MODULE – Making & Moving in the Real World: Physical Computing

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Objectives

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  • Students will review strategies and purposes for critiquing artwork, and critique several digital games as works of art, emphasizing the role that the games’ mode of interaction plays in the audience experience.
  • Students will be introduced to a variety of games and new media artworks that use inventive or unusual physical control devices.
  • Students will experiment with several different tools for creating their own interaction devices.
  • Students will create a game and custom interaction device that is integral to the experience of playing the game.

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Teacher Materials

Creative Commons License
Currentlab – Game Curriculum by Ryan Patton with additional contributions by Luke Meeken & Meredith Cosier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on a work at http://currentlab.art.vcu.edu/modules/.


Physical Computing Tools Used in this Module

Unlike the other CurrentLab modules, which only require the Game Maker software to be implemented, this module recommends a few different child-friendly physical computing tools. Here is a brief introduction to the tools mentioned in this unit.
It is possible to teach this unit without having all of these tools at your disposal, and you would not need to have one for every student in the class. For instance, CurrentLab instructors have done physical computing units in a class of 16 students with only 2 “MaKey MaKey” tools, which the class was able to share.
(Note: More detailed description, with illustrations of sample student projects, are in the downloadable unit plan above.)
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MaKey MaKey

Watch MaKey MaKey summary video on YouTube
Watch MaKey MaKey summary video on CurrentLab (if YouTube is blocked at your school)
Cost: $49.95, includes the MaKey Makey board (right), 7 alligator clips, 6 short lengths of copper wire
Where to get it: http://www.makeymakey.com/
Info: MaKey MaKey is a small circuit board that lets virtually any object function as a keyboard button – as long as the object can conduct a current. This means students can create their own controllers using materials as varied as tinfoil, play-doh, fruits and vegetables, and even each other! By connecting these objects or materials to the MaKey MaKey board with alligator clips, students can then have the computer read touches of those objects as button presses or mouse clicks.

 

verve

Verve

Watch Verve summary video on YouTube
Watch Verve summary video on CurrentLab (if YouTube is blocked at your school)
Cost: $99.00, includes the Verve board (right), 8 sensors, 7 connector cords, 5 cord extension blocks, and the Verve app. An additional sensor pack (optional) costs $59.00.
Where to get it: http://myinxus.com/verve/shop/
Info: Verve is a tool similar to MaKey MaKey, in that it takes special inputs and converts them into keyboard presses for the computer. However, instead of converting common objects and materials into buttons, Verve comes with a variety of customized sensors allowing for special kinds of interaction, which are then converted to keyboard presses.

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Camera Mouse

Cost: Free (requires a webcam), but Windows-only. A similar application for Mac, FaceDetectionMouseMove is a free, very basic bit of software developed by CurrentLab.
Where to get it: Download from CurrentLab here: OSX | source (coded in Processing).
Info: Camera Mouse and FaceDetectionMouseMove are free pieces of software primarily designed to help individuals who have difficulty using their hands control the mouse cursor on their computers using facial movement.
The programs are far from perfect, but is free and very simple to use. Camera Mouse: Simply start the program up, and click on the facial feature in the camera image that you would like the cursor to follow. The cursor tracking can be turned on and off using the Ctrl or F9 keys, or can be set to auto-activate after the mouse has been idle for a certain amount of time. FaceDetectionMouseMove: Simply start the program up, and the program detects your head and the cursor follows your movement. You close the program by closing the program.

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Key Simulator

Cost: Free (requires a microphone).
Where to get it: Download from CurrentLab here: Windows | OSX | source (coded in Processing).
Info: Key Simulator is a free, very basic bit of software developed by CurrentLab, which lets users map different volumes of microphone input to keyboard presses on the computer. For example, you could set it so that shouting causes a platform character to jump, or crowing at a certain volume causes the sun to rise in the game.


