Imagine being a youngling in Star Wars learning how to fight with your lightsaber, blindfolded and having to rely completely on your audio perception to fight the laser beams being fired at you… It’s a sonic fight.. may the force be with you…
Making a ‘Sonic Saber’ game in MAX/MSP
MAX/MSP is a great application to build an interactive sound environment. When we realised how we could connect to external inputs to MAX MSP from a Wii-mote, we got quite excited about building an interactive game using just sound in a space.
Our plan was to build a ‘lightsaber’ purely in sound. We researched how the sound designer Ben Burtt originally build the saber sounds for the hit film series ‘Star Wars’. The lightsaber is a sword with a column of brightly coloured energy in the place of a metal blade. We learned that the sound for the device, created in the 1970s, was made with totally analogue technology from source sounds such as the static of an un-tuned television and replayed though a speaker, then re-recorded live with feedback from microphone waved around in from of the speaker.
The available data provided by the Wii-mote produces values for the yaw, pitch, roll, acceleration and it has an extra infra-red camera. This meant we could not detect values for if the Wii-mote was swung around 360 degrees, only 270. In trying to cobat this limitation we tried using the built in infra-red detection, which proved much more complicated and was using up too much time whilst not really enhancing of the experience, and so decided to create the game limited to the 270 degree angle.
Using Masayuki Akamatsu’s aka.wiiremote object, we took in the values from the Wii remote and mapped the panning and saber sound to a quadraphonic audio set up though a MUTO device. (Careful here as it seems some of the drivers can cause problems, both on Mac OS and windows systems- personally I went though no less than 12 kernel panics after installing the MOTU drivers, in part I think because of the previously installed soundflower software from Cycling 74).
Our original plan was to use 2 of the sabers in 2 rooms so you could fight a ‘fight with the invisible enemy’, however we couldn’t agree a good way on how the fight could be won or lost in this scenario and so came up with an alternative and more exciting proposition relating to when the Jedi Knights are in training. In the story, the ‘younglings’ (children born with strong sensitivity to the Force) are trained to use their light-sabers blindfolded, so they should use ‘the force’ to engage with small laser-firing drones sending out small ‘lightly painful’ laser beam to the subject which was either absorbed or reflected by the light saber.
This presented an interesting proposition to build a sound-based laser battle ground, with lasers flying in from any direction and be deflected by the soundsaber we’d built. To do this we used a quadraphonic 2D speaker set up and placed sounds between them .We used the Freeverb~ object to position the saber sound and the lasers.
The objective was to build a 1 or 2 player game in a single or pair of rooms, which meant there needed to be a competitive element in the game. This challenge resulted in a the idea of an audio representation of a haze, where the player would have increasing difficulty in locating where the laser sounds were originating from. In a single room set-up this means for every miss there would be an increase in a futuristic noise sound, in keeping with the laser and saber sounds. In a dual room set-up every hit would increase the noise sound to the other room, making it more difficult for your opponent to detect the incoming laser sounds.
The resulting project works very well in a single room and with further development could be refined much more to give an engaging sonic battle experience. Next steps would include attempting to build the project in a 3D sound environment and further define the sound design to compensate to different sizes of playing fields and work on other solutions for turning 360 degress in the room.
If you would like to set up yourself or play with the patches, you can download the source here.