Arcade Operator is an experimental meta game that explores the interface as defined by the context of the user. It is a self-reflexive artefact, an art game that uses the arcade videogame interface as a medium through which to examine its own connective properties.
Instead of playing the coin-ops present in the diegetic space of the onscreen arcade, the player must interface at operator and technician levels by maintaining the game cabinets. The style of interaction is based closely on the sideways scrolling brawler sub-genre of arcade gaming, except without the brawling. Arcade Operator switches the user context to a non-gameplay mode of interfacing with arcade videogame platforms, albeit in an abstracted form through an arcade play mechanic.
Arcade Operator (Test ROM Edition) title screen.
The stage intro screen, detailing the arcade cabinet anatomy.
Arcade Operator demo stage 1, spare parts help speed up the repair process.
To the playing (and paying) public, arcade videogame cabinets represent closed off, black box computing systems. The arcade operator who runs the arcade and maintains the machines has a unique, non-play level of interaction with the machine, performing repair and maintenance tasks on the same hardware. Similarly game developers and engineers connect with the same computational system through different interface contexts, while game art practitioners use gaming platforms (both hardware and software) as raw materials for their own unique creators context.
An arcade cabinets inner workings are strictly utilitarian, right down to the unadorned, exposed nature of the cathode ray tubes and game printed circuit boards. Operator level interfacing with the arcade platform ranges from routine tasks such emptying the coin-tray and configuring game values via dip-switches, to more complex tasks such as installing game PCBs and troubleshooting and repairing defective game boards. Arcade Operator is an experiment in taking the repair and maintenance tasks of the arcade operator and making the associated processes and platform components visible to the arcade player.
Arcade Operator Soundtrack
VGA Reader Issue 1 (features an essay on Arcade Operator)
GameScenes.org – Art Game: Kieran Nolan’s Arcade Operator (2017)
Control is an art game experience that intends to provoke discussion and reflection on the limitations of the physical interface and the nature of the human computer symbiosis in videogaming as mediated through the manual game controller.
The game takes place in a computer that is part early IBM PC compatible, part tape loading 8bit home micro. Use the basic arcade control scheme of 8 directions and one action button to control a downsampled representation of your hand, while negotiating a series of increasingly complex videogame control devices.
Control has 10 levels. The first 9 of these are based on existing videogame controllers, while Level 10 is the ‘OctoPad’, an experimental concept prototype. The player must successfully press all the highlighted controls to proceed to the next stage. If the timer or energy level reaches zero then it’s ‘Game Over’!
The player is represented onscreen by a hand avatar, which is controlled using the basic arcade videogame control mechanism of 8 directions and one action button. The 5 digits of the hand can be individually used to press the onscreen game controls. In order to use one of the fingers, the player must hold down the action button along with directional control for either left, top left, up, top right, or right. Each of these 5 movements corresponds to a single digit, for example, the combination of left and action corresponding to the thumb.
Control echoes the hand to controller aspect of the videogame interface in the diegetic space of the visual interface through a downsampled meta interface. It makes the game interface the constant point of focus, rather than have it disappear to make way for an unrelated feedback visual. This goes against the notion of the ideal of interface design where an interface should be so intuitive that it for all intents and purposes ‘disappears’. In CONTROL the visual interface will not let you forget that your are manually interfacing with the computer through a hand to controller link.
Control‘s visual style is in part inspired by early PC gaming graphics, combining the colours from the different 4 colour CGA video modes into a new palette. This reference to early PC gaming is merged with the tape loader aesthetic of 8bit computers such as the Commodore 64. Animated raster bars are commonly associated with the anticipation of game loading, but in this case are used as feedback indicators, changing colour in response to the player’s progress. The audio is also kept deliberately lofi, combining samples of ZX Spectrum loading sounds alongside 4 channel loops generated on the Nintendo Game Boy.
