Thursday, May 17, 2012

Indie Tech Talk 02: Kaho Abe

Kaho Abe is a game designer who builds very physical games along with the hardware associated with them. She spoke at the Game Innovation Lab at Polytechnic University about her games and her inspirations.

  • Hit Me! is a two-player, physical game that encourages face-to-face real-world interactions, by both the players and the spectators. Two players wear hard hats with huge buttons on top. The object of the game is to hit the opponent's button on top of their head, which would cause the hitter's camera to take a snapshot of the victim that is then projected on a wall. The hitter receives a point and the judges can award additional points based on the quality of the snapshot.
  • The big inspirations for Hit Me! are Twister and Van Damme's Lionheart. Kaho wanted to make a game that people can watch. She looked to Ridley Scott's Gladiator and sumo wrestling to help her design the game's rules. Players of the game had to sign a personal injury waiver form in order to play. The form psychologically got people to be really intensely physical.
  • Mary Mack 5000 is a competitive twist on the children's hand-clapping game Patty Cake. Two players wear gloves with sensors in them and clap hands along with the rock music playing in the background. Each glove is assigned a voltage ID and the Arduino microcontroller knows exactly which glove is in contact with which. The message is sent to the Flash software that compares it to a XML sheet with timestamps and the correct clapping combinations. The game also comes with a rocker vest that give players the feeling of being a rock star playing a silly children's game.
  • Kaho wanted to reintroduce a children's game as a rocker's game. Her major inspirations were Patty Cake for mechanics and Guitar Hero for the theme and aesthetics.
  • Ninja Shadow Warrior is a photo-booth game using the Kinect camera built into an arcade cabinet. Players are tasked with filling up a silhouette of an object using their bodies. The game promotes face-to-face cooperative interaction as multiple players can work together to fill the silhouette. A snapshot of the players are taken at the end of each round and automatically uploaded to
  • Kaho first worked with webcams and green screens, but was unable to get the accuracy she wanted. She finally went with the Kinect and used Daniel Shiffman's Kinect library. With the Kinect, she extracted the silhouette of the players and it put it against the selected object using  a simple pixel-matching algorithm. She also built an elaborate arcade cabinet with giant ninja stars sticking out from its side and pictures of cartoon ninja bunnies to promote playfulness.
  • The major inspirations for Ninja Shadow Warrior were arcades, photo sticker booths, and Twister. The game experiences a lot of emergent play behaviors from its players (ie. a father would carry his daughter on his shoulder to recreate the image).
Conversation with Andy Nealen
  • Kaho has worked on all these projects in her presentation in the last two years. She started with binary buttons built by herself (Hit Me!) and moved onto using someone else's technology (Ninja Shadow Warrior's Kinect). She actually started working on Ninja Shadow Warrior before the Kinect was released, but later reappropriated it for the Kinect.
  • She has no engineering background so she's personally constrained by her knowledge. Andy argues that these limitations help her design since she often designs very easy interfaces that are good for galleries where most attendees have never played a game before.
  • Does she think about technology or game design first? She usually comes up with the concept first, then finds the technology to fit the concept.
  • She loves Fry's Electronic stores and often finds good objects to work with. Fry's has tables and exteriors made out of things you'd find at a theme park.
  • Kaho has a background in fashion design, which led her to create Mary Mack 5000. She finds fashion and tech to be very related since they both have functional and trendy aspects.
  • Doug Wilson's Monkey See, Monkey Mime is a mimicking game that makes people wear silly things. Kaho's games are similar as evident in Hit Me's helmet, which resembles something from Ape Escape. The intention is to make people feel more comical and ridiculous. The hard hats tends to makes people feel more crazy and physical rather than feel safe. One time, a player grabbed a folding chair while playing Hit Me!.
  • All her games are multiplayer and she tries to push a specific social dynamic with her games. During prototyping, playtesters would help her guide the design of the game, but she needs to balance that with pushing her original social intent.
  • She loves Johann Sebastion Joust. That game and Hit Me! were both presented at the Plaython event in Athens and she would often go play Joust between sessions of her own game. She finds that there's a natural progression of bringing games back into the physical space.
  • Public space games should be easy to use and understand. Using low tech and being accessible is synergistic. Most game designers design something very complex and spend iterations subtracting from it to make it accessible, but Kaho spends less time iterating since she designs very accessible games from the start.
  • Her advice to game designers: think about physical interactions from shaking hands to hugging. Think about what make children games fun like Tag and Capture the Flag.
Question and Answer
  • How does Kaho distribute her games? She documents her game-making process and posts code online. She also provides release kits so other developers can jump right into it. She hopes others take her work and make more of them.
  • Her hardware components are not just a piece of software for people to download. As an artist and academic, her goals are not the same as a professional developer so she doesn't need to make distributable hardware. Her intention was always to make games people can play face-to-face. She wants people to meet up at specific locations and play.
  • She explores the performative aspects of games and designs for the spectators as much as for the players. It makes the game more exciting to have an audience watching. With performative props and costumes, her work is more performance art than commercial products.
  • Her games have a high barrier to get and setup. Ninja Shadow Warrior, on the other hand, is very accessible and distributable since it uses the Kinect technology. But Kaho hated the Kinect because she's used to making her own devices. She actually thinks the Kinect is less accessible since it's $150, which is a lot compared to the cheapest webcam you can find.
  • It's not creatively or financially important to her to reach as many players as possible. She assumes people like to make and wire things up like she does, and hopes they will do so to play her games.
  • Her inspirations come from pop culture, movies, and scenarios in stories. She actually derives very little inspirations from games. She's neither a part of or completely distanced from the game community; she's somewhere in between.
  • Hit Me! and Mary Mack 5000 included fashion components. Kaho comes from a fashion background and her graduate thesis was about wearable technology. She finds it funny that there's a barrier between people and their clothing and that they are often more intimate with technology.
  • What are fashion people's response to her work? They find it fun and interesting.
  • Kaho worked a corporate design job that she hated. September 11 made her decide to go to graduate school and there, she realized she liked game design and logic. Logic turned on a part of her brain that she has previously turned off to focus on art and design.
  • Her games are designed to create interaction. She constantly reverse engineers things and finds fun in the success of figuring out new technology.

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