LyteShot Interview with CEO Mark Ladd & CTO Tom Ketola

The technology behind location-based gaming is still up-and-coming. Groundspeak’s Geocaching is a covert scavenger hunt where players out into the real world with a virtual map and an eye for things hidden in plain sight. Google’s Ingress takes this same premise and makes it competitive, placing virtual bases and portals in the place of physical containers and logbooks.

These two types of games take alternate reality to new heights, but they have such limited mobility when compared to the technology that the creative minds at LyteShot bring to the table. Well, not the table so much as the smartphone. Using Bluetooth and WiFi, LyteShot gives players physical receivers and transmitters, not just access to devices that can be discovered. The initial premise behind these peripheral technologies brings to mind a sort of real-world assassin game, or laser tag. You can sink the battleship that is your friend using this untethered Duck Hunt style game.

LyteShot is excited about the implications of this type of game. The company is also excited because the technology behind LyteShot is open-source. This means that the limits of this kind of platform are only as minute as the imagination of developers.

We sat down with LyteShot’s CEO Mark Ladd and CTO Tom Ketola to learn more about what’s going on with this newest offering from the virtual gaming community, and about what to look for in the months to come.

Hey Mark and Tom! Thanks for making time to talk to us about LyteShot.

Hello, back!!! We are have been very busy here at the LyteShot workshop (getting ready to make deliveries for the holidays? ;) ) and we are very pleased to hear about your interest in what we are doing – and unequivocally both Tom and I can say that your questions are some of the most insightful into what we are doing so far and we are really excited that you ‘get it’!

First off, introductions. Who are you, and what do?

Mark Ladd, CEO Co-FounderMark: I am Mark Ladd, and I’m the CEO and co-founder of LyteShot. Besides being responsible for the ‘business’ end of the company bringing our product to consumers, I am also responsible for the development and implementation of our company vision and strategy. I also focus on identifying the resources needed in our growth as well as creating strategic partnerships for our platform development.

Tom Ketola, CTO Co-FounderTom: I am Tom Ketola, CTO and co-founder of LyteShot. My responsibilities include the software and hardware architecture and implementation, as well as serving as the primary contact in reaching out to our various development partners and game creators to make sure they have what they need for their development.

Can you tell us a little about the projects that you or your team have worked on prior to coming together to form LyteShot, Inc.?

Mark: My work history and design experience span a number of different fields, with a heavy focus on 3D data visualization specifically around architecture in the built environment, which gives me unique insight into different ways that people might play games with the LyteShot system and engage with the larger physical landscape as we integrate a player’s data on their surroundings.

Tom: Most of my background is in game development. I’ve been working in games professionally since I was 17, starting at Activision. I’ve worked for a number of various companies in the game industry, both large and small, most recently at Disney Interactive, working as a technical director on a number of their mobile products.

For people who are new to the concept of location-based gaming, can you offer our readers an overview of what a location based game is, and how that differs from more conventional, virtual gaming?

Location based gaming, broadly speaking, are mobile games that utilize a player’s physical location as a part of the game play. Location based games take advantage of a player’s various physical locations. The games that are being created for the LyteShot platform include location based gaming elements as part of the game mechanics such as trying to find your opponent, or capture a ‘portal’, or find the next clue at a particular location triggering an augmented reality character.

Great! Now, how does LyteShot fill a need in the location-based gaming community?

There have been a number of different location based games in the past, such as Shadow Cities, Map of the Dead, and Google’s Ingress. Those products started to scratch the surface of what is possible with location based games, but each shared a common element, which is that they tend to be teams playing one large, persistent game that is taking place across the globe. Those games work when there are enough people in the area playing simultaneously, such as when you’re in a city like New York, but these geo-global games are not generally conducive to playing a quick round with your friends on your lunch break.

With LyteShot, the idea is a bit different – almost the inverse. We bridge the gap between creating storylines of complex location based games that take place on a global scale, and connect our hardware and platform  with a new type of games that are developed and played at a completely local game level. Our goal is to make games that you can play with the people you know, in a local area, in a relatively short amount of time, or if you prefer, play longer more persistent games that can take over a week to finish depending on the gameplay and number of players. We prefer that you be able to play whenever you want, with people of your own choosing., and the type of game that you can develop.

So, in a nutshell, how does it all work? What will players need to try out this sensor-based gaming console?

