Death is Imminent, but Have Fun? – A More Thought Out Concept

After thinking out of the concept for Death is Imminent, but Have Fun, we move forward to the planning phase of the project.

Brief Project Description

“Death is Imminent, but Have Fun?” is a 4-person multiplayer co-op game. The earth is breaking apart, all the rich people have left the earth in search of a better planet, and the only humans left on earth are the 4 people playing the game. The players have found a stranded spaceship and they must try to get it working.

Each player will be faced with a panel and a set of instructions. All players must band together to get the ship to work.

Initial System Plan

There are two options at the moment.

Option A is to have one computer connected to four microcontrollers, each of which will control the lighting and the sensors in each panel.

Option B is to have four computers, each connected to their own microcontroller. The four computers then will talk to a server which will serve as the brains of the operations.

Initial Bill of Materials

Panel Mounted Latching On/Off Switch – 10pc
Panel Mounted Toggle Switch – 10pc
Sliding Potentiometer – 10pc
Regular Potentiometer – 10pc
Large FSR – 4pc
Alligator Clips – 8pc
Monitor – 4pc
Computer – 4pc
Acrylic or Wood for the panels – lots of it
Plywood for the walls – lots of it
Silver Spray Paint – 1 can

Project Timeline

Death is Imminent, but Have Fun? – A Concept

With the final project coming around, Paulami, Nick and I started brainstorming about what it is that we want to make for our Physical Computing final.

I was mesmerized by a game called Spaceteam. It is “A cooperative shouting game for phones and tablets”. The idea is that all of the players are in a team that is flying in a spaceship, and they have to work together to keep the ship flying and out of danger. It involves a lot of communication and teamwork.

Jumping off from the game, I started trying to boil down the principal ideals that makes Spaceteam such a great game. For me, what makes it so great is that Spaceteam tries to explore the idea of facing imminent doom in a comical way. It is both absurd and scary, and the natural reflex to cope with that is somehow humor.

I try to push this idea of “facing imminent doom in a comical way” in our brainstorming sessions. During our brainstorming sessions, we try to think of things that we might want to make, we include concepts, interactions, and themes. Here is some of the result.

Concept. The concept of our creation is that we will make a game. It will be a cooperative game between 2-4 people. We want it to be fun and is immediately graspable. But we also want to have a deep backstory so that it is not easily forgotten.

Interaction. We want the game to have a lot of physically tactile interaction such as turning on knobs, sliding on sliders, switching on switches, shaking things, or even jumping. We also want to force the players to work together in a way that makes everyone is responsible for everyone else. And we want it to be loud and rowdy.

Theme. We try to go with “facing imminent doom” as a starting point. We landed on the backstory where the earth is falling apart, and all humans have left the earth, except for the people who are playing. They must then work together to try to leave earth. But plot twist, they really can’t. Death is imminent, but have fun (maybe).

Trick or Treat Vending Machine Production

After formalizing our concept for a Trick or Treat Vending Machine, Rita and I went ahead with the production.

For the sake of time, we divided the production between the two of us. I would start work on the electronics and vending mechanism, while Rita would start work on creating the enclosure.

I started work with the circuit. I used the circuit below to create the vending machine. Once I got that working, I went ahead with creating the mechanism for the display. I decided early that the brains of the operations will be the laptop instead of the Arduino, due to the fact that in the laptop, I can run a Javascript runtime, while Arduino uses a modified version of C++. As limited as Javascript is, there is just much more abstraction that can be done there that will make my life easier. I’ve put the code for the display in this repository, and the code for the Arduino can be accessed in this link. After that, I created some videos that will loop over and over in the display and serve as our animation. The videos can be accessed here.

Circuit for the Trick or Treat Vending Machine
Preliminary Circuit

On the other hand, Rita was working on the enclosure. We made the mistake of using cheap wood for this project. A key point that we forgot was that cheap wood tends to morph and distort. This caused some problems for us when creating the box. However, Rita was a champ and she delivered a beautiful box.

After the two main units are done (enclosure and electronics), we went ahead with the assembly of it. We were expecting problems but things went very well. We manually coiled up a brass rod to serve as our vending machine coil, and it works like a charm. You can see the inside of the machine in the video below.

And this is the final product in action.

Trick or Treat Vending Machine Project Concept

This is a project that I’m doing with Rita.

The idea for this project is a “Trick or Treat” vending machine. Users can push a button, then they will either be given a “trick”, which is some sort of scary toy or a “treat”, which is a candy bar. The decision is completely random. There will be animations showing on the screen to hype up the user before receiving the gift.

Inspiration for the vending mechanism
Mockup of the project

The vending machine itself will involve a small tablet computer as the screen and processor of the imaging (basically the brains). The computer will then be connected to a microcontroller which will detect the trigger of the button and also rotate the motors that will rotate the vending machine coils.

