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2010 October

Misunderstanding the Smart Table

     On second evaluation, I don’t believe the Smart Table’s control mechanism is particularly well suited to gaming. Conceptually, the functionality is rock-solid. The prospect of an enormous touch pad with up to a hundred points of simultaneous contact is a fantastic prospect. However, the precision of control simply doesn’t exist to have a player rely on it in a competitive way (against other players, or even against an AI.) It’s a serious barrier to entry.

If a success state for a player is critically reliant on the controls of the table, that player will be regularly frustrated by loss of touch connectivity, lag, or ambient light problems. It leaves two reliable options: 1) create a toy with game-like elements where the players can all interact in a fun, cooperative atmosphere without any significant failure state, or 2) create a turn-based, or very slow game where real time accuracy of controls are not critical.

Most, if not all of the games on the Smart Table are designed around the first strategy. None are so much a game as they are toys (or puzzles) with game-like elements. The second strategy seems like a waste of the frenetic fun four kids standing around a table should be able to have with one another, although could be compelling nonetheless.

Our current prototype in development, Aquatica, is constantly being pushed toward the second strategy. Originally a competitive action game, the Smart Table doesn’t seem to allow for a reliable experience in that genre. Instead, we are back to the drawing board for the new pitch Monday, keeping our theme and rough conceptual elements, but moving to a slower paced, more forgiving environment for the control-scheme at hand.

Innovating for the Smart Table

     For our next project in 6905-3 we’ve been tasked with developing a prototype video game for the Smart Table, specifically one that teaches part of the core UEN curriculum to grades K-3. I’ve always enjoyed educational games conceptually — part of my attraction to this medium is the idea that it can create tangible good in the world in an entertaining way. My primary repulsion has been that many games simply rope people away from their daily lives with various sophisticated tricks of psychological addiction. While I’m sure many of my classmates are sick of the idea of educating, especially to such a young age bracket, I feel it’s good work to pursue, and a worthy application of our craft.

Designing for the Smart Table
     The Smart Table has several distinguishing features that make it an exciting platform to develop for. At first glance, one might think it’s more or less a giant iPad, and that designs that have been successful for the iPad/iPhone would work equally well here. This is true in part, excepting the following differences:

  • Touch Points: Perhaps the most exciting feature the Smart Table has to offer. The iPhone supports around 5 points of touch, and the iPad 11. The Smart Table supports close to 100 separate simultaneous touch events. With the Smart Table, you can design with the intent of many people interacting with the game space simultaneously.
  • Touch Lag: The touch technology on the Smart Table has a significant lag between activation and a response on the system (at least 200ms.) This makes any twitch-based gameplay a no-go. An ideal design would be one that involves pausing the play state for player input. Real time designs can work if the play is slow enough to accommodate the delayed input.
  • Table Space: The Smart Table screen has no inherent directionality. There is no top or bottom of the screen per se, so any game designed for the table would ideally be able to be played from any angle of approach. If the game is multiplayer (ours is required to be) the game requires some symmetry in the game space. This lends itself well to a top-down camera angle.

Outside of the above considerations, creating a video game for the Smart Table should be similar to any other tablet or touch-based hardware. One last piece of note is our audience, young kids. My intuition tells me a cooperative activity will garner better educational results than a competitive one will for the age range we are targeting. This will be an important point to consult our content expert on.

Are Games Art?

    What a silly, insipid question. I’m surprised it gets entertained. Every new media suffers early rejection. In the early 18th century, fiction novels were considered corruptors of young women. In the early 20th century, film was a sideshow. Video games will be the major media of artistic expression for the 21st century, not by dote of any critic or academic, but by demand of the public at large. How exciting to be involved in the earliest phases of adoption, 30 short years in. Imposed over the timeline of film’s long history, we are still in the 1920s. How far we have to go.