Category Archives: gaming

I <3 0X0 – LilyPad Arduino wearable / mobile artwork & game

I <3 0X0 is an interactive artwork, game, musical fancy and experiment in conductive Velcro. I created it to test the usefulness of conductive Velcro. I wanted to make something that was both interactive and interesting to the user. After much pondering a simple interactive game of noughts and crosses seemed like something viable and I could aim for.

As far as I could tell from searching online, not much had been documented on conductive Velcro and it’s uses. I found one project credited to AnaLou where it had been used as a toggle switch for LEDs (light emitting diodes) on a hat.

So I wanted to create something interactive, as I could find no other documentation for conductive Velcro, some sort of plaything seemed an interesting idea and after some pondering I decided that the 3 x 3 grid system used for a simple game of noughts and crosses would be something that would be both limited and simple in terms scale, i.e. a maximum number conductivity points and a square grid that would be easy to contain.

My schematic design for this artwork has 9 tracks of conductive thread stitches that lead back to nine digital LilyPad Arduino pins. There are 22 pins on the LilyPad Arduino 12 of which are digital I/O so having nine tracks of conductive thread was not a problem. I decided on a stylised heart shape for the design and placement of components, as I wanted the artwork to be attractive. I also chose the LilyPad arduino components and sewing of conductive thread to all be visible and designed to be part of the aesthetic of the artwork, so that the user is reminded that this is an electronic artwork.

At this stage I wrote the basic bones of the underlying code, as a ‘sketch’ in the Arduino integrated development environment (IDE).

Considerable thought went into devising how to connect the objects that would become the physical noughts and crosses. I would need a way of discerning noughts and crosses physically as well as in the code, so decided the 3 x3 grid for each placed nought or cross would be made up of three rails of connected conductive Velcro. The noughts and crosses would have two corresponding rails of fuzzy Velcro on their undersides, but would join to two differing rails on the grid.

After making a first set of noughts and crosses and connecting their underside Velcro rails with conductive thread, testing revealed that they cross-connected the rails in a bad way, which meant an effective circuit was created where none existed in the empty parts of the grid where no object was placed. After much testing and thinking about how to right this problem, crocodile clips and diodes showed it was necessary to implement a diode in each of the objects to push the current in one direction. This setback cost the project over a week in time as new noughts and crosses were made from scratch.

With the new noughts and crosses made and working okay on the conductive Velcro rails it was time to revisit the code. The project needed some music to play when a game was won, so I chose two old classics – can you guess what they are? A tune was also needed to signify a stalemate situation in the game and I chose ‘ The Death March’, which harks back to early arcade games where it was often played alongside a ‘game over’ message. The music was transposed into simple notes that could be played by the LilyPad Arduino buzzer and then entered into the code as frequencies.

It was rather difficult and frustrating to get the tempo and notes to the music to play on the buzzer convincingly, so I sought the help of hacker Ciaran Anscomb to transpose the three pieces of music I had chosen for this project and write a bespoke music routine for me. This took quite a bit time and code experimentation, but I am happy with how it has turned out.

With the hardware and code running as expected and reasonably confident that all the conductive thread tracks and respective knots were all working properly and not touching each other or fraying, I finally tidied up the artwork by backing it onto some coloured fabric and embellishing with star sequins, which also acted as a way of securely sewing the two fabrics to each other. One of the risks of just sewing around the edge of the heart to join the backing to the front fabric, is that when the noughts and crosses are lifted off the grid after each game, the fabric might become stretched or torn from the pulling off from the Velcro rails.

Vintage Computer Festival – National Museum of Computing, Bletchley Park

I had a fantastic time at the Vintage Computer Festival, held at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park.

I was up at 7am making a picnic to take along, as this was a geek day out for the combined forces of WIT and the Vision Software Engineers from work. I tried to apply my special BBC Micro Owl glitter tattoo, but my glue had nearly run out, so it didn’t quite work out. Time to make a new stencil and maybe some other geek tattoo stencils for glittery wonderfulness & am up for suggestions!

