UXFest and My Talk on Second Screen Experiences

October 11th, 2013 by Chris Allen

Chris UX Fest

Last week I presented at a really well attended and inspiring conference here in Boston called UXFest run by design firm Fresh Tilled Soil. I spoke to a packed room of UX enthusiasts that were interested in what I had to say about the direction of user experiences in video games and how these designs can play out in other industries. I got quite a few requests to post my slides from the talk, but given that I tend to take the approach of one image per slide with little-to-no text, that simply wasn’t going to work. For example a slide that shows nothing but an iPhone followed by a photo of a remote controlled helicopter wouldn’t make much sense without some context. So with that, here’s a summary of my talk in blog form.

Brass Monkey’s Roots

I started the talk with a brief history of Infrared5 and how that developed into our second screen product Brass Monkey. I’m not going to spend too much time on the entire history of our company for this post, but I will touch on the relevant pieces for Brass Monkey and how we came up with the product.

At Infrared5 we encourage all of our team members to experiment and come up with cool projects that may not necessarily bring in money to the company. It’s a setup very similar to Google’s 80/20 time rule. Back in 2009, one of our developers was playing around with remote control helicopters and getting them to be controlled using his iPhone. He managed to get the basics working but was constantly running into the same problem… he kept crashing his helicopters. I eventually suggested that maybe he should create an emulator for it, and that became a big aha moment for the team. An emulator for flying a helicopter is pretty much the same as a video game, and it turned out that using a smartphone as the controller was really fun and interesting! We knew we were on to something, and thus Brass Monkey was born.

Screen shot 2013-10-11 at 5.09.38 PM

Overview of Brass Monkey

What started out as an experiment quickly grew into a full fledge multi-screen platform. Today Brass Monkey has SDKs for C++, Unity, HTML5 and Flash, virtually covering any application, game or experience that you can come up with. Brass Monkey can open up a lot of new design and gameplay options with a technology that works across many platforms. It allows you to do things that have relied upon proprietary hardware in the past, but now can be done with devices you already own.

The ultimate vision for Brass Monkey is to become an ubiquitous platform where multi-screen games and applications can be played on virtually any screen. We envision experiences that would allow multiple people using their mobile devices to control a single experience running on a tablet, a smart TV, a movie theater projector, the little screen on the back seat of flight and much much more. Much in the same way that Netflix has made the DVD player obsolete, Brass Monkey is doing the same to the game console. That local multi-player (set around a screen and play) experience we are all familiar with, is now virtualized using the software that we’ve created.

To see what I’m talking about, I strongly suggest that you grab the app for iOS or Android and try out Brass Monkey for yourself. And if you are interested in developing a Brass Monkey app, visit the developer section of our site.

Brief History on Game Consoles

In the talk I then moved on to discuss peripherals in game technology, and how those all effect what is possible with a game’s design and overall user experience. It started in the 1770s with the Mechanical Turk (see image below), and progressed through pinball machines, early computer games up to the Playstation, Xbox, Wii, Kinect and the Wii U.  The Wii U and what we have created with Brass Monkey are remarkably similar and are some of the early explorations into multi-screen gaming.

Screen shot 2013-10-11 at 3.33.01 PM


New User Experiences Using Phones as Controllers

Having covered the history of the game console, I next moved on to talk about how we have now arrived at the world of multiple-screens and the virtualization of the console experience. Everybody then played some Brass Monkey enabled games together. After our bit of fun we delved into a discussion about game and UX design possibilities with a few example ideas.

As the old expression goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will just show the diagrams of the experiences we talked about.

What’s Next? Other Peripherals

Screen shot 2013-10-11 at 3.36.55 PMFinally I ended my talk discussing where I think the direction of multiscreen experience is going. I believe that we are heading into a world of new peripherals like wearable devices creating all kinds of new experiences. Augmented reality and portable heads up display devices like the Google Glass when combined with second or even third screens create some amazing possibilities. Other devices that allow us to experience virtual reality (as in the Oculus Rift) when combined with a phone as a controller introduce exciting options for new ways of engaging with the world. While still other devices like the MYO and Leap motion can create gesture based interactions that can be displayed on another screen allow people to physically interact in new ways previously not possible with a mouse, keyboard or standard game controller. The future of all of this makes ones head spin with possibilities, and this is where I like to have fun and explore. As one great man said, the best way to predict the future is to create it! – Abraham Lincoln

Chris Allen is President of Infrared5 and CEO of Brass Monkey. To see Chris’ full deck of slides, download here: Chris Allen UX Fest Presentation

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