Google Maps is open to mobile AR game developers using Unity

Google said on Wednesday. March 14 that Google Maps now supports the Unity engine to develop mobile games with an augmented reality component. The company’s new APIs — tools for building software — will turn buildings, roads, and parks into “GameObjects.” In turn, developers can add their own textures, styles, and customizations to these objects so they blend in with the game’s theme. This will reduce the rendering overhead caused by generating an entire virtual world on a global scale. 

“Game studios can easily reimagine our world as a medieval fantasy, a bubble gum candy land, or a zombie-infested post-apocalyptic city,” Clementine Jacoby, product manager of Google Maps APIs, said in a statement. “With Google Maps’ real-time updates and rich location data, developers can find the best places for playing games, no matter where their players are.” 

According to Google, developers using the Unity game engine now have access to more than 100 million 3D buildings, landmarks, parks, and roads scattered across more than 200 countries. Google Maps removes the need to know more about the player’s physical environment no matter where they are located across the globe. Google Maps also provides quick means to locate gameplay areas that are safe, pleasant, and fun for AR-based experiences. 

“Building on top of Google Maps’ global infrastructure means faster response times, the ability to scale on demand, and peace of mind knowing that your game will just work,” Jacoby adds. 

Google Maps support in Unity follows the launch of the company’s ARCore mobile augmented reality platform just before Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress show in February. Built specifically for Android, the kit allows developers to create apps supporting augmented reality on more than 100 million Android smartphones although, right now, it’s only compatible with 13 different handsets ranging from the Google Pixel to the Samsung Galaxy S8. More devices will support Google’s proprietary AR platform later this year. 

Augmented reality is a method of generating digital objects in the real world. For instance, Pokémon Go will use the phone’s camera to generate a live video feed on the screen while rendering a virtual Pokémon in that space. You can walk around the virtual creature, approach it or move away and it will still remain in its original position while scaling with the environment. 

But that is a simplistic case. Google’s new APIs for Google Maps will take that idea a huge step further by relying on existing objects but allowing developers to convert their original appearance. That means wherever gamers move in the physical space, the “augmented” environment stays true at every angle and position on the screen. 

The beauty of Google Maps is that not only do developers have access to all the current mapping information, the AR-based experiences will stay updated as Google continuously adds more buildings, roads, parks, and so on. According to Next Games CEO Teemu Huuhtanen, the added support for Google Maps will make “exploring your surroundings a breathtaking experience.” 

Google will display a live demo next week during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.