A Game Based Communication Device
Games provide a means for entertainment, social
interaction, and learning in a fun
such, many people of all ages play games on a regular
basis. However, coordinating times to play games can
be challenging due to limited free time and distance.
Digital interfaces provide a reasonable solution, as they
allow gamers to s
tart, pause, and continue a game at
any time and to engage in play with gamers in any
remote location. Despite these capabilities, some
players prefer board games because of its physicality,
sentimental value, and more flexible nature for rule
on or story incorporation.
In this work, we combine the digital and physical world
to create a way to play a tangible game with remote
players. We chose to work with the Milton Bradley
classic game of Connect Four. Our Connect Four
Extension consists o
f a robotic set up that is controlled
by an Internet connected computer and the standard
game set. This robotic contraption transmits each
move to each remote player’s machine and then
executes the remote player’s moves on their set,
Copyright is held by the author/owner(s).
April 10, 2008, Florence, Italy
School of Informat
allowing people to pl
ay with their own Connect Four
sets in separate locations.
Games, connect four, remote, robot
ACM Classification Keywords
Purpose and Application
Process control systems. J7. Computers in Other
Board games are unique because they are tangible and
socially interactive. However, playing games with
multiple players can be difficult due to time and
proximity constraints. Board games that have been
ported to the internet to enabl
e remote playing lose
this physical activity and social aspect. With emerging
technologies, the tangibility of game pieces can be used
to gather digital information about the game through
tracking or sensing. The system we are developing
disconnect by merging the physicality of
a board game with the remoteness of a digital game on
the Internet. We chose to work with the Milton Bradley
classic game of Connect Four, and created the Connect
Four Extension, which allows players to engage in a
game at their leisure from distant locations.
Connect Four is a two
person board game in which
players must “connect four” pieces on a seven
suspended grid. The connection can
be horizontal, vertical or diagonal. Each player
pieces of one color and alternates turns. To win, the
player must achieve the quad
connection before his
In our Connect Four Extension, we record each move
with force sensors that sense the impact of the dropped
piece. Information about thi
s move is then transferred
by digital means to the opponent’s set, where the
Connect Four Extension robot contraption then mimics
that move onto their set. This interaction is repeated
across the two players' sets. This system allows people
to play with
real game pieces on the real game set, and
therefore maintains a realistic representation of the
game. As such, players can engage in a real game,
across remote locations.
Much work has been done on interaction between
multiple users in remot
e spaces, particularly for gaming
experiences. Physical interfaces are desirable because
they allow more natural collaboration between users
while manipulating digital information .
An example of an augmented reality game is TJass ,
a card game with digital applications.
This system assists the players by automatically
updating the score and providing “decision assistance”
for each move, while preserving the traditional cards
and board setup. Research on tangible interaction in
tal board games has been done with Weathergods
, False Prophets , and the TViews Table Role
Playing Game project .
PlayTogether pushes further by allowing people to play
board games in separate locations via a PlayAnywhere
tabletop system . Th
is system projects videos of the
opponent’s hands and game pieces onto each player’s
tabletop, to mimic players sitting around a table.
The Connect Four Extension differs from these systems
in that it uses the actual game set with small changes
digital projections or applications. The
player engages in the game solely with the physical
The interaction loop is derived from the game play. The
interaction may be described in terms of both the
progress of the game, and i
n terms of communication
between the two participants. The term game play as
used in this article refers to the actual playing of the
game. A remote player is the player at a remote
location with whom one is playing.
The interaction loop.
e game play loop is depicted in figure 1. It broadly
follows six steps. The first player makes a move on his
our set, which is read by the computer. The
computer transmits this move to the remote player's
machine, where the remote player's robot c
the first player's move on the remote player's game
set. In doing so, the computer maintains an internal
"state of the game" on both machines (and on a web
server). In response, the remote player makes his
move on his game set, which is similarly
the first player's robot on the first player’s machine.
based communication tools have
been in the form of text or voice messaging, email,
message boards and discussion forums, or virtual
er games. This project proposes the
combination of the virtues of traditional board games
as devices fostering interpersonal communication with
the power of the computer mediated communication.
The two players are effectively communicating with
across the Internet. Along with every move,
a player can also send across a voice message which
complements the game play experience. The
augmented game set, which includes the Connect Four
board and the robot device would also function as a
trigger for me
mory about the person with whom one is
playing the game. Since the computer screen is not
necessary in order to play the game, the use of the
computer is limited to the transmission of moves and
messages to the remote user's game set via the
Jack and Jill are cousins who have been playing
Connect Four with each other for years.
They now live
on the opposite sides of the continent and are busy
with their own lives.
However they would like to stay in
contact in a way that does not distra
ct from their daily
lives and yet is meaningful to them.
They take out
their old sets of Connect Four and set them up with the
Jack drops in the first chip.
As he presses the "submit
move" button, he records a brief audio greeting for Jil
"Hey Jill, just like the old times!"
As he releases the
button, a light on the Connect Four set up in Jill's family
room begins to slowly fade in and out.
Jill, busy with
her regular activities, does not notice it until she walks
by that evening.
e presses the "make the move"
Jack's black chip drops in and she hears his
Smiling, she makes her move and, when
pressing the "submit move" button, says "Jack, some
things don't change!"
It takes Jack a few hours before
the fading light on his set.
He walks over,
asks the machine to make Jill's move, and then makes
his. Because they are both busy that week, the game
takes four days to complete
Our experience of playing traditional Connect F
an important starting point for our implementation of
the Extension. The "robot" (see fig.2,3,4) took the
place of the other player in our implementation. We
used a junior erector set for constructing the robot to
retain the colorful, plastic aesth
etic of the Connect Four
The operating.set up.
In our current implementation, of the six stages of the
interaction loop described in fig.1, stages one, three,
four and six have been substantially implemented,
Stages two and six have not b
een implemented. The
implementation of these four stages involved the
development of the robot device so that it could
transfer a Connect Four chip to the appropriate column
of the game set. This is accomplished by using two
servo motors. The first servo m
otor enables the chip to
be aligned with the appropriate column (see fig.3),
while the second servo motor (see fig.4) controls the
actual transfer of the chip to the to the game set.
Front view of the set design. A servo motor drives
gear which in turns spins a roller and moves a plank
with the game piece on it.
The state of the game is detected by using force
sensors in each of the columns. These force sensors are
programmed to read the impact of the falling chip and
to keep count o
f how many chips for in a particular
column. Thus, the position of each chip (column, row)
is determined and the state of the game is recorded.
Conclusion and Future Work
Because of the chosen materials and set up, the
implementation succeeded in minimal a
lterations to the
aesthetic of the game. The construction proved that
the chip placement and game move detection can be
relatively easily controlled by Arduino. Although we did
not implement the TCP/IP communication with the
remote robot, there is at lea
st one group that has made
such code available . Once the robot is fully
calibrated and seamlessly communicates with its pair, it
will be ready for an in
Side view of the set. A servo motor uses a crane like
set up to
tilt the platform holding the game piece and so drop
it into the game set.
Once several devices are ready, a study should be set
up to evaluate what the users' response to the device
will be. One question is how people will respond to the
game set as a
communication device where up to now
they treated it as merely a game set. Another is
whether the elaborate set up alters the aesthetic of the
game enough to turn people away. These and other
questions can be investigated with a study of several
individuals employing the game sets over a
number of weeks. The study would be qualitative,
though it could also correlate people's statements with
logs of frequency, duration, and degree of
communication during each game. Because the
apparatus is not m
eant to be a substitute for another
style of gaming, it would not be appropriate to run a
parallel control group.
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