Published: Jan. 13, 2022

A Tinycade console with a hand gripping a "claw" controller

Like most, ATLAS PhD student Peter Gyory spent a lot of time at home during the pandemic lockdown. Unable to access the ACME Lab and the tools he typically uses—a 3D printer, laser cutter, woodworking tools and other fabrication equipment—Gyory faced a design challenge: how to make games using only household materials. 

One material he had in abundance was cardboard from online shopping. He also had a printer. 

Inspired by classic arcades, Gyory and a team of ACME Lab researchers ultimately developed Tinycade—a platform for DIY game controllers that anyone, including novices, can use to design and build arcade-like games using household materials such as cardboard, mirrors and hot glue.

The game platform builds on work that Gyory conducted with Clement Zheng, (PhD, TMS’20) for Printed Paper Markers, a framework for building interfaces using computer vision and printed markers. 

Gyory explains, “I want to empower people who have no technical experience–middle schoolers, high schoolers, my grandparents–to make an interface rather than accept what others make.” 

The platform is built around a smartphone, where the game is controlled via the phone’s camera using computer vision. Just as smartphone cameras recognize and respond to QR codes, Tinycade uses spatial movement of specialized markers for game play. 

Users don’t need to understand the platform’s inner workings; they can design their own Tinycade game by downloading templates and markers from the website, printing and cutting the game cabinet according to the patterns, and assembling the pieces as instructed. Then they attach markers to the back of cardboard knobs. As users move the game  controls, a mirror reflects the movement of markers back to the camera lens. 

After sliding in the DIY controller and selecting a game from the Tinycade website, the “console” is ready to play. All Tinycade games were programmed by Gyory or other ACME Lab researchers. 

“Tinycade encourages people to invent and create new game controllers from recyclable cardboards instead of buying plastic and electronic game controllers that would later become e-wastes in landfills,” said Professor Ellen Yi-Luen Do, director of the ACME Lab.  “Gamers can enjoy the fun of being both players and makers too.”