Every day we keep hearing how technology is helping individuals in ways one just can think of either in books or imagination, but is technology really that helpful? Today, when thinking about entertainment or finding time to play we run to our phones, consoles and PCs to amuse ourselves from our regular lives. Even for children this has been the case as parents have found a singular way to keep them quiet by giving them screens to look at or engage. But one such Bangalore based company ‘MadRat Games,’ has used technology to make children and adults go out and play thanks to its newest innovation in wearable category called the ‘SuperSuit.’
Launched at CES 2016, the SuperSuit is a wearable device with a vest, a glove and a beacon which all work in tandem to make the magic happen. MadRat has been primarily a board games company which has been in existence since 2010 and has been making waves, first with its board games and now the SuperSuit. Talking to MadRat Games, co- founder, Rajat Dhariwal we take a closer look at the SuperSuit and the possibilities this new technology has packed in its three products.
Co-founded by Rajat Dhariwal, a Carnegie Mellon and IIT-B alumnus, and Madhumita Halder, who also is an IIT-B graduate, MadRat started with Aksharit, a Hindi language board game and since then have a number of board games in its artillery. And now they have progressed where technology converges with physical games platform – SuperSuit.
“SuperSuit is the first wearable gaming platform and the idea to make the SuperSuit was to get people interact with each other. So far our focus has been physical games/board games and that comes from our background as being teachers.” (Both he and Madhumita have been school teachers)
He continues, “We wanted to see, if we could combine the best of physical games and technology. Our inspiration was to create a game which has the best of both worlds. In the tech enabled games, screens are the main form of display and as kids are concerned, screens become the objective for kids. We wanted to develop a tech enabled gaming platform without using screens.”
The name, Rajat says was very easy to decide on, “You wear the SuperSuit and you become the Super version of yourself. With the wearables, the thing is that they become part of your body and the extension of yourself. And the name SuperSuit fits perfectly with what we are providing with this suit.”
Behind the scenes
The SuperSuit currently comprises of three parts; the vest, the glove and the beacon. The gameplay revolves around these three products which have been built entirely at MadRat with its own proprietary software and hardware. Ask about the nitty gritty of the SuperSuit an excited Rajat explains, “We had created a backstory for SuperSuit that it had come from a different planetary system called Xelotor. With the story we wanted the audience to understand the beings that live there, the philosophy they have and basically the entire working of that system. The idea was that since this has come from outside of the Earth, so we did not want to use a sort of metallic costume like Iron Man, or other superheroes. So when you look at the SuperSuit you should feel this does not belong to the planet Earth. So you cannot use any of the glossy, metallic kind of finishes.”
And the symbol which looks like an hourglass also has a back story attached to it. When observed carefully, it looks like the Chinese traditional symbol Yin-Yang that stands for balance and the infinity symbol which stands for the vastness of the universe and the force. And MadRat have tapped into both of these to develop this unique SuperSuit symbol.
A lot of research went into creating what SuperSuit looks today and the team went on a creative drive to get an idea and research. And the research was so extensive that Rajat and MadRat team ended up making a comic book out it and are now planning to have a web series around it.
Talking about the durability of the suit, the weight and will kids be able to carry the suit around, Rajat expands, “This one right now being a prototype is made out of hard plastic and silicon rubber. All the outer edges are made of silicon rubber for safety purpose so even if the kids bang into something and somehow it breaks, the children won’t get hurt. The glove does not weigh more than 200 grams and the vest is about the 800 grams so that is quite light for kids to carry around.”
Speaking about the gameplay, “The idea behind SuperSuit was to build a gaming platform and not just any other toy. We always imagined what if there is a PlayStation that you could carry and that is what we have managed to do with SuperSuit.”
The three important parts of the Suit are the vest, the glove and the beacon. The vest has the radio communication going inside which it records from other players. It also gives a haptic feedback and the sound information to the player wearing it and displays the score in the form of light and sound information. The glove is the interactive part where you light beam to zap other players to trigger and has gesture engine to use the power ups. It has a small LED screen to navigate your scores.
Right now the SuperSuit boasts of number of games on it with the likes of Laser Tag, Hide and Seek, Scavenger Hunt, Capture the Flag and others.
Rajat adds, “Apart from these usuals, we have created a new genre of games specifically for this suit. All the games that we are currently found of has the main metaphor of eliminating or killing the other player. For example games like Grand Theft Auto (GTA), DOTA 2 or Laser Tag too for that matter; they all have killing or eliminating factor to it and that is how it has been. So, we wanted to create games that are non-violent in nature and so we added a special trigger to the suit. There is one trigger to score hit but other trigger that will help other players regain life. So there is always a balance between all players. For example, there is this game with the SuperSuit called Robin Hood, where you steal resources from your opponent players and share it among your team members.”
Moving the spotlight from the glove and vest, we talk about beacon which Rajat says is a small intelligent device which can figure out by its own on which team it is on and takes hit also firing back at the opponents. It can also beep its location to other devices for the players to know. So say, you are playing a two player game; put the beacon on then you can hide it in the house or the park or wherever you are playing. You can play games like Treasure Hunt or programme other games the way you want to. Plus a planned open SDK will expand the possibilities even further and open for more developers to join the party.
When you are tired of all the play outside and want to have a little fun, you can connect a number of bots to it. “At CES 2016, we had set up a race track with RC car and also a bot called Sphero which could be controlled via gestures through the glove. And right now we are working on controlling a drone and these are only some of the possibilities with the SuperSuit.”
Inside the Suit
Radio communication used for the SuperSuit is proprietary. Rajat says, “I wanted to create a standalone distributed system where you don’t need to plugin anything when you are in the middle. There are two types of system available in the market. One is where you have the simple one way IR system and the second is a different system where the hardware is connected via an iPhone. We wanted to stay away from either of these systems because of the things that it comes along with. So if you take the SuperSuit outside, it will create its own sort of distributed system.”
The app is basically for the parents and also to download the games that are available. It shows the fitness information and the active minutes the kids have spent on the game. One of the key proposition is to make kids active through this suit and second for younger kids is to set an alarm on the device which can signal kids to come back after their play time.
Because all of the usage is local usage, you can sync all the data once you are back home to the phone. “The future iterations we are planning to have are a wifi, gps enabled vest but everything depends on the traction we get for the first one.”
What lies ahead
The current version that is out for everyone to see is the third iteration. MadRat has been working on SuperSuit for quite a while now and this version of the product is something Rajat and team had in mind when they started out. Currently with strength of 50 people, MadRat has 12 members working on SuperSuit for which playtesting happens in Bengaluru and USA. The device will first be available in the primary market (USA) and will hit shelves only this fall according to Rajat.
Rajat expounds, “We have our playtesting taking place in Benguluru and at Tampa in USA which is our primary market. At CES 2016, we got a phenomenal response and playtesting has been the core of this product because we have been a board games company first and not a tech company and now if I retrospect, it seems miraculous that we have achieved developing such a product.”
With a lot of focus now on virtual reality (VR) and on companies like Oculus, Steam and HTC, the technology is only coming closer to us but products like these will help break the norm and with the help of technology, this will not only help children move from their couches and explore the real world but will also help them make their own stories and games. We will have to wait and watch on how accepting the audience is to such homebound laser tag device and the prospects it has to offer.