Alt.Ctrl.GDC Showcase: Table44

Table44, a table of shimmering colors and song, looks to bring players together through its dazzling light show and accessible design.

The 2019 Game Developers Conference will feature an exhibition called Alt.Ctrl.GDC dedicated to games that use alternative control schemes and interactions.

Gamasutra will be talking to the developers of each of the games that have been selected for the showcase.

Table44 uses light and song to create play, drawing players in with its pulsing colors and sound.

Designed for accessibility via its use of light and color over standard controllers, and with the aim to break down barriers between strangers, it looks to bring players together through its dazzling light show.

Gamasutra spoke with Alon Adda, developer of Table44, to learn more about designing for accessibility, the draw of colored lights as players and as a developer, and the pleasure of bringing people together for play.

Creating a multiplayer game of light and sound

My name is Alon Adda, I am the inventor and creator of Table44 (Table for four). I have invented and planned the game, built the table, installed the electronics, and programmed all the games. In fact, I planned the table during its construction and built it while still planning. I did not use drawings and diagrams at first, except for things I had scribbled in notebooks, and I did not have a complete design before starting construction. I had conjured up ideas as I progressed. It was an original and interesting journey, which led to Table44 in its current form.

Table44 is an electronic gaming table that uses touch sensors and colorful LEDs for playing. It does not have a screen, a keyboard, or a mouse. The players use their hands to touch triangular sensory surfaces located around the table. The touch sensors are actually the input unit of the game, and touching them causes a response according to the rules of the particular game played. The response is displayed through LED-generated lights, along with sound.

The game contains colored LEDs that change colors according to the game and its rules, as well as speakers used for sound effects. Table44 can also be used as a musical instrument.

In the center of the table there is a pole wrapped in LEDs, which serves as the UI for the game and indicates the progress of the players and their score in the various games. The various games coded into Table44 are suitable for one player and up to 6 players, although most games are best played by four.

On the thoughts behind Table44's design

I always liked LEDs—RGB LEDs in particular—and the relatively powerful lights they make, unlike screens. I also wanted to make a game that does not make use a joystick or a mouse/keyboard, but rather uses hand tapping, thus making the game accessible to almost everyone, even if they have never played on a computer or a console.

Developing games of light and song

The idea of Table44's original game, called Color Catcher, was born with the idea of the table, and I am not sure whether I had created the game for the table, or the table for the game. At any rate, Color Catcher is what I had in mind from the very start of the process. Further into development, I created the other games, and I continually develop additional games for the table.

The music modes were created before the games themselves, originally in order to test the sensitivity of the touch sensors and the sound quality. I soon realized that using the table to play music was a lot of fun, and so the music modes were incorporated into the game.

As for the games, the first game, mentioned above, is designed as a competitive game between participants based on agility and motion. Later I designed games that required cooperation between the players, and tactic/turn based games (these I found significantly more challenging to create), and I continue to design more games that will be incorporated into Table44.

In each game the lights function differently, in accordance with the game rules.

Built to bring people together

One of the most unique innovations in the table, in contrast to almost any other electronic game, is that it requires players to physically play together (or against each other). It is designed to bring people together, and it has the ability to draw together individuals who, minutes earlier, were perfect strangers. The idea was born after realizing that people spend so much time playing, when all they see in front of their eyes is a screen. I wanted to enable something different too.

Table44 is not intended to replace the gaming experience of a computer or mobile device, but rather offers a new, different kind of experience, that can be shared with people who are in close proximity, and not somewhere on the Internet.

Using color for accessibility

In an attempt to make the table accessible to the widest audience and to all people, and since there are no screens, I had to find a way to represent each player, as well as the game rules, using colors alone. What may appear to be a limitation actually proved to be a very interesting alternative, and indeed makes the game widely accessible.

It was important to me that the rules of all games would be very simple and can be easily and quickly learned. There is also a very short verbal guidance at the beginning of some of the games, just to let the players know how to get started.

There were actually occasions in which the table was introduced to colorblind players who found Table44 difficult to play. I had not taken this situation into account when developing the game. I am currently developing versions of several games that will be suitable for those who have difficulty distinguishing between colors. This is quite challenging, considering that these games are so color based, but I believe that I have found the answer to this problem.

On how its design draws attention

As in many cases during the construction process, I had little intention of attracting attention, but there were some thoughts that led to this.

I believe that there are several factors that make Table44 an eye-catcher. The first is the geometrical shapes that make up the surface's design. They are symmetrical and resemble a pointed flower (I love flowers very much). Also, the combination of black and white creates a contrast that attracts the eye. It was clear to me from the beginning that I would use black and white only in the design of the table surface, so that all color is brought to the table by the LEDs (This was also important in order to ensure that colors of the table surface would not be similar to any color used in the game itself). During the design, I did some simulations in order to find the black and white positions that I believed would look best on the table.