Exemplar Games and Art Pieces Used in This Unit

Because the games being explored in this unit all utilize special hardware or controllers made by the artists, online playable versions of them are not available. Instead, links are provided to videos which demonstrate to students the unique controls of each game.

Below this section are links to playable games suggested in the Module for use in the “Create a New Control Scheme for an Old Game” activities. As with other Modules, every effort has been made to make sure these games are playable, in-browser, from the CurrentLab website.

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Dance Dance Revolution- Konami (1998)

Watch DDR in action via YouTube
Watch DDR in action via the CurrentLab site (if YouTube is blocked in your school)

Dance Dance Revolution was one of the very first rhythm and dance video games. It is played by standing on a “dance pad” with four colored arrows, and stepping on them in time with visual and musical cues. The object of the game is for players to perfectly time their movements with the game/song, achieving a perfect score.


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Hyper Olympics – Djeff, Charlotte Charbonnel, & Loic Horrellou (2006)

Watch Hyper Olympics in action via Vimeo
Watch Hyper Olympics in action via the CurrentLab site (if Vimeo is blocked in your school)

Hyper Olympics was initially inspired by the Atari 2600 version of Konami’s Track & Field, which required the player to rapidly, repeatedly move the joystick left and right to make their player run along a track. French media artist Djeff conceived of a “full body” joystick controller for the game, and worked with scultpor/installation artist Charlotte Charbonnel to build them. Djeff also worked with artist/programmer Loic Horrellou to create a computer game in the style of Track & Field which would interact with the controllers.


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Water Bowls – Victoria Vesna (2006)

Watch Water Bowls-“Sound” in action via Vesna’s website
Watch Water Bowls-“Sound” in action via the CurrentLab site (if her site is blocked in your school)

Vesna’s Water Bowls series is a collection of interactive sound installations, where the audience can create and transform sounds in the space by touching and manipulating several bowls of water. The sounds are accompanied by abstract projected videos that are often projected such that the audience is also “interacting” with them, by standing in the projection and becoming a part of the imagery while manipulating the water bowls.


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GiantJoystick – Mary Flanagan (2006)

Watch GiantJoystick in action via YouTube
Watch GiantJoystick in action via the CurrentLab site (if YouTube is blocked in your school)

GiantJoystick is a sculpture/installation that recreates the classic Atari 2600 joystick at a monumental, 10-foot-tall scale. The joystick is connected to a terminal playing several classic Atari games, which the audience is challenged to play with this new controller. The giant stick makes the familiar unfamiliar, and encourages new ways of playing the old games, such as using collaboration between multiple people to operate the stick and button simultaneously.


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Flower – Jenova Chen (2009)

Watch Chen demonstrate Flower’s controls via GameSpot.com
Watch Chen demonstrate Flower’s controls via CurrentLab (if GameSpot is blocked in your school)

Flower was developed by Jenova Chen as an experimental game for the Playstation 3, which used only its tilt-sensing “six-axis“ controller, and none of the conventional buttons or joysticks on the controller. The player plays as the wind in Flower, tilting the controller left, right, and forward to fly through a field and help the flowers in it bloom.


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House Plants – James Seawright (1984)

Watch the House Plants in action via YouTube
Watch the House Plants in action via the CurrentLab site (if YouTube is blocked in your school)

James Seawright’s House Plants are interactive sculptures with sensors to detect different light levels, temperature, and humidity in a space. They respond to different environmental conditions, opening their petals and flashing their lights in different patterns based on the stimuli picked up by their sensors.


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Massage Me – Hannah Perner-Wilson and Mika Satomi (2004)

Watch Massage Me in action via YouTube
Watch Massage Me in action via the CurrentLab site (if YouTube is blocked in your school)

Massage Me is an alternate controller device designed to work with consoles such as the Playstation and Playstation 2. It maps button inputs to areas on the back of a vest which is worn by one person, while the player must play the game by pressing into their back. Typically, the game is exhibited with street-fighting games (Tekken, Dragon Ball) because, ironically, the aggressive and rapid button-pushing of those games produces the most deep and relaxing massages.


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MOC – Béatrice Lartigue & Cyril Diagne (2011)

Watch MOC in action via Vimeo
Watch MOC in action via the CurrentLab site (if Vimeo is blocked in your school)

MOC is an installation by Béatrice Lartigue and Cyril Diagne, artists working in the collective Lab 212. MOC involves a projected image ofa landscape with colorful animals walking across it, and a microphone. By making sounds into the microphone, users prompt MOC to grow trees in the landscape based on the type of sounds they make.


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Text Rain by Camille Utterback & Romy Achituv (1999)

Watch Text Rain in action via YouTube
Watch Text Rain in action via the CurrentLab site (if YouTube is blocked in your school)

Text Rain is a playful installation where a camera captures the image of the viewer and projects it, mirror-like, onto a facing wall. The projection also contains letters which fall from the sky and collect on the figures in the image. The letters are from lines of a poem about bodies and language, and by “catching” the letters, viewers can sometimes collect words and lines of the poem.


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ShCoCoooCoCo – Takahiro Miyazawa (2014)

Watch ShCoCoooCoCo in action via YouTube
Watch ShCoCoooCoCo in action via the CurrentLab site (if YouTube is blocked in your school)

An experimental game exhibited at BitSummit, Japan’s largest indie game festival, ShCoCoooCoCo is a traditional side-scrolling shooting game where the player controls their character – a bird shaped like a lotion bottle – by tilting and pumping an actual lotion bottle. The unusual name comes from the Japanese onomatopoeia for squeezing a pump, “shuko shuko.” More famous Japanese games with a similar naming convention include Pac-Man (from “paku paku,” the sound of an opening and closing mouth) and Doki Doki Panic, which became Super Mario Bros. 2 in the US (from “doki doki,” the sound of a heart excitedly beating).


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Perfect Woman – Lea Schonfelder & Peter Lu (2014)

Watch Perfect Woman in action via YouTube
Watch Perfect Woman in action via the CurrentLab site (if YouTube is blocked in your school)

Perfect Woman is a “Life Simulator” designed by Lea Schonfelder which uses the Kinect controller. The player travels through life from infancy to adulthood to retirement, choosing different life roles and professions (e.g. college professor, mother, princess, charity worker, etc.). The player must then “perform” these roles by recreating different bodily positions for the Kinect. Performing different roles with greater accuracy will then increase or diminish different character attributes that contribute to the player’s overall “perfectness” score. In addition to being a simulation of the various roles people play in life, and the challenges those roles present, the game also specifically functions as an exploration and critique of the expectations placed by societies upon women, and the particular challenges presented to women as a result.


messadivoce

Messa Di Voce – Golan Levin & Zachary Lieberman (2003)

Watch Messa Di Voce in action via YouTube
Watch Messa Di Voce in action via the CurrentLab site (if YouTube is blocked in your school)

Messa Di Voce was a collaboration between artists/programmers Levin and Lieberman and vocalists Jaap Blonk and Joan La Barbara. Lieberman and Levin created an interactive projection which transformed the voices of the vocalists into imagery on-screen. The software was projected on-stage during a performance in which Blonk and La Barbara sang and created sounds which were manifested visually behind and around them. Levin and Lieberman have also created versions of Messa Di Voce which worked as installations, where museumgoers could interact with the imagery by making their own sounds.


Playable Games to Use for the “Create a New Controller for an Old Game” Assignments

As with other CurrentLab games, an effort has been made to host these locally in an on-line playable form so that they can be accessed and used on any computer at any school.

Games to Re-Imagine With MaKey MaKey:

Games to Re-Imagine With Verve:

Games to Re-Imagine With Mic & Camera Controls:

Creative Commons License
Currentlab – Game Curriculum by Ryan Patton with additional contributions by Luke Meeken & Meredith Cosier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://currentlab.art.vcu.edu/modules/.