For the final talk of the Developer Toolkit track at Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #1, Niantic's senior game designer Laura Warner and senior software engineer Kirsten Koa came by to deliver a 101 on AR game design.
Warner started by defining what AR is to Niantic, stating that it "can transform something mundane into something amazing".
As for design tips, Warner suggested designing your AR experiences for the real world by choosing the right "interaction layer" - what Niantic calls the "World Space" which moves beyond the UI and game layers into a whole new layer.
She also noted that visual details matter, saying developers need to consider shadows, lighting, ground planes, depth, and scale.
Work with your constraints
On top of this, Warner suggested "making the device a part of the gaming experience" and embracing the narrative potential of the physical device players are using for their game, rather than trying to fight it.
As for session lengths, Warner recommended trying to keep AR sessions between 30 seconds and two minutes to avoid causing your players physical pain, and then encouraging them to play typical gaming experiences as a rest time between AR moments.
On the subject of prototyping in AR, Koa noted that rapidly testing ideas allows you to find the fun much quicker, but also helps you to inform design decisions - for example, the team quickly iterated on numerous ideas to prevent Pokemon Go players from getting too close to their Pokemon during AR photo sessions.
But prototypes also allow other stakeholders to get their hands on the idea and play with it themselves, which makes it much easier to gain feedback as the stakeholders understand exactly what the team is shooting for with its plans.