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Niantic teams up with 'Sleep No More' creators Punchdrunk for immersive gaming experiences

By Josh Grossberg

Forget movies. The folks at Niantic Labs see the future of entertainment and it's pretty much up to you.

Niantic Labs, the San Francisco-based startup that brought the world Pokémon Go, has hatched a "multifaceted partnership" with U.K.-based Punchdrunk, the pioneers behind such iconic immersive theater productions as Sleep No More, to dream up a slew of new and exciting augmented-reality projects that will literally rock your world.

"Punchdrunk has placed audiences at the centre of their performances in the real world for 20 years, and are renowned for creating multi-sensory experiences on an epic scale," reads a statement from Niantic, which also created AR games Ingress and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. "Together we are developing multiple projects that will reinvent storytelling for a 21st century audience and further expand the horizon of interactive entertainment."

What exactly will that entail? Well, the companies imagine letting people be the star of their own epic adventure movie, for starters, through the creation of "fantastical virtual worlds that are then overlaid over real spaces."

And for anyone who's seen Punchdrunk's Sleep No More, it's clear they know what they're doing. The play took environmental theater to new, more intimate heights as it adapted Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth by way of a choose-your-own adventure style trek through the McKittrick Hotel. Straight out of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, attendees don masks as they wander around a dimly lit 1930s-era five-story haunted house cum performance space. There they follow various characters around, having one-on-one interactions with the actors, observing various storylines play out, and even touching the ornate Hitchcockian set of which they're a part of.

"It is hugely exciting to be joining forces with the preeminent AR company in the world. At Punchdrunk we create richly cinematic 3D worlds where audiences can explore, touch and smell the environment; where the boundaries between reality and fantasy are indistinguishable,” Felix Barrett, Punchdrunk’s artistic director, said in a statement. "Those that have seen Sleep No More often liken the experience to how it might feel to walk into a video game. What happens if you take that sense of adventure into the real world? Tear down the walls and the world becomes your stage."

No word exactly what kind of real-world games the collaboration is expected to yield (an immersive Jurassic Park anyone?).

Aside from teaming up with Punchdrunk, Niantic Labs is also working on AR wearable prototypes that will push the envelope of AR gaming even further. One of its upcoming projects is Catan – World Explorers, in partnership with the folks at CATAN and Asmodee, which will reportedly transform neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the globe into a giant AR version of the board game of Catan. For more info on Catan - World Explorers, click here.

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