Side A/Side B

Made by Roger Liu, Yijing Chen and Christine Lee

Create music through the the natural modes of play of a pinball machine

Created: December 1st, 2015


Initial Proposal

We want to create an immersive installation. Our team has experience mostly in game design, but we want to go further than just having a screen and a keyboard. The interactivity of the installation would make it fun and full of "play."

We wanted to do something similar to the video below -- making a custom input (we were thinking something simple like light switches or buttons or something else if we can think of it). We also wanted to possibly focus more on sound this time since we've mostly done visuals in our past projects.

One concept we brought up was having people 1) create music together or 2) fight to determine what music plays (like making a choice but having to win the ability to make the choice). Depending on if we can get a budget/parts, we really want to push the custom input aspect of our project though.

Another concept we had was a puzzle that needs multiple people to move on to the next level. If we use custom inputs (like buttons you have to press down but they're too far away), we can force random strangers to team up to solve the puzzle.

Line Wobbler: 1D Game with custom spring joystick control - Gameplay
Robin Baumgarten -

We decided to make a musical game somewhat like pinball. We have a pentagon-shaped field with five individual paddles (as drawn below). We will be making custom controllers (designed to look like door-handles/some other kind of flipperlike household object) and placing them in front of a screen so that people can walk by and start playing.

We will take a few songs (probably 2) and splice them into sections/divide by instruments. When the pinball hits a surface (a paddle, a wall, an obstacle, etc.), one part (or note) of the song will be played. The goal is to hit the ball at such an angle that the song's rhythm is kept the same. We might add multiple pinballs, each representing a different instrument, just to make things harder. :o)

We're focusing on interactivity; strangers can either team up to play music or keep control of the ball to play a particular tune.

As for the "rule" we are breaking, by making our controllers everyday objects, we're breaking the rule that game-like controller mechanisms are needed to control gamelike things. We are also breaking the traditional rules of pinball (being a single player game) and we're stepping out of our usual domain, working more with sound for this project as opposed to primarily visuals.

Initial Design Document
Img 20151203 200951.thumb


We coded up the picture above, connected a MIDI keyboard to help control the music we have in the game, and have 3 controllers working simultaneously. Here is a link to our first build. Currently, each time the ball collides with a surface, it increases the volume of a song that is playing in the background. The song is always decreasing in volume. Our initial thought was that the players will have to work together to make sure the song it still playing loud enough for everyone to hear. We may change this with our next iteration. 

Our next steps are to make the game prettier and match the type of music that we have and to connect two more controllers. We will also need to add in a feature that allows the players to remove pinballs from the scene. After connecting the controllers, we can work on masking the controllers and forcing them to look like actual flippers so that the controllers are more engaging for the audience.`

MIDI Keyboard
Img 20151208 102154.thumb
This is what the first iteration looks like
Screenshot %28117%29.thumb

Curatorial Statement

Side A/Side B takes the gameplay of pinball and transforms it into a multiplayer, cross-medium experience. Here, visitors are encouraged to use the devices presented to control pinballs that dynamically play instruments. Each interplay between pinballs generates a mix of tracks, making each interaction between visitor and Side A/Side B a unique experience. Work with others to create music in this playful installation.



Side A/Side B is a rendition of the classic pinball with a greater emphasis on the audio and visuals. Using a keyboard to control the types of notes that can enter the pentagon, 5 players can simultaneously control the music in the game using their corresponding flippers. Depending on which side of the surface they're on, the music they create can be tranquil-like nature or bustling like a casino in Las Vegas.

We created the game by creating assets and putting them in Unity. After compiling the main game, we then got it to work with our varied interface devices.

Software Used: Unity 5, Adobe Audition, Autodesk Maya, Adobe Photoshop, Reason 7

Hardware Used: AKAI MPK MINI keyboard, PS3 controller, 3x Gamecube controllers, speakers, projector

Side A/Side B
Christine Lee -
Side B (left - casino-like) vs. Side A (right - nature-like)
The multitrack composed for Side A (nature)

Listen to file directly

Yijing Chen
Background music for Side B (casino) - first 8 seconds of Skullgirl
C# Pentatonic Scale used for Side B (casino) - notes taken from University of Iowa's database


The purpose of this project was to create an expressive audio-visual installation that would allows users to collaborate together to create beautiful sounds. We wanted these sounds to bubble up through chain reactions between small objects in a physical system, creating a melody which is driven by the user but also occurs through the natural processes of the game. 

In addition to this, we also wanted to convey certain feelings in each side of the board through the audio. The sunny, pond side, Side-A, was meant to convey a beautiful tranquil feeling, so each each time a pinball collides, it increases the volume of an instrument from a harmonious background track.

In contrast, Side-B was meant to convey the bustling atmosphere of a casino. To accomplish this, we played an active background track meant to convey the constant crowd noise of a casino and had made it so that each time a pinball collides, it plays a note from the C# pentatonic scale. The effect of this was audio which sounds more improvised and free form than that produced by Side-A.

From a narrative standpoint, the choice of those specific themes for Side-A and Side-B came from the cyclical and mirrored relationship between nature and industrialization. Each side has an element form the other side embedded in the center (Side A has a roulette table and Side B has a pond), and to switch the sides balls need to be hit into the center piece. By organizing the rules of the game in this way, we hoped to illustrate that industrialization inevitably follows places of undisturbed nature, and that over long periods of time, nature comes back from previously industrialized areas.




Our initial inspiration is Line Wobbler, as we were enticed by the idea of using everyday objects as controllers a simple game. The idea of using variable mix tracks was drawn from Animusic, and  ToneMatrix gave us the idea to use a Pentatonic scale for Side B. The idea of  ultimately giving the table 2 sides was drawn from the two sides of a casette tape, and of course, the general game setup was drawn from the classic arcade game pinball.

