HYBRIDEX

A Research Project on Hybrid Experiences


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Digital Games and Merchandising

Minecraft Foam Sword 1Digital games have historically been surrounded with a variety of physical material, such as the game box and game store marketing material. Due to digital distribution, this materialism has shifted into collectible figurines, collector’s edition boxes and game weapon replicas.

Along with the popularization of digital distribution, many anticipated the death of the physical game disk and game retail stores. Games, however, are one of the strongest areas of entertainment brand merchandising – accordingly, many game stores have seen fit to counter diminishing game sales with various kinds of physical products that cannot be downloaded. Tellingly, Angry Birds products can be found everywhere and in all product categories. Brands popular with younger children offer for example physical, often real-size objects from games, such as the Minecraft pick-axe. It is now also a viable business plan to produce expensive axes and “chainswords” in life-size replicas from brands such as Warhammer 40K.

Further, a lot of the collector’s edition game copies come with collectible figurines, large special shaped game boxes, cloth maps, caps, art books, and so on. A Splinter Cell game even came with actual working nightvision goggles. Larger game launches aim to draw attention with a collection of “swag”: key chains, posters, and wunderbaums. Elsewhere, many Kickstarter campaigns for games offer reward tiers that promise physical objects, such as T-shirts and even retro style physical game boxes.


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Barbie Digital Makeover Mirror

Barbie Digital Makeover Mirror 1Barbie Digital Makeover Mirror is an app toy aimed mainly at girls. Using an iPad as a “mirror”, user applies virtual makeup with the supplied toy wand. Via augmented reality, the makeup stays on the user’s face even if she moves her head.

Made by Mattel, Barbie Digital Makeover Mirror turns an iPad into an augmented reality mirror. An iOS tablet is first slid into the Bluetooth-ready “vanity frame”. Using an accompanied applicator wand and a special app, downloadable free from App Store, user can then apply “virtual makeup” on her face. Utilizing both the tablet’s front facing camera and augmented reality, the app projects user’s image with the virtual makeup on. Facial-tracking technology is used to keep track of the user’s face, so that the makeup “stays on” even if the user moves her head. The user picks a color from the mirror stand, and there are a couple of dozen shades to choose from. The makeup can be applied to eyes, cheeks, and lips, and also removed selectively. Specific makeups can be saved for later and customized with virtual stickers etc., while there is also a variety of ready-to-wear looks to choose from.


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Makie Dolls

Makie Dolls 4Makies are 3D printed dolls. User customizes the doll’s facial features in MakieLab web service after which the doll is printed and shipped. Through the service, additional clothes and accessories are also available.

The lowering costs of 3D printing sees companies adapting the technology to new sectors, such as customizable toys. MakieLab lets customers closely define the appearance - face, skin color, hair type and color - of the elf-like Makie doll via a related web service. Users are able to create as many virtual Makies as they want and then order the creations they like as 3D printed dolls. The service can then be used to shop from a wide variety of additional doll clothes and accessories. Makies support more extensive customizing, too, as the doll’s head can be fitted with electronics, such as Lilypad Arduino sets, Bluetooth, and RFID tags, for further tinkering.

While the price tag of roughly 80€ is not necessarily too high for children, high-end collectible toys are often embraced by adult aficionados. This kind of business model strongly relies on the community, as the users are encouraged to create custom content and share design tips and photos.


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VCR Games

VCR Games 1VCR games were game hybrid that used video cassettes as a part of game experience. Players might for example search for clues by watching a tape or even shoot at the screen with toy guns when special lights were blinking.

VCR games utilized the defining technology of the 1980s, the video tape, which were used to expand regular games such as board games (and eventually, toys) to new areas. Starting the genre, Clue VCR Mystery Game (1985) was the most popular VCR game and involved players solving murders with real on-screen actors. In Candy Land VCR Board Game (1986) players watched video segments to find visual clues in order to move matching cards from the board.

A unique toy-game hybrid, Captain Power and the Soldiers From the Future (1987) comprised of a TV-show – later released on video – and an interactive toy line. Special light signals from TV would activate mechanisms in the toys and even “shoot” at them, while the kids were able to shoot back at the screen to score points. Similar shooting mechanism was used also in Action Max (1987), a VCR light gun game, that resembled Nintendo’s Zapper. Some of the games, like the horror themed Nightmare (1991), got popular enough to spawn expansions, each of which came with a new video tape.


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Romo The Robot

Romo 2Romo is a small robot that moves on tank treads and uses an iPhone for a face. Developed by Romotive as a result of a Kickstarter campaign, Romo includes a host of features, such as the ability to track a face, missions, and a programming lab.

Romo is assembled by attaching an iPhone or an iPod Touch to a small robotic base. An accompanied app turns the iDevice into Romo’s funny face. The face has a variety of expressions and emotional states, and by utilizing the front facing iOS camera Romo’s eyes can seemingly track objects adding life-like behavior to the robot. Romo moves around via tank like treads and can also tilt its “head”, the iDevice, to better look up and down. The face can be touched for a host of reactions, including tickling. Besides the AI controlled behavior, Romo can be remote controlled with an additional iDevice.

Romo comes with training missions to help use it in more varied ways. Completing missions unlocks advanced features: for example, Romo can learn to follow other objects and track both faces and paths marked on the floor. It can record and transmit anything it sees to another iOS device, thus allowing users to chat through it. The unlocked behaviors can be programmed in a free roam Lab mode to create unique behaviors.


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NunoErin Interactive Furniture


NunoErin_1NunoErin collection of interactive furniture includes tables, benches and other seats. The furniture react to human touch by lighting up in a stylized pixel graphics where they are touched allowing users to draw playful messages on them.

NunoErin interactive furniture light up in a tranquil manner when they are touched. The surface of the furniture sports a layer of lights reminiscent of pixel graphic. Whether it is a fingertip, a broad swipe of full arm or somebody’s behind, the lights on the bench light up from the touched position swiftly and responsively in several colors. Lights are pleasantly mellow – the stated design intention of NunoErin is to create calming and soothing ambience through its products. Touching something is an evocative experience and interactive lights encourage users to playful and positive mood. For example: one user leaves her mark on the bench, somebody else modifies it, another one wants to communicate a message via the bench, and so NunoErin_2on. Besides the pixel surface, there is also another type of layer on which a hand print, for example, stays as if it was dipped in paint, only to fade away in a while. The company offers also versions of benches that come with a surface for recharging smart phones wirelessly.


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LeapReader and the Tag pen

LeapReaderLeapReader books are interactive books for children that ”come alive” via special Tag pen. By touching words and pictures the pen reads them aloud and helps to pronounce them. Users can also download more content into the pen via USB online connection.

LeapFrog’s LeapReader series of childrens books spans over 100 titles ranging from classic tales to new Disney content to anatomy books. By buying the separate Tag pen these titles turn to interactive books. In storybooks characters and objects on the page can be touched to play out comments and sound effects. By touching specific letters, words and sentences the pen reads them aloud and can also spell them slowly to help in pronunciation. There are also special one-time-use pages with pressure sensitive paper which can be used to train writing letters (the pen does not actually draw). Here, the pen guides children step by step, i.e. instructing “now draw the middle line of the H that is marked by blue color.”

The pen features stereo speakers and a headphone jack. There is also internal memory to store stories, audio books and songs. The pen is plugged into a computer via USB to recharge the pen and to download new content. Parents can also follow the child’s progress through an online service and download for example new apps and printables for the title.

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