So far, augmented reality games haven’t been all that impressive. A few markers get thrown around the room, maybe some enemies pop out, shoot them, etc. For a while, they were mostly held back by needing to hold a smartphone up at eye level to play them — something that was fixed by hybrid AR/VR headsets that hold smartphones in place right in front of your eyes. Merge VR made a really simple, cheap one last year, but they’re far from done. This year, they’re looking to shake up AR gaming with their Merge Cube, and they might just succeed.
Holding up a smartphone at eye level to play games? Not so fun. Holding a cube that can become literally anything an imagination can think to program? That’s a little more compelling. The Merge Cube is a plastic cube with enough cryptic markings and diagrams on all sides to make it look like it belongs in the next Tomb Raider. There’s a method to the madness, though — those designs are all recognized by an app, which can use then turn that surface of the cube into anything through the lens of your smartphone camera.
The cube can become a bustling city, a virtual companion, a star system — anything that can be programmed. It’s still classic AR — each side of the cube is essentially one of those old AR markers that you’d spread out around the room — but now that we have AR headsets, Merge has been able to make the experience more tactile, which is a key element that both AR and VR still sorely lack.
Merge VR is still keeping things cheap, too — as well they should, since in the end, the Merge Cube is just a plastic cube! Merge plans to launch it sometime this year for $20, but they don’t have a hard date. You can sign up for email notifications on their site if you’re interested.