If courage is grace under pressure, than those that attended the Cabs of Curiosity event in downtown Kitchener last Thursday saw some truly courageous students. For while our MAME-cabinets were built on the first day of class back in January, new puzzle pieces emerged throughout the semester such that none of us were quite sure what was going to be on display come 7pm.
Some students realized early on in the process the picture they wanted to assemble by interlocking pieces of theory, game design, and technical interfaces. Other groups, such as ours, took more of a Rorschach route–we had this notion of an assembly line, connected with cybernetics and a straight-forward game mechanic that didn’t quite look like anything anyone would want to play. The image became clearer however, as Dani mentioned in an earlier post, when we let go of our animal rendering ‘angle’ and embraced the notion of artistic production instead. The result was a factory worker employed in the business of painting pixels. This just so happens to coincide with what McLuhan saw as the emergence of art: “[The Greeks] began to entertain the idea of a job as a repetitious assembly-line method of making goods, which is undoubtedly the source for the Greek word techné, art, or made-by-hand” (The Global Village 96).
As the the big event neared we worked diligently to assemble the last components of our cabinet. Here we can be seen using the ancient technique of teamwork to assemble the supports for the MAME monitor platform:
Once the monitor was installed, we could then test the arcade controls that connected to a dedicated PC running our game. It was an interesting learning curve in terms of the technical details but I think, in the end, it produced a spiffy looking cabinet, if I do say so myself:
So, you may be asking yourself ‘But how did the game actually run?’ Fortunately we had the opportunity to engage some of the best beta-testers in the world: children.
During the event our station was quite popular with the kids in attendance and boy did they get straight to work. Well over a dozen digits started pressing multiple buttons trying to figure out what, if anything, this thing did. The kids skipped past the tutorial with brazen disregard for the proper rules and codes of conduct. As I watched over their shoulders, I felt that I understood the phrase ‘stress test’ on a whole different level. In fact, the first player managed (and we’re still not sure how) to essentially ‘break’ the game–at least insofar as ‘breaking’ means producing unexpected results. As you can see below in the sample output, our project outputs (via a printer) a mosaic of the pixels the player has painted. Each primary colour has a fixed code that is repeated twice. Players can combine colours by mixing the primary colour codes. They can also lighten or darken any colour by holding down the corresponding buttons:
What our young beta-tester managed was a ‘half-pixel’ in his print out. Oddly enough, the surrounding pixels appeared to compensate, filling in the gap and breaking the rigid grid structure. This came about on the first try! And it has to be one of the most positive software glitches ever discovered.
Quite a few visitors followed that opening trial–most skipped the tutorial but those that took the time to read through the list of 3 colour patterns were rewarded with a vibrant pixelated printout. Others talked about their strong/weak short term memories that they needed to retain those colour codes. Some found it too easy. Others still boasted of their prowess only to discover that their printout couldn’t back up their words.
It was interesting and highly rewarding to see all the different kinds of play styles and approaches to the game. Certain assumptions were made by nearly all players looking for different colour codes and combinations. For example, one recurring line of thought seemed to be that “if ‘right, right, right’ produces a colour, then surely ‘left, left, left’ will produce one too!”). Some took the tandem approach, working in pairs. One mother watched while her son sat on her lap pounding away on the buttons.
I must say that I intervened every now and again, muttering a colour code or two over someone’s shoulder after they’d pumped out white pixel after white pixel (a result of a failed or nonexistent colour combo).
In a way, the game itself has its own language and each colour (say red) and each combo (purple) slowly produced a kind of impromptu literacy. The codes were largely arbitrary and, practically speaking, useless. That is, except perhaps to demonstrate how quickly we can grasp new patterns and manipulate them to produce new forms. And that is one area where our pixel-project really excelled.
That said, our project was but one of many on display in what can only be referred to as an impressive turn out. Our shutterbug of a classmate snapped the following pics of the event, which show the other games on display, as well as a fraction of the attendees: