Chopsticks Controls (2/3) – Abandoned Idea: Custom Controller

In my last blog on the chopsticks controls, I talked about their design as we chose to do it: keyboard and mouse. But for a time, we actually were considering the idea of having a custom controller for the game.

The idea was simple: the controllers would be shaped like chopsticks and motion sensors within them would be detected by the game so that the in-game chopsticks could match the positioning of the ones the player holds in real life. I made a rough sketch of how this might look

  • Being bluetooth with micro-usb charging would prevent a long wire getting tangled with the player’s arm and allow for more comfort. 
  • The wire that would connect the two chopsticks served two purposes: making it so that we didn’t need each chopstick to individually have bluetooth, and so that they didn’t need to individually have battery space and be battery charged. Together, these make it easier to keep the scale of these controller-chopsticks to be more similar to the scale of normal chopsticks due to less hardware being involved. 
  • I felt it would be best to have multiple motion sensors so that the exact position and angle of the chopsticks would be easier for the game to identify and reflect with the in-game chopsticks.
  • I decided on the exterior being high-density polyethylene because based on my research, it is a lightweight yet strong plastic already used for game controllers (eg. the PS5 controllers), it is easily recyclable, and it is possible to 3D print: making prototyping with different exterior shapes and sizes easier (as long as we accounted for the plastic having a tendency to shrink whilst it cools)
  • The design also attempted to account for the potential size of many of the necessary components, with the expectation that having most of the components at the back-end of the chopsticks would not add too much weight or inconvenience the player. Modern devices have proven that a lot can fit into a small space (such as AirPods or Nintendo Switch joycons), but these were also developed by large companies with extraordinarily large budgets, so I did have some concerns whether it would be easily doable for us.

So: I had a basic design in mind, I had necessary components in mind, there were two more things to immediately think about from there: a very basic prototype about how holding such a controller would feel, and talking to engineers who could assess how plausible my design was, and inform the Stik-Up team what changes would need to be made.

The easiest was the basic prototype. It didn’t need to actually have any of the components in the design, it just needed a similar shape to what was planned. It was as simple as using masking tape, a sharpie pen, and disposable wooden chopsticks in my university’s cafeteria.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: it’s beautiful, you could dehydrate from the loving tears. But even more than that, it didn’t feel unnatural to use, or like the ‘wire’ connecting the chopsticks prevented me from using them within the normal constraints using chopsticks has in itself. Whether the reality of a functioning prototype would be the same is a different question, obviously.

Then came the dreaded bit: human interaction. I did speak with a few engineers, and a few things became quite clear:

  • It is certainly possible to make chopsticks custom controllers.
  • It is certainly not quick to make chopsticks custom controllers.
  • It would certainly not be easy to get a chopstick custom controller script written for Unity, especially as someone with little scripting experience.

We officially started development in February, with a deadline for our work given by our university –don’t forget, this is a student project– on the 25th of May (extended to the 8th of June for multiple reasons) but a roadblock was immediately hit when Edward dislocated his knee during the first week (reason one for our extension). This caused many different issues that all had one key result: a slowed development early on. It was clear to us that the custom controller was outside of the scope of what is achievable within 5 months for three students already undergoing issues hindering development. Perhaps it would be possible at some point, but it was to be made the lowest priority and has not been revisited.

In the end, I think this was best for other reasons too. Whilst the custom controller could teach someone how to actually use chopsticks in real life, it also cuts people who are unable to use their hands effectively –for any of many reasons– from playing the game, and it also would add on a cost that does not make the game easy to pick up and try for people. Even in the scenario of publishing the game online: we would not have the means to distribute the custom controllers to give the proper experience.

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