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NEWS: Postmortem: The Robot


To demonstrate our skeleton, we decided at SoftKinetic to build a demo that would be a well-balanced mixture between technology and fun.




We didn’t want to produce the zillionst skinned character demo controlled by a skeleton, but rather use the technology to create meaningful and fun interactions.

First iteration: the Robot Arm


Small arm: mapped to the iisu skeleton.
Big arm: following the movement of the small arm.

We decided on focusing on the movements of the arms, and build a simple prototype to be able to experience the interaction as soon as possible.

The idea of the prototype seen in the picture is that the player controls the upper thin arm, which is directly mapped to the arm of the player.

The big lower arm is attached to the small arm with 2 hydraulic connectors, and follows the movements of the small arm controlled by the player.

If the player moves his/her arm to fast, the hydraulic connectors break, and the player has to reconnect the small arm to the big arm.

 

If the player moves his/her arm to fast, the hydraulic connection breaks, and the player has to grab the big arm again.

 

The hydraulic connectors pull the big arm towards the small arm

In this way, we wanted to create a feeling of controlling a “heavy duty arm”, which moves slow and has tremendous power.

The experience delivered by this prototype was very promising, as people enjoyed tossing around cars with the mechanical arm, giving them a feeling of unstoppable power.

We wanted to make the experience even better, by extending the concept to a robot, which has two of those powerful arms, and is able to navigate around in a 3D environment. And thus, the Robot demo was born!

Second iteration: the Robot

We developed a robot where we emphasized the arms by making them larger in respect to the body of the robot. To navigate around in the environment, we gave the robot tracks.

It was really fun to destroy objects with the robot, and as we play tested more and more, people wanted to destroy more and more! So we created a complete environment in which the player could have fun destroying several types of objects.

 

Destroying things is fun!

 

If you can’t get over the fence, go through it!

We noticed that at the point players reached a destructible object, they often unleashed so much destructive power in the form of fast arm movements, that the hydraulic connections broke almost every time, resulting in frustration for the player. As users always asked for more and more responsiveness, we made the big arms following the small arms faster and faster so that the hydraulic connections broke less often. In the final version of the Robot demo, the big arms follow the small arms almost instantly, making the hydraulic connections mainly into an eye candy element.

Another very interesting fact was that some people discovered a complete unexpected gameplay element when playing with the robot. As the robot was completely physicalized, it was possible to do “tricks”, by lifting the robot with its own arms. In this way, people came up with impressive acrobatic jumps by first making enough speed, and then hitting the ground with the arms in such a way that the robot made somersaults, pirouettes, screw jumps, etc.

 

No stunt is too hard for the almighty robot!

We also experimented with a 2 player mode for the robot game, by creating a sort of robo-catch. This proved to be very promising as well, but we did not explore it any further for now. One problem that already occurred was that both players were so enthusiastic in moving their arms around that they often interfered with each other, both physically and virtually (by confusing the skeleton recognition).

Navigation in a 3d environment

One issue still remains unsolved today, and will hopefully be resolved in the near future by investing additional research in the topic: navigating in a 3D environment using body tracking.

In the first version of the robot demo, we used a lean forward/lean backward movement to move forward/backward, and lean left/lean right to steer left and right. This was very unpleasant and difficult to navigate, especially because of the fact that the movement for moving forward/backward, and the movement for steering left/right interfered with each other.

That’s why we came up with an alternative way of steering. By bringing both hands close to each other, the player entered “steering mode”. While in this mode, the robot can be steered left/right, by moving both hands (while staying close to each other) left or right from the body.

What we experienced was that this way of steering was already much better, and much more pleasant than the previous solution. Still, we are not quite there yet, as the leaning solution for moving forward/backward is still an unpleasant interaction. We will continue experimenting with new ways of 3D navigation, and hopefully solve this issue, which most of the people doing gesture based games are fighting with.

Bringing both hands close together activates steering mode (blue circle on the ground)

 

Steer right

 

Steer left



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