The release of the DracARys augemented reality app was a fun approach by HBO to market House of the Dragon, letting anyone with a mobile phone have their own pet dragon. While we were never stirred by Pókemon-mania, we’d each had Tamagotchi when we were young and playing with the app definitely inspired some nostalgia. So much so, that we check in with our dragons several times each day, and rush outside whenever there’s a notice of something interesting (such as the first visit by a dragon from Westeros).
Given our interest, and seeing that there’s a small but active community for the app, we reached out to HBO to see if we could talk to the creatives and developers behind the app. HBO led us to Victor Piñeiro and Samantha Garrison from HBO Max, as well as Kevin Young at The Mill, who kindly answered our many questions.
A dragon soars over Bohus Fortress
How familiar were the developers with GAME OF THRONES and the source material for HOUSE OF THE DRAGONS prior to the work on the app?
Victor Piñeiro, Digital Innovation Director, HBO Max: As you can imagine, the internal team are huge fans too. I vividly remember hurling my copy of Storm of Swords at a wall after reading about the Red Wedding circa ‘02. Twenty years later we’re nurturing dragons!
Kevin Young, Creative Director at The Mill and Lead Creative on ‘House of the Dragon: DracARys: A lot of our team are also big fans of the show and the books! Personally speaking I’m a big fan of both and funnily enough the first mobile app I ever published professionally was a GoT soundboard and quotes app. I worked on the campaign for the first season of GoT way back in the day and got through the books available before the first season aired. I read them using the kindle app on the brick that was the first gen iPad so hurling that anywhere would probably have killed somebody.
Can you talk a bit about the genesis of the app and the collaborative process between HBO Max/Warner Bros. and the development team?
Samantha Garrison, Senior Manager, Digital Innovation, HBO Max: HBO Max partnered with The Mill to build the bespoke Augmented Reality House of the Dragon: DracARys app. We knew we wanted to create something centered around dragons given the narrative of the show. Bringing dragons into our world seemed like a no brainer. The app gives users a chance to raise a dragon unique to them from a hatchling to an adult dragon. As the dragon grows it gains abilities as it goes through developmental milestones, each milestone revealing dragon insights based on the lore from George RR Martin’s world.
Kevin Young, Creative Director at The Mill and Lead Creative on ‘House of the Dragon: DracARys: The aim was to work with HBO to pair exciting creative with emerging technologies. We felt we were about to turn a corner with mobile hardware and AR technology that would allow us to create a virtual creature that would adapt and react to the user’s environment - unlike the majority of AR where the augmented content feels like it’s pasted on top of the camera feed.
You can only work on a project this complex by being completely open on all sides and from the start we all shared everything; from our different thoughts on the project, ongoing ideas and later all our tests and prototypes in the forms of images, videos, gifs and test builds.
A blue dragon stretches its wings.
In terms of designing the look of the eggs and the dragons, were there specific guidelines given regarding this? HOUSE OF THE DRAGON is making a point of varying the silhouette and proportions of the dragons in relation to those of GAME OF THRONES, and we wonder if that is going to be reflected in the models used for dragons down the road?
Samantha Garrison, Senior Manager, Digital Innovation, HBO Max: We wanted to be consistent with the look and feel of the eggs/dragons in the franchise, but also wanted to play on the fact that each dragon has their own personality and unique features. With that in mind, we went with a procedural dragon design allowing users to have their own unique dragon, while aesthetically keeping the design in the world of the show.
Kevin Young, Creative Director at The Mill and Lead Creative on ‘House of the Dragon: DracARys: We were given a little leeway with the dragons because of the importance we placed on their personalisation and we worked really hard to add variety through other ways - you might be surprised at the amount of work that had to go into making the dragons adaptable and scalable while keeping everything manageable through code! Because we were making something interactive we also had to balance the in-world realism with things that make sense from a user experience perspective - such as the eggs being a more overt visual clue to a dragon’s appearance.
Were the Valyrian commands (other than dracarys) created specifically for the app or will we see them used in the show as well? If created for the app, was that done in consultation with David Peterson? And are there more commands to look forward to?
Victor Piñeiro, Digital Innovation Director, HBO Max: The commands all come from the series and you’ll be hearing them throughout the season. They’re also unlocked as you interact with your dragon and as they progress through their developmental phases, so there are plenty to look forward to as your dragon grows.
Samantha Garrison, Senior Manager, Digital Innovation, HBO Max: We use the same commands as characters use throughout the series to rear and tame their dragons.
The dragons you see in the wild have some very old dates at times, suggesting they are pre-generated. But will users eventually start to see the dragons of other users from around the world?
Victor Piñeiro, Digital Innovation Director, HBO Max: Absolutely. That’s one of the aspects of the app we’re most excited about. We can’t wait for users to look up at the skies and see other users’ dragons. When we sent GRRM the app, he ended his email reply with, “The world will be awash in dragons.” That’s our hope too.
Samantha Garrison, Senior Manager, Digital Innovation, HBO Max: Users will see real users’ dragons from all over the world as they reach maturity and are let out into the world. We are excited about this feature because it will show the breadth of dragons that were developed in our world.
Kevin Young, Creative Director at The Mill and Lead Creative on ‘House of the Dragon: DracARys: The dragons roaming the world right now have actually been created by the team hence the old dates. It’s very important to us that the dragons in the skies are all created by real people - we’re bringing dragons into our world and now they live here! The original plan was to hold off showing the dragons in the wild until users had raised their own dragons to maturity to join them but it was such a cool and incentivising moment to see them that we let users see them earlier.
Can you share anything about future plans for the app?
Samantha Garrison, Senior Manager, Digital Innovation, HBO Max: We want this app to evolve with the story and technology landscape. That being said, we hope to add narrative elements from S1 in time, more Valyrian voice commands and hopefully advanced tech features like multiplayer.
Kevin Young, Creative Director at The Mill and Lead Creative on ‘House of the Dragon: DracARys: There’s so much potential to take this further - and we’ve designed the app to be expandable. Multiplayer and further customisation are examples of what we could do and it would be nice to use this newly birthed population of dragons in some way…
If further development is planned, any chance of player dragons being able to interact when there are two or more players in the same place? Or other ways to make a social experience of the dragons?
Victor Piñeiro, Digital Innovation Director, HBO Max: That’s an aspect that’s excited us from the start as well. :)
Samantha Garrison, Senior Manager, Digital Innovation, HBO Max: Users will have to wait and see.
Kevin Young, Creative Director at The Mill and Lead Creative on ‘House of the Dragon: DracARys: See above :)