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Filed under: Straight from the Source (Interview)

Straight from the Source: Robin Baumgarten (Line Wobbler)

One of the most unique games at BitSummit was Line Wobbler. It’s a hardware project. When I first met Robin Baumgarten, he told me he made a “1D game that didn’t suck”. Once I heard it, I knew I had to check it out. This is part of our BitSumit coverage. We still have a lot more interviews coming, so please subscribe to us on Twitter. You can see our previous interviews by checking out the BitSummit Category on this site!

Source Gaming

Hello! I’m here with the creator of Line Wobbler. Why don’t you quickly introduce yourself?
Hi! I’m Robin Baumgarten and I made this weird game here.


Alright! Can you tell us a little about it?
Sure. So it’s a physical installation game. It runs on a 5 meter LED strip and has a custom spring controller. It’s a one dimensional dungeon crawler where you control a little green light, and you fight your way across the entire strip where there are different obstacles in the way like enemies, where you have to fling the spring, or lava which goes on or off so you have to wait sometimes. There’s 10 levels, and there’s a boss fight at the end.


What was your inspiration behind Line Wobbler?
Okay, so there’s several inspirations that came together for this. The first one is the controller what is like a torsion spring, you know the small springs on doors and you can [smack] them and they vibrate. I thought, ‘this is a cool interaction mechanic’ so I wanted a game mechanic that uses it. It took me awhile to figure out how to measure the movement of the spring, and I used an accelerometer on the top. I built these controllers and I actually had a game jam in Denmark, where I came together with a friend who was using LED strips so I said, “okay, let’s combine our efforts and make one game out of this.” Basically Line Wobbler came out of this collaboration.


Is this your first hardware project?
No, I’ve done a few other ones before. Like small experiments usually over weekends or to experiment with a small microchip and like LEDS and stuff, but this is the first one that has really taken off and people have really enjoyed it. So I decided to take this forward and see if I could make a real game out of it, seeing where it can go.


It’s been featured in several shows, right?
Yes, so I’ve been spending the last one and half  to two years kind of traveling around basically. The first few shows I showed off Line Wobbler was GDC in San Francisco,and then at AMAZE Festival in Berlin. But also IndieCade in LA and a few other shows in the States and Europe and now also here in Japan.

The reception seems to be generally positive.
Yes, the reception has been great. Especially here in Japan because they have this arcade culture — more so than any other country. So they are already pretty good at the game,  and less to teach as they are already familiar with the concepts.


I think you did a good job with the lights indicating exactly what kind of hazards there are.
That’s right. Since you only have one line of lights, basically, you don’t have that much space to convey information. So I really needed to be tight with game design and keep it very simple. That’s why the colors are like that as I choose them in a traffic light pattern. So green is good, red is bad and orange is somewhere in between.

I believe you mentioned yesterday that you spent a year redefining it.

I basically started showing the game at events, right away after I made it. Obviously with hardware, it’s very difficult to make it sturdy enough so there were a lot of iterations involved, like iterations at exhibitions. Whenever I saw people play, and they didn’t understand what was going on I revised the software and the level design. Also, the hardware would occasionally break, so like a spring would fail. So it was like a two stage approach. Now, I’m quite happy with the outcome as it’s very sturdy.

Have you thought about adding additional levels?
Yes, I have ideas for lots more levels, but right now it’s a very good length for an exhibition game. It takes about 5 to 10 minutes to complete, which is good. But I have ideas on to make a like a hardcore, or a new game plus version.  A lot of the ideas I have would kind of break the simplicity of it. Things like power-ups, or teleporters, or different enemy types. This is harder to teach players and I don’t want to make the core game more difficult or more complex.


Makes sense, you don’t want people to be overwhelmed with the current way Line Wobbler is being displayed.

I quite like how it’s working now. When people see other people playing, they often understand what needs to be done. So I only need a short introduction scene for the first player, or for someone who isn’t familiar with games so much.


Are you hoping to get this in arcades soon?
Well, yeah. So, arcades would be one idea or goal. I have to see if I can work with a big arcade manufacture, or maybe run my own ones. Another option might be bars, like gaming bars. Other than that, I still want to show it off at more museums and festivals.


Do you have any last comments before we wrap this up?
It’s always fun to show this game, and if you get a chance to play it then you should try it. It’s kind of tricky to experience this at home because there’s no home version of it. It’s very much a festival game. I encourage everyone to go to more festivals and play weird games like this.


It’s something that you really have to experience. Videos or photos don’t do it justice.

Exactly. It looks like a weird little LED strip with a spring online or in photos, but when you play it you realize it really works together.


Where can people find you?

There is a website for Line Wobbler, also on Twitter I’m robin_b.