Massachusetts Company Is Developing a Star Wars-Inspired Augmented Reality Game

Will HoloGrid be the next Pokémon Go?


Pokémon Go may be the video game craze of the moment, but a local company is developing what may be the next big thing in augmented reality gaming.

Tippet Studio, the famed visual effects company founded by Oscar winner Phil Tippett, has teamed up with Massachusetts-based developer HappyGiant to create an innovative new game called HoloGrid: Monster Battle.

Similar to Pokémon Go, HoloGrid uses AR technology to bring digital creatures to life so they can interact and battle against a real world backdrop. However, the new project also includes a physical component so that people can play against each other online, in real life, or some combination of the two.

Instead of being relegated to just a smartphone, HoloGrid features a tangible, playing board as well as collectible cards in the vein of a Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering. If they so choose, players can take their gameplay experiences to the online world by scanning their boards and cards using Android or iOS devices, which then allows their creatures to face-off in brutal, computer-generated beatdowns.

“It sounds cool, but when you see it or when you play, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever played,” says Corey Rosen, vice president of creative marketing at Tippett Studio. “Having a physical object and then watching it come to life has that Iron Man, Minority Report thing that we all love in science fiction.”

If watching digital monsters fight each other on a chess-like board looks familiar, it’s because HoloGrid was inspired by the holochess pieces used in the original Star Wars movie, which Tippett created along with fan-favorite characters like Admiral Ackbar and Jabba the Hutt.

The visual effects guru went on to win an Academy Award for Return of the Jedi before he left Lucasfilm’s creature shop to start his own studio, which has done computer graphic and special effects work for films ranging from Jurassic Park to Ted.

HappyGiant president Mike Levine was thrilled to team up with Tippet Studio, as the Newton native and former Lucas Arts employee is a lifelong Star Wars fan. The digital game developer fell in love with the series thanks to a former movie critic relative who took him to the all of the sci-fi franchise’s local premieres.

“For my generation, seeing holochess was like, ‘When do I get to play that game?’” Levine says. “Here I am 40 years later trying to bring that to life.”

While HoloGrid is still in its early stages and hasn’t been released yet, it’s already receiving a lot of buzz. The AR game took home the honor for best technology at the 2016 PAX East Awards and the team successful met its goal of raising $100,000 during a recent KickStarter campaign.

The HoloGrid team believes people like the game because of its physical nature, which even extended into the designs for the computerized beasts.

Through a process called photogrammetry, actual sculptures were created for each battling monster, which were then scanned to make digital models. Using hand-crafted, real world objects as the basis for the designs gave the creatures a believability and roughness that traditional CGI creations lack, which is why they come across as smooth and cartoonish.

“We live in this time where there is a crazy technological renaissance,” Rosen says. “It’s amazing what can be done. We found a way through this project to merge all of these worlds.”

Looking ahead, the developers hope to add several emerging technologies into the game, such as virtual reality headsets. They’re also open to forming partnerships with other popular gaming properties, including Star Wars, Yu-Gi-Oh, and yes, even Pokémon.

“We would be very open to that,” Rosen says. “We invite those conversations.”