LAN Parties were frequent during my teenage years. My friends and I would lug our desktop computers to one house, setup a router, and play games like Doom and Warcraft late into the night. As networks became faster, large-scale multiplayer games became a strangely solitary experience. You were surrounded by other people but only virtually. As local multiplayer games like Sportsfriendshave proven, there is something special about playing games together in a physical space. With NERDLab, my goal was ultimately to create the local multiplayer experience at a very large scale. Movie theaters provide a perfect physical location for this to happen.

As smartphones become more and more ubiquitous, they provide the perfect option for a universal controller. With a team of students, I developed an application for both Apple and Android devices that relies on a set of standardized Open Sound Control (OSC) messages. The theater only requires a PC and a wireless network. With their phones connected to the same wireless network, players now have their own game controller that can communicate with the game server. Sharing a large screen with up to 200 people is an interesting design problem. To explore this, we have created multiple mini-game prototypes that allowed us to study what works and what doesn’t.

Our first prototype, Sea Nibbles, is the most straightforward. In the game, everyone has their own avatar that they can move around the screen to collect plankton. The players are assigned one of ten different shapes with a random color. Our second prototype, Tanks, pushes the number of people upward by combining functionality of each avatar into separate roles. A set of three players is assigned to a given tank. One person drives, another aims the canon, and the third person controls the shooting.

Additionally, I have developed an open source addon for openFrameworks that allows other programmers to create their own games using the NERDLab Controller. My hope is that by doing this, we can rapidly explore additional methods of play.

Atlantis was an IndieCade Official Big Game Selection in 2014.