Designing an outdoor game

An outdoor video game

Since I’m at thecamp, I’m working in an open environment. The architecture of this space is very peculiar and just makes you want to work outside instead of being locked in an office. Me, it makes me want to bring video games outside instead of playing them on my computer. So it has already been a few weeks I was thinking about designing a street game. A game that bring people to play together in plain sight. To make it real, I had the precious collaboration of Aline Martinez, a fashion designer working with e-textiles and technology and part of the same residency.

Let’s bring some fun to this workplace

We had only one week dedicated to experimentation to work so we decided to go on an idea of footprints step game but making it interactive to be more interesting. The purpose of the game is simple : two sets of footprints, one player on each of them making noises and music together by walking on them. Each footprint is connected by a wire to the Lightblue Bean+, an electronic Arduino microcontroller working with conductivity and that we can control through the computer by Bluetooth. Making the device was not a problem, since Aline already knew how to do it, the difficulty was to find the best way to build the footprints in a limited time with the material we had at our disposal.

The process from failing prototype…

The idea was to build each footprint like a button. A button is actually a switch that connects two points of a circuit when it’s pressed (closed) and disconnects them when it’s unpressed (open). So we built the footprint with the bottom made out of plywood and the top cut from vinyl paper. On each of them, a piece of aluminium paper is glued. Between the two, a piece of thick cardboard with a hole in the middle.

The point was that when someone walks on it, the contact is made between the two pieces in paper, and when the person walks out of it, the two part got back to their initial place without contact. In theory, it should work, but in practice, the material we had was too unreliable to allow it. Two errors were made with this first prototype. First, The cardboard got damaged too easily and the contact would get stuck after a few uses, even a more solid cardboard wouldn’t have done the job. Second, the shape of the aluminium, a rectangle didn’t allow the electric current to run fluently which made the mechanism to bug.

…to succeed prototype

So for the second prototype, we cut the aluminium paper into a zig-zag shape which allow the current to move along more easily and we used cotton instead of cardboard to increase the flexibility and avoid accidental contact. This prototype was way more successful than the first one, we could now make all twelve footprints. A long task, but we got the help of Sandile Pazvakavambwa, graphic designer, to get faster with it. Then, for the sound selection that we wanted people to trigger, Sikai Li, coder and sound designer, composed us some weird sounds that people would have fun playing together.

The final installation and demonstration

It was clear that the all thing was quite fragile and the installation was then going to be ephemeral. We decided to fix it to the floor with what were left of colored vinyl paper to make it more attractive and playful. It was now time to play ! It was installed only for a short but enjoyable time, and I’m now thinking to a way to make it permanent and transportable. It was for me the first step before making more ambitious outdoor projects.