Anyway, for anyone who grew up with Dragons, Speccys, BBC Micros and a host of pooters I won’t list right now, VCF was an Aladdins’ cave of anything and everything retro computer, game-y, gadgety and geeky! I was quite overwhelmed with the vastness of the event and had a wonderful time wandering from room to room and marquee to tent to hut and back round again. Just one room would have been enough to keep me going most of the day, but faced with maybe 20 rooms, marquees and huts of wonderful retro geekness was amazingly awesome.

I also caught up with so many friends who had of course also turned up for day one of VCF and we had many excited chats about all the computers, games and kit we had seen and played. There were also a host of wonderful speakers and talks, such as Tony Sale on Colossus, Peter Onion on the Elliot 803, PixelH8 and OMD played (sadly I missed tix that ran out within a day) and Chris Searle, presenter of The Computer Programme, broadcast in the early 80s. Today I will unfortunately miss Sophie Wilson (geek heroine of mine) speak, but I’m hoping someone will blog this for me, pretty pleeeeasse, as I’m working today (day two).

My highlights are too many to mention, but include the amazing work of the Dragon peeps, the Retro Computer Museum Pong machine, Big Dog Interactive atomic clock top hat, the Cray modules in the Amiga 25th Anniversary marquee, Twitter on an Amstrad ZX Spectrum +3, a working version of the BBC Domesday Project and all the speakers who were amazing, seeing my friends having misty eyed moments on discovering pooters and games from their childhood, the wonder at all the passion and perseverance of people who had lovingly mended and reconditioned so many historical machines that have paved the way to technology we know today.

Well, there goes my Sunday, but here’s 40 minutes of VCF video squished into 10 fun packed minutes – apologies if I’ve missed any name checks!

Many huge thanks very much to all the organizations, clubs and enthusiasts, too many to mention, who put together Vintage Computer Fair and made it a fabulous, not to be missed event!

Not wishing to put any spanners in any works, but hoping the success of VCF might help us persuade the trustees to let us run at RetroBarCamp at The National Museum of Computing / Bletchley Park! :-D

I have a set of my favourite photos from the day, here!

GameCamp 2010

After months of preparation http://gamecamp.org.uk/ came and then went too fast. I’m still buzzing on its tail – but to quote one of my fellow organisers Philip Trippenbach “What a rush”.

I’m really chuffed at how well it went and at how many lovely people attended. I was a bit gobsmacked that guests were already at the Paypal / eBay / Gumtree HQ when I arrived at just before 9am, luckily our caterers had delivered the first shipment of pastries and fruit, courtesy of Unity, and the vegan/veggie/omni/ baguettes were on their way!

During the ‘welcome’ speech, Phil did a couple of quick pols, asking peeps to put their hands up if they’d been to the inaugural GameCamp and also if they’d attended a BarCamp before – I’d say hands raised were just under 50% for each, so a lot of new faces and thoughts to hear, which was great.

GameCamp - The Grid

When The Grid was unleashed I noticed that experienced campers and speakers signed themselves up for the morning talks, which was real boon for anyone a little tentative as to what’s expected at an unconference or was a wee bit nervous to do an early talk. The morning’s talks certainly broke the ice and in-between refreshing the coffee and mopping up spillages, I managed to hear a bit of Adrian Hon’s open discussion titled “Cheaters Anonymous’ where the audience confessed their habits, the ethics of cheating, types of cheats and when it may or not be the done thing! I also got a glimpse of Proactive Paul’s ‘Power Games – with prizes’, which involved M&Ms, that were happily recycled at the end of the session.

Soon it was lunchtime and 100 fabulous pizzas arrived, generously donated by Pizza Express. It was a good time to mingle, catch up with friends or read the wonderful GameCamp newspaper sponsored by Chromaroma.