Preliminary diagram of the schematics of the project

Rotating Fortune Cat

Fortune Cat

A fortune cat is a popular figurine among Asians. The eternally waving hand of the cat has magical properties that allow it to pull in good luck and prosperity into a business. With the hope of amplifying its luck-pulling abilities, I decided to start a project: a rotating fortune cat. That way the cat can pull in good luck from all directions, not just the front.

I started with the motor. I bought some panel-mounted stepper motors. They were very easy to mount but are pretty tricky to get up and running. I also added a potentiometer in there to control the speed and direction of the rotation. Here is the code I used to get the motor running.

Diagram of the circuit
It took a while to get the motor running

After I got the electronics working, I dove into the assembly and fabrication process. I used a 4in by 6in bamboo box for the enclosure. The first thing I try to do was figure out the mounting for the potentiometer. At first, I wanted to use a sliding potentiometer just because it looks nice. I created a few prototypes until I landed a design that fit well.

Some of my materials at the start
Various prototypes for sliding potentiometer mount

It took some drilling and Dremel work to create the hole that will fit the potentiometer. After some time though, I was able to create the appropriately sized hole for the sliding potentiometer.

After that, I mounted the Arduino and motor driver into the box using standoffs.

However, sometimes luck is just not on your side even though you have a lucky cat with you. During the soldering process, I accidentally broke my sliding potentiometer, and I didn’t have time to buy another one. Plan B it is. I ended up having to use a rotating potentiometer instead. I had to create another mount and I had to adjust the hole to fit a taller potentiometer.

rotating potentiometer in place of the sliding potentiometer

The final big thing to do is to create the lid and mounting for the cat. I made the lid out of acrylic using the laser. I did a few prototypes using cardboard first to make sure that the mounting holes are exactly right. I had also made the mounting for the cat using acrylic on the laser cutter.

Motor mounted on the inside of the lid

Lastly, I assembled everything together and added some black rubber feet at the bottom to make it look nice, and it turned out to be amazing!

Final product
Final product

False Interactivity

The prompt for this assignment is to “Pick a piece of interactive technology in public, used by multiple people. Write down your assumptions as to how it’s used, and describe the context in which it’s being used.”

Rather than picking a piece of interactive technology, I’ve found something that looks interactive, but in reality, it is just a one-way form of media. It is the big screens we can find on a lot of NYC’s subway stations.

Screens on the right spotted at DeKalb Ave subway station

Most of the times the screen would display either a subway map, information about planned work on the subway system, or train arrival information. However, sometimes they also show advertisements.

When displaying advertisements, it is pretty obvious that these monitors are merely displays and are not meant to be interacted with. But when it is actually displaying helpful information such as the timetables, or the subway map, it looks as if the screen is meant to be touched by the commuters. The design language is consistent with those kinds of screen that have touch interactivity.

Children trying to touch the screen

I visited a number of subway stations and stayed for about 15 minutes at each of them. With the exception of one station, I was consistently able to find someone trying to touch the screen to see if it is indeed a touch screen.

Train arrival information

I think it’s the glass-like coating on the screen and the way it is positioned that makes it look like it is interactive. Some of the pages displayed also is using the design language of a mobile application. For example, when displaying arrival information of subways, it displayed in a way that is almost as if one can scroll down to see more information.

It is interesting to me how we are now at that point where interactivity of media is now completely expected. Interactivity is no longer something new or groundbreaking, it is rather something that is expected by society.

Making My Own Switch

Today I am experimenting with switches. I was inspired by a claw machine. I want to create a switch that can detect when the claw had reached the bottom.

My idea is to fabricate two trapezoids, then connect them together in such a way that if they are being dropped down from above, when they reach the bottom, they will separate. The contact point in the middle will be the key to making the switch work. When it is floating, the two trapezoids will touch, forming a connection. When it touches the ground, the two trapezoids are separated, therefore breaking the connection.

The idea is to create something like this

I started with sawing out the trapezoids out of some scrap wood that I have from a previous project. What I first wanted to do is to hot glue gun a piece of cloth to act as a hinge for the trapezoids, then fit in a couple of wires in there to act as the conductor to make the circuit.

Scrap wood from a previous project

However, I started to run into an issue. The wires I was using were too stiff and the connection that they’re making by pure contact isnt that great. Plus, the wood I was using wasn’t heavy enough to combat the stiffness of the wires. Due to time limitations, I pulled a hail mary by using aluminum foil to increase the surface area of the wire and came up with the following.

Circuit when closed (floating)
Circuit when opened (on the ground)
A video of the switch in action

I enjoyed this mini-project, even though I wished I could have put more time into this. One of the lessons I learned from this project is also to take more pictures in every step of the way. Here’s to more exciting projects in the future!