Matt Wilson has built games his entire career. He’s never built anything quite like this.
The longtime digital game developer, who spent time at Microsoft and also founded Detonator Games, will be lighting up a park in downtown Redmond, Wash., next week as part of team involved with the World’s Largest Simon Tournament.
For all you console kids out there, Simon is a laptop-sized electronic game that debuted in 1978. It emits a series of tones and lights and tests players’ memory skills by requiring those players to repeat the pattern put out by the machine. Look how cool it made everyone:
Wilson was approached and asked if he knew anyone who could build a large game for the event next Friday and Saturday staged by OneRedmond. The organization uses special events, arts and culture to make the city east of Seattle a more fun place to live, work and play.
The all-ages, immersive Simon Tournament — for which you can still register as team or individual — will feature more than 30 teams of eight, representing companies and organizations from throughout the region, testing their skills on a big version of the popular game. Big might be an understatement.
“I talked to some of my friends that we were doing maker-space stuff and I was like, ‘Hey, do you guys want to build something big, like a huge game?'” Wilson said. “And they were excited about it.”
The team, working through the nonprofit Northwest Art Center in Duvall, Wash., consisted of John Hawkins, Lloyd McCracken, Emily McCracken and Paige Carter. Wilson’s son Aidan did much of the design and fabrication and a lot of the programming.
The 20-foot-wide Simon — which could break a Guinness World Record for “World’s Largest Electronic Memory Game” — is designed to be stood upon and features two kilometers of steel throughout its beefy subframe. There are also more than 10,000 LED lights and many sheets of plywood. An original Simon from the early 1980s was even converted to act as the game’s start button.
“When someone says, ‘Hey, you want to build a giant Simon,’ and you’re like, ‘Yeah, that sounds really easy. We can build that.’ … You very quickly realize all the complexity in building one of these things at this scale,” Wilson said.
The light-up buttons, which are 10 feet wide, were the biggest challenge. The team settled on load cells, a system like that found at the garbage dump where a truck is weighed on the way in and the way out. The cells will determine how many people are on a specific button. To select the proper color, teams must distribute the majority of their combined weight to that button.
The Simon also features a car amplifier and four big speakers. A Raspberry Pi acts as the brain, handling the primary game logic.
“It talks to an Arduino, another micro-controller, that manages all of the load cells and buttons,” Wilson said. “We actually maxed out every pin on a Raspberry Pi and pretty much about half of them on the Arduino Mega to build this thing out.”
The Simon, which cost more than $20,000, weighs well over 2,500 pounds and the team constructed it in eighths of a pie, with each piece requiring a special set of wheels to move it around.
When playing the original version of the game it’s very much about the individual remembering the color and sound sequence and determining which button to push to match the machine. Wilson never envisioned building a Simon that would become a team-building exercise.
“If you take eight, even really good friends, and put them on the Simon and say, ‘play it’ without much instruction, what happens is chaos ensues,” Wilson said. “They get on, two people are running one direction and other people are running the other direction. But if you take it as a leadership exercise, this is what we tell people before you start playing: ‘Decide who the leader is and come up with a strategy.'”
Teams with that mindset do better, even if it’s just someone barking out “everybody go to red!” or “everybody go to yellow!” And Wilson said the division of responsibilities can go much deeper and strategy really evolves.
Kristina Hudson, executive director of OneRedmond, viewed the project idea as a way to activate the community, through game play that requires full-body action.
“Part of our mission is to bring some soul to the Eastside, some creative flair, some fun,” Hudson said. “This game does exactly that. We are lucky to partner with Matt’s team who have the vision and skills to pull this off.”
Playing as a kid with such games as Simon and Rubik’s Cube had a lasting impact on Wilson, and now working on this project has affected him again. Despite all the labor involved and the problems along the way getting Simon to work, Wilson said it’s been super fun the entire time. He said everyone involved wants to keep doing it, and they’re already batting around ideas for the next big adventure, with one that could be “completely impossible.”
As I waited for him to say “Battleship,” Wilson beat me at his own game.
“‘Space Invaders.’ With drones.”