For the second iteration, presented at the SIGGRAPH Studio in August of 2015, we greatly simplified the game with a focus on using the tiles themselves to form the electrical circuit. This eliminated the complex substrate, exposed the batteries (thus making them easier to remove), and also removed the need for LilyPad Arduinos and programming. This iteration of the game involved placing pathways of conductive fabric onto the patches, which would connect the pieces directly to each other, rather than to a substrate, to create the circuit.
We initially prototyped the use of a hexagonal grid with floor tiles and dry-erase marker (stay tuned for a blogpost on that later), to come up with the core mechanic and basic pieces. After several iterations we arrived at five tile configurations, including the player pieces in the V, chevron and line configuration, the hub and the islands.
This is where Gillian’s quilt-making expertise came to bear. The pieces were meticulously designed and cut on the laser-printer in the 3D Printing Studio at Northeastern’s library. The board was printed on canvas material in Los Angeles.
The SIGGRAPH Studio formed the ideal atmosphere for eBee. We had many visitors over the course of the week and iterated the gameplay as we observed people playing. The rules were simplified significantly, and while we had the team-based version of the game worked out, we added a two-player version, and the co-op version actually came about emergently as people really enjoyed sitting together and playing with the tiles, arranging them in every more complex circuit configurations.
One thing we noticed was that people were drawn to the project to its novelty and tactile qualities, as well as its resemblance to popular board games. We were not surprised at the numerous people who came up to us and said their aunt, grandmother or mother was a quilter; what surprised us more was the extent to which board gamers were attracted to the game.
Once seated, players immediately became engrossed in the strategic potential of the game, sometimes playing in a cut-throat manner than involved a lot of blocking and tile-turning, other times, playing the game more as a race to see who could complete the circuit first. We were very gratified that people seemed to find the gameplay fun and strategic. Additionally, people became very excited when the lights went on. We were kind of amazed by how rewarded people left by success in the game. Finally, as we had hoped, gameplay precipitated conversations about electricity and electronics, as well as many brainstorms and new ideas about contexts for the game, as well as effects for the tiles.
One challenge we faced was the fact that the fabric needed some additional connection to create the circuit. We had originally planned on sewing the pieces together with conductive thread, but this meant that the game could not be replayed. So instead, we used conductive tape. Once a player had completed the circuit, they placed conductive tape on the pieces to make the connection. This was the one weakness of the game, however, is it was time consuming and created a sense of delayed gratification.
We had at one point discussed using conductive velcro, an idea we had discarded in part due to the expense. However, we decided that the studio was the ideal environment to test this idea out, so we ordered some conductive velcro and prototyped a miniature version of the game where we mounted small “bride” pieces onto the board with super glue, sewing the other side of the velcro on the backs of tiles with conductive thread (we had brought a sewing machine in order to do rapid prototyping on-site).
The system worked brilliantly, allowing for the instant gratification of the light going on as soon as the last piece in the circuit was put in place. The result of this test can be seen in the trailer video.
Among those who visited our table at SIGGRAPH were a number of educators, including representatives of children’s museums. These individuals spent considerable time with us discussing how the game might be used in the context of a classroom or museum setting. Additionally, several people told us they would purchase the game to play with their families.
Based on the feedback we received, we are currently exploring options for how to distribute the game both as an instructables DYI initiative, and also in a completed form for the more casual player.