Ben Kuchera

Come inside my pillow fort, and I will show you hanging Move controllers and a living forest

Come inside my pillow fort, and I will show you hanging Move controllers and a living forest

I’m not sure what I expected to see when I poked my head into what appeared to be a blanket and pillow fort inside the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, but Johann Sebastian Joust creator Douglas Wilson and six or seven other people staring at a series of hanging lights was pretty low on the list.

“Well, hello,” Wilson said.

I had moderated a panel dedicated to the Sportsfriends at PAX, and Wilson and I had later played together at a Joust tournament at the same show. Encountering the game designer under these circumstances was incredibly weird.

There were two magical moments when people encountered the installation, created by mixing an ambient music program Wilson was working on and tactile feedback from people touching the hanging Move controllers. People would stand outside for a few moments, unsure of what to do. The decision to actually peek inside was the first magical aspect of the installation. You couldn’t stand back and figure it out. You had to make the conscious decision to explore the small fort. 

The first thing you see inside the fort is the array of gently glowing lights hanging from the ceiling. These are the Move controllers. Then you begin to hear the gently swelling music in the background. You can change certain aspect of the music by tapping the controllers, or holding them still. The scene inside the fort was exceedingly strange, with six to eight participants sitting on bean bag chairs, looking up at the lights, tapping them, or just sitting and enjoying the scene.

The second magic moment happened when people took this all in, decided to enter, and sat down.

We all took turns tapping the controllers and listening to the music. At one moment we were able to somehow sync five controllers to the same green color, and a swell of music filled the air, and the lights danced and blinked on and off. “This is a cutscene,” Wilson explained with no small measure of serenity. 

It was beautiful, not to mention very peaceful, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Game Developers Conference, and it was great to sit down and enjoy the music and light show. I spent a few futile moments trying to take video and a few pictures, but it was a challenging environment. Every now and again a controller would be moved quickly, and it would begin blinking. If you didn't grab these controllers to steady them, the “plant” would die.

There was a fair bit of suspension of disbelief going on with the core concept, but once the rain sound effects started it was easy to just enjoy the show and not think about things too deeply.

At one point two children came in, and they just stood there, gobsmacked at the light and music. It was like they had walked into another world. Once they saw it was safe the touch the hanging controllers they began to play with the lights, causing the music to shift and change. At one point a parent came in, grabbed the kids, and apologized for the intrusion.

“No problem at all,” Wilson told them. He then leaned back in the bean bag chair and enjoyed the show. I began to tap the controllers to get them to sing. I stayed inside for way too long.