At Real Art, many of the most innovative projects are born from the simple question of “what if?” In the case of “The War of Currents: Tesla vs. Edison,” the debate was born from a love of retro gaming and how we could put a shocking twist on the classic arcade cabinet. The answer was building a game that hertz, a Street Fighter styled beat-em-up centered around the War of Currents, the pioneering battle at the dawn of electricity between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. Lose the in-game fight and you’ll be shocked with a zap of electric current as it rumbles through the custom joysticks.
Starting as an off-the-books and after hours passion project at Real Art, The War of Currents ended up with the fingerprints of nearly every team on it.
With the programming team beginning work on the Unity 3D development platform, the initial plan was to generate a sprite sheet in the vein of the original Mortal Kombat by photographing assets and then processing them for the vintage look.
Staging a photoshoot in the Real Art studio, everything from the principal photography to the makeup and costuming was handled by different members of the Real Art team. Striking a balance between attention to detail and the specific look of pixelated games of yesteryear, the fighting movements were shot on green screen, keyed and then made into animated PNG sequences which were generated into sprite sheets.
From Tesla’s famous high-voltage experiments came the inspiration for the joystick shock portion of the experience. Beginning with only a hollow arcade cabinet with a shelf in it for a screen, the development lab of engineers and industrial designers at Real Art went to work on the custom joysticks. The team built out a custom circuit system to generate the shocks via a relay board connected to an Arduino. The level of the shock is controlled by a digital potentiomenter—strong enough for a wince and gasp, but not enough to send the player to the ER.
The finishing touches, including the black and yellow mixture of coloring and logos around the cabinet, were handled by Real Art’s print team, implementing LED lights, 3D printed materials, strobes, and bolted materials. The video team came back to finish the job at the end by assembling a tongue-in-cheek trailer from gameplay footage and photography shot during the game’s development.
The game debuted at this year’s South By Southwest Interactive Innovation Awards in Austin, Texas, where Dayton, Ohio’s Proto BuildBar—part maker space, part 3D printing lab, part bar and café—was nominated in the category of “Innovative 3-DIY.” Badge holders and media lined up to give the game a run, with a consistent stream of laughter, and shocks of course, centered around the game’s quirky payoff and punishment.
— Proto BuildBar (@ProtoBuildBar) March 14, 2016
The game will find a permanent home at Proto starting on March 26th where anyone—apart from those who are expecting, have heart conditions or wear a pacemaker—are welcome to play.
During and after SXSW, The War of Currents was featured in a wide array of publications including The Next Web, Gizmodo’s Toyland, Mental Floss, Geek, SlashGear, Paste Magazine, Laughing Squid and Tom’s Guide.