BLASTULA

  • art/animation & sound design: Adrienne Cassel
  • music & sound design: Seth Glickman
  • programming: Melanie Kim
  • hardware: Kaalen Kirrene

Our early discussions of the piece quickly coalesced around a few specific technological concepts and media devices: Interactivity, Audio Visualization, Custom Controller Construction.  We began with the idea that two guests would interact in a space where they had at least partial control over both the audio and visual elements in a collaborative experience.

Projection mapping came up in our talks, and this medium fit well within our original motivations and challenged us to integrate it within an interactive space.  We pulled inspiration from old school table-top video game units where players were situated across from one another, and converted an earlier idea of an arcade style interaction to gameplay activity positioned around a screen.

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Initial draft of the board and gameplay.

The final iteration of the game featured controller button shapes project into the common space between the players when pressed.  Once “launched,” colliding pieces from both players would link and remained positioned within the center “membrane.”  As more combined shapes collected, the environment would increasingly vibrate until a critical mass was achieved, concluding the experience.

Designing and building the board

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We decided to use acrylic as it is easy to laser cut and it has a surface on which it is easy to project. We wanted our board to have buttons and controls that we could projection map to. We used Makey Makey to facilitate buttons and Ardunio to add an additional source of control that was more dynamic than a button press. The buttons were different geometric shapes so that the projection mapping would be more unique.

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We used conductive tape on the bottom of the button and on the top of the board with wires connected to both. That way when the button was pressed, the conductive tape would meet thus completing the circuit. With the help of our mechanical design consultant Kelsey Scott, Kaalen designed the board in solid works and then laser cut it in the fabrication lab. Then all that was left to do was wire up the circuit and attach the conductive tape to the buttons. We used hot glue to attach the spring to the buttons and the board so that the button would return to it un-pressed position.

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Musical score and sound design

In tandem with working on the visual elements, we began to establish a sound design for the pieces and their interactions.  We wanted to create both a signature sonic style for the game, as well as enable a certain amount of user variability, fitting for the piece’s focus on interactivity.  We were aiming for short sounds with crisp attacks that could exist in a consistent digital sound space, but also uniquely identify and associate each of the game piece shapes.

The sound design of the game piece shapes were to be “played” by the guests as they interacted with the controllers and engaged with the gameplay.  Could we establish a sort of instrument that could be performed?  Was there a way of being good at playing the game in terms of the overall sound experience?

The score was also composed with this in mind.  To first fit within the sonic space, but then to provide a sense of progression over which the gameplay sound design would provide a version of melody and counterpoint.

Length of play was established to be a general baseline of between 2 and 5 minutes of user engagement per game session.  For a game of this length, customized linear background music can be used in place of a shorter repeating loop structure, fostering the feeling of forward progression through the game experience.  The final background music was 8.5 minutes of vertically-remixed digital tracks produced in Ableton Live.  Ultimately, the music would seamlessly loop if the game lasted longer than estimated projections.

Bringing it together in Unity

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What the game looks like in the Unity editor.

The game was built in Unity2D, coded in C#. It has two sources of inputs: w/a/s/d (player 1) and arrow keys (player 2)  from the Makey Makey for the individual shapes, and Arduino for the two dials (potentiometer) that the player can aim the shapes with.

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Arduino code.
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C# code to set up the Serial input from Arduino. Make sure to include “using System.IO.Ports” at the top for importing the proper library and set the Api Compatibility Level to .NET 2.0
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C# code to parse values from Arduino in the Update() function.

This is the basic logic that was programmed:

  1. Press button to initiate launch animation and sound, unique to each shape.
  2. The launched shapes all have 3 frames of hand drawn animation. They are unable to interact with each other until within the big circular waveform, also hand animated.
  3. When player 1’s shape hits player 2’s shape within the big circle, the two combine to produce a unique sound.
  4. Every time two shapes combine in the middle, they vibrate in increasing amounts.
  5. To reach the ending, reach a certain number of shape combinations. The background music would slow and fade when this happens.
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C# code for the audio manipulation at the end.

The name, “Blastula,” was coined by team member Adrienne Cassel as the gameplay pieces forming and collecting in the center reminded her of the hollow cells that appear in early stage embryonic development.

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