The hardest part about designing incredible experiences is when you then have to make them a reality. Sometimes we dream a little too big, and when it comes time to produce our designs, we find that the technology or the parts to make it happen don’t actually exist. That’s why being inventors is such a big part of our culture—it enables us to not only provide solutions but deliver on our own conceptions—not to mention help legitimize our career choices to our mothers.
When it came time for us to deliver on our design for the Alf Engen’s Take Flight! interactive we found the available technologies lacking for our needs. The idea was to build a virtual ski jump game that brought the player into the sport, where the gameplay relied on their balance and reaction times. We considered a few options available to us, like using load-cells as utilized in the Wii Balance Board, or implementing computer vision as found in the Xbox Kinect technology. Neither could realize our needs and we had concerns about existing products holding up to the abuse of 250,000 visitors a year.
So we set out to create our own device—the objectives being to challenge the balance of the player, track their center-of-gravity, provide haptic feedback, and all the while hold up under the pressure of America’s healthy waistline.
Our team got to work conceptualizing and prototyping a myriad of solutions. Quick iterations were key to finding a solution within our time frame. Initial prototypes were built from storage rack parts and duct tape. Then we moved onto a proof-of-concept where we built the equivalent design using MDF layers shaped by our CNC machine. The most creative involved taking golf balls to our tablesaw and blocks of cast nylon.
Most of these prototypes didn’t give us the full range of movement we were hoping for, and the ones that were able to, didn’t have the resistance we needed to restrict the movements of the player. The ideal platform would dampen quick movements and provide resistance yet yield under their weight when the player leaned further out from their center of gravity.
Our most promising prototype came around on attempt four or five. This involved parts from an old swamp cooler and the valve-springs pulled from our Production Director’s 1969 Corvair to create a 2-axis gimbal platform. Once thoroughly tested we built the final model based on what we learned from the prototype. For the final build we used more permanent fabrication techniques and used industrial grade components to ensure it would survive through millions of plays.
This 2-axis gimbal platform, paired with the electronics to sense and track the player’s movements, were vital to the gaming experience we sought.
June 30, 2016