When we first heard of the project, we initially knew that our installation should have been more game-like. We chose this not only because it best suits our skill sets, but also because games innately reach the participation level of interaction. We later strived to bring the level of interaction to the collaboration level, something which would make our installation more engaging.

Although our game wasn't necessarily a graphic, we think the simplicity adhered to the properties of a graphic. Our simple 3d models coupled with simple game controls allowed for an easy-to-play and easy-to-understand game. Although we can probably work more on the game mechanics side, the beauty of excellent graphics definitely drove us in our artistic expression.

The artistic practice of everyday objects also defined the direction of our project early on, as our original idea was to have a unique controller like in Line Wobbler. This led to us deciding to create a pinball game to accommodate this design, even though we were not ultimately successful in creating the doorhinge controllers. We were in the end able to incorporate one everyday object in the installation, namely the keyboard.



We began the process of this project by first figuring out what exactly we wanted to do with the project. Upon looking at all of the pieces we had researched, one that had particularly stood out was Line Wobbler. We were enticed by the idea of having an actual "physical" installation, and so we set out brainstorming different sort of reasonable works we could make. One of our first ideas was to create a doorhinge like controller, contrasting with Line Wobbler's door-stopper inspired Wobble Controller. From that, we thought that doorhinges moved remarkably like pinball paddles, giving us the idea of creating a pinball inspired game by virtue of having a virtual pinball table. We also enjoyed the musical swing project and the idea of creating complex sounds from smaller systems. Merging these 2 concepts together, we reached our eventual final concept of Side-A/Side-B.

Along the way we encountered several changes in focus and design challenges. Originally we wanted to have it so you could tilt the table via the gyrometer of  a tablet, but we found it difficult to build for those devices and also that the screen size was too small to handle the scope we were going for. We also realized that our initial idea was fairly static, and so we decided to give the table another side so that we could communicate some sort of narrative and realize the concept's full potential by introducing a second way of creating music. This development came mainly from the impromptu name we gave the project, Side-A/Side-B.  There were also in-engine issues, such as balls standing still and flippers not pushing the balls properly, which we fixed by giving flippers weight to their movements and raising the center of the board so that balls would roll downwards, much like how they do in real pinball tables.

In the end, we didn't have the time or resources to make the custom controllers work, and even with already built controllers, we had a lot of trouble just connecting them. The MIDI keyboard did help to add a visual to the audio emphasis in our project, and helped us use the artistic practice of everyday objects

First version with basic placement of objects
Screenshot %28117%29.thumb
Before we added in the centerpiece portal
Screenshot %28119%29.thumb
Roulette added in
12375518 1112080465471132 941046771 o.thumb
Flower added in
1416388 1112080432137802 809613201 o.thumb


During collaboration, we made sure that we all were aware and accommodating of each other's constraints when assigning and managing the workload. Roger had a lot of prior experience with Unity, so he handled creating many of the Unity scripts, particularly the difficult ones involving Unity physics. He also led the brainstorming sessions where we organized ideas for what we wanted to do for the project. Yijing had extensive experience with audio and visual creation software,  so she took care of creating the models for the board and creating the intricate music track for Side-A, as well as engineering the keyboard to work with Unity. Chris also had fairly decent audio experience, so she was able to create tracks and sounds for Side-B, which was a bit simpler than Side-A. She and Roger worked together to polish the game in Unity and connect the things Yijing made with the other parts.


Specific Accounts:

Yijing: I worked on the aesthetics of the project. The multitrack the player hears was composed in Reason 7, using the tools from the music lab in Margaret Morrison Hall. The genre of the music was inspired primarily by Accumula Town's theme from the Pokemon Black/White's soundtrack, composed by Shota Kageyama. The models were made in Autodesk Maya, and their textures were created in Adobe Photoshop.

Accumula Town theme
7GamerMinutes -
Inspiration for the design of Side B's table.
Temporary file 5.thumb

Roger: I worked primarily on the coding side of things, creating scripts which realistically animated the rotating of the game board and the movement of the flippers. I also handled the various lighting effects, such as dynamically changing it depending on what side of the board was active and making the bumpers light up when you hit them

Christine: I worked in Unity mostly with the pinballs and the center pieces. While Roger worked on the physics, I implemented the properties of the pinballs - what instruments or notes they should start playing, what made them come in, and what made them go away. I also implemented the centerpieces. A lot of what Roger and I did overlapped, but we worked well together in letting each other know what we needed to get our tasks done. I also edited the music for Side B and used what Yijing did with the MIDI keyboard to map certain notes to certain pinballs being spawned.



The most glaring flaw was how some of the mechanics were slightly broken. We focused mostly on the visuals and audio to make sure that the environment was beautiful, but the interactivity side of our project left something to desire. If we had the time to fix the flippers' directions without breaking the physics in the game, we would have done that, but we couldn't figure out how to do that without the flippers falling off the board within the time constraint. 

On the other hand, the visuals and audio were really nice, and all of the mechanics not requiring interaction added to the feel. This idea is also something easy to branch off of, so with more time, we definitely could have made something like a pinball world that the players can explore. 

The controllers were also another added difficulty that made the project a lot harder than we wanted. We suspect that Unity actually has a 4-controller limit, and it didn't help that were unable to find 5 of the same type of controllers. This prevented us from playtesting fully. We definitely should have playtested more throughout our iterations though and dropped more ideas that didn't work early on.

We probably should have anticipated our hardware needs better because the speakers ended up being too soft and the projector couldn't be mounted high enough.

We definitely created something beautiful in the purely aesthetic sense. With more time and playtesting, we definitely could have fixed most of the glaring issues in the game.

Share this Project


Create music through the the natural modes of play of a pinball machine