The second thing that attracts the eye is, of course, the lights and their colorful movement. Unlike screens, LEDs in this format are just like small flashlights. They spread a nice, colorful light around them, and on the people playing. This is very appealing to the eye, and is highlighted when placing the table in a dimly lit space (it also allows for great photos when shooting the players during the game). The effect gets a bit lost in a very brightly lit place, and that's one of the disadvantages I have to deal with every once in a while, even though the table still functions great in well-lit places.

What music adds to Table44's light show

The combination of light and sound is a combination often found in nature, such as lightning and thunder. This is also prevalent in computer games, where things happen and are expressed both in lights and in sounds. In Table44, I have made use of sound effects that are not necessarily typical for computer games, something that I believe adds to the game experience. For example, Color Catcher is accompanied by chorus voices in different tones. There is also a narrator who announces the game names and the winner (in terms of color). Other, more typical game sounds are used, like buzzers, explosions, etc.

In addition, there are modes in which the table does not function as a game but rather as a musical instrument, with different types of instruments. As I had mentioned above, this happened "accidentally", created as a side effect, but it resulted in a nice audiovisual effect. It is particularly enjoyed by those who know how to play keyboards or drums.

The table also has a simple and fun music player mode for playing songs accompanied by the movement of lights. It's amusing.

A long-lasting love of light

I have created my first computer game when I was 15, and that was 34 years ago... I got an 8-bit computer called Dragon 32 and programmed the game using Basic language. The computer world was not yet familiar and accessible to the vast public, and my ability to program a game by myself had fascinated me. I would come back from school and go straight to the computer, almost like most children of the present time. Back then, it was a relatively rare thing, and I not only played, but also learned how to program with books. (Yes, books were used then, when the concept of internet could not even be imagined). At the age of 16, a motorcycle entered my life, and with it an interest in dating, so I abandoned my interest in computers and programming for many years.

After high school, I studied electronics, and one of my final projects was an electronic game - a maze represented by LEDs (yes, yes, I always loved LEDs). It's pretty amazing that the next electronic game that I would create is Table44, and it happened 27 years later.

I have no professional game programming background. About three years ago, I had decided to study and go back to programming games as a hobby. I studied game developing and design in the evenings and on weekends, and graduated from Shenkar's Game Design program. The plan was to create computer games, but then I got curious about physical electronic games and focused on that. So now, instead of carrying my game on a small disk-on-key, I have to walk around with a heavy table.

The fact that I learned to develop and design computer games on "regular" platforms helped me very much as a good background for programming the games for Table44. Ultimately, although the platform is quite different, it is still a computer game.

Yet, most of the practical knowledge that I needed for the development, construction and programming of the table I had acquired independently via written guides on the Internet and YouTube videos.

I believe that in the future, I will work on computer games also in more "acceptable" formats. I have some good ideas on the subject, but for now am focusing on programming Table44. There is a special magic in programming various games on a new platform that you have invented.

On crafting Table44

I tried many tools, and made use of the ones that worked best. I'm still looking at different alternatives that will be ideal for the next tables. So far, I have built two tables that are almost identical in terms of design and games, but I tried different materials and electronic components in each one. I have purchased all the electronic parts from the internet, in places such as Ali Express or eBay, and I did various experiments with many different parts to get what I wanted. As mentioned, I have a background in electronics, and although it is from the distant past, it helped me on my journey into this world.

Table44 was present in various events and played by a wide variety of people. I use these events as an opportunity to constantly recheck and revisit tools used and decisions made. Any conclusions that I reached are then applied in my quest to make the next version of Table44 a better one.

I built the first table entirely from wood (except the electronics of course). I felt a bit like Grandpa Geppetto, who created something from wood that eventually has a life of its own (in my case, only as long as it is plugged in ... :).)

I have documented the whole process of development and construction, and now when I look at the pictures and the videos I am quite amazed to see the chaos I started with which turned out as Table44. There were also good friends along the way who helped with advice and practical knowledge on construction issues with which I had less experience.

In the second version of the table, I had combined additional materials such as plastic and Perspex that gave it a slightly different visual appearance, but the design and gaming experience were unchanged.

The draw of unique physical controllers

Physical games create a unique gaming experience that cannot be attained via computer or mobile games. The physical use of the body, the physical proximity between the players, and the relatively easy physical movements, produce a gaming experience that is suitable for a wide range of players (unlike sports competitions that require high physical abilities to succeed).

The players' hands are actually the "controllers" of the game, and anyone who is not limited in their hands can play very easily without training. It allows for competition between diverse players, something that is not seen in almost any other competition. There is no significance to your physical fitness, and the combination of adults and children playing together or against each other works great, without a clear advantage to either.

One game that I had enjoyed watching in particular was a game between a grandfather and his grandson. The game between them was remarkably balanced. The grandson was very quick, while the grandfather's movements were relatively slow. However, the grandfather's long hands gave him an advantage, so that while the grandson was forced to jump from side to side and around the table, the grandfather could reach more sensors with his hands without moving. It was a rare, beautifully-balanced competition between grandfather and grandson. No need for one to let the other win. Watching their enthusiastic and excited reactions, I felt proud to have created a game that can produce such moments of happiness. :)

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