Margate Games : Lazer Arcade video and photos

Now that the Margate Games residency is over it’s time to take stock and document the project.

Lazer Arcade draft edit from Seb Lee-Delisle on Vimeo.

To my great relief the system worked really well and Lazer Arcade proved to be a huge hit – there were constant queues throughout the GEEK festival.

So what did I learn?

Well the big surprise was that out of all the games I made, the simplest was the most popular. It was just a target and I made it in a couple of minutes as the first game to test with. But I had accidentally hit upon a few playability features.

It was easy to get some kind of score, even if it was by hitting the outer edges of the board. This is important when you only get six shots. And by making the bullseye difficult to hit, it meant you had to come back and try again. I gave the bullseye a score of 50 points (the outer rings got 10 and 5 points) so you’d be guaranteed a high score if you got one. I think the highest score of the weekend was 180 (which requires 3 bullseyes!).

Adults enjoyed the 80s aesthetic of Asteroids but it was completely meaningless to most of the kids. The coconut shy was really hard to even get one coconut, but I guess that’s the same as the real life ones.

The Nerf guns proved to be a bit problematic too – they kept jamming up. I think I’d probably work on some modifications to the guns if I ran it again. The smaller kids in particular had a bit of difficulty with them.

But all in all, it was a hugely enjoyable experience. It was great to meet and hang out with the other artists who all made great games. Thanks to everyone at GEEK, especially Rhianna, Stefan and the other volunteers who basically spent hours loading and picking up sponge darts.

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This post first published on the Margate Games blog February 28th 2014

Margate Games : ready to play?

It’s been an intense week of troubleshooting calibration – but I finally got it working today! It’s still a bit fragile so I’m not sure how well it’ll hold up over the festival but fingers crossed.

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There have been so many things to fix – just one was the vibrations from the floor so I bought this massive lighting stand from Amazon and strung up the board on bungees – this has isolated it from the surroundings.

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Of course with all the craziness I’ve barely managed to make any games, but I hurriedly put together a target practice game today, and just now finished an Asteroids style game.

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Emma Coopers photo of the Target Practice game – she got a high score of 80!

All set for the official opening of Geek tomorrow, where I’ll be on a panel talking about the project.

This post first published on the Margate Games blog February 21st 2014

Margate Games : calibrating LazerArcade

Today was my first day on site in Margate and setting up the LazerArcade system at full size. I’ve had a tiring day trying to calibrate and I can’t seem to get it quite as accurate as it was at home. And the microphones pick up all the vibrations on the floor so I can only imagine what it’ll be like with thousands of people walking around!

I have some more things to try – I’ve panic ordered a large lighting truss from Amazon that’ll arrive tomorrow and I’ll be hanging the board from that with bungee cord to try to isolate it from the sound in the hall.

For a board this size I probably need more than 6 mics too, but tomorrow I’m going to try moving the mics closer together and see what happens. Check out the video below to see more.

This post first published on the Margate Games blog February 18th 2014

Margate Games : research on Brighton Pier

Brighton Pier

Yesterday I was researching on Brighton Pier to see if there were any shooting / throwing games that I could steal, or in art-speak, “draw inspiration from” for my LazerArcade project.

It’s always interesting the current crop of characters from popular culture converted into plush toys. Last year it was Angry Birds, the year before that it was Stewie and Brian from Family Guy, but now it’s the minions from Despicable Me.

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There were wall-to-wall penny drop games then a mish-mash of games based on franchises – Deal or No Deal, Guitar Hero (with specially fortified guitar controllers) and even a Fruit Ninja on a giant touch screen.

I found a few shooting computer arcade games, one based on Terminator with glowing plastic rifles, several with zombies – I suspect I’m not the only one who prefer my games to have non-human targets.

Shooting Game on Brighton Pier

Eventually, there were a couple of manned side-shows that had real physical missiles – the rather dull Tin Can Alley (£2 for 3 balls!) and then a more interesting one with a bow and arrow – the targets were balls floating on a stream of air. I watched for a full two minutes as one player kept dropping the arrow. I felt for the underpaid assistant who had an air of resignation as he explained again and again how to grip the bow.

I ran into a local friend and began to ask what he was doing on the pier but I knew the answer before he told me – “friends visiting from out of town”. Locals rarely go to the pier of course! I enigmatically told him I was there for “research”.

View From Brighton Pier

As I walked back to shore the sun was setting and I was reminded of the original purpose of the pier – a promenade that makes you feel like you’re out at sea. The noise and spectacle has its energy but it feels a means of extracting money from you in the most efficient way possible. And for fun fairs, that’s nothing new, and I guess if you’re having fun it’s a fair trade.

This post first published on the Margate Games blog February 17th 2014

Margate games: locating bullets with sound

I’ve been working on a system that uses microphones to locate where a bullet has hit the wall, so that I can make a digital firing range using lasers and Nerf guns. Since I posted last, I’ve been thinking more about the history of arcades, first with traditional manned side-shows, and then in the 80s with the advent of computer game arcades.

