The Friendship Game

A two-player interactive physical game which tests your "friendship" with friend or stranger by selecting shapes that represent how you feel about a given emotion.
Interactive Installation
Project Info
Group Project
Physical Computing class
Foundation -- Start from scratch
Deliverable -- Exhibited Installation
Nov - Dec 2018 | Part-time
Arduino Mega, RFID reader & tags, LCDs, servos, LEDs, speakers, wood, acrylic
C, Ai, Sketch, 3D Printer, Laster Printer, Acrylic Heater
All group members participated in brainstorming, user experience research, user interview, interaction design, prototype design, usability test, 3D shape design & 3D print, technical troubleshooting, etc.
My Contribution
Lead Developer (Game logic coding, RFID System),
Hardware Prototyper
(Circuit design, system schematic & soldering)
UX Design (Sound and Light, communication)
Teammates' contributions
Tianyi Xie -- Lead Fabricatior, interaction flow chart , physical and visual engagement, LCD display
Olivia Kung -- Servo Connection, LCD Display, Scriptwriting, Schematic, Technical & Fabrication Support
The Friendship Game is a 6 weeks multi-disciplinary design project which includes: experience design, physical computation, usability test, user interview, visual communication design, and fabrication. This project requires two players, that may be strangers or the closest of friends, to put their new or old found friendship to the ultimate test. The players will be provided with five identical shape halves. Then they will be given a series of questions related to their feelings on select emotions. All it takes are three correct matches for the players to be rewarded in friendship and candy.

We wanted to explore the complicated nature of friendship in a game-like way. Abstract shapes and vague questions represent the disconnect that two people may have while thinking about the same question. The friendship tests gamify the difficulty that it can be to achieve common ground and eventually friendship between two people who have alternate perspectives.
The Friendship Game needs to be put on the table top, with two players sitting at both sides.
Game Rule
Theoretically, the game can be played for infinite rounds. Only when the two players match up will they gain scores. When they get three scores in total, the candy box opens and the scores were cleared. Detailed rules were illustrated below.
Interaction Demo
Theoretically, the game can be played for infinite rounds. Only when the two players match up will they gain scores. When they get three scores in total, the candy box opens and the scores were cleared. Detailed rules were illustrated below.

How we built it

The original idea initiated from one of our random discussions about the unpredictable human relationship. The observation about the inconstancy of people's friendships and misunderstandings during conversations inspired us. 

Human Relationship is "none-transparent" because our thoughts are abstract and random.  Therefore, we have decided to create a "human-machine-human" interaction to demonstrate this abstract experience. We want to create a barrier (the machine – demonstrate the human relationship) between players, even if both players share the same goal, the barrier makes it challenging to win the game.

By uncovering this abstract struggle between people's relationship through a game-like experience, we hope to illustrate the common social awkwardness by a simulation game involving two players.
Ideation & concept Prototype
Several rounds of brainstorming have been conducted to illustrate this social dilemma.
Other interesting concepts ↓

We also found some other concepts that are interesting, such as Prisoner's Dilemma, which explores people's decision making in game theory.

We all agreed to make our interaction simple and open to a broader audience group. Therefore, our decision was to keep our value proposition as "Create a 2 players game which only results in a win-win situation but causes struggles in the process."

Concept Playtest
After showing the concept and gathering feedback, we realized that more physical experiences are required to understand the game concept. Therefore, we decided to use abstract physical shapes instead of buttons and camp up with questions to guide the players.
In this way, they would be told to choose the shape in order to answer a question. Thus, a shared goal could be set between them.​​​

Concept Refinement
Based on that, we refined the original concept and dived deeper to design more details about the game. For examples, when should the shapes be dropped, how do we record scores, would the players only play for one round or multiple rounds, etc.​
With all of the questions and the refined concept, we built a low fidelity prototype with the paperboard and went to seek evaluation and feedbacks again.
Low-fi Prototype for interaction
We want to test the interaction system before we move forward with the expensive fabrication and complicated coding part, so we used cardboard to quickly mock up our design. It's a 1:1 size prototype to demonstrate the game-flow and user interaction.

At that time, in order to simplify the game, we set a single round playing rule, which means that if two players match each other, two candies would be distributed. However, if they don’t match, the shape would be dropped. That’s the end of the game.​
Interaction playtest
We invited around 20 of our classmates & advisors to playtest our low-fidelity prototype. One of our teammates played as the host to represent RFID reader and servos, draw shapes on paper to represent 3D shapes, and little balls of paper to represent candy rewards. The playtest was also followed by a short interview asking questions regarding players experience.  

*During the playtest, we explained our design as little as possible to see how players understand our system and observed their way to interact with our game.

We only filmed the players who gave us their permission to video record them.

