Space Hopper by Reilly, Franz and Sanches

Space Hopper by Reilly, Franz and Sanches

Derek Reilly ( is a professor at Dalhousie in the Computer Science Department. He is one of the professors at the Graphics and Media Lab.

Juliano Franz ( is a PhD Student under Derek’s supervision. His background is in Engineering and he loves hardware prototyping.

Vinicius Sanches was a visiting undergraduate student from Brazil. He is currently in his 3rd year in Computer Science.

burst_cover_gif_action_20161015221752What is Space Hopper? How was it conceived?

Space hopper is a revamp of the classical Asteroids game. In our implementation, the game is projected on the floor and the ship is controlled by the player’s body. The player sits on a hopper ball and moves around to move the ship, which is centered at the player’s position. To fire, the player bounces on the ball. We track the player’s position using the Dalhousie Top-Down Tracker, a tracker we created using the Kinect v2. Microsoft API does not work for top down view so we implemented everything from scratch. We have an Arduino Pro on the player’s hat with a 9DOF sensor and a Xbee radio. We use that to know where the player is looking and to know when he is jumping. The game was implemented in Unity3D.

We’ve built on our previous experiences creating physical adaptations of classical videogames. We were interested in a large floor projected game and trying to conceive a way to physically interact with the game. We had several ideas (such as battle of tanks) but the bouncy ball idea emerged when we were thinking about the flatness of the play area and we thought that it was a simple and fun way to play the game.

Testing space was limited for this large project.

Testing space was limited for this large project.

What were the biggest challenges in completing the project?

The most challenging aspect of the structure for the game: sourcing, assembling in the day and even testing it. We did not have enough space at Dal to test the game with the entire structure and we had to test with only half of the game implementation. That lead to some issues at the day of Nocturne such as problems with the projectors ratio that we were unable to see during the testing.

Your Nocturne projects seem to have a common thread.  They seem to be inspired by old school video games.  Is this a deliberate theme?  What is it about old school games that inspires you as makers?

Yes, it is a deliberate theme. Old school video games inspired us for physical mixed reality games. They are usually fun with simple mechanics and visuals but they are challenging. They also take place on a small play area. All of this allows us to make mixed reality physical gaming experiences. There is a natural mapping related to those games, which is also very useful for our hardware requirements such as cameras and trackers.  The structure of those games creates a more traditional control stimulus, so the experience of all the players is consistent. This also fits whitin the concept of a Nocturne exhibit where we want people to play and watch the game. A small controlled space helps crowds to gather around.

img_0853It appeared to be one of the most popular Nocturne exhibits along the waterfront.  How did people react to it?

People reacted very positively to it. It was a kid friendly experience and a lot of kids played. It was interesting to see the different reactions between older folks who played the game when they were young, at the arcade, from the ones who only played at nocturne.

You are old hands now at Nocturne.  What advice do you have for makers who might be considering a Nocturne 2017 entry?

Start early and simple. Get something working and iterate on it. Be prepared for stuff not work on site. Do dry runs with people that were not part of the team developing to make sure you are not missing anything.