The afternoon sessions were many and varied, I got to a couple of them…

Cristiano Betta took a humorous look at ’10 Reasons Why video game movies suck’ – the discussion not only contained his thoughts on movies such as Doom, Max Payne and Mortal Kombat, but also discussed upcoming films such as Tron and Prince of Persia – which many people were looking forward to. Narratives, concepts and films that follow a game or are adapted for screen were discussed.

Later, I caught the end of Jim Purbrick’s talk on ‘Social music composition games’, he talked about the evolution of games that involved music, giving many examples such as Rez (one of my all time favs) Lumines, and Rock Band. He also went into examples of gaming and music which helped users compose and play, and tools such as SoundCloud.

Here’s a little video I made out of snippets of video taken during the day :-)

Finally, I couldn’t help but attend Minkette’s amusingly titled ‘We need to get more boys into gaming’, a discussion which began with Mink pondering on it is said to be more female gamers than males, how can we help this underserved audience? We mused on the possibility of re-purposing some of the games that have been developed for girls, for boys – we mused on ‘Cooking Papa’, how a grow your own pony game could transform into ‘grow you own tank’ and a version of Bejewelled where the jewels were all brown. The talk also veered into games courses, diversity and the lack of girls on games courses: ‘we all know each other’s names and can sit on the same table’, said one female attendee. The talk also touched on the division on games courses between designers and coders, also ‘who are we designing for – do you design for yourself or for someone else?’. The talk wrapped up by some philosophical ponderings on confidence and giving yourself permission to do well – for example mature students do better because they hire or buy all the things they need to get ahead, whereas younger students tend to make do.

The day shot by and all too soon it was over and time for wrap-up and tidying up the venue. I was a bit doolally by this time and rather rambled through the thank you speech – I should have made some notes – ooops!

After putting the venue back to it’s original configuration, cleaning the coffee percolators and all the tables, etc, we decanted to the pub where the lovely Unity peeps got the beers in. Many more stories were told, I met a lovely chap called Markus Kaiser who had flown in from Frankfurt for the day, shivered a bit in the evening wind on a May day that was more March ;-)

All in all, a fabulous day and well worth all the planning. It was a pleasure to be in the company of such wonderful organizers: Philip Trippenbach, Desigan Chinniah, Rachel Clarke, Steve Green, Katy Lindemann, Mark Simpkins and James Wallis. Huge thanks to PayPal / eBay / Gumtree for letting us have the run of their fabulous offices in Richmond and also generosity by providing free tea and coffee all day, countless free Nespresso shots in many strengths and freeplay of their soft drinks machines.

Finally, the day wouldn’t have been anything without those who attended, gave talks, lead discussions, shared their views and of course those who came to play – heartfelt thanks to all!

Yay Woo & Hoopla for GameCamp 2010!

I can’t believe it’s been two years since the first GameCamp, an event chocka with amazing talks and fun. It was also a place where I met a fab bunch of people, many whom I now count as friends & colleagues.

Skip to 2010 and again it seems like the right time to have some more gaming fun, so *drum_roll* I’m delighted to pimp a fabulous day of whatever floats your boat in the way of gaming and play…

On Saturday, 12th May we’ll be spending the day indulging, discussing, deconstructing and celebrating our love of games at Whittaker House, Richmond, the lush offices of eBay / PayPal / Gumtree – massive thanks & props to Dees and Steve for sorting this out for us!

So what is GameCamp?

GameCamp is a one-day unconference. If you haven’t been to an unconference before, it ‘s an unstructured event where the attendees fill in the schedule on the day – basically rock up and bring something to the mix. In terms of GameCamp, this could be for example: a talk on game design, a demo of something wonderful you’ve made or played, a passionate discussion on an aspect of gaming that interests you or something more esoteric around the act of play – it’s totally up to you!

So there’s no list of speakers, it’s up to you to come prepared (or just a bit prepped with an idea if you can waffle on your subject) and ready to add your name to the board. There are several streams running concurrently, usually about 7 or 8 of about 25 mins each and if you’re not talking or leading a discussion, you can take your pick of what you fancy attending. There are small and large talk areas to suit various approaches and interests.

