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LEGO: Life of George

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LEGO’s Life of George game brings together 5 worlds like nothing else before:

  • 8-Bit Design
  • iPhone
  • LEGO bricks
  • manual interaction, a “touch interface” if you will
  • computer vision for gamification

Let’s have a quick look at this fun pastime that is all the rage.

The LEGO Life of George app is a free download on the app store. To play you need the box which contains some additional ingredients you need to play. You get 6×1, 8×2, 4×3, 4×4 and 2×6 pieces in red, green, blue, black, yellow, white. Any self-respecting LEGOist probably has these at home. Then there is a piece of cardboard that has a grid of dots which aide in recognizing the shapes you put together. Plus there is a very brief Getting Started guide and a sticker showing George in all his 8-bit glory.

The product is smartly priced at a level where you probably prefer the convenience of having it all in a box over pirating the pieces from your kids and using a scan of the mat. Also this level of innovativeness needs to be rewarded, so I purchased the original product at my Apple Store. And so should you: if not for yourself then for all the LEGO+iPhone fans around you.

You select a model from initially 130 models and your goal is to complete these in as little time as possible. So you select a model, build that from the included pieces, drop it onto the grid, tap the cam button on the iPhone app which displays the model and countdown. Then you position the iPhone such that it sees the entire grid. It does not matter where on the grid you place the finished model.

When playing you should make sure that you have sufficient space to lay out the pieces for faster access. Also the bricks have a tendency to fall to the floor if permitted. The models are rated in 12 difficulty levels.

The most fun, but also the biggest weakness of this game is Multiplayer. There is no support for Game Center and Online competition. Instead you have to make due with pass’n’play mode. Players alternate building different models, because it would be useless to be building exactly the same model if the person before you has already found all the pieces. Though there seems to be a balancing glitch: On one of my multi-player games I was getting a very difficult model while my opponent got something extremely simple. Unfair!

The other problem is that on several occasions the model was not recognized properly causing no points to be awarded. Instead you just get a display with tips to improve recognition, like tilting to avoid shine or making sure that the entire mat is visible. But no option to retake the picture. Annoying!

LEGO plans to sell us additional models for certain holidays, the first one being the Christmas pack for $2 which contains “3 new levels of Christmas content with 30 new Challenges and 45 models”. Don’t ask me how this works out mathematically and what the difference between challenge and model is. That the price is still $2 even after the turn of the year reminds us that Apple still does not permit In-App-Purchases for free.

Finally – what might be even be the coolest feature of all – you also get to make your own models. I tried making my Cocoanetics logo here:

The image recognition software tries to match the contained pieces with what it “sees” on the mat. But the pieces need to be upright. We build a ciqua logo, but with the pips pointing to the side and that was not properly recognized.  The software cannot differentiate between two adjacent pieces of the same color. If you please a 2 and a 1 next to each other, it is recognized as a 3. So far the models the app tries out all the variations that are possible and seems to always try to take the longest bricks possible.

Life of George uses image recognition technology from Eye Cue Vision Technologies which they describe themselves as “…the first and only low-cost vision recognition platform in the world for toys”. I image that the innovative guys at LEGO – which is extremely active in terms of product development for bricks as well as apps – found Eye Cue to be an affordable and simple to implement technology and so they hammered out this deal.

Their low-cost technology circumvents the problem you have with normal computer vision of having to adjust for a wide variety of image quality by simplifying the shapes it has to recognize, little squares in primary colors, and by using this grid mat for calibration. It’s is orders of magnitude more simple to recognize and align a grid of primary color blocks versus having to do edge and shape detection. This is an smart approach makes the technology robust enough for use by everybody. If you are used to buying LEGO bricks then you also have no issue with using this cardboard thing. So this partnership turns out to be a very nice fit between LEGO and Eye Cue.

LEGO is smart to exploring this unknown territory between digital and physical, between virtual and real. Normal apps which are digital offer much less satisfying value to the player than LEGO can.

If what I am hearing is any indication then LEGO has a hit. What’s next? Maybe an app to remote control LEGO robots?


Categories: Fun

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