By using a low fidelity reproduction of the hand in the playfield, both visually and in terms of the available control scheme, the game reflects the resolution divide between the analog and digital worlds. In addition to the challenge provided, the increasing button count of the onscreen game controllers is intended to reflect the evolution of game input devices. The final level of Control confronts the user with the speculative ‘OctoPad’ prototype game controller that exaggerates the complexity of existing devices. The progress a player makes through the game levels is a measure of their own patience and ability to play within a constrained control scheme and increasingly more difficult level layout.
ISEA / International Symposium of Electronic Arts Hong Kong 2016
Game on! El arte en juego 2015
Out Of Index 2015 Control feature page
Out Of Index Experimental Game Showcase 2015 (Live Stream)
Digital Material review at matlit.wordpress.com
Materiality at NUI Galway 2015
The Blank Arcade @ DiGRA 2015
Art.CHI, ACM SIGCHI 2015
Built To Play Episode 55: Interface The Machine
GameScenes, Event: VECTOR 2015 (February 18 – 22, 2015, Toronto, Canada)
Vector 2015 Exhibition: To Utility and Beyond. Interface Experiments in New Media and Game Art.
EGX London 2014 Leftfield Collection
Herzteile – A Maze Festival 2014
A MAZE. / Berlin: A MAZE. 2014 3rd International Independent Video Games Festival WTF! Award Nominees
IndieGames.com: 15 finalists announced for Germany indie event A MAZE.
Gamespacks.net: A Game Space Experimental Game Pack 01
Gamescenes: Art Game: Kieran Nolan’s “Control” (2013)
Indie Statik: The Strange, Cool, Experimental Games of LA Game Space
El Píxel Ilustre: CONTROL
Creative Applications, On The Web: CONTROL
Giant Bomb: LA Game Space Round Up: Part 1
Tiny Cartridge: LA Game Space Games available now
Rainy Day Let’s Play: LA Game Space Live Stream – Alphabet + Control
Kickstarter: LA Game Space
The Metanoias: CONTROL (LA/GS game pack 001)
Academia.edu: Control: Playing Through Game Interface Constraints
“He watched the kids stand in front of the machines their bony arms like umbilical cords joining human and machine. He asked the kids questions about what made a good game. Arawaka realized the most successful games had something that player’s couldn’t articulate. The words used to describe them were usually reserved to describe forms of intimacy between people. It was as if the players and the game itself had somehow merged.”
(page 83, ‘Game Over – Nintendo’s battle to dominate videogames’, David Sheff, 1993, Coronet Books).
Bionic Roshambo at GAME: The Future of Play
(The Science Gallery, Dublin, 2012)
Bionic Roshambo was originally built as the practice based element of Kieran Nolan’s MA in Interactive Media thesis at the University of Limerick in 2002. It explored the symbolism of the hand as a link between humans and machines, drawing upon a number of influences, including science fiction notions of human machine hybridity, and custom arcade cabinet design. Essentially, it’s a version of ‘paper, rock, scissors’ that is controlled by hand gestures, providing the user with the sensation that they are truly interfaced and ‘at one’ with the machine.
The project was initially focused more on technology than usability, but over time developed into the tailoring of an interface solution for a specific task, where the technology ended up enabling the idea, rather than overly influencing it. It uses a prototype arcade cabinet featuring a pair of custom-built glove controllers and runs on a standard PC. The controller interface is a hacked PC keyboard, modified to capture the three iconic hand gestures of ‘rock’, ‘paper’ and ‘scissors’. The glove controller cords form a symbolic umbilical link between the game players and the arcade cabinet.
What was achieved was a two player arcade experience that takes a culturally transcending game concept, and translates it to the arcade gaming domain. The end result is an original approach to video gaming, and an engaging experience for users.
Arcade coin-op gaming has been dealt a major blow by the home gaming market, but the spirit lives on. The situated play environment of the games arcade has had a lasting effect on the current generation of digital creatives, influencing cultural movements such as the pixel art and chiptune scenes. Bionic Roshambo is a direct homage to the cyber future foretold by Nintendo’s ill-fated Power Glove, and the rawness of low bitrate audio and graphics.
