Gaming

Niantic expands its mobile AR empire with new 'Transformers' game

No one comes close to matching Niantic's AR reach.

Tourists and shoppers dwarfed by the giant Unicorn Gundam statue outside DiverCity Tokyo Plaza mall on the popular leisure district of Odaiba in Tokyo harbour, Japan.
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Niantic, the developer of the ever-popular Pokémon Go, is just getting started. The company has utilized the fruits of its successes to continue pushing the mobile gaming market forward using its dedicated augmented reality technology — and has even tested the waters of the hardware market.

Now Niantic is taking on another uber-popular franchise: Transformers. The company today announced Transformers: Heavy Metal, a forthcoming mobile game made in conjunction with Hasbro and TOMY.

In a blog post announcing the new game, Niantic executive producer Phil Hong brings up memories of how ubiquitous Transformers was for kids in the mid-80s. “In thinking about franchises that would be incredible to bring to life in AR, Transformers was a no-brainer,” he writes. “This will be a Transformers game unlike any other, an AR game where you’ll get to team up with the likes of Bumblebee and the Autobots in the real world, powered by the Niantic Lightship platform.

Details of the game are sparse right now, but Niantic’s involvement is enough to have us excited. No one does AR gaming like Niantic.

More than meets the eye — We know very little about Transformers: Heavy Metal except that, well, it exists. Niantic’s blog post reveals the game’s development is being led by Seattle-based Very Very Spaceship, and that the game itself is pretty far along; a beta test is expected in select markets “soon.” And that a full global launch is expected sometime this year.

Here’s a short description of what the game will entail, as dictated to The Verge:

In Transformers: Heavy Metal, players will join the Guardian Network, a group of humans who have banded together with the Autobots in a war against the Decepticons. As a Guardian, players will uncover hidden regions across Earth to find resources and battle Decepticons in turn-based battles, either solo or with friends.

So it’s not exactly Pokémon, but, like, it’s not that far off, either.

No one's doing it like Niantic — Niantic is certainly best-known for creating the sensation known as Pokémon Go, but that’s only the very tip of the company’s iceberg. Its biggest product is actually the augmented reality Lightship platform upon which Pokémon Go is built — a platform that has become even more powerful since the game’s release.

Niantic has poured enormous resources into Lightship, which it calls a “planet-scale AR platform.” That platform has brought in major partnerships from the likes of Verizon and Deutsche Telekom to test the extremes of 5G-powered gaming. Even Nintendo is very much on board; the gaming giant has signed onto an extended partnership with Niantic for multiple new games, including an AR Pikmin game.

Niantic is well on its way to being a gaming giant in its own right. The developer is way ahead of the AR curve; most companies are only dreaming of such wide-scale augmented reality use.