Banner photo: Players walk around a game called “Lightcycles” on a pair of Tinycade platforms. (Credit: Peter Jewry)
Like many people across Colorado, Peter Jewery spent the height of the COVID-19 pandemic sitting at home with nothing to do. Then the researcher, a game designer by training, noticed all the random materials lying around his house.
said Jeuri, a doctoral student at CU Boulder’s Atlas Institute. “I realized I was surrounded by cardboard. I thought, ‘How can I make a game out of that?'”
that was Tinycade is born. The brainchild of Gyuri and his colleagues at ATLAS, this project brings the do-it-yourself spirit to the world of video games. Tinycade allows anyone, anywhere, to make a working arcade machine that can sit on a kitchen table or even a TV tray. All you need is a smartphone, some cardboard, two small mirrors and bric-a-brac like rubber bands and toothpicks. In other words: junk.
“The limitation I gave myself was that if you couldn’t go to the grocery store and buy it, I couldn’t use it at Tinycade,” Jewery said.
Gyory and his colleagues still need to work through some kinks, but he’s inviting interested players to get in touch to test the platform’s beta version. Currently, he is developing a series of pregame games for Tinycade. They include Claw, a spin on the arcade classic Space Invaders, and De Volta, a “spaceship golf” like game he designed with Enrique Lagostera of Concordia University in Canada.
However, the team hopes that one day the platform will allow gamers to come up with their own ways never before seen by humans to immerse themselves in the digital world.
said Elaine Du, a member of the team behind Tinycade and a professor at ATLAS and Department of Computer Science. “Why do you have to use a standard keyboard interface for all of these games?”
It’s the subject of Do’s research group, which calls itself ACME Lab— a nod to the fictional cartoon company that makes everything from earthquake pills to desiccant rock.
“We make machines that help people be more creative,” Du said.
Previously, Gyuri and fellow doctoral student Klimt Zeng worked together to design a game called for hot swap. In this video game, two players team up to steer a pirate ship through dangerous waters – the interesting thing is that players must quickly switch between a series of plastic controllers to stay afloat. A crank lowers the sails, the captain’s wheel makes the ship turn, holds a set of keys, and loads the cannons.
“We wanted people to feel like they’re fiddling with the console, and maybe missing a few pieces in the process,” Gyuri said.
Tinycade takes that DIY tactile energy to a new level.
Once the platform is rolled out, players will only need to follow a few simple steps: First, you’ll download a set of stencils that will help you cut and assemble an arcade machine out of spare cardboard. Then you insert your phone to act as the screen.
The machine’s controllers are also made of cardboard and can be configured into a wide range of designs – from standard video game D-pads and joysticks to knobs, sliders, switches and more. Inside Tinycade is a set of mirrors that allow your smartphone’s camera to see what’s going on under those controls. If you press directly on the D-pad, for example, the pieces will shift to reveal a digital “tag” that looks like a simple QR code. Your phone will identify this sign, then tell the character on the screen to move to the right.
“I would take the stand to conferences and hold up the console to show what was inside,” Jewery said. “There was always a moment of realizing I loved a place where people would see how it worked.”
In Claw, which Gyory designed himself, players have to fight off a horde of oncoming starships. You slide around a cardboard claw, then pinch when you want to reach in and grab one of the enemy vehicles with a hook.
However, the team has a more ambitious vision for Tinycade: Gyory and his colleagues hope that users will soon be able to use the platform to create new types of consoles for any game they can think of.
“Once this system is in place, we want players to be able to say, ‘Here’s Pacman.'” Let’s make a new controller to move the Pacman.
Best of all, no quarters are required.
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