We’re going to give away 150 tickets (yes they’re free!) in a couple of tranches, so if you miss the first one due to being on a train, picking up your cats from the airport or stuck in a meeting, you’ll get another chance, but bear in mind they go on a first come first serve basis so keep an eye on the time as we anticipate they will go quickly!

*[see update below] The first tranche is up for grabs on our Eventbrite registration page on Friday 12th March at high noon. Don’t forget if you miss this first set of tickets, we’ll be announcing the next tranche soon so make sure you check the GameCamp blog, @GameCamp on Twitter or Facebook event page (please note, adding yourself to this page doesn’t guarantee tickets, they are only available via the Eventbrite registration page).

We’ve got some very cool sponsors, but we’re still looking for a couple more, so if you’re interested in sponsoring lunch, some after event beers or tourney prizes, do get in touch with me or one of my fabulous co-conspirators: Philip Trippenbach, Rachel Clarke, Katy Lindemann, Mark Simpkins and James Wallis.

Happy gaming!

*UPDATE: Yikes, something went wrong with our booking system on Eventbrite – sadly all our ‘birds’ flew at once and the tickets were all snapped up by eager gamers within half an hour, so I’m extremely sorry if you missed them :’-(
All may not be lost though, as we hope anyone who can’t make it will let us know and we will redeploy the tickets – we have a waiting list here

OSSAT – Open Source Show And Tell

Last week I gave a talk on ‘10 Open Source / Homebrew play things for handhelds in 10 minutes’ at OSSAT, a periodic event run by Osmosoft and TheTeam on their offices near London Bridge, so I thought I’d stick a link up to my slides as if you have a DS or GP2x / GP32 you might like to have a play with some of the games / play things I’ve included.

Michael Mahemoff has done a rather nice write up of all the talks on his blog.

Here’s a full list of comrades who gave talks:

* Iain Farrell, Canonical – Ubuntu Update
* Julien Fourgeaud, Symbian – Managing the Symbian community
* Jeremy Ruston, Osmosoft – HTML5 and the slow death of Flash
* Leisa Reichelt, Disambiguity.com – Drupal 7 Update
* Phil Hawksworth, The Team – Playing with each others toys: Developing with open technologies
* Robbie Clutton, BT – iPhone development using web technologies

As a bonus, Andrew Back brought along his rather cool ‘No Numbers’ piece that was recently exhitbited at the Horse Hospital

My notes were not as nicely formed as PSD’s below:

A very informative and jolly good night all round – I recommend going to the next one!

Musion MAMAs

On the 15th November I attended the Musion MAMAs, an award ceremony, recognising creative use of Musion 3D technology (which is based on Pepper’s Ghost tech), at the Old Cinema of the Polytechnic Institute at University of Westminster. It was thought to be the first award ceremony in holographic projection art practice and many of the shortlisted entries were from students of the Musion Academy, a not for profit initiative of over 250 artists in various specialisations who have combined the 3D technology with their work.

I was asked by the lovely Oli Gingrich, who organized the event, to give a quick introduction in holographic form to ‘open source’ before the nominations for the Open Source Distance Learning category were shown. The intro was actually filmed the week before the event at the Musion studio in Langham Place. I’m used to having slides for prompts, but as I wasn’t using slides I kept forgetting what I’d written in my notes – which was a bit embarrassing, especially as there was a ton of people watching me. I wonder if it’s possible to buy a portable autocue? Anyways, that’s me above in holographic form – it’s very odd to watch yourself on stage!

At the event, the awards comprised of winners in five categories: Music, Performance, Open Source Distance Learning Endangered Species and Narrative Shorts – with an overall grand prize winner voted by both the judging panel and the public using an electronic voting system. The grand prize was a free loan of a full on Musion System, support and technical advice for a year.

The award winner for the section that my talk introduced was a rather stunning example of convergence art; bringing together the artist’s performance and use of a Nintendo Wii controller or WiiMote to control various imagery appearing in a simultaneous 3D projection. The finalists were Ventoline Benton, Carl Smith and Tracey Tsang.

