Student Project: Interacting with Neverball

Universität Hamburg, 2011–2013

Project Teams

  • Students participating in the practical
    exercises for the course “Interaction
    Design” in 2011, 2012 and 2013

Supervision

  • Julian Fietkau
  • Vertr.-Prof. Dr. Martin Christof Kindsmüller (2012, 2013)
  • Timo Göttel (2011)
  • Claudia Wyrwoll

Background

The “Interaction Design” course takes place once pear year at the Universität Hamburg. Its lectures are accompanied by practical exercises which aim to let the students flex their HCI knowledge, come up with new concepts for interactions and practice evaluation methods. Starting in 2011, we chose the game Neverball as the “working material” for the exercises.

We knew from prior years that the course would draw in students with vastly different programming abilities, which made it difficult to design practical exercises that could challenge the most capable among them without frustrating the ones with less of a background in programming. Many HCI courses solve this problem by avoiding programming exercises entirely and sticking to conceptual exercises and paper prototypes.

However, we wanted to give students at all levels of programming expertise an opportunity to express their creativity. We patched a then-current version of Neverball to include a TCP-based network interface to control the camera and movement of the game field. We provided this version of the game, alongside example clients written in C and Java (the latter being the primary programming language taught at Universität Hamburg at the time), to our students, and tasked them with prototyping some kind of novel way to interact with Neverball. Less confident students could experiment with our example clients and have them interface with some other device such as their smartphones, while more daring groups could implement their own clients in whatever programming language or hardware they could imagine. Groups who were even less inclined to dive into software development also had the option to focus on evaluation methods instead and conduct a detailed evaluation of several Nintendo WiiMote control schemes provided by us.

Collage of Neverball interaction posters

Results

This approach worked even better than we coul have imagined. Each year this set of exercises was used, we saw a huge variety of interaction prototypes. Just to name a few:

The video at the top of this page summarizes the project results from 2012. The one below this paragraph shows the projects from 2011. I am still in possession of the raw video material from the 2013 exhibition, but due to outside factors at the time a compilation video was never created. Let me know if you'd be interested in seeing it!

Conclusion

Student evaluations about these exercises were consistently positive. The success of this approach led us to pursue a publication of the details, which culminated in a short paper presented at HDI 2014 in Freiburg.

The practical exercise concept for “Interaction Design” in Hamburg was revamped from the ground up in 2014 after a change in leadership. As far as I am aware, Neverball has not been part of it since. You can still find the code on GitHub if you'd like to take a look, even though the patch will no doubt be incompatible with current versions of Neverball.