Fourmation VR Wii game wins award

[From Delmarva Now; more information about the Fourmation project is available here]

Web designer’s college work wins award

By Brian Shane, Staff Writer, November 5, 2009

OCEAN CITY — A local graphic designer was part of a design team that won an international award recognizing an innovative project completed using Wii video game controllers.

Nick Deimler, 22, and four of his fellow Drexel University digital media majors created a video game for their senior project. It uses infrared technology inherent in the Nintendo Wii video game system to create a new game that immerses the player in a 3-D virtual reality environment.

The game took first place in the category of non-browser based design at the prestigious 2009 Adobe Design Achievement Awards, a global design competition that saw 3,243 submissions among a dozen design categories. Deimler and his fellow designers split a $3,000 prize, and the team leader won a free trip to Beijing for the awards ceremony.

“Just to be a finalist, that was more than enough for me,” said Deimler, a Hershey, Pa., native who now works in Ocean City for Web design firm D3 Corp. “Adobe is, like, the penultimate software company for designers. Any software that I’m going to use, it’s going to be an Adobe product.”

The game, called “Fourmation,” is described as a “color-based puzzle racer” for up to four players. The gameplay area is a floating cube, and the game itself is a race to see who can match the most colored tiles to build a bridge across their side of the cubes. The players use a Wii remote.

One of the key components of gameplay involves infrared head tracking. That means the players, wearing special glasses, literally move their head side-to-side and see their on-screen perspective move accordingly.

Think of it like holding a photo of Rubik’s Cube — you’ll only see one side of it, flat, in two dimension. But in Fourmation, imagine being able to move that photo in your hands, and peer around the edges of the cube, in 3-D.

“It’s kind of like you’re looking through a window, that’s how the 3-D space works,” Deimler said. “It’s a pretty neat way to interact with a game, and it’s actually an essential element to the game, to see what your opponents are doing as you play.”

To accomplish this, players are wearing safety glasses fitted on the sides with small flashlights. The regular bulbs are removed, and replaced them with infrared bulbs. The remote control for the Wii can pick up and read infrared light. When one remote is pointed at the player, it picks up the movements of their head. This is interpreted into the game, and moves the game space around, Deimler said.

“As far as we know, our game is the only one of its kind,” Deimler said. “It’s a pretty big deal.”

They also wrote nearly all the software code themselves, a tedious and time-consuming task.

“We wanted to bang our heads against the wall at some points,” he said. “But our team, I give the credit to this project to our team’s cooperation, which was phenomenal. We’re all good friends, and we had no problem saying, hey, that’s a good idea, or that’s a dumb idea.”

In the future, Deimler said the project for him will be put on the back burner. But it could have a future all its own, as Drexel has designated The Fourmation as a “legacy project” that lets future students working on senior projects pick it up, and attempt to further develop it.

“I’d be surprised if nobody picked it up, because it was fun to work on and it really has room to grow. There were so many ideas that we didn’t get to add in, as far as gameplay goes. I hope somebody picks it up, so we can see the game be more fun,” Deimler said.

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