The Grand Award went to Stuart Warren-Hill for a very cool music performance with a very unusual instrument called an Eigenharp that also triggered the 3D projection enhancing the performance.

With the combined mix of a cheeky pair who presented the awards in their live human state and 3D guest presenters introducing award categories it was a very slick and enjoyable ceremony. It was great to see all the varied work of the nominees, which spanned from the quick and clever, to complex and awesome.

I can certainly see how it could be a cool medium for artists and performers to experiment with and use in their work. I’m certainly inspired to ponder how I could use this for time based / installation based artwork and / or combined with tech I use such as Processing / arduino.

Life in Video Games – David Braben, interviewed by Phil Elliot at BAFTA

If like me you’re a big fan of the game Elite, the seminal space trader game of the 80s created by David Braben and Ian Bell, you may have found the opportunity to hear David Braben talk about his work in the games industry at BAFTA rather compelling. For those who couldn’t make it here are my notes…

David’s first games were Defender and Binatone Pong. He took what he called his ‘amateurish first steps’ into coding on an Acorn Atom, ‘I had to learn assembly code and that was my first experience with 3D’ and met Ian Bell at university. He thought that ‘parroting’ arcade games for home consoles was boring: ‘What’s the point of a coin drop mentality with a home game?’

It’s now 25 years (crikey) since Braben & Bell created Elite! On developing the game, David told us it seemed ironically right to have money as a score and to choose to be the character of a trader, bounty hunter or pirate as socially and economically, times were interesting – it was the era of Thatcher’s Britain and the Miner’s Strike. It was also the right place and the right time for such a game and with 3D graphics ‘If we hadn’t done it someone else would have’. For those who are wondering, Elite came out when Braben was 19 years old, but started building the game when he was 18 and began programming at 17. Before Elite, the highest selling game was Planetoid with 30,000 units sold. He pondered that had Acorn not been behind Elite, the game might not have been marketed.
Elite uses random number sequences to generate 8 galaxies, which in turn generate 256 planets that fit into 22k of memory. Braben & Bell wrote a search to check for inappropriate names – they once found a galaxy called Arse!

David admitted, ‘Things like docking are so cruel – so apologies!’ and went on to say, ‘You wouldn’t get away with a game like this these days because the gameplay was so difficult’, and also ‘We made the game for ourselves’. An interesting feature was that the dashboard appeared in colour when no other games had colour and wowed Acorn. The sales were close to a million over a long period of time and there were 17 versions made because at the time there were so many formats – anyone could buy the bits and make a machine of their own. But eventually the move to 16 bit got rid of a lot of the competition. On this subject David confessed ‘We got stuck in a treadmill of doing lots of versions and although it was fun, it felt like we were doing lots of the same problem solving’.

Phil Elliot enquired how Braben followed up Elite, the reply was ‘We had to strike while the iron’s hot so we started on a sequel within a week’. The Elite Master version was launched a few weeks before the end of his degree at Cambridge. He also created Zarch (other interations aka Virus) for the Acorn Archimedes, which for its time was an excitingly powerful 32 bit machine. The sequel to Elite was called Frontier and David set up Frontier Developments in 1993. On creating Elite, David enthused, ‘It’s not unlike winning the lottery!’

David mentioned an amusing anecdote about piracy and Elite, they originally included some code and a message that popped up to say ‘If you continue this will destroy your computer’. But the games company wasn’t keen on getting the blame for destroying people’s computers, so the plan was to have just the message but to take out the code. In the end lawyers changed the wording to the less threatening ‘Does your mother know you’re doing this?’

Speaking about some of his more recent games, David told us how Dog’s Life showed that you could make compelling games that didn’t include shooting at things! It was a break in the mould, though in some aspects they were pushed into making it like other games. In Dog’s Life, dogs saw the world in black and white and could see smells while carrying out simplistic tasks that were relaxed and non-violent. This game shocked the industry in the opposite way that Elite did. Nick Park and Ardman were impressed and that’s how he got asked to work on a Wallace and Gromit game.

