3D Printing in Gaming

My last post, ‘Let me project you back in time,’ explored the history of projection as a means of gaining a better understanding of the potential of projection with close reference to the game I am designing in DIGC310 which uses projection as its main mechanic.

In Marshall McLuhan’s book, 1964, ‘The medium is the message’ he states “A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness.”

Over the last 7 weeks I have been experimenting with my projection game, Reflectand have begun to understand the value and potential of projection. In attempting to construct a draft of my game, I have been experimenting with different light sources, light directions and materials, which have all highlighted the challenges and positives of using light. One of the main positives I found was the ability to create a social effect through the use of projection, creating a specific environment, this works well in highlighting (for players) the potential of projection as well as the spacial reality it creates.

In drafting my game, I discovered that the best way to create my version of the ‘Magic lantern’ was to 3D print the pieces, so that each piece could be detached and each player could have there own mini lantern to play with, while also creating a multifunctional game and having the pieces stacked on top of each other to create something new. Without 3D printing this wouldn’t at all be possible, so within this post I am going to be researching 3D printing within gaming in order to link the history of projection which I have already spoken about and my mechanic that I am in the process of making.

In reversing the idea of digital to analogue, I am exploring the potential of gaming as a tangible object rather than digital to highlight McLuhan theory, ‘The medium is the message,’ as well as showcasing the potential of projection in analog gaming.

There is much debate today surrounding 3D printing within the gaming world, many believe that 3D printing is beneficial in the sense that 3D printed objects can be easily shared for free and collaboratively worked upon in order to discover its potential, whereas others believe that with 3D printed objects becoming ‘free,’ gaming companies may lose a significant amount of profit due to IP and licensing deals.

A company called U-dimensions seems to understand this problem and states, “U-Dimensions’ goal is to make it easier for game companies to develop and expand their merchandise line, and allow them to gain extra profit from games,” the company says. “The unique, and free platform makes it possible for game companies to reach a larger audience, and allows for a variety of 3D printing merchandise options. Our software allows for company’s 2D or 3D game elements to be automatically converted into 3D-print ready elements. The free model also allows game companies to gain commission while U-Dimensions take care of production and distribution.”

U-dimensions suggests that they are helping in generating profit for gaming companies, the website also targets the low quality of mass produced games. In opening up a 3D market in which game companies can use to generate their own customised pieces, it reduces or even eliminates the problem of gaming companies losing attainable profit while making a higher quality game.

On the other hand U-dimension limits the potential of gaming mechanics/pieces to be manipulated by its audience. For instance, my game, Reflect, could come with generic pieces but people can also create or download additional pieces in order to add to the game and change the difficulty and aesthetic etc.

Digital leisure Cultures mentions Cubify and Shapeways (3D printing companies) which “offer objects for sale and provide digital files of their prototypes for download by people who may want to fabricate them for themselves or learn from their design.” Its important here to mention that these websites encourage collaboration and creation in order to help further the potential of certain mechanics in gaming as well as helping people learn about 3D printing.


This got me thinking about the marketing of Reflect, do I want to give the files to the public in order for them to 3D print the game for free? It sounds selfish but for something I have worked hard on, I believe there should be some recognition much like many other 3D games that you can print for free on the internet. After looking at the above companies and the different ways they approach the gaming market however, I see a lot of value in people being able to access files and add to the potential of the game. It also adds to the idea of the ‘ecology of gaming’ which focuses on how we participate as gamers, producers and learners. Therefore, if I was to market Reflect, I would sell the original game with generic ‘starting’ pieces but also create other pieces which people can download and manipulate for free in order to add to the potential and aestetic of reflect as well as helping people learn about the design of the game.


Im Pitchin’

In Marshall McLuhan’s book, 1964, ‘The medium is the message’ he states “A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness.”

My game design, Reflect uses projection (light) as its main mechanic instead of a physical board game. This has proved challenging as I am reversing the idea of physical to digital. Projection which has been around for centuries focuses on the idea of creating a space of reality that people can enjoy. My design teases out the idea of projection as a spacial element, in order to create a game in the space that its in and for players to interact with it. The light is the medium in which the spacial message is created. It also draws attention to the idea of forgotten projection potential. Potential which can be used across multiple mediums in order to create a new sense of space, purely through the manipulation of light. It is both digital and analog in the sense that the pieces which are being created through 3D printing and software design are being created for the sole purpose of analog gaming.

The definition of Analog eludes to the idea of a mechanism being a continuous variable. This can be applied to my design in the sense that it is a physical object that will produce the same outcome, however I have modified the lantern mechanic to change and be multifunctional in order to play multiple games with the one device or mechanic.

Much of game design today focuses on digital gaming, however by creating a tangible mechanic such as my lantern, which I will be talking about shortly, I wanted to create a social space, which coheres to both the digital and analog as a way of thinking about revolutionary game design.

The magic lantern which was developed during the 17th century was one of the main gadgets within my research in DIGC335 that stood out to me with gaming potential. I have obviously dramatically adapted the lantern by adding gaming features but as an initial starting point, this is where I gained my idea.

During the very beginning I was playing with the direction of light and material by using a lamp in order to understand the way my game would have to be designed, which was great in figuring out the direction of light in regards to what I was projecting as well as what shapes I would use and the distance I was projecting them (because this changed the outline of the shape and the direction of the projected shapes). After much trial and error, I decided to take what I had learnt when making my ‘Draft lantern’  and 3D print the pieces of the lanterns structure.

Over the last couple of days I have been using Tinkercad, a 3D modelling program which has been great in establishing what needed to change with my initial design concept in order for it to work.