I’m thinking that I could join all of these up to the present day – I’m planning on making a shooting game with 80s style laser projected asteroids that break apart when you hit them. I’m also thinking that a laser coconut shy is a ridiculously good idea that I can’t resist building.

I know I promised that I would explain my alternative bullet locating system that uses infrared lasers, but I’m holding off on that. In the last post I explained how I’m using piezo microphones to locate where the hit occurred. It’s a fragile system, and I honestly never expected it to work, but to my astonishment I’ve been getting some good results. Check out this video:

I’m going to keep the infrared laser solution as a plan B, but for now I’m optimistic about this sonic detection system.

This post first published on the Margate Games blog February 2014

Margate games: Digital shooting gallery R&D

I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since my first Margate visit and since then there’s been a burst of technical R&D. I’ve decided to recreate the magic of an old fashioned side show, with additional computers and lasers.

I was initially inspired by the Das Blinken Blonken project on Instructables. It’s a hand made electronic ball throwing game where the target has sensors, lights and a scoring system. How fun to throw real things at digital things?

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The amazing Blinken Bonken game by Instructable member zippy314

It got me thinking about coconut shies and the knock-down-cans game (known as chamboule-tout in France and Dosenwerfen in Germany). It’d be pretty fun to make a coconut shy where you have real balls, but the coconuts are projected with a laser. But then I heard that there was a history of shooting galleries in Margate, and that led me on the path of creating my own digital shooting game, with physical bullets and laser projected moving targets.

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Winchester Rifle Range on Margate seafront

My first decision – what type of gun? I have strong memories of excitedly getting my hands on a heavy air rifle at a sideshow as a kid, so my immediate thought was a BB gun. I immediately went and bought an Airsoft gun – it fires 6mm BBs and are supposedly safe to fire at humans, but are just scary enough to be exciting. As a confirmed pacifist it seems strange to be excited about guns, and even stranger to remember how much I loved playing with cap guns growing up.

OK, so I’ve got the idea, but how do I build it? The main problem that I have is trying to detect where a bullet has hit the wall. My friend Jason Hotchkiss has built a ping-pong table that plays music notes depending on where the ball hits. And his system uses microphones attached to the table, that detect the sound the ball makes. It then calculates the tiny time differences the sound takes to reach each microphone, and triangulates the sound back to the source.

Although it’s not triangulation – it’s multilateration because you don’t know the actual time the sound took to reach the sensors, but only the difference between the times that the sound reaches each microphone. It’s an incredibly complex maths problem – I dare you to have a look at the formula on the wikipedia page. Jason had already solved this problem (with what I know now to be an incredibly clever and fast estimation system), but I arrogantly thought that I could improve on his solution. And promptly headed down into the worst maths rabbit hole you can imagine.

You’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve pretty much come out of it now – (I’ll be sharing the technical details in detail on my own blog once I finish the project). Here’s a short and very early test of the system.
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In my next post I’ll be talking about the other solution I’ve been working on that uses an infra-red laser light plane.

This post first published on the Margate Games blog February 2014

Margate Games residency – revisiting Margate

It was my first visit to Margate yesterday since I was a kid. I walked around and got a feel for the town, and was lucky enough to get a tour of the dilapidated theme park, Dreamland. There are creepers and weeds everywhere – a stark reminder that nature takes over astonishingly quickly when left to its own devices.


As I looked through old photos of the pristine Dreamland from the 40s, I was struck by how gorgeous it was – clean and classy, and very very fashionable. There were perfect little working steam trains, clean white 30s style buildings – everything was shiny. When I visited in the 80s as a kid there was a certain energy and excitement but it certainly wasn’t glamorous, and there was a distinct feeling that this place was past its prime.

Margate clearly has its problems and is rough around the edges. But it’s heartening to see new shiny bits emerging; a completely modernised and refurbished hotel, a proper coffee shop that does a great flat white (pretentious I know but I’d be more than useless without a decent coffee 🙂 ), a bar that serves chocolate, fancy restaurants, including a trendy pizza house all set to attract the local hipster community, and of course the Turner gallery.

It’s nice to see some of the local architecture live up to its original promise; classic Victorian seaside architecture, but somehow more delicate than Brighton (my home town).

It seems that the Geek Festival – and also the work of the game making artists – can work to bring a bit of sparkle back to this historic town. I’m going to be thinking about how I can recreate the joy and excitement of the classic fairground sideshow, using computer technology, sensors, and most likely lasers. Because what’s more sparkly than a laser? 🙂 More of that in my next post.

This post first published on the Margate Games blog January 2014

Margate Games residency kicks off

2014 is off to a great start and my first project is an artist’s residency in Margate in the run up to the Geek Festival.

I’ll be working on it over the coming weeks and writing up my progress on the Margate Games blog.

I was considering reviving the PixelPhones project but now I’m wondering about something a little bit new. I’ll keep you informed of my progress. 🙂