My friend got a Garmin navigator that included an implementation of Wherigo, so we went off to seek one of the two Wherigo caches in Oulu.

This one was much like a multicache with one important difference: because the waypoints were just pieces of code in the virtual game world inside the device, the cache creator was able to enforce rules for traversing between waypoints. In this particular example, there were danger zones scattered around the area where the waypoints were located, and ending up in one of them forced the seekers to start the entire thing over. There were also timelimits for some of the waypoints and again failing to meet those meant starting from the beginning. There was no map, so detecting threats had to be done by looking at their distance and direction. We got shot down a few times when we were still figuring out how exactly the system works. Overall it took us about an hour to go through the entire adventure.

The experience was indeed different from any other caching experience because of the enforced rules. I wouldn't like to do this all the time, because much of the fun in caching is in the freedom to choose one's own approach but it's cool variation from time to time. I don't know the limitations of the toolset just yet, but using what I saw in this one cache could do stuff like actually enforcing limitations on transportation choice for people who want to create no-cars multicaches or whatever.

This was my second time playing an alternate reality game that places virtual objects into real world coordinates using GPS. It was kind of interesting, like navigating threats based on just a radar (or in this case listening to a radar officer, since I wasn't holding the device). The first time was when I playtested a submarine warfare game, and it had some of the same feeling. The submarine game had somewhat better immersion because the enemies were other players, visually present in the environment and also detectable using sonar. I think one important thing in alternate reality game immersion is to make a plausible explanation for why things in the game cannot be seen in the real world.

Anyway, to summarize, Wherigo seems like an interesting addition to geocaching and I'll be reporting if I encounter some fresh concepts that make use of it. We'll be doing the second local cache next week and I've heard it should be a different experience, and also more frustrating. Waiting to see how...

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