Monday, May 9, 2011

Travel Game: Google Earth is your gameboard

By John Taylor, Lead Game Designer, Travel Game
This post is part of Who's at Google I/O, a series of guest blog posts written by developers who are appearing in the Developer Sandbox at Google I/O.

Travel Game is the first online social game powered by Google Earth, and the first game of its kind to provide players with real, free travel rewards. Currently in beta testing, Travel Game is being unveiled for the first time at Google I/O 2011. Travel Game was conceived by Jeff Katz, a technology and travel industry veteran, and founding CEO of Orbitz, Inc. Touristo and Skydiver, our first two titles, provide players with the experience of sky diving over the Earth and navigating a Touristo vehicle through exotic locales via Google Earth’s virtual 3D globe. To take advantage of the awesome imagery, terrain, and 3D models available in Google Earth, we built a custom framework that ties into several Google APIs, including Google Earth, Google Maps, and even Google’s currency converter API.

We wanted to give users the best possible experience – with high-quality game play, animations, and sound – so we based our framework on a blend of Javascript, Flash, and a custom back-end, all tied into the Google Earth APIs. We designed an XML structure that lets our game designers add new game packs easily and – some day – we may give users tools to do the same. For example, part of our framework lets game designers add “targets” inside Google Earth using XML like this:
<target action="addTarget">
    <itemPath>assets/images/blank.png</itemPath>
    <longitude>-157.8459651634087</longitude>
    <latitude>21.31249095467307</latitude>
    <imageRadius>.0000018</imageRadius>
    <targetRadius>20</targetRadius>
</target>
We created a Javascript architecture to interpret the XML and make several calls to the Google Earth API to set up the scene and add 3D models as markers for the target. We then track the user’s position relative to the target using Google Earth’s ground overlays. This involves a lot of background processing, but we were surprised at how well it performs. Based on the social trends we know are emerging in real travel, we’re also tying features into Facebook, like posting places visited in Travel Game to your wall, sending gifts to friends, and eventually inviting friends to play along for group prizes. We’re even injecting the user’s Facebook photos into Google Earth.
The current beta version of Travel Game has been developed and nurtured by a team of travel and gaming industry experts. We’re extremely excited about creating online exploration that translates into real-world experiences. At this point, we’re just scratching the surface and see great potential for creating more great games and social communities as an overlay to Google Earth. Come see Travel Game in the Developer Sandbox at Google I/O on May 10-11. John Taylor has been designing and developing software for 20 years for companies like Electronic Arts, Lucas Learning, and the Disney Channel. Before that, he circled the globe a few times and worked as a writer and film editor.