Welcome to the future. And that future is now. Your table top has never felt so alive as it does now. With litalry things popping out from a 2D landscape to the third, tactile dimension. But getting there is not an easy road, as with anything adventurous and experimental as this. ArmPal sees you arm wrestling against an opponent, without your arm. And technically without “the wrestling.” Hydraulical controllers will manipulate a “wooden” robot Arms that will pick up objects with a claw, a pale or a magnet, in a race to do more or better than your opponent. But is a 10-15 hour investment in the construction of these animatronical trees worth it?
Let me start this off by reminding you that I am writing about a prototype of a game that is looking for public financing to be made into a reality. And so my thoughts and feelings do not reflect the final product, only the product at this stage of its life.
Build your own Ikea robot
This is an Ikea type game. So straight off the bat, this may deter some of you as there is a lot of construction involved before play can commence. But not me, as I like buying this Sweedish furniture and proving to my wife that I am better than her at at least one thing. In it’s modestly “Kemet” sized box, you’ll find lots of laser cut wood to punch. Screws. Springs. Pumps. Pipes. Instructions and an assortment of other tiny things. Oh! And some wooden cubes. Blisters and shouting are not included but may arrive at some stage. Neither are there tools, which you will have to provide yourself. Things like a screwdriver, scissors, wax to mention a few. One of the things that surprised me is that there were no rules! This is a game, right? What will I be playing after my time and effort was used in the construction of this high tech marvel? Well apparently, there are three game modes which were shown to me in a promotional video.
The three game modes include:
If you have gotten this far and can feel that there is a negative air to my words, you are not far wrong. They are about to get a little bit more negative as I go into the construction phase of this product. But I am hoping that by expressing myself like this, the publishers are made aware or are already aware of some of my concerns and are making changes to alleviate some of the problems I encountered in this prototype. One of those problems was the instruction manual, which they are aware of. Some of the images were unclear and the numbers for each individual piece were missing. Easy thing that they are currently correct. Something positive....the punching out was easy to do. There were no issues with the laser cuts, plus they include some spare parts for some of the smaller, fragile bits. A big bonus. Most of the construction went smoothly, but when it didn’t, that was another matter. A lot of what I am about to say depends on your temperament for being a handyman or woman, as things got a little tricky from time to time. Sometimes you were slotting pieces in between other pieces with very little work space. Fear of something snapping because you were using a little too much force to click an item into place or squeeze it between others constantly plagued us (yes, my wife helped immensely). This is definitely not something for those who have chubby fingers.
Then there are the pipes. Black rubber pipes that you have to cut to size and number...with a black pen! Not really effective. We tried stickering them, but they just fell off, although we did manage to muddle through and attach them in the right places. These were a nightmare as they had to be squeezed into small holes in small confined spaces (with chubby fingers). This tried my patience for a while. Forcing them into position was hard work. Also attaching them to the syringe like pumps. Have I put them on properly? As some could slide on easier and further than others. Leaving me with the sensation of nervousness, and wonder, will the water pressure blow them off?
The answer was “no”. Although, I managed to blow one of these corks off of the hydraulic cylinders. Mainly because I did push it on enough, a jet of water came flying out in one sharp spit. Good thing we did this outside. And lucky it was with water, as this part of the construction was a bit messy. Real hydraulic fluids would not have been fun. This is a two person job, even though I muddled through on my lonesome, I managed to inject water into the pipes and cylinders. On the table…. And on myself. There were moments of excitement as parts of the Arm or the controller started to move as the pressure of the water did its magic. Then larger moments of frustration as I discovered the calibration of each Arm reacted differently to the controls. This meant more time getting wet and trying to figure out why the Arm didn't turn right or didn’t go up as high as the second Arm. It was all explained in the manual how to resolve these problems, and I prayed that I didn’t have to resort to the final measure of taking the thing apart to find something not lubricated enough or a pipe too bent. Luckily not the case. So this added another hour or two to the construction time. With everything working and my family eager to play, it was time to go to the shops to buy some chickpeas and paperclips.
