K.O. Ping Pong
Table tennis is fun. However for many it can be incredibly dull because the smallest difference in talent between the players can make such a big difference in the experience. In a perfect world both players would have the same skills, the game would be an exciting tug of war from the beginning to the end and the winner would be crowned by the smallest possible margin. But, in reality this is not the case. So what if we create the perfect world?
Recently we were asked to create an interactive art installation for a music festival in Sweden. They wanted something that was engaging; creating an exciting encounter between people and something that was easily seen and heard. Instantly we got the idea of creating a moving ping pong table that enabled equality between the players. The technical solution was to move the net when one player won a ball in order to immediately make the game a little easier for the other player. So for example, when you win a ball your half of the table becomes a little bigger, easier to hit, and the other players half becomes a bit smaller, more difficult to hit. In theory, the net ends up at a position where the game is balanced – making it more exciting.
During a couple of SuperDays we got to grips with the project and started rebuilding a mini ping pong table fitting it with a removable nets on rails, an electrical motor that moved the net along the rail and an Arduino computer that controlled the entire process. Flipper buttons on either side of the table handled input to the system so that the players could easily enter a valid point by slamming a button. There was one uncertainty factor: Would it be more fun to play table tennis?
The answer was yes. Just a few balls into the first game we laughed out loud. Table tennis just got funnier and more engaging. With a little mechanical and digital technology we had just added a new layer to the game. Suddenly our colleague Tommie asked a question: ”But, how do you win?”. We laughed and replied: ”By counting the score, of course! It is table tennis!”. Tommie frowned a bit and then asked: ”Don’t you win when you max out the net towards your opponent?”. And exactly at that moment K.O. Ping Pong was born.
K.O. Ping Pong is part table tennis, part retro-kung-fu-games, and the rest is user experience. The game allows two players to meet at the table, assume a kung-fu-game-character and then battle for the title, ”The World’s Greatest K.O. Ping Pong Champion Ever!”. You win by getting the net maxed out towards the other player and thereby obtain a knockout. The whole experience is enhanced by sound effects that draws on inspiration from old computer games, pinball and LED-lights that shows the “life-meters” for both players. Of course we’ll be adding the possibility to tease the opponent with recorded ”taunts” from one’s character.
Table tennis is unfair. K.O. Ping Pong has transformed that and is something totally different, an experience. It is the experience we searched for and found it by iterating the idea by creating prototypes, testing and asking the right question.
A new match anyone?