From concept to prototype – Developing the Hole in the Wall game

One of our recent Touch Board projects the ‘Hole in the Wall’ game was created by Jon Williams a 4th-year Material Science, Engineering and Design student at Queen Mary, University of London.

Jon was the student in residence here at Bare Conductive last summer and he’s going to share the journey he took to create this project.

At the beginning of the project, Jon had to create an interactive demonstrator, so we could display the technology at Maker Faire Rome 16. The aim of the demonstrator was to engage visitors and provide a brief introduction to the technology. It was also to include a giveaway component so visitors could share their experience with others after the event.

Early in the project, he narrowed down the choice of interaction to playing a game. This was chosen because a game is easy to engage with and it would be appropriate for all ages – children would be eager to play and adults would be hooked on nostalgia. Jon looked for inspiration from a range of retro video and arcade games to children’s board games. He simplified these games down to their basic components to try and discover how he could make his own simple, but engaging game. He found that most games followed certain game mechanics, dynamics and victory conditions. He realised that he could use these fundamentals to construct his own games by combining them with inputs from the conductive paint and simple outputs of sound, movement or light.

He generated mini game ideas by mixing random combinations of inputs, mechanics and outputs on post it notes. Of these ideas, the four most enticing mini games were developed. It was important to take into account what was actually possible with the paint and technology within the time frame. This included what sort of responses the paint could give as buttons, as he learnt that there were three ways the paint could act: as a touch sensor, a slider and a proximity sensor.

It was at this point that he needed to learn some software to bring his games to life. This was to model the ideas before having them programmed on a grid of LEDs (Adafruit NeoPixel shield). Jon chose to learn MaxMSP as this is a logical and visual programme that would allow him to connect the Touch Board to a computer and quickly make visuals coordinate with inputs from the paint. After a lot of trial and error – and frequent use of the diagnostics tool – he built two games within MaxMSP. With the games designed and functioning, a suitable and intuitive controller needed to be created for people to physically interact with.

Once again, he looked to video game consoles for inspiration when designing the controller. He physically modelled versions of controllers, such as SNES and PlayStation controllers, with card and cardboard. These designs gave an intuitive and nostalgic feel to the game.

Now that the form of the controller had been decided, the method of attaching it to the Touch Board, whilst ensuring electrical connectivity, had to be taken into account. He fashioned a few mechanisms that would clip a postcard to the terminals on the Touch Board by using different bits and bobs found in the workshop. This included using split pins, and nuts and bolts in conjunction with springs to provide pressure to the connection. The most important aspect of the connection was to not over complicate it, as it needed to be obvious for the user to understand. For this reason, Jon chose a mechanism that clearly showed a connection from the paint on the card to the terminal. The design had to incorporate brackets for the card to slide into to make sure the paint aligned with the terminal every time. A ramp underneath the electrodes was set for a more tightly pressed fit.

Cycle testing of this mechanism was carried out to determine if the connection was robust enough. The painted controller was slid under the electrodes and pulled back out over 200 times and the connection proved to work every time.

Jon and Pascal, our Junior Engineer started programming the game on to the Adafruit NeoPixel shield. Whilst Pascal worked on the code and sounds, Jon worked on creating the board for the Touch Board to attach to. This needed to provide a space for a portable speaker and LiPo battery to make it a handheld, portable gaming device. The space for the mini speaker was made to be multi-functional so that headphones could hook onto the board if needed. By having every component displayed on the top of the board, the user can easily see how the device works.

The board allows for easy insertion and removal of postcards so users can engage with the game and have something to take away. The game also shows how Electric Paint works, as well as its quick response time to touch.

The ‘Hole in the Wall’ game has its own tutorial, where you can see all the steps that can help you to build your very own game.

We always bring the game in the events, so keep an eye for our next one to be able to try the game!