SkyNet in action
The game comes with a lovely roll out mat, that needs quite a bit of space or a large table. Indicated on this map are the positions of where the Arms go, and there are two choices depending on the game you play, and also the zones for cubes, beads, the scales and other items that will be manipulated around. So placing the Arms in position and the controllers nearby, we start to get a little excited. Everything looks cool as we place the Cubes into the centre area and attach the claws to the Arms. And then we have a little tinker to see how cool it moves. Only to find out that they don't move as well as they did a day or two ago. One Arm only rotated from the centre to the right while we noticed the other didn’t raise as high as the second. This is a simplish case of recalibrating the cylinders and the amount of water in each. Again, luckily we are playing outside so any water spilt is easy to clean up. This again takes a little time and removes a tad of pleasure from the experience, as we were hoping just to jump straight in and do some break dancing. By now I am becoming quite fluent in which cylinder syringes are connected to one another.
(Watch the video to see the game in action)
Off we go, taking our time trying to stack cubes into a tower between one another. Giggles and laughter can be heard coming from my opponent and then loud cheers as they successfully place the first cube on top of another. It's a very delicate procedure as you slowly get used to the controls. Little by little, the feeling of control over your extended appendage becomes apparent. While the flexibility and control is a little sluggish, it's the eerie creeks of the controller that gave me some concern. Was I being too forceful? Was the fear of losing stressing me, that I applied my aggression a little too much on the joysticks in my hand. Then “PING”, a trigger button flies off as I flick it out, all because I wanted the claw to close a little quicker. A jet of water follows the button onto the mat. Not a problem, it's only water. But then I have to attach it back and refill it, just so it functions correctly.
Onto another game.We attached the excavator buckets and chuck a bowl of pasta into the middle. Again, laughter can be heard but then it dries up as the game drags on and we struggle to achieve anything. Maybe the bowls in the wrong place? Maybe the bowl is the wrong size and shape? Maybe the pasta is too small or too big? All of these things affected our experience. By then, frustration started to kick in as we found the Arms were not moving as well as they did when we first started playing. Once more, one Arm was not pivoting all the way to the left side, which made it impossible to do the job that it needed to do. Some more tweaking ensued, then we carried on playing. We even swapped controllers and noticed that they had a different feel and movement. I then begin to curse myself, believing that it may be my fault that they are responding like this. Sadly, by then our enthusiasm had waned. Then came the part of putting the game away. The question was, where?
This is a game that won't squeeze back in the box. In fact, when constructed it's twice as large as the box, maybe more. This is one of the downsides of this product, the storage. Where do you put it? Most gamers like to get a game out, play it, then put it back in the box and on the shelf. This is not that. Ideally, this is something that you would leave out on your coffee table, workbench or if you're lucky enough to have a hobby room, somewhere on an open table. I know that there are gamers that own a Crokinole table or pool table that is constantly on display. This is a game that fits that category. Mine is sat in the garage and may only come out if we have a barbecue…. and some friends want to have some fun (you thought I was going to say “chuck it on the barbecue”).
This is a feat of technical magnificence and it is truly a beautiful thing. It's amazing to see this inanimate wood, plastic, screws and water, come to life. And I'm sure that if I had the technical skills and a bucket load of patients to get this aperture functioning correctly, this would be extreme fun. If not for me, but for my kids. In fact, one of them has just knocked on my door and asked me if they could have a go at stacking a tower again. This is a great and cool idea, that unfortunately won’t be for everyone. You don’t want your board games to give blisters, needs constant fine tuning and not go back into its box....If you manage to get past the hours of building and have fun doing so, then great. If you are a competitive player, you may be dissatisfied when you play and your Arm does not function as well as the other. This is something for those who are into wood building kits and have ample patience, plus are looking for a talking piece for your pool parties. A kind of hobby kit meets activity.
Me, of course!