In honor of the 10th anniversary of Maker Faire Bay Area, we wanted to pull out all the stops. We wanted to create to biggest, heaviest, tallest littleBits project ever built. We wanted to use a ton of Bits, like, the most Bits ever used. And we wanted to rep our city and bring a slice of New York to San Mateo.
Well, mission accomplished. And we’re bringing our epic wow project to World Maker Faire in NYC on September 26th.
Behold: the littleBits Arcade
The arcade is a nod to the classic Donkey Kong game with various obstacles on 3 levels. A ball is dropped at the top floor of the Empire State Building and the player can move the level using our custom control panel (Push It, Press It, Cover It). The object of the game is to get the ball through holes on each floor and to have it land at the basement, where you can collect your sweet, sweet prize. And guess what: the gameplay is FULLY ANALOG! We talked to Monty, Kristin, Shem & Arjun, who along with Chloe, Eva, Francesco, & JB constructed the arcade.
Monty, Product Designer, Tower Architect: I tell people that it’s a multi level pinball machine.
Kristin, Engineer, Level Designer: I like to say that it’s a combination of Plinko and Pinball. Like if Plinko and Pinball had a baby…
Monty: …it would be the Empire State Building.
Monty doing his best King Kong impersonation.
Monty: We wanted it to be fun and interactive for everyone, both the player and the onlooker. The scale of the project allowed us to explore the interaction design possibilities of the Bits. It’s not just scaling in terms of raw power but also in terms of how complex the system can be.
Kristin: The goal was to show off the whole library, not just a few Bits in particular. The project is a fully analog arcade. There’s no programming involved in the creation of the levels, so there’s a really low barrier of entry to replicate the arcade.
Kristin: The crown has two main aspects, sound & light. All of the RGB LEDs are controlled by a sequencer module to create a light show effect.
Monty: The crown is dope. But the gameplay is my favorite part. The fact that you can use a simple controller to control a huge tower is crazy awesome.
Analog all the way!
Eva and Shem and the magical controller.
Kristin: Oh, and the music is pretty sweet too.
Arjun, Social Media Manager, Game Music Composer: I originally wanted to recreate the music from the original King Kong, but then I googled it and realized that nobody knows the music from the original King Kong. So I decided on something from my childhood, something familiar that will surely get stuck in people’s heads: the theme to Donkey Kong Country.
Picture Cranky Kong in his old rocking chair.
Arjun: With the help of Stan, one of our engineers, I coded an Arduino module to play the theme. We added delay and filter Bits for effects and a dimmer to control the music’s tempo. Stan also coded the arduino so that when you press a button, the theme will begin to change slightly with every loop, until it becomes basically unrecognizable. It’s like an insanity button.
Dave winning big time at arcade’s office debut, minutes before we had to pack it up and ship it across the country.
Kristin: Constructing an analog arcade made us think in a more spatial way.
Monty: Yeah, coding isn’t as accessable to everyone. But the spatial thinking behind creating something analog helps people to understand how circuitry works.
Shem: It’s awesome that you don’t need any engineering experience to create a modular control that can be used for anything beyond the life of the arcade.
Dave, Product Designer, Tester: You get to deal with just the raw concept, whereas in coding you have to deal with specific syntax and protocols. You don’t need to know any language, you can use the Bits to create a sentence that anyone can read.
So what’s the prize? Come to our booth to find out!