Blowaway,
The Winds of Therslow

BlowAway is a collaborative computer game in which up to 6 players work together to control the movement of a balloon. They must collect items and avoid enemies across four different islands.

The game uses an innovative physical interface; players use custom-built sensors, located around a table, to move the balloon over the game landscapes.

While the game is loyal to many of the conventions of traditional computer games, it breaks others, facilitating physical, collaborative and gender-neutral play.

context
Degree Thesis Project
Duration
4 months
Faculty
Declan Tuite
TeaM
Nicola Kavanagh, John Lynch, Therese Veale, Ciarán Vipond, Kevin Cannon
Role
Research, Concept generation, Electronics

This project has been exhibited at Wired Nextfest in Chicago, Next05 in Copenhagen and the Europrix TopTalent Award in Vienna.

initial sketch
The main game, with 6 sensors around the table
arduino
The game being played at Wired NextFest in Chicago.
initial sketch
arduino

arduino
Screenshots from the game in action. Shown here are the 4 islands, beach, ice, jungle and city.

Video

Starting Point

BlowAway was created as part of a final year thesis for the B.Sc. in Multimedia in Dublin City University 2004. This was a time before Wiimotes and multi-touch, and many of tech advances that have been made in recent years. The project, dubbed Brand New Page, was an investigation into augmenting traditional toys with digital media techniques. Many people believe new media and traditional toys to be inherently incompatible. With Blowaway we hoped to forge new ground by borrowing from both traditional toys and new media technology.

initial sketch

Research

We wanted to explore the possibilities of play and digital media before going on to produce a piece based on our research. Initial research included child psychology, children's play and development, the history of toys; popular toys; gender bias in computer games; audio in games and current trends in physical interfaces.

Concept Generation

We spent a month researching. The concept stage involved analysing this research and identifying key ideas we wished to explore. We decided that we wanted our final piece to be:

  • Collaborative
  • Gender neutral
  • Physical
  • Most importantly, fun.

We spent an intensive week brainstorming ideas. At the end of that week we were left with approximately 5 key ideas which we felt had the potential to go into production. We agreed on one idea, and spent the next week refining the concept. BlowAway, the Winds of Therslow was our result.

Production & Testing

The production process lasted 2 1/2 months. Programming, sketching, strumming and drilling all kicked in as we worked towards the deadline.

Testing

With about 1 month to go to our deadline, we had a working demo of the game. Up to that point we had made many assumptions regarding how children play. We needed to test those assumptions, and to see how children reacted to the game. Testing took place in two schools: Virgin Mary's Boys School and Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch, both based in Ballymun, Dublin. The boys and girls who took part were aged between 9 and 10. Initial Alpha testing took place with an early demo of the game. A more refined version was tested during a second phase of testing. The children were very helpful, providing informed comment and feedback. Most importantly, the children enjoyed the game thoroughly, many expressing regret when they had to stop!

Result

Blowaway, when completed, was a fully-functional arcade style video game, with it’s own unique control system, display setup, collaborative gameplay, and original music and visuals for four “worlds” in-game. Betsy, as we came to affectionately call the 6.5 foot long installation, was the proud product of our collective imagination, ingenuity, sweat and tears.

The project was a great success and went on to be exhibited in Dublin, Vienna, Copenhagen and Chicago.

More Info

More info is available on blowaway.org