RGB - Richtig Gute Buttons / Really Good Buttons - was an experiment. Last year at the same time, for the Annual Exhibition at the Designhaus Halle (the start-up incubator where our office is), we made a game that was pretty much a single-button-game with a fun premise (you control the game with high fives). So for the event this year we thought we should do another “easy to grasp and play” project.
So while the game idea wasn’t very clear yet - just that you have to push a button at the right time, because that’s fun in itself - we knew we wanted to have a custom built controller that would be simple and (figuratively) scream “use me”, so people would be even less reluctant to come forward and try it out. Big buttons with a diameter of 100mm or 60mm can be found at various shops selling electronic stuff; those were the first things we ordered. It turned out that the 60mm buttons are big enough, especially as the light distribution is not ideal, more so with the bigger version.
I began to extend my sparse knowledge of electronics (mostly: RGB LEDs) and Arduino related stuff, and also my tools and materials. Overall it was a somewhat expensive, but fruitful venture. (Of course there is still so much to learn...)
Using RGB LEDs make the buttons more versatile - so instead of a red button, there would be one that could have any colour, meaning it can even be re-used for different game ideas. But now there were a lot of things to be taken care of while building the controller, because the white LEDs of each button had to be replaced with an RGB LED - which meant instead of two pins there would be four, which made removing some metal from the LED holder necessary, and soldering a lot of wires to pins.
I built two controllers, because the final idea was inspired by Space Team. In our game, every player would see a different screen (easily done thanks to Unity’s ability to put each camera view on a different display) with different rules/instructions - either commanding a player to push a certain colour (red, green, blue, yellow, cyan, magenta), or forbidding to push a certain position (left, center, right). Each instruction would only be applicable for player A or B, and not necessarily displayed to this user - but the other one! This is why the players need to communicate: “Push the yellow button! But not the one on the left!”, and so on.
The game was created very hastily, and unfortunately could not be tested during the development. It was made with Unity; I used Uduino for communication with the Arduinos, although I'm not sure if it was necessary to get that plugin. In any case, Jana was not available during that time, and creating a local multi-player game all alone proved to be not the brightest idea. Yet, I wanted to finish this as it started so strong - and expensive.
It wasn’t helping that one of the two controllers just didn’t work well enough. In over 50% of the time, 2 of the LEDs would not be turning on, and finding the error wasn’t possible; in the end I made a complete new set of LEDs and wirings the day before the exhibition.
The Annual Exhibition became a series of unfortunate events. Just to continue the difficulties during development now the other controller had severe problems; it just didn’t work at all.
And even though it became clear the next day that its Arduino (acquired years ago as reward for an IndieGoGo - it’s a micro controller board by Borderless Electronics) somehow had become defect, replacing the board with another one didn’t make the situation much better as there also seemed to be some loose connections. Update: It seems that not the board was at fault, but there are some bugs with the Arduino IDE, which prevent uploading the sketch. The loose connections were a real problem too though.
Moreover, as the game just wasn’t polished at all, it is full of bugs, and - worst of all - not quick enough to grasp by itself. In the current state the game needs a person to explain it to players, and I didn’t have time (or motivation) for that.
Instead I placed a short explanatory text next to each controller, but this is of course a hopeless effort. And if there’s something every developer loves to tell you (even if you already know it but don’t have another solution right now) then that “players don’t read”. In any case, it turns out that even with only three buttons, there are so many questions and confused looks.
Of course, this is not a problem in itself. As long as the learning process for the users is fun already they will forgive shortcomings; all they have to do is spend some more time, which can’t be expected from this specific audience (people interested in art and design visiting a university-wide exhibition).
Even though the project had so many pitfalls and a less than satisfying result, we definitely want to tackle it again when there is some more time. The controllers are built (which was quite an achievement for me) and the possibilities are endless - maybe making a simple instrument instead of an elaborate game would be a saner idea. In any case I tasted blood and would really like to do more light hardware experiments and custom input methods in the near future.
As always - if you want to talk with us (and other enthusiasts) about our games and/or game development in general, visit us at our Discord!