The Return of Balance, a Wii-generation game

I am not a computer gamer. My favourite computer games were Pac-Man, Tetris, River Raid, Time Pilot, Commando, then Castle Wolfenstein and Doom. I pretty much stopped at the shoot'em-up, perhaps because I'm so lazy.

But when I played tennis on Nintendo Wii at a friend's place, I knew I had found a gaming platform I could start enjoying again. To me it was the fact that I was /standing/ in front of the TV, and moving my arms and my wrists to hit the ball, as in the real game. Suddenly a whole new dimension of computer gaming opened up for me.

Because things never happen on their own, it so happened that a few months later I was invited to meet Gregory Niemeyer, a computer artist from UC Berkeley who was demoing his new game on the streets of Cairo, courtesy of the Townhouse Gallery. The game is called the Return of Balance, and it allows players to control a virtual paddle by shifting their weight on a platform equipped with sensors. The paddle is used to deflect bouncing balls inside moving hoops - all this in software of course, displayed on a wall via a projector. It reminded me of my wind-surfing days when I learned to keep my balance, hence the name.

I liked this game:

  • One could understand the object of the game very quickly, without explanation - perfect for my laziness.
  • The sensitivity of the on-screen paddle response to the physical weight-shifting felt natural and made the game enjoyable.
  • Local kids assembled to check out the game and they got it much faster than adults - of course etc.
  • Using a joystick or gamepad is so 20th century! I like games where the body is more involved.

Greg is a nice guy and I hope we will cooperate next time he's in Cairo. He is releasing the source code for his game (created in cooperation with Joe McKay and Nik Hanselmann) to the open source domain, although the schematics for the hardware part are not sure to be published yet. I hope he does, because I'll get one of our hardware kids to build the game for us!