Evaluation and Iteration
Feedback & Observation:

Most of the players evaluated the game as interesting and engaging. However, we also found pieces of advice:
  • 1. Almost everyone wants to play multiple times, no matter it was a match or mismatch.
  • 2. Nine players found it hard to identify the function of the shelf. In other words, they don’t understand after choosing the shape, where should they put it.
  • 3. Suggestions were raised about putting the shelf down to eye level and using some spotlight material to stress it.​​
  • 4. Some players suggest that they want to see each other to some degrees (for example, the eye contact), while some players say that the opaque wall itself adds more fun to the game.​​
  • 5. Two players feel the questions are too abstract to choose and suggest that it would be much better if they could know when the other player makes his or her choice. However, 3 other players say they like the abstract questions which leave room for imagination.​​
  • 6. Players who made more matches want to have a higher level reward to show they are special.
  • 7. Some players made their decisions quickly while some other players would like to spend some time.
  • 8. Some of our players got lost and didn't know what to do at the beginning of the game. As they sit down, the players didn't pay attention to the shape holder above them.


These feedbacks and observations served as our design principles of the following iteration.
  • 1 -> a. The game would be set to play for unlimited times, but only matching rounds accumulate scores. Once they get three scores, the candy box would open. During any time in the game, A restart button can be pressed to reset scores.
  • 2 -> b. We redesigned the shape holder in order to guaranty the 3D shape would only fit in limited angles with color clue.
  • 3&8 -> c. We noticed the height of shape holder is very critical to imply the user interaction. We moved the shape holder into eye level and decided to add more visual clue for engagement. 
  • 4 -> d. We added smaller shapes with LEDs on the side to demonstrate their match results.
  • 4&7 -> e. we also added the ready state indicators. When one player is ready, there would be a light showing to both sides. The ready player can change his or her mind as long as the other player is not ready. Once two players are both ready, no changes would be allowed and the timer would start to count down.
  • 5 -> f. We took the placement of the candy box (on top: which encourage people to stand up, see each other while collecting candy) into consideration.
  • 6 -> g., we changed the awarding system to distinguish achieving one match from getting total three scores. One single match results in LED lighting effect while getting three scores would generate a celebrating sound and candy box opening reward.
Iterated User Journey / Interaction Flow
Reference: Tianyi's user journey sketch
Final Prototype & Evaluation

System Schematic

Before moving on to wiring, we made a system schematic diagram as the reference:

Technical Challenges & Troubleshooting

Guided by the system schematic and user journey sketch, we coded the Arduino Mega in C to build the working game prototype. Though having run into several troubles, by literature review and debugging, we solved most of them. However, the simultaneous tone() problem was not solved due to time limits. Considering that it didn't affect much in performance, we decided to leave it to future improvement.

Fabrication & Soldering

During week 5, Tianyi and Olivia are building the fabrication part while I’m soldering everything to a permanent board since we need a firmer connection. The wooden board fabrication and acrylic board laser cutting are time-consuming but they paid off.
Circuit building and soldering process:


Hardware Usability Test

Again, with supports from our classmates, we did a usability test with the 3D shapes, paper-displayed questions, cardboard wall, and tech prototype to test user reactions. In this round of research, we focused on refining details of our interaction and system communications.
Our interview question
  • Could you associate shapes with our questions?
  • Do you think the question makes sense to you?
  • Was it clear on how we demonstrate if you've made a match or not?
  • Any additional suggestions?  
Our Observation:
  • Players' reaction to our system (sound of the beep; length to wait to play another round; how does it need for both players to grab candies. )
  • Patterns on how players choose the shape. (we noticed shapes with unique features tends to choose much more than geometry shapes.)

  • Modified the way we address the questions.We listed 3 ways to asked our question :      
    a. What shape makes you feel ...      
    b. Which shape describe...the most.      
    c. Which shape would you use to represent...Based on user feedback, we choose "c"
  • Modified the word library.      
    a. Remove words with exact meanings, such as Superman.      
    b. Add more words to describe feelings& mood.
    c. Set difficulty levels based on our tests – simple ones like "perfect, rough", difficult ones like "powerful, fancy".
  • Reduced the gap time from 10 sec to 4.5 sec; Reduced celebration time from 15 sec to 6 sec.
  • Redesigned & 3D print 2 of our 3D shape to add diversity.

Final Look

Winter Show

We presented our project at ITP winter show 2018, around 170 people participated in our game, from small children to senior people; from student to people from different professions.  We recorded some of the players with their permission.

How I Grew

It has been a  pleasure for me to collaborate with Tianyi and Olivia. The atmosphere was really pleasant. As this is the first large complete physical computing project I have ever done, I learned a lot about time management and team working from it. Collaboration is a meaningful course to learn. Different mindsets of different roles people are playing need to be accommodated. Also, the suggestions from Tom, Danny, and our classmates were valuable! Building something that physically exists and works is fascinating.

Some feedback from the Winter Show suggested us to learn more about relevant psychological studies. Others were attracted and wanted to challenge more. This project taught me that simple interactions with stable quality can also generate positive impacts.