Every year rAge Expo rolls around and transforms the Ticketpro Dome into the place to be for everyone who loves twiddling thumbsticks or pushing buttons.
While Triple A games are the main draw of the expo, the small Home Coded stand – a place for local talent to show off their work – is welcome oasis of South African maker spirit.
At rAge 2015 , we spent an entire day playing games at the Home Coded stand, as well as speaking to their creators. One of those creators, Steven Tu (one half of game studio Twoplus Games), impressed us not only with his games, but with a clever device he cooked up to quickly switch between the three games he brought.
Visitors to the stand could decide what they wanted to play and hit the arcade-style button to get into their preferred game. There was no quitting out to to Windows or using Alt+Tab to cycle between them, just a simple mechanism that worked perfectly.
Under the buttons lies a simple circuit hooked up to an Arduino Uno. Unbeknownst to those enjoying the games on the floor, Tu didn’t start the project for the expo, in fact it started two years prior at another venue for local talent – A MAZE.
“About two years ago I was at A AMAZE where I attended a seminar,” Said Tu, “In it I built this box out of laser-cut pieces of wood and wired up the buttons. We then attached them to a Makey Makey.”
The project was then set aside for a while, until rAge 2015 was approaching and Tu’s friend moved away; leaving him with an Arduino Uno.
“I’d never used an Arduino before, but I looked at these [pin outs] and thought; ‘hey, this looks just like a Makey Makey!'”, Said Tu, “And it just so happened that I had three games to show off at rAge, which corresponded to the three buttons.”
But Tu had never worked with an Arduino before, so he got a bit creative with the software. Each button was mapped to the keyboard letters Z, X and C by default, so Tu ran with it. He put bits of code into his three games to act appropriately when one of those letters were pressed. Each game was assigned one letter and knew how to respond when either its letter or a different one was pressed, I.E. closing itself and opening a new game.
Of the three games we played at rAge – Invader Crush, Beat Attack and No More Boxes – none are available for purchase as of yet, and are in various stages of development.
You can read about each game and how they play on our Home Coded special. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t make particular mention of the local multiplayer party game No More Boxes.
The game, which Tu refers to as simply “Boxes”, is a favourite of the developer, but has a few problems due to the nature of the genre it exists in.
“When you’re making a game, you never know if it’s going to be ‘good’. I’ve always liked Boxes, and it works great at a show, unfortunately it’s a very hard sell.” Said Tu, “Although similar games, like Towerful [Ascension], are great and have enjoyed success, they have big names behind them. With [genres like local multiplayer], it’s a very niche market, so you need a big name behind [the project].”