Frontier Development’s recent game on the Wii is called LostWinds and Braben showed us an exclusive demo and commented ‘The key thing with LostWinds is use of the Wiimote’.

On the future, David commented, ‘Elite 4 is something we’re working on – we’re not saying anything about it but we’re very excited’. He went on to say ‘It’s been so long that we want to do something in the same world but it won’t come out unless we’re happy with it’.

Finally, Phil Elliot asked ‘What’s your legacy?’ and the reply was ‘I’d like to be remembered for Elite, but I want to be remembered for more – we’re still at the beginning! If you remember, flickery film took a decade to get sound and then in the 30s we got stories. To quote Churchill, “We may be at the end of the beginning”. I’m very grateful to people who brought my games, I hope in 25 years we’ll still be talking about games. We don’t know what changes Microsoft and Sony will do – we don’t know what will happen with the Wiimote. Games today are pretty good and some games in the 80s were rubbish as some were impossible to finish. How things have changed!’

After some rapturous applause there followed some questions from the audience:

Q: The best thing about Elite was a world without boundaries – in some ways the industry is going back to that – could you talk about the change from procedural content and how to get the machine to do it on your behalf?

David: The problem that I had with Elite and Frontier is that they felt samey – you need a richness of content. The same feeling of a puzzle played again and again – we’re very good at spotting patterns and it takes an awful lot of planning from a design point of view, but the expectation is to make something plausible. Going forward there is a lot of play. How do we use enough procedural things, but not make them systematic?

Q: Team sizes?

David: Games were generally made by very small teams of 5 such as World of Goo by Introversion Software. What do you think is the ideal size of team? It depends on the subject matter, LostWinds was a small team but got bigger for the QA.

Q: What challenges do you face with technologies that change all the time?

David: Challenges appear all the time unless you keep making the same thing. We’re currently developing for 2-3 years along the line. Also depends if you’re doing it purely for the money and not passion. We’re all gamers at Frontier and really had so much enthusiasm for LostWinds.

Q: We’ve got a lot of platforms to chose from to build games for these days, such as iPhone, Wii, etc. If you could chose, which one would you pick?

David: It’s interesting, there’s the arrogance of doing what you want to do. The obvious answer is the iPhone, but there’s so much competition it’s difficult to get anywhere. Why are you doing it – is it money, new platforms to work with or having your name up in lights? For example, entry level for Wii you need the development kit, so the quality ends up higher. There are no easy answers, but ask what you want to achieve! It’s a hard slog, but be careful what you wish for – if you want to make the most successful game on iPhone you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Q: How do you see narrative progression in games?

David: I’m a strong believer in letting people follow their own narrative. I thought a lot in the days of Elite about why I loved Star Wars. I loved the film, but thought the story was cheesy and I saw the film lots of times. If you look at how non-written cultures, their fireside stories would change every time they were told because the story is not written down. With Star Wars and Elite, the narrative was minimal, but very rich in your head.

Q: How do you feel video games sit in situ compared to film music?

David: The average age of videogamers is over 30 years old. We’re still an amateurish industry, but that’s a good thing. For example GTA4 outsold the film Titanic. In the financial sense we’ve arrived. A lot of games on the Wii are toys as much as games and people love the process of building things in games, e.g. Simms.

More rapturous applause followed and we all headed off to the BAFTA bar. There was a big queue to chat to David, so unfortunately I didn’t get to talk to him about my docking technique, but had some good conversation with other folk, including a chap called Tim who showed me a cute snappy worm game he’d developed and just launched for iPhone. I also chatted to Michel who told me about his wormhole development for Oolite (an open source sim game inspired by Elite). Actually, maybe I should have asked David what he thinks of it!

Here’s some Elite pr0n from my collection :-D

A fork (E-UAE) of an Amiga emu called Unix Amiga Emulator for the Mac.

Elite on NES

Elite on BBC Master