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Google's Gaming Guy on "Transmogrified Reality" and Lessons Learned From Glass

"Head-mounted displays and interacting with the real world are actually really hard things to do well."

Composite image by Re/code

Amid several ups and downs, there have been three big innovations in the past 30 years of gaming, Google’s chief game designer Noah Falstein said today at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The first was the worldwide spread of TV-connected consoles; the second was the rise of the Web; and the third was the proliferation of smartphones. And a fourth, he said, is on the way: “Transmogrified reality.”

So, what the hell is that? He defined transmogrified reality as the seamless blending of reality with virtual images.

“I’ve heard some people refer to this as blended reality, but I don’t think that does it justice,” Falstein said.

So, in one light, the term can be read as a catchall term for emerging virtual reality tech like Facebook’s Oculus Rift and augmented reality like Google’s own Project Tango.

There’s more to it than that, though, Falstein said, likening our current lingo to the way movies were called “talkies” or “color pictures” after the advent of sound and color film. Eventually, those became the norm, and today we only use special terms to refer to the opposite things: “Silent” and “black-and-white” films.

Falstein suggested that the “magical experience” of transmogrified reality should be mobile rather than “tethered to a computer.” Thinking this way will enable experiences like a hypothetical horror game with monsters jumping out of the doors in your own house, he said, as well as potential new game genres that haven’t yet been conceived.

The lines between the virtual and real worlds are still plainly evident, but Falstein urged the developers in his audience to start thinking about transmogrified reality before it’s too late.

I asked what companies already in the space can learn from Google Glass, which was recently put under new management inside Google, out of the public eye. Falstein, who had worn Glass for a whole year, grinned and said he missed the convenience of checking his GDC schedule.

“It seems like pulling your phone out of your pocket is not that big a deal, but believe me, not having to do that was just great,” Falstein said. “One of the lessons that I think is pretty obvious is: If you want a headset that’s going to reach out to the public, you need to be concerned with how that looks and what people’s perceptions are, as well.”

“Having seen some of the inside development and a lot of the stuff that never got released to the public, head-mounted displays and interacting with the real world are actually really hard things to do well,” he added. “We had a lot of very smart people at Google working at that, making a lot of progress, and even so, it took a lot of time and wasn’t perfect. So I think there’s still a lot to be learned there.”

Google recently led a $542 million investment round in Magic Leap, which defines its work as “cinematic reality.” Falstein said he has seen some “amazing stuff” that he would call transmogrified reality in demos of the secretive startup’s technology — but wasn’t at liberty to talk about that.

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