At its core, the LyteShot system consists of a cloud based platform service, an infrared transmitter (the Lyter), and an infrared receiver (the LytePuck). The basic player kit includes both of these devices, but those are not required for gameplay. We want to ensure that the hardware is not preventing people from playing LyteShot games so we have created the ability for players to play at least some of the roles in most of our games without owning the hardware, which means you would only need a Bluetooth Smart enabled mobile phone, such as an iPhone 4S or newer, or a newer Android device. (most of the mobile devices released in the last couple years have Bluetooth Smart capabilities). If you decide you like the experience you’re having without the hardware,  you can decide to purchase the hardware later for a whole new level of gameplay. In addition, our hardware utilizes Apple’s iBeacon technology which means our open software platform is also open on the hardware side enabling users to connect an endless array of devices to LyteShot’s platform as part of games – think: drones, digital ‘claymores’ and ‘grenades’…

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LyteShot CTO Tom Ketola has said, “LyteShot is what I always thought gaming would eventually evolve into.” Can you give us a few examples of what he means, and how you foresee LyteShot being used?

Tom: What I meant by this is the idea is that  if you went back in time to the year 2000, and told them that we would have mobile devices that would be connected to the internet at all times, with a connection faster than what is available at home (in the year 2000), provide a higher resolution and be more powerful than any consoles available at the time, the mobile devices provide global positioning on-demand so they would know what their exact position is, and  that they would have connectivity that would allow them to communicate with each other as well as other physical devices pulling data instantaneously, the average person would be blown away, particularly if you explained that more than half the world’s population would own one of these devices. If you then asked them what type of games they would envision on these devices, they would not likely say “I imagine I would have puzzle games that I can play for 5 minutes while I wait in line at a grocery store”.  The potential for gaming that exists in the mobile phones we all own now is much greater than what we are actually doing with them, and it is those types of new alternate reality game (ARG) play is what I had expected with the development of this powerful mobile connectivity.

Scavenging, RPG, FPS shooters—the implications seem limitless. In my opinion, the technology behind LyteShot has the potential to expand mobile gaming to new heights. Your team expects that developers and even gamers will be able to create very individual adventures using the LyteShot platform. Who do you think will be the most interested in these kind of games?

Our dream is that mobile gaming changes moves beyond just staring at a small 4” phone screen, and leverages the Internet of Things (IoT) with mobile connectivity of new communication devices coming on-line everyday like smartwatches and heads-up-displays (HUD) which allow you to play games as you move throughout the world in a way that enhances your daily life rather than distracting from it. Initially, the demographic we anticipate who will be most drawn to the LyteShot platform will be people interested in pervasive gaming and Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) which is about creative participatory games with immersive storylines.

Capitalizing on the recent rise in popularity of live action role-playing games such as Humans vs. Zombies (which is on over 850 college campuses), we look to focus on the 18-34 market demographic because this age group tends to live in more populated regions (whether that is downtown in a city or on a college campus) and is the most connected age group with the largest social footprint on the internet. And yes, we do envision where there is a day where our technology is used for more than just gaming – like getting to know people on 3 day cancer walks or speed dating in bars – but that is a whole other story.

The game’s hardware is reminiscent of, say, laser tag or paintball But it’s my understanding that players can use the LytePuck and their mobile LyteShot app for so much more. How long do you think it will be until developers have churned out more concepts for inquisitive consumers like me to explore?

So this question we get a lot and one way we explain it is like saying comparing LyteShot to LaserTag or digital paintball is like comparing a Ferrari to a bicycle – they both provide an enjoyable ride, but are vastly different in composition, complexity and total experience. LyteShot takes interactive entertainment to a whole new level with its hardware, apps and platform eco-system – think Wii © for Everywhere. With LyteShot, you can create your own games that are multiplayer games through the cloud sharing in-game data instantly, not just a playful game of Tag, but also a immersive Fantasy RPG, a first person shooter (FPS), sci-fi adventure or other types of action alternate reality games (ARG).

Our API is going to available for developers at launch, and we’re working on putting together a higher level toolkit with a graphical user interface (GUI) that allows non-developers to set their own rules and gameplay styles, so that they can experiment with new gameplay ideas without having to know how to program. The API should be available not long after the Kickstarter launch in January.

LyteShot was named a 2015 Consumer Electronics Show Innovation Awards Honoree —congratulations on that! And your Kickstarter will launch in January of 2015. What do you project your team needs to take LyteShot to the mainstream audiences? Are you hoping for major distribution opportunities for this platform?

In the long run, we’re clearly hoping that we’ll be in all the major retail outlets and that we’re a household name, however, the world today offers so many more opportunities than the classic distribution. We’ll be available for sale directly through the KickStarter, since the first revision of the hardware has already been designed and created. We will also do direct sales through our website, as well as through other major online retailers.

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I think that the educational implications for programs like LyteShot are pretty exciting. Do your forsee classrooms making use of this kind of technology to get kids more excited to learn and play? Hide and go seek might suffer for LyteShot, but tag would always use some spicing up.  

