Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG) is an interdisciplinary centre for research/ creation in game studies and design, digital culture and interactive art


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Inside the Arcade 11 HQ

Posted by Jess

Recently, from March 6th to 8th, TAG Lab, mLab, Hexagram, OBX, and Concordia University, in partnership with the libraries of Montreal, hosted Arcade 11, a three-day DIY Indie Game arcade with other DIY demos and workshops attached.

We had four main areas:
– A room devoted to the mLab’s private and heavily-modded Minecraft server.

Kids and adults alike were encouraged to come in and do as they pleased, including the wanton destruction of all that had come before. After Arcade 11, the server was restored to an earlier backup point. From what I hear, it was the most joyous madness.

– A room devoted to “bizarro controllers.”

No two controllers were alike – from bowls of water connected to a “makey-makey”, to games activated by speech, to a haptic controller called the “Novint Falcon,” these controllers were indeed pretty bizarre and innovative. Straddling the line between the bizarro controller room and the rest of the arcade was the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that’s turning heads and stomachs everywhere, especially in a game like “Dumpy: Going Elephants!”

– The Arcade area proper!

The arcade contained a variety of mostly locally-made indie games, including one of the gems of the MRGS, the lovely Arcade Royale cabinet. One of my team’s games, “Eat Dirt!”, was showcased on its own screen, and another of my team’s games, “FishSport: A Sport for Fish” was one of the many games available for play on the Arcade Royale.
There’s a full list of games available here.

The host of the Arcade area, other than the lovely volunteers, was a somewhat temperamental chatbot named Jarvis. I did get to play all of the games in the Arcade, but I didn’t get to spend very much time (or any time at all really) in the space, because I was busy spending my time over here at…

– the Arcade 11 HQ and Maker Space! (And Board Game Area — we really did have a lot going on.)

At the HQ, we had board games for all ages that could be played within a half hour and two knowledgeable and friendly hosts, Pierson and Will, to help arcade-goers to play.

Meanwhile, a little further into the room, we had a button-making station with crayons, markers, paint and scrap paper for people to make their own buttons. You wouldn’t think it, but button-making is incredibly addictive, as evinced by my collection, which you can see here:


My magazine, Matrix, also donated some copies of back issues and our latest issue, for people to make buttons with. I never realized how much fantastic art could be found in Matrix. Button-making ended up being more popular than we could have imagined – we went through nearly a thousand buttons.

My role at Arcade 11 HQ was to introduce people to our 3D printer and explain what it could do, as well as what people are making and doing with 3D printing throughout the world.

I’ll take you through my experience briefly, with lessons learned and changes that I made to my approach. I was at my post for three days for about six hours or so a day.

Day 1:
Prior to the Arcade, I had spent a few days trying to get the 3D printer working in tip-top shape after it stopped working in January. Ultimately, I had to optimize the settings on the printer over actually changing anything within the machine. In the end, I wasn’t sure whether I had only managed to optimize the settings for the objects I was test-printing or whether it would behave for other objects.

Nadia Miltcheva, a talented 3D modeler and alumnus of Critical Hit, graciously modeled a personalized TAG die, but horror of horrors, the printer couldn’t seem to get it right when I was test-printing. So, as Arcade 11 opened up, I was printing Settlers of Catan tiles. While, as objects, the Catan tiles are beautiful, and some of the prints illustrated principles of 3D printing very well, it was difficult for the kids to connect with 3D printing through them. Their parents were much more engaged, since they were more likely to be familiar with the board game. Another problem is that the prints themselves took very long, so it wasn’t possible for visitors to see a print from start to finish.

At about three o’clock in the afternoon, while one of the Catan tiles was mid-print, a very serious young man approached Charlotte at the desks at the front of TAG and asked her where the 3D printer was. She sent him my way and he held up a paper cut-out of Megaman that he had coloured in red.

“Can I 3-D print this?” he asked me.
“Well,” I said, warming up for a bite-sized piece of my pitch. “Not exactly. We have to have a 3D model to start. But maybe there are models of Megaman on the internet for us to print.”
“You know Megaman?” he asked me, surprised.

We looked on Thingiverse for a model, but couldn’t find anything suitable. While we looked, I made the decision to cancel the tile that we were printing in mid-print. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my week for several reasons. For one, it illustrated what the inside of one of those Catan tiles looked like, and for two, it made me rethink my whole strategy for the arcade.

I quickly realized that in order to teach kids about 3D printing, they had to be able to see an object print from start to finish. Not only that, it had to be an object that they could connect to on a personal level.

With that in mind, for this little boy and for all the demos thereafter, I decided to ask people what they wanted to see printed, and tried to scale it down to a size that could print in about ten minutes. That way, since I would talk to them about 3D printing an average of about five minutes, they could then either watch the printer for another five, or play a game, or make some buttons, then hold the newly printed piece in their hands.

Towards the end of the day, I printed TAG’s first creeper in three parts for Bart’s son, Theo. This was a great demonstration of the printer’s ability to create working prototypes, because the creeper included a tiny, flexible pin piece that could be inserted between the creeper’s neck and body to create a working joint and allow the creeper to turn its head.

Day 2:
The arcade was busier than ever on Day 2, and I mostly continued with my philosophy from the end of Day 1. I realized that failed prints were also incredibly instructive, and made the maintenance process of the machine, when it blocked, a part of the demonstrations.

On day 2, I printed everything from Minecraft creepers and swords, to the Triforce, to a personalized pendant with the first letter of someone’s name on it, to the weighted companion cube from Portal.

Day 3:
Day 3 was especially busy, but with a slightly older crowd. These kids, teens and adults were keen on seeing unusual objects printed. Somewhere along the way, day 3 became about testing the limits of the printer. Actually, I know exactly when it happened: someone asked me to print an object within an object.

At first, I hesitated, unsure if our printer was up to the challenge, but then I realized that even if the print failed, it would be instructive. I needn’t have worried. Without any support frame whatsoever, the 3D printer made a cube with a sort of multi-sided polygon inside of it. The print was near-perfect, except a hole in the inner object that I think was actually a flaw in the model rather than the printer’s fault, as it was a fairly geometric hole.

The printer’s next challenging object was a klein bottle. I was surprised to find that, thanks to the very gradual curve of the klein bottle, this, too, could be printed without any frame. Actually, the only object that the printer failed to print on Day 3 was a model of an Omanyte, very deliberately labelled “Omanyte the Great Helix’s resurrected form”, for anyone following TwitchPlaysPokemon. I think that might have had something to do with the Helix Fossil being against graven images.

Well, all in all, it was amazing to be able to share 3D-printing and the space with so many new people, especially young children. I got to share some of the amazing developments that have gone on in 3D-printing recently. Recently, a 3D model was used to avoid invasive exploratory surgeries on a 14-month-old who needed heart surgery. There’s also a Canadian company that has 3D-printed a car called the Urbee 2 that they hope to use to cross Canada with only ten gallons of ethanol. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we can now 3D-print candy and other foods.

The way that I understand things here at TAG, I think that Arcade 11 is the perfect kind of event for us since it encourages the community to become involved with the technologies that surround them, and provided an opportunity to engage with technologies that do not normally surround them, like the Oculus Rift or the 3D printer. Showcasing the work of our local indie creators is equally important because it can inspire new creators, as well as providing an unexpected audience for some fantastic games. It also encourages the general public to think about the possibility that they can be creators, too, rather than only consuming the media that surrounds them.

I heard a rumour that one of the amazing Arcade 11 volunteers has a post ready to share their experience within the Arcade space, so keep your eyes peeled!

Meanwhile, enjoy these lovely photos from the event by Matthias Graham.