American in Spain

iPhone App Idea: Capture The Flag

July 27, 2008

Yesterday, as I was walking along a street watching my iPhone in amazement as the little blue dot representing my location moved ever so slightly towards the intersection I was approaching, four clothing stores were marked with flags after entering the word "clothing" into the map search. And, with my mind raised on hours of video games, I got to thinking...what if the other dots weren't locations, but were other people, also moving around the map.

Here's my idea for an awesome iPhone app. There should be just a simple app that lets you play games in which the other players are carrying their iPhones and everyone can see everyone on the map. In this simple framework, a wide variety of games can be constructed. The simplest and first to come to mind is Capture The Flag. Imagine with me... You divide all the players into two teams (we'll call them red and blue). Each team is given a "flag". But it's not really a flag, it's a bar code. It can be printed or just any UPC symbol off any supermarket product. Each team captain takes their bar code "flag", takes a photograph of it with his iPhone, and then hides it somewhere, making sure to set the location of the flag into his iPhone via GPS with a tap when he hides the flag. It's not really hidden, it should be in plain sight at eye level. Once both flags have been placed, the game begins. The red team has to try to capture the blue team's flag and make it back to their base (where the red flag is hidden), and vice versa. The way you defend your base is to "shoot" an opponent. The way you shoot and opponent is you get within X meters of him and press a "fire" button on your iPhone. X could be 10 or 100 or 1000; it depends on the size of the playing area. If someone kills you, you must go half the distance back to your own base before you become active again. To capture the opponent's flag, you must simply take a picture of it, the iPhone will match the bar code with the one given at the start of the game for the opposing team, mark your dot on everyone's map as having the flag, and you run like the wind back to your base. If you get killed on your way, the virtual flag is returned instantly back to the enemy base and you have to go scan it again (and you have to go halfway back to your base to revive yourself). Perhaps when you have the flag, you can't shoot anyone, so your teammates without the flag must run with you defending you.

But think about it... This can be played anywhere, and on any scale. You can play in the forest behind grandpa's house, or you can play it across all of Manhattan, or the United States, or the entire globe!

The technology is all there. All that is needed is a little help from an internet server to coordinate locations. It's probably important that the rules stipulate that items must be at ground level, since the mapping software is still 2D. As I mentioned initially, Capture The Flag is not the only game available once the player-tracking infrastructure is set up. A bar-code-based treasure hunt could work too. You have to figure out the clues, but you can also see where the other teams are and where they are headed. So once you figure out where a treasure is, you scatter your team so the opponents don't know which location the treasure is in. And of course there are plenty of more possibilities...

I'm not going to develop this app because I'm just not that interested. But I'm posting this because I think it's cool and highlights the immense possibilities of a geolocated, internet enabled device...and so that I can point back to this when it is finally released and say, "See, I thought of that in July 2008!"

A little research shows that apparently someone had this idea back in 2005, and someone has implemented a simple version of it for other phones. The GPS-enabled iPhone, however, provides a device that contains all the necessary technology.