If playing lava-floor was a good use of everyday furniture, artist Marc Dubois goes leaps and bounds beyond. By strapping a smartphone to various objects using rubber bands and enabling the built-in gyroscope or camera, he was able to turn simple Ikea furniture into physical game controllers. While one might not be able to play the latest Destiny or Call of Duty using the set-up, the concept by itself is quite brilliant and could lead to some interesting applications, particularly in creating a more believable virtual reality.
Dubois showcased three simple puzzle games in a short video. The first turns two Ikea bowls into a ball with a smartphone placed firmly inside. The gyroscope of the device is able to detect the rotation of the ball and send the information to his game Collidem in real time. Thus, the virtual ball on the screen of the monitor will roll in the same direction as the real one in the player’s hands. Some of the stages also feature curved see-saws, which can also be manipulated using the ball. The few levels shown bring in a lot of fresh air into old physics puzzles thanks to the more tactical controller.
The second game proves just as innovative, albeit perhaps slightly more limited. By placing the smartphone inside a semi-translucent cone and shining a lamp on it, the direction of the light beam can again be translated into the virtual world. Thus, the player can effectively control a spotlight in the game, trying to light a set of different yellow cones resembling flowers blossoming in the sun. While many other augmented-reality games have mostly gone by the wayside, few used the camera in this kind of a manner.
The last of the three little puzzles takes advantage of a simple decorative cube. Similarly to the ball, the smartphone inside can detect the movement of the object. However, unlike the ball, which provides smooth rolling, the box rotates in hard 90 degree turns, always falling on one of its sides. Thus, the player must move the box in such a way as to collect little tokens around a maze. The virtual box also grows bigger with each item picked up, making it crucial to figure out the proper order without getting stuck.
Making game controllers out of Ikea furniture is not the first such use of motion sensing technology. The Wii was perhaps the first to truly popularize the idea of mapping the movement of physical object to a virtual one. Nintendo and third parties also released countless number of attachments that the controller could be strapped to, transforming it into anything from guns to tennis rackets. The Playstation Move tried to go a step further with its controller, providing an even greater range of motion regardless of the sticks orientation. Microsoft’s Kinect did away with the peripheral completely, relying on the users’ gestures and position directly. Many smaller organizations also dabbled with the idea, such as the successfully kickstarted but recently cancelled project Clang spearheaded by Neal Stephenson, which aimed to recreate realistic sword-fighting with a specifically designed motion-sensor controller.
While these sort of experiments are not new, Dubois’s project brings up an important point – there might no longer be a need for specialized motion-sensing device akin to the expensive Move or Kinect. Anyone owning a smart-phone, which is some two-thirds of Americans, can now turn their Ikea furniture or any other object into a game controller. Combining the tactile feedback of a an interactive physical object with virtual reality gear such as Oculus could usher a whole new era of tangible-yet-virtual worlds.
By Jakub Kasztalski