HP has gaming handheld in the works

'Mscape' uses players' surroundings as backdrop

Hewlett-Packard is working on a gaming handheld that could let players use their surroundings as a backdrop for an immersive game.

The company unveiled a commercial for "Mscape," its gaming prototype, that featured a number of young hipster gamers roaming San Francisco while playing a game on Mscape that used cues from their environment as triggers to unlock new levels or bonuses. "We want to get kids off the couch," Rahul Sood, chief technology officer of HP's gaming division, said during a presentation in San Francisco.

Details were sketchy, but HP appears to be taking a cue from the response to Nintendo's Wii gaming console, which is built around a motion sensor in the controller. Mscape is definitely still a prototype, but Sood said he's "really pleased with our progress so far." The taglines for the gaming handheld? "Your world is the playing field. Get in the game."

UPDATE--Sood was far cagier about HP's own plans for such a handheld in an interview after the presentation, but he said the company is developing the basic technology that would allow handhelds to turn into gaming devices and hopes to license it far and wide.

HP Labs has been working on the Mscape technology for about two years, said Patrick Goddi, a company researcher in Palo Alto, Calif. It's the underlying layer that game developers could use to take advantage of sensors like GPS (global positioning system) or accelerometers like the ones in the Wii controller, he said.

The early concept involves a handheld and a series of small sensors that a game organizer could lay out around a city or park. Those sensors would trigger certain events in the game, like a bonus level or an attack by the bad guys, based on a small demonstration of the concept.

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