We have been approached by some colleges and some high schools to develop an ‘educational dev kit’ for their students because there has been a massive uptick in kids who are seeking out after school curriculum to learn how to program. After seeing how games like Minecraft have enticed younger students to take up programming languages like Java,  these schools want to leverage the ability to connect gaming to teach new STEM experiences such as physical computing. Thus, we are looking into developing a toolkit that will allow teachers and educators to teach their students about programming and logic in an interactive fashion, and in a way that is very tangible to the students, without requiring a heavy math background or loads of art.

The really nice thing about using LyteShot for educational opportunities is that it gives people the ability to try out new gameplay ideas and make their own games, while using the best graphics engine in existence – also known as Real Life!  Tag could definitely use some spicing up, as could even the very basic gameplay types existing infrared guns offer…time to go back to our chlldhood games and re-envision games like Freeze Tag or Ghost in the Grave Yard, right?

So what can we expect from LyteShot in the coming months? How long until you anticipate this being available on a mass consumer scale?

Our Kickstarter goes live at the start of January, where you’ll be able to pre-order the hardware, as well as get involved early in the development process. Your input can help shape the product, since we’re in new territory with this. The nice thing about our KickStarter versus some others is that the hardware design is already complete, and we’re able to build the kits, so it really is more of a pre-order rather than a hope that this is something we can build. Those kits should ship out as soon as the manufacturing is complete, which is going to towards the end of the Summer in 2015. The retail kits should be available soon afterwards.

There are relatively fewer location based developers on the market today. Are there any developers or studios that your team champions or that you’re aspiring to?

We’re fans of anything that brings mobile gaming into the real world, so we’re actively following father.IO, and we’re excited to see what RocketChicken does with their Motive toolkit. What we personally really hope to do is to give independent game developers an opportunity to create exciting, interactive games, without requiring years of development effort or a large team. That’s one of the challenges posed by traditional mobile games, which is that they’re now as expensive to develop as the console games were just a few years ago, so there aren’t as many open opportunities for not just hobbyists and students, but even for professional or independent game developers to develop their own games without a lot of funding, and that’s something we hope to change, or at least to encourage. If we can provide opportunities for people to experiment with gameplay without having to expend a lot of time or money, then we’re more likely to get unique and unusual experiences as opposed to another sequel to last year’s hit.

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This is just a question for you: what’s your favorite game, and why? It can be old or new, relevant to LyteShot, or just a board game. I’m always curious to learn about the games that influenced the people who make games.

Mark: Another great question which we haven’t been asked yet!…so I think for many people in gaming it’s all about your ‘first true love(s)’ that got you into gaming, and for me it is a close call between the joy of all my youth spent in the arcades playing Tempest (loved how it was one of the three gates in the recent ‘Ready Player One’ book!) along with  Zork which ushered in the advent of story narrative games (which is probably what led me on this path to Alternate reality gaming/ Transmedia games), but I suppose my personal favorite is a little known game called ‘Archon: The Light and the Dark’ which I played endlessly on my Commodore 64 – at the time it had incredible graphics and was a whole new take on chess (old school;).  As for current games, I am hoping that they crank out the next installment of ‘The Room’ soon so I can devour that one too in order to feed my addiction…

Tom: My favorite game of all time? We have to go way back on that one, my favorite is Robotron: 2084. It came out right after Defender (and was created by the same team), and it’s probably the twitchiest arcade game of all time, and is one of the few games that still makes me sweat. I’m a fan and consumer of all sorts of games though, I’m currently really enjoying Dragon Age: Origins.

Is there anything I didn’t get a chance to cover that you’d like to tell our readers about before we wrap up today?

Just to keep your eye out for more announcements from us! We’re working with a number of different companies, and we’re really excited about what the future offers. We’re going to be integrating with a number of different products, whether it’s mobile phones, augmented reality glasses, or even drones and other remote control products. We see all that stuff and immediately try and think of ways we can turn connect it to our games so people can integrate into their game play.

I always like to include at least one fun question, just for kicks. Here’s yours: what is the most ludicrous, fantastic way that you can imagine people using (or misusing) location-based technology in the future?

We really like to imagine all the crazy things that are going to be possible as people experience augmented reality as part of their gameplay. We can definitely imagine a day in the near future where you might be playing with the LyteShot system in field somewhere, and you and your friends are on campaign fighting a giant 60’ foot dragon lumbering across the field towards you on your augmented reality (HUD) glasses! That’s the kind of future we’re working on bringing to reality!

Of course, we’ll be in touch with LyteShot and promise to keep you up-to-date with their goings-on. If you’d rather have it straight from the horse’s mouth, keep up with the Lyte team on Facebook, Twitter, and their website. Be sure to look for their Kickstarter campaign in January 2015 to get in on the action early and help write this newest chapter in location-based gaming.

Mariah Beckman

Mariah lives in Seattle, and is really 3 midgets inside a lady suit.

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