As a DIY take on the medium of arcade gaming, it intends to open up discussion on the possibilities of human machine interfacing, bespoke gaming peripheral design, and the future of arcade video gaming in public spaces.
Bionic Roshambo at GAME
(The ZIL Culture Centre, Moscow, 2013)
Here is a project by my students from year 4 of the BSc (Hons) in Computing and Games Development at Dundalk Institute of Technology during the Spring 2012 semester, for the Designing for Cultural Diversity elective. The class were set a project to present a practical demonstration of reappropriation of game engines and language localisation through the medium of a machinima movie. They produced the following mockumentary ‘Skyrim: You’ve been Maimed’, along with a ‘making of‘ micro-documentary.
A machinima is a movie made using the environment and assets of a videogame engine. For example, the online multiplayer 3D world of popular game franchise Halo is the setting for the chat show This Spartan Life. In it the host and interviewee converse amidst intermittent gunfire from the other occupants of the Halo gamespace.
By combining both theory and practice in a self-referential assessment, the project learning outcomes are reinforced for the learner, providing deeper understanding through first hand experience. The game environment also provides unique opportunities for reflective exploration of digital space and communicative expression.
Leveraging closed source media in a creative context unintended by the technologies originators allows the consumer to take control, recontextualising closed digital artifacts into fresh creative materials. Furthermore, pushing closed source computational media from read-only (or play-only) to a read-write state through creative hacking blurs the distinction between media-consumer and media-creator. Remixing disposable digital media compliments the use of open-source in the classroom, providing a more holistic view of creative technologies beyond mainstream platform and licensing parameters.
In other words, it’s important to go beyond mainstream creative toolkits, all media is fair game for creative use.
More slides, these are from my talk at the European Communication Research and Education Association/ECREA Digital Culture and Communication Workshop 2011.
The talk was mainly about using Booki and BurnStation in class assessment situations, but also went off on a few related tangents. These included Open Source vs Ad*be in design education, motivating students in large group projects, the affordances and risks of working on college projects in the ‘public’ webspace and a brief rant about Facebook’s ever changing and deliberately obfuscating privacy settings :)
I concluded with some thoughts on the collaborative and peer learning successes of the diy ‘maker’ and open education movements and how these can feed back constructively into formal higher learning. The underground always filters up to the mainstream, and I believe this applies as much to education as any other cultural field.
Here are my slides from the 2011 Piceteilín Creative Media Conference.
Here are some short exercises in game video glitching and 8bit graphics from my Vimeo account.
These visuals were recorded from an Intellivision TV Game system, I opened it up and connected up random points on the CMOS memory chip and PCB to generate these glitches.
This is recorded from the C64 emulator ‘Virtual C64’, while testing out this code example for generating colour bars from the Commodore 64 user manual.
Here’s another piece of Commodore 64 code,
10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10
it generates a pattern based on pseudo-random numbers. Simple, but kind of hypnotic :)
I’ve been using Wifi while commuting by bus a lot this week, reminded me of this project proposal I made in 2002 back when I was studying towards the Interactive Media MA at UL. It was for our ‘Interactive Media in Public Spaces’, as taught by Enda O’Donoghue.
The presentation shown above had 2 possible themes for my project, the first was changing the bus commuting experience for the better through design and interactive technologies.
It has a whole bunch of random ideas including equipping bus coaches with Virtual Reality headsets for each passenger and concept sketches for a modular bus made up out of people’s cars, and a circular bus where everyone’s facing each other.
At this time wardriving with Pringles cans modified into Cantennas was an emerging hacker trend, wifi networks were even less secure than now. So one concept was that the bus stops and shelters would act as the transmission points for the mobile network signal, with each bus as a node in a citywide wireless network. In effect the bus drivers are wardrivers of sorts, feeding off each others wifi signals.
The second theme explored was a reactive building, I looked a little into the possibilities of holograms and also physically altering the structure of the building. I must have been influenced by Daniel Rosin’s Wooden Mirror.
