Robin came all the way from Scottland to discuss the hardware scene, its opportunities and challenges.
Making hardware games is possible
Hardware is inexpensive
Nowadays, hardware is inexpensive, and anyone can afford cool devices to build hardware based games. Gadgets like makeymakey let you easily turn a banana into keyboard input. Arduino, Teensy andother devices are readily available and easily programmable. You can get a Pi computer for 4$ now !
Large communities can help
The hardware scene has large communities to support new developpers. Majors cities around the world all have their hackerspaces and makerspaces. Additionnally to the advice and experience they avidly share, they also provide large tools and materials to work with.
Hardware games is very niche but leads to amazing innovative experiences. Robin shared a few with us, but you really need to experience them to get the idea. How fun is it to play on a level you just drew with pens on a whiteboard ?
The community around alternative controls in games is also pretty active. If you want to experiment, you can take part in the alt+ctrl game jam. Though you won’t get to play many of the games, since it’s online. And if you can’t wait to get started and are going to GDC, bring some hardware to the pre-GDC’s 52h train jam.
Coding hardware is pretty simple
Making games using hardware isn’t more complex than any other type of game. You can get great results with just a few lines of code and the right libraries, as Robin showed with his own game’s code as an example.
I’ve used Arduino and telemeters myself to make a game with a custom controller. It was very well supported by Unity as well.
Challenges of hardware games
Sturdiness is key
Robin is touring his project around the world. He made sure to bring spare devices, since hardware games, specially early versions can break during playing sessions on occasion.
Distribution is hard
Toy companies like haspbro or arcade manufacturers might be better choices to distribute the game than other traditional video game distribution channels. Targeting spaces like bars, exhibitions and arcade rooms makes probably more sense than targeting individual players in terms of business.
Hardware games are fun !
Hardware games challenge player’s habbits by providing this new way of interacting and playing. It’s a fresh experience which triggers curiosity and unique sensations.
Line wobbler, Robin’s game, is both surprising and challenging to play, yet easy to understand despite the abstract led-line based level design.
I’ve worked on a hardware game called iMA, a zen flying simulation in which you fly a bird by flapping your hands above telemeters as if it were wings.
This game platformed requires two players to cooperate. The first one plays a classical platformer, while the second one manipulates platforms by moving a ruler with led lights on it to change the level design.