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New Pokémon GO update introduces a major "Reality Blending" AR upgrade

Augmented reality has never looked so good.

Augmented reality, or AR, has been fundamental to Pokemon GO since it took the world by storm in 2016, but Niantic is now taking steps to improve the feature even further almost four years after its release. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic that already caused the location and social-based game to make some radical changes, a more straightforward content update freshened up the game ahead of Pokémon GO Fest and introduce a major upgrade to AR mechanics called "Reality Blending."

On June 3, Niantic released Ver. 0.177.0 of Pokémon GO on Android. For players on Samsung Galaxy 9 or 10 as well as Google Pixel 3 and 4, this update adds "reality blending" to the game, an AR feature that was first shown by Niantic back in May.

According to the blog post that revealed it, Niantic sees this feature as "a new way for your buddy to become part of your world like never before." In practice, a Pokémon will now occupy a fixed space, and if an object slides into view between you and the monster, it'll be obscured by it rather than superimposed over it awkwardly.

A look at Pokemon GO's "reality blending" in action.Niantic, The Pokemon Company

It makes the AR camera of Pokémon GO more aware of the objects in the environment it is showing. "With Reality Blending, Pokémon will be able to move behind objects, either partially or completely," the aforementioned post explained. "Watch your Pokémon peek at from behind a bookcase, or jump out from behind the couch."

As the .gif above shows, the AR features in Pokémon GO have really just felt like a Snapchat or Instagram filter over the image that your phone was showing. While the Pokémon you were looking at technically appeared in front of you in the video from your phones' camera, it was relatively simple to break. Non-Flying Pokémon could appear in the air, on objects they shouldn't be able to fit on, or even on a friend's forehead.

With reality blending, Niantic quite literally blends the Pokémon with reality, which adds a sense of immersive realism that wasn't there before. Pokémon feel like part of the natural environment, which was the holistic intention of the game from the beginning. To help improve this feature, Niantic is also asking players to submit videos of the areas surrounding Poké Stops and gyms so the studio's AR technology can map it out better.

Promotional images for Pokémon GO Fest 2020 incorporate reality blending a great deal. Niantic / The Pokémon Company

These weren't the only new features in the Pokémon GO update that released on Android or Ver. 1.143.0 that came out on Apple's iOS devices (which doesn't include reality blending). This update also adds a white ring around charge moves to show charged attacks in trainer battles and raids, introduces Apple ID as a sign-in method, disables GO Battle League ratings temporarily, and makes it so Incense and Mystery Boxes can no longer be used at the same time.

The Inverse Analysis — If you're a proponent of AR, this new initiative from Niantic is pretty exciting as it will allow the technology to improve and feel less like a gimmick than it did anymore. While it's far from perfect after trying it out, as models sometimes struggle to disappear, it definitely is a great step forward for one of the world's most popular AR games and brings the mechanics a bit closer to what is promised in Pokémon GO's overexaggerated trailers.

AR has a lot of potential, but the possibilities of it on commercially available apps haven't really been fully achieved yet. Even with its current faults, reality blending is a welcome AR progression that will hopefully only improve from here on out.

Pokémon GO is available for iOS and Android.

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