Light Wave: Playing with Light

Arduino Craft & Design
Light Wave: Playing with Light
Light Wave is a game and a work of art.

Light Wave is a two player game and art installation I created. It was first shown in the glass-walled gallery of Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. The game is simple. To begin the rally, hit a pedestal with one of the foam mallets. If your partner’s hit is timed correctly the rally will continue. The harder a pedestal is hit the faster the signal travels and it doesn’t slow down until a winner is determined. You may think that tennis or pong skills would serve the player well, but I found that players with experience in rhythm games like DDR or Guitar Hero usually won.

While Light Wave is a game that takes place in the physical world, I still think of it – in part – as a video game. Each light is both a pixel and a second-hand floor lamp.  I like the idea of repurposing these lamps (some are beautiful, some are Goodwill rejects), giving them a second life as a video game.

By installing in a gallery at a college, I had a young audience that was game literate and excited to play. For many, “playing” in a gallery was a new experience, but once the students understood the nature of the installation, the game got a lot of use.

Light Wave is played with a modified Thor hammer.

Technically, Light Wave is pretty simple. The game runs on an Arduino Mega, which is connected to three solid state relay boards from SainSmart, each with 8 optically isolated relays on them. (These boards are pre-built but you still need to use caution when working with line voltages.)  The sensors that capture the hammer blows are the most expensive part of the game. I wanted something that could take a pounding and still work and the 10-pound load cells from Phidgets  turned out to be great. The mallets are modified Thor hammers from Toys R Us.

If you have a regular Arduino (not a Mega), you will only be able to control up to 12 lamps.  However, you can extend this using shift registers – here’s a tutorial to get you started.

Starting tomorrow Light Wave will be on display in the Usdan Gallery at Bennington College as part of a two-person exhibition with Kristin Lucas. The show  closes May 10. More of my work can be seen here.