Anyhows, I went with the Bus idea and wrote up a treatment for a commercial solution called BuSpace.
BuSpace equips each bus with a wired, local area network. 2001 was the pre-smartphone era and Wifi wasn’t the ubiquitous standard it is today. Each bus would be equipped with a BuSpace server suitcase containing a laptop, GSM transmitter/receiver which plugged into a network point in the floor. The signal was then fed to network points on the back of each headrest, serving up WAP speed internet data to laptops, PDAs or mobile phones with (magical!) proprietary BuSpace cables…
Anyhows, this has been sitting on my computer HD for a long while, but I thought I’d put it out there. As someone wise once said “Publish or be damned” :)
At DkIT I teach a module called User Theories to year 4 of the BA (Hons) in Communications and Creative Multimedia. It centers around the distributive, collaborative and communicative properties of digital media and the creative opportunities these afford. So for example, we cover topics like digital distribution, Creative Commons licenses and online communities.
The module is assessed half through an exam and half through in-class, continuous assessment projects. CA project one is normally a virtual ethnography of an online community and it’s inhabitants. This means that three quarters of the assessed mark is based on solo work.
In 2009 the remaining 25% was allocated to an experiential learning project. In other words ‘learning by doing’. The students worked in groups to bring what they learned about open source licenses and digital distribution to the public in the tangible form of BurnStation, a mobile MP3 distribution centre. The DKIT Burn Station crew were fully endorsed by Platoniq, who set up the first copyleft copystation in Barcelona five years ago.
For 2010 I wanted to continue with more experiential learning, with a strong focus on working collaboratively in the digital domain. I also sought to encourage more discussion of class topics outside of lecture time, because the 4 hours set aside for the module per week often isn’t enough time to digest the content. With this in mind I set 10% for use of the Moodle forums and 15% for the production of a textbook called ‘Emotive Design’ through a system called Booki
Booki is a web based, open source platform that facilitates the collaborative production of textbooks. It is based on the conventions of a wiki, providing an environment where users can write book chapters and edit each others content, working together in real time or asynchronously. It also allows the easy export of these Wiki based publications into custom formatted, print ready PDF files.
I first learned about Booki through a blog post about the Transmediale Festival earlier in 2010, where I read about the 6 day book sprint that led to the book ‘Collaborative Futures’. This initiative inspired me to incorporate a book sprint of sorts into User Theories class later in the year.
The ‘Emotive Design’ project involved imagining a design concept that could reduce user frustration with interactive media. In other words looking at ideas to provide interactive products with personality (for instance, avatars) so that users feel a strong bond to their interactive product, so increasing their satisfaction with it. The students were asked to reflect on their assigned readings and come up with their own idea for an ‘emotive interface’. This was made up of a detailed diagram and text based description.
This project took place over three stages. First the class posted their initial concepts onto the Moodle forum for peer review. The next stage was to work together in Booki to structure all these design concepts together into one textbook. Stage three was the final class session to finish the book, linking up the students both in college and at home through cyberspace during the final lab class of the semester.
This class happened when Ireland was hit with a cold snap in December 2010 and many of the students were stuck at home due to the snow, but it never snows in cyberspace! Half the class were at home and half were in the lab, so we were communicating both in meatspace and cyberspace and by the end of the lab session had formatted together a draft copy of the ‘Emotive Design’ text through Booki.
Experiencing teaching a class live online and in the classroom simultaneously was a new experience for me, but one I really enjoyed. I mentioned in a post on the Booki blog that it “bridges the gap between digital and print media and produces a tangible product”. It also bridges the digital and physical learning environments, by providing a online space that facilitates communication and collaboration.
Adam Hyde wrote about the use of Booki at DkIT in a chapter of ‘Learning Through Digital Media, Experiments in Technology and Pedagogy‘, on the Media Commons Press, edited by Trebor Sholz (link).
The ‘Emotive Design’ booki project itself is available at: