A gaming workshop for Studio Digital. Ten hours, ten teenagers. Go!
I developed and led a workshop on digital creativity. The brief was gaming. I wanted some kind of physical computing spectacle to expand everyone’s idea of what ‘Studio Digital’ could mean.
And so: Cardboard Wipeout, an immersive racing game that riffs off the seminal (to me) futuristic video game wipE’out”. We bought two super-cheap radio-control cars, asked the town for all their post-christmas cardboard, and over two sessions improvised our way to what you can see in the video.
In doing so, the participants:
- Adapted a video game to a new medium
- Created an immersive, interactive experience
- Worked through marking-out and fitting-up a three-dimensional figure-of-eight track out of flat cardboard sheets
- Made vinyl graphics to brand the track and space
- Learnt how a micro:bit controller can animate special LED strips
- Learnt how micro:bit controllers can talk to each other and ‘run’ a game
- Experimented whether first-person video could work for driving the cars
- An’ stuff…
Most of all, I think the workshop provided two insights:
- The world is malleable. If all you’ve ever known is passive consumption of media, games, etc., it’s quite a leap to realise you don’t have to accept things as they are: you can break “warranty void if broken” seals and make your own culture.
- You can make something that looks amazing… even if it’s mega-scrappy when you turn the lights back on. So: you got there, you’re as good as anyone else actually is, now go iterate and make it truly amazing.
The game needs
- A micro:bit controller to control the game logic, using the A button to start countdown, and B button to manually record a race finish. This micro:bit can also used for finish-line sensor and a/v controller (see below).
- A micro:bit controller per strip of individually-addressable LEDs (WS2812B, aka NeoPixel). I used 2x 5m, 150 LED strips.
- A radio-control car and track.
- Cardboard saws. Yes, they’re a thing: MakeDo, Canary.
- A micro:bit controller to message audio-visual kit capable of running music, countdowns, lap timers etc., e.g. a PC listening to a serial port over the micro:bit’s USB connection. In the repo linked below, there is a Mac OS X Quartz Composer patch that will do this.
- A micro:bit in each car can run the game-logic, and opens up much game-play and a/v potential. See this diary post.
- A micro:bit with sensor to detect cars passing the finish-line. I had a break-beam sensor to do this, it didn’t seen too reliable and then a wire broke during the workshop.
This is the first time I used micro:bit controller boards. They’re great. Really practical feature set – that 5x5 LED grid and peer-to-peer radio in particular – backed by a wealth of teaching materials and stand-alone projects. Drag-and-drop blocks in a webpage for those new to programming, and python and the mu editor for those needing something more. And they’re cheap.
Two things caught me out. There is no breakout-board for the micro:bit that interfaces 3.3v and 5v. NeoPixel-like LED strips for instance need 5v, so a NeoPixel controller micro:bit needs both a power regulator in and a line driver back out. I hacked these onto a bread:bit breakout board, but to be robust and repeatable this really should be built into a PCB like that. (The controller board I made for Tekton is that on steriods, for the Raspberry Pi; it’s thanks to making those that I had the line driver chips lying around/).
The other thing is that sometimes the race would finish straight after starting, or after the
finish state pass straight through
countdown. The problem is the radio module has a queue of incoming messages, which meant stale or even dropped messages. So I wrote a only-care-about-the-latest wrapper class: radiolatest.py on GitHub