A New Way to Connect: Gameplay Built for Public Spaces

I&CO
I&CO
Jan 14, 2020 · 3 min read

Gaming, generally speaking, is a solitary act. Even when playing against others, the interaction often is limited by being virtual.

Star Racer is a new type of multiplayer mobile game designed to let people join gameplay in public spaces. No downloads or apps required, this game is played via any mobile browser.

To join the game participants simply scan the QR code with a smartphone and enter their name. This syncs the phone to the projected screen where the named racecar appears on a track. A countdown indicates when the race will start. The challenge for this game is to tap the phone and match a pulsing border onscreen — the more accurate the tap, the faster the racecar moves. The first racecar to the finish wins and gets the satisfaction of seeing their name flash across the main screen with confetti.

Every November is the I&CO Annual Party. As an opportunity to influence the party experience, and as a way of showcasing some of the work, the I&CO Incubator debuted Star Racer. By the end of the night, out of a few hundred guests at the party, there was a total of 170 races completed. This game was easy to participate, simple to play, but most of all accessible, and visible to anyone at the party.

Partygoers enjoying the Star Racer game at the 2019 I&CO Annual Party

More technically speaking, how did we do it? The game consists of two parts: a racetrack projected on the wall, where most of the actions happen; and a controller, which runs on a mobile web browser in each player’s smartphone. Due to the nature of the game, the communication between the racetrack and controllers must be bi-directional and close to realtime. For example, after joining the game the smartphone notifies a player’s intention to start a race to the racetrack, and the racetrack notifies racers that the race has started, ended, and who won.

The Incubator explored several different interface options including polling (where a controller periodically asks racetrack what is happening) and WebRTC DataChannel, but WebSocket was ultimately used. WebSocket is built into most common web browsers, it is designed to be bi-directional, and didn’t require the build of a backend server for the game to run.

The creation of this game was not just for entertainment, but to discover a new and simple way for strangers to interact and connect in a public space. The most intriguing piece of this game is that at its core, the Incubator team coded a system where multiple phones became the controllers to one screen. We look forward to exploring other opportunities and applications of this technology in the future.

I & CO

A collection of articles by the I & CO crew on the future of business

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I&CO

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I & CO

A collection of articles by the I & CO crew on the future of business