July 9, 2003

Play Interfaces

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 9:12 am

direct manipulation racing game interface: a coffee cup Perhaps it’s obvious to say, but the arcade still had it all over any other public context when it comes to interface innovation. Except perhaps the more elaborate setups at science museums and in interactive art installations.

For example, it may not be obvious in my last post, but the interface for that game is a real drum, not the tap pads of DDR or of the Western-style drum games. The drum in this game can make a range of sounds as players hit it on the main surface, on the rim, with different degrees of pressure, and so on. The way you play the drum makes a difference both on the level of music and on the level of gameplay. That’s why I stopped to take a picture of it.

I also stopped to take a picture of this direct-manipulation coffee cup (the text on it reads “Drink me. Drive me.”). The cup is part of a network racing game of a pretty standard sort — except for the interface.

I encountered this game at MeSci (the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation). It’s a driving game that teaches kids about interface — there’s a horse on the screen that you control with physical reigns, a car you control with a steering wheel, a UFO you control with a joystick, the direct-manipulation coffee cup, and a synthesizer keyboard that moves forward when you play notes toward the center and turns when you play notes at the edges. These are networked together, racing through a model of the museum from an over-the-shoulder perspective.

steering wheel, joystick, coffee cup driving the ivories

MeSci also has some interesting displays. One is a giant globe, covered with LEDs, which when I was there was being used to show data-driven animations of the earth’s recent climate conditions. Another was their “CABIN for All” — an inexpensive CAVE-like display employing relatively standard PCs and polarization (rather than shutter lenses).