Below are my mock designs for the 3D printed game mechanic that I will be creating:

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Above was my initial idea, having 1 lantern which could be interacted with by each player twisting the layers in order to project the correct sequence of shapes that is shown on the play cards before the timer sounds and they have to pick up a new card.

However, to 3D print runners in-between each layer in order for them to be spun would of been a nightmare not to mention it would send the printer into overdrive.


Below is my new and improved lantern. Each layer can be separated and players can each have there own mini lantern to work on by drawing cards that show a shadow of the projected shape, players work to get the right cards that match each projected shape on their own lantern in order for one of the players to win.

This design also creates a multifunctional game, where each layer can be slotted on top of one other in order to a) either add levels to the game or b) create one giant lantern where players work as a team to beat the timer.

As seen in the below mocks, the shapes are what will be projected. Each layer will have a lid with a spike on the top so that the other layers can slot on top of one another in order to create a stack.

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The second design I believe works a lot closer to this idea of spacial interaction as a way of establishing that the medium (which is the light) is the message. It also draws players attention to the importance of working with light in the space that they are playing in, in order for them to enhance the gaming experience. The light adds a massive historical respect value, which although may be overlooked, targets the ability to create a social effect through its spacial limitations.

Please see the below video, highlighting my thought process:




Let me project you back in time…

During this semester I aim to work on projection throughout MEDA301, DIGC335 and DIGC310. This will work to my advantage, due to many cases I have stumbled across which have already led me down new topics of research in each class that I can bring together. In DIGC310 I am creating a board game that uses projection to add to the elements of the game that I will be creating. Motion gesture as well as augmented reality is also two concepts that I have been researching in order to incorporate them into the board game (or at least attempt).

Therefore, during this subject I will be exploring the limitations of projecting in different environments, on different objects, playing with what I am projecting and sharing my results with you as my DA. As an extension I will be showing you my completed board game with projection from my DIGC310 class.

So far I have played with Leap Motion as well as the Eyetoy in regards to motion gesture but I am yet to connect this to a projector for a projected play through gesture. I hope to achieve in making a projected board game that has interactive elements through motion.

The history of projection: 

Projection has a very ancient history, dating back to primitive shadow play as well as being connected to Camera obscura.’ Chinese Magic mirrors were also used to project images during the Chinese Han Dynasty as well as revolving lamps, also known as trotting horse lamps before 1000CE.

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Diagram of the camera Obscura

Around 1420, Giovanni Fontana, drew an image of a person projecting a demon- like image in his book Mechanical instruments, “Bellicorum Instrumentorum Liber.”

Concave mirrors were used in 1430 in order to reflect images onto a canvas board in order to aid the artist in the drawing or painting this is known as the Hockney-Falco thesis.

Leonardo Da Vinci was said to of had a projecting lantern with a lense, candle and chimmeny on a sketch during 1515. It is important to also mention that Dutch inventor, Cornelis Drebbel mentioned some sort of projector in a letter that was later found in the papers of Constantijn Huygens, father of the inventor of the magic latern Christiaan Huygens.

In 1612, Benedetto Castelli wrote about projecting images of the sun through a telescope (invented in 1608) to Galileo Gallilei.

During 1645, Athanasius Kirchers book described his invention, the steganographic Mirror. This was one of the main books that helped Christiaan Huygens overcome many limitations and invent the magic lantern in 1659.

The ‘solar microscope‘ was worked on by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, John Nathanael Lieberkuhn, John Cuff and Benjamin Martin during the 17th century. The Opaque Projector, more commonly known as the Episcope, worked on by Leonhard Euler, Jacque Charles and Henry Morton, was also a specific turning point during the 17th century in regards to the use of projectors on a large scale.

Belgian inventor Joseph Plateau and sons introduced the first distinctive idea of a projected moving image in 1832 before film was even invented. This was known as a Phenakistoscope, an optical illusion toy.  As you can see in the video below pictures on one disc viewed through slots in the other, appeared to move when the two were spun and viewed in a mirror.

During 1839, Henry Fox Talbot worked on printing photography onto glass slides in order to project using magic lanterns. Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre also invented the Daguerreotype in 1839. (A report of the Daguerreotype, written by Gay-Lussac can be found at: Gay-Lussac, J-L. (1839) ‘Report on the Dagerreotype’ rpt. in Harrison C, Wood P and Gaiger J (eds) 1998, Art in Theory 1815-1900: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 255-257)

Its also relevant to mention Oliver Wendell Holmes stereoscope made in 1881. (Holmes, O. W. (1859), ‘The Stereoscope and the Stereograph’ rpt. in Harrison C, Wood P and Gaiger J (eds) 1998, Art in Theory 1815-1900: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell, Oxford, pp.668-672

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Oliver Wendell Holmes Stereoscope

Emile Reynaud expands on his praxinoscope in 1882 and using mirrors and a lantern is about to project moving images onto a screen.Thomas A. Edison, inventor of the electric light bulb and the phonograph decides to design machines for making and showing moving pictures in 1888, with his assistant W.K.L Dickson (who did most of the work), Edison began experimenting with adapting the phonograph and tried to make rows of tiny photographs on similar cylinders.

During the early ancient history of projection, magicians were often related to projection work due to  augmented reality. People were often scared of projection due to this connection, believing it to be a dark magic or even a religious experience. This was due to the play on optical/ visual illusions. Here is a quick timeline of illusion/magic and media.

In my next post I will be exploring recent projection technologies as well as sharing limitations in projecting onto different objects.

Stay Tuned !