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Get Yer Avatar Toy NOW!

Image Courtesy of superpunch.blogspot.comOk, we know you’ve started your countdown to the upcoming James Cameron film, AVATAR. But just In case you haven’t heard, AVATAR is James Cameron’s larger-tha-life 3D film set to be released this December. And using his past films and the trailer for this one as an indicator, he has not held back on budget or imagination. The trailer itself is a sort-of epic — its visuals stunning.

The Avatar story is about Jake, a paraplegic war veteran who is brought to the planet Pandora. The planet is inhabited by the Na’vi, and they are not humanity’s biggest fans. Jake’s consciousness gets transferred to the body of an Avatar, a creation that is genetically half human and half Na’vi. Once transferred to the Na’vi body, he enters the Na’vi world and eventually finds himself in the midst of an epic battle. And that’s enough spoiler for the biggest film event in the history of the galaxy.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re impatient about waiting for big noise film releases. It’s hard to put them out of your mind once you know they are coming and, damn it, two months is too long to wait. In case you’re getting fidgety, later this month you can play with the toys created for the movie and become better acquainted with the characters and the amazing technological devices as seen in the film. Along with the movie trailer, the toys were revealed at ComicCon 2009 this summer to excited and awaiting fans.

Part of the hype surrounding the AVATAR toy line revolves around the fact that Mattel and 21st Century Fox worked with i-TAG to include an element of augmented reality in the action figures and vehicles — and this is the first time a toy has come to market with this type of technology included. There are baseball cards and other augmented reality pieces out there, but this is a toy that is tied in to an amazing film, and it is the first of its kind.

Mattel was kind enough to send h+ their product for review. The boxes arrived in the mail and I literally almost wet myself thinking about augmented reality and knowing that I was holding in my hands the future of toys and technology. When I opened them up, I found impressive blue boxes with great action graphics, containing the action figures enveloped in the clear shiny plastic. The Avatar Jake Sully is delicate, blue and reminiscent of a cat, so I started my i-TAG experience with him. I immediately went straight for the i-TAG. The Avatar Jake character is a Level 1 model, which means it includes info and proximity interactions.

Image Courtesy of superpunch.blogspot.comFirst thing you have to do to get the i-TAG to work is go here — the access point for all i-TAG features. You download the software and select the i-TAG that you’re using. (All of this information is on the website and included with each toy.) It’s simple, but it took a little while (then again, maybe you have a faster internet connection.) Once it was downloaded and my webcam came on, I anxiously held up my Avatar Jake. Whoops. Actually, you have to hold up the i-TAG card, not the toy, so that the card fits in the webcam screen. Then, you see it. Your augmented reality comes to life. It was cool, but it was only a Level 1, as I said. After trial and error, I got it all figured out. I switched to my other Level 1 character, Col. Miles Quaritch. Again, the action figure was pretty cool and detailed, but I wanted the i-TAG. I went through the same process as before and it was a cooler than the first one with sound and motion, but, again, I wanted more out of the experience.

I switched to the Level 3 Amp Suit. The Level 3’s enable you to get info, attack and defend.  Now I was in the game. This was what I wanted — a badass augmented experience. The Amp Suit toy itself required some assembly. I was too anxious to deal with the tech and gave the task to my husband, while I  dug through the box looking for the i-TAG. Again, I went through the process of selecting my i-TAG on the website and waiting for my webcam, then held up my card. This one was more advanced, based partly on the interactivity it enabled me to have, the sound and motions. The graphics were impressive and the guy inside the suit moved with it. I was able to get really close to see the details, which was cool, but I kept forgetting it was augmented reality and not a web-based video game, which might have been because I was using a built-in webcam (see suggested usage below). I was a little discouraged, but not yet defeated. I believe this technology is the beginning of great things, and so I proceeded to my fourth and final box, the Level 4 RDA Gunship.

Level 4’s enable you to get info, attack, defend and evade. Plus, it’s a gunship, pictured as a sort of menacing wasp on the package. Once I got the new character up on my screen, I placed my i-TAG in front of the screen and waited for something miraculous to happen. It was a great graphic with great sounds, as I set the guns ablaze on my screen. I kept shooting my own face repeatedly with the ship, and had it fly over me. It looked like it was flying into my house through the front door. Ok, there was some imagination involved, but it was amazing.

All the while I kept thinking that something about the experience didn’t live up to my expectations. The action figures alone were great, after they were assembled and I could play with them. The i-TAG technology in conjunction with the movie graphics that worked with the studio is the draw though. If you are an avid gamer or even internet user, it may lose a bit of wow for you. It did for me, so don’t over think the purchase. Also, there were two things that came up with my experience you will want to avoid. This I think can be used to heighten your interaction and experience with the i-TAG:

Image Courtesy of actionfigs.com1) There are buttons that will appear on the bottom-right of your screen. Use these to access the functions of the i-TAG. This is easier than getting the correct buttons to work on the i-TAG itself.

2) Don’t use the web-cam on your laptop! I did this, and while it worked out ok for the Level 1’s, it fell short for my experience on the Level 3 & 4. To enhance the experience, use a webcam that you can put on a table and point downwards. With the built-in laptop webcam, you have to hold the card up and keep it at the right angle or you lose the image on the screen.

With all of this said, I don’t want to sell short what Mattel, 21st Century Fox, and i-TAG have done with this toy. It’s the shape of things to come, and you have to start somewhere. So what the hell… get your hands on the toys while you wait impatiently for the movie — and explore the characters and vehicles. You know you want to. Play with the augmented reality. Get an excellent first glimpse into imagine the future of toys. It’s only going to get better.

Official Avatar movie site

Avatar iTag

Mattel, Total Immersion Team Up for Augmented Reality Toy Line

Total Immersion

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