Indie developer Sensible Object merges physical and digital gameplay with Fabulous Beasts
Future Makers: advances in digital tools are enabling independent game developers to move into hardware as well as software, says Alex Fleetwood of start-up Sensible Object, which is developing a new hybrid game called Fabulous Beasts (+ movie).
"Small, independent game developers have been working in software for a long time," Fleetwood says in the movie, which was filmed at Sensible Object's London studio. "Over the last five years it is starting to become possible in hardware electronics as well."
Fleetwood founded Sensible Object last year with the aim of developing games that combine the physical interaction of traditional board games with digital gameplay.
"We're a design studio making games that combine physical and digital play," he explains. "I think it is a really exciting time to be investigating this relationship between games and hardware."
The start-up's first game, which Fleetwood hopes to launch via crowdfunding platform Kickstarter next year, is called Fabulous Beasts.
Players take turns to build a tower by balancing plastic blocks on top of each other. Each physical piece they play has an impact on the digital part of the game, which is playable on a mobile device connected via Bluetooth.
"The tower rests on a smart sensing platform, which translates every piece into an equivalent in the connected digital world," Fleetwood explains. "As players build the tower it becomes more elaborate and complex and consequently the digital world they are creating becomes higher scoring. The aim of the game is to get the highest score before the tower falls down."
The basic pieces in the game, which are each identified via an embedded RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip, consist of different animals. Players are able to augment and evolve these animals in the digital game by playing other pieces on top of them.
"A bear and an eagle might be combined into a hybrid called a 'beagle'," Fleetwood explains. "Or an octopus might migrate onto land and become a 'rocktopus'."
Sensible Object iterated various hardware prototypes for Fabulous Beasts as they refined the mechanics of the game, before settling on the current design.
Fleetwood says that this was only possible because of the wide range of affordable and accessible digital tools that have become available to independent designers over the last five years.
"We now have a set of tools at our disposal that allow us to design, prototype and scale very rapidly," he says. "On the one had we have electronics prototyping tools like Arduino, on the other we can create and test pieces using a 3D printer and then of course there is a linking software layer that hinges the rest of that together."
Sensible Object's product designer Tim Burrell-Saward uses a combination of Autodesk 3ds Max and Fusion 360 software to design and refine the pieces.
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"Tim uses 3ds Max to do the surface modelling and then he's translating that into Fusion 360 to do the solid modelling," Fleetwood explains. "We come up with an idea for the piece, we print it out, we can then integrate it into the game and play with it very quickly."
Future Makers is a collaboration between Dezeen and Autodesk exploring how designers are harnessing new digital tools and advanced manufacturing technology to pioneer the future of making things. You can watch all the movies in the series as we publish them on our YouTube playlist: