DIY Tinycade aims to bring Alt Ctrl games to the masses
What should a frustrated game designer do when stuck at home during a global pandemic? If that designer is Peter Gyory, a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, you know how to make a game out of the piles of discarded cardboard lying around the house.
The result is Tinycade, created by Gyory and several colleagues at UCB’s ATLAS Institute. All you need to make your own Tinycade game is cardboard, a smartphone, two small mirrors, rubber bands and toothpicks. “The restriction I gave myself was that if you couldn’t go to the grocery store and buy it, I couldn’t use it in Tinycade,” Gyory said. He and his collaborators presented their work in June at the Association for Computing Machinery on Creativity and Cognition in Venice, Italy, with a paper published in the conference proceedings.
Gyory is part of a growing community of game developers interested in creating Alt Ctrl (alternate controller) games, which use new physical interfaces for players. hot swapping, for example, involves steering and managing a ship’s sails with individual inputs that must be swapped during playback. Octopad will turn a Nintendo Entertainment System controller into eight separate parts, turning any game played on the system into “a cooperative real-time strategy game”, according to the authors, while Cook your way “educates players on how the immigration process strips people of their culture with its fake kitchen controller, complete with knife and cooking pot.
The digital fabrication boom has driven much of this work, including 3D printing and laser cutting. And most Alt Ctrl games usually piggyback on interface prototype platforms like Arduino or Makey Makey. However, these require a certain degree of technical expertise and most Alt Ctrl games are only shown at festivals dedicated to this subfield, which excludes a large potential audience for these games.
“By using common materials and simple crafting approaches, we hope Tinycade games can bridge this gap,” the authors wrote. “If a designer can build their game out of spare cardboard, all they have to do is share the building instructions with potential players. Plus…we encourage designing controllers that can be easily taken apart, reused, and replaced. “
The only electronic component they used was a smartphone. The body of the system is meant to evoke the shape of a classic arcade cabinet and is laser cut from cardboard for easy assembly. This involves folding the pieces along the marked lines and inserting the tabs into the appropriate slots, as well as gluing two small mirrors inside. Otherwise, the cupboard is almost completely empty.
Next, players need to build the controller for the game. Then all they have to do is place their smartphone in the cabinet and start the game. A key part of Tinycade is the use of computer vision in the interface, especially printed paper makers, which allow a designer to use markers to create functional interfaces from paper. The phone’s screen displays gameplay, while the rear-facing camera picks up markers. The mirrors inside act as a periscope, aligning the camera view with the back of the control panel.