Lightning Bug Game (Work in Progress as of April 2013)

Costumes as Game Controllers

Lightning Bug Game

This game is a work in progress, scheduled to be completed in October 2013 by Kaho Abe, the Artist in Residence at the NYU-Poly Game Innovation Lab in collaboration with Katherine Isbister.  The Development phase prior to October is funded by Eyebeam Art & Technology Center through the Rockefeller Cultural Innovation Fund. This post has been created to show the progress of the game as of April 2013.

The Lightning Bug Game is based on a story about a fantastical world of Lightning Bugs. The once peaceful home of the Lightning Bugs is under attack by the smoggy Clouds of Darkness, threatening to overtake the pure air and water around them. Only a few lightning bugs are left — two must now cooperate together to fight off the evil Dark Clouds to save their home. This interactive installation is an immersive two-person cooperative digital game.

Preliminary Research & Inspirations


I’m currently exploring ways in which technology can be embedded into costumes, to add the functionality of a game controller. In most of the digital games we play, there are on-screen avatars controlled by the player. We play the game through the avatar, and often feel emotionally connected to it. But imagine if the player, by wearing a costume, could not only change their appearance to resemble a character in the game, but could also use the costume to play the game itself? I wonder how this would affect the user’s play. Would it draw them into a more compelling, fully-realized world?

We can already see examples of this kind of immersive experience in live-action role playing games and cosplay—an expression of the desire to fully inhabit a character in the story. While, of course, the mechanics of a game are also important, I believe that this act of stepping into a role, transforming from regular person to fantastical superpowered hero, is also a crucial process to consider when creating an immersive experience. Culturally, the act of putting on a costume is often seen as a process of transformation; costumes can signify sense of power that wasn’t there before — think of Superman and Wonder Woman. In combination with costumes, ritualized gestures can also help the process of transformation—as in this transformation scene from the “Kamen Rider” Japanese television series.

Gameplay and Physical Interaction


For the last several years my objective has been to make games which utilize technology to encourage face to face interaction. While many digital interactions of today are face-to-screen and can seem isolating, I ultimately believe that technology is a tool that it can be harnessed to enhance face-to-face interactions. The Lightning Bug game requires two players to cooperate with each other in order to battle the Dark Clouds. During the game, players will rely not only on communicating through talking, but also through eyes, body language and touch. It can be said that in this game, technology becomes a secondary element that helps to amplify the ultimate objective of the game — to create an exciting, immersive face-to-face game experience.

One player plays the role of the shooter, wearing a spikey gauntlet, while the other player plays the role of the collector, accumulating power in the power capsule back pack. In order to distribute the power from the power capsule to the shooter, the players must hold hands. This type of physical interdependecy in order to play the game is a key feature.




Current prototypes of the costumes have been made using the Makerbot Replicator2 3D printer and laser cutting foam. Each prototype is embedded with an Android phone and an IOIO board. This allows the use of the accelerometer and wireless communications in the phone while turning the LED lights on and off and the use of additional sensors which can be added to the IOIO board.

Projection and other Technology

The two players will be immersed in a projected environment. Computer vision will be used to track where the shooter is aiming. A combination of Processing and Unity will be used, networked with the Android phones, to create the digital game space.