Last week, at the launch of the Guinness World Records 2012 Gamer’s Edition, we got to see the world’s largest videogame controller. What kind of person would make something like that?
Ben Allen, a British Engineering student at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and his fellow students Stephen van ‘t Hof and Michel Verhulst created this controller worthy of the Gods, measuring an impressive 12ft x 5ft 3 in x 1ft 8 in and weighing an estimated 18 stone. But why? What did it take? What will they do next? We just had to ask!
GGUK: I think the first question has to be why?
Ben: Our student association, the ETV, celebrated its 105th anniversary last year. To celebrate, every 5 years we form a committee a produce what we call a stunt: something big, crazy and fun related to electrical engineering. It has a dual purpose really, for one thing, projects like this are always fun to do, but it’s also to attract some attention to our chosen field of study to show that it really isn’t the dull, boring subject that it appears to be. It’s very hard to sell electrical engineering because it’s hard to concisely explain what it is we do. Essentially anything that has to do with electricity falls under the umbrella term ‘electrical engineering’, so anything from the power grid and energy transport to microelectronics (designing microchips, solar panels and such) is fair game if you see what I mean. Making something big and fun like this attracts potential new students and shows that we’re not just socially awkward nerds who sit around doing maths but that what we do has real-world applications.
GGUK: What materials were used to construct your giant controller?
Ben: The controller is made of MDF (a type of compressed wood) plating on a steel frame.
GGUK: What was the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome?
Ben: I’d like to mention two things here if I may. One is practical, the other is a more human story and might interest you more. Firstly, the mechanical parts took us a long time to figure out simply because we lacked the expertise in the field. We expected kids to stand on the controller and jump on it and really give it a good thrashing (and they did as a matter of fact) so it needed to be strong, but we had no idea where to start with making that happen. Secondly, the hardest part was the creative bit of choosing what to build. We’re very good technically, and given an assignment we can execute it in a proper manner, but you have to come up with an idea first. In the end, someone mentioned building a giant controller during a coffee break and we liked that idea so much we just ran with it.
GGUK: Was it originally your intention to create something record breaking?
Ben: Not particularly, but we did see it as a fantastic extra if we could make it happen. Previously our organisation held the record for largest game of Tetris, but this was later disqualified because the dimensions of the game were wrong. When I was a first-year student the ETV was always really proud of the fact that members had broken a Guinness world record, and as such the idea of reclaiming that honour was a good motivator to do something big. Long story short: it wasn’t our main goal but we did consider it in our design plans and we put in the effort to at least make an attempt. Happily, a successful one!
GGUK: What was your initial reaction when you were told that you would be mentioned in the Guinness World Records 2012 Gamer’s Edition?
Ben: It’s a funny thing really, it doesn’t hit you until you really start doing promo work like what we did in Liverpool St. Station. When the record was confirmed in August we were all excited of course, but now we’ve actually been awarded certificates and have been given so much great coverage it’s really starting to sink in that we’ve built something that outshines everything else in its class, and that’s a great feeling.
GGUK: Which has been the most memorable game that you have played using the giant controller?
Ben: I’d have to say the original Super Mario Brothers, simply because it’s a classic and it’s easier to compare the experience to the original controller because the game is so well-known. That, and of the lineup of games we had it’s simply my favourite.
GGUK: And the most successful given the need for two people?
Ben: I think Soccer would be it. Originally we built two controllers (we only renovated one), but when we had our event in Delft in May getting two teams to play soccer together resulted in some excellent gameplay, not to mention it’s an incredibly entertaining spectator sport. When the eight-bit cheerleaders came on the screen at half time the crowd cheered like crazy and that was a very satisfying moment.
GGUK: What comes next? A 30 foot Xbox360 controller? A WiiMote that can be seen from Space?
Ben: We’d love to do more of this stuff but unfortunately these projects are usually prohibitively expensive, and you can’t really do them without some kind of sponsorship or a well-paying job that still manages to leave you with a lot of free time. As such I think the next big thing will be the new ETV stunt committee in four years time, and that’s definitely something to look forward to. On the other hand, if people are willing to pay to have something big and crazy built, that’s definitely something I’d be interested in doing, but right now that’s just an idea. For now we can call ourselves Guinness World Record holders and I think that will tide us over for the time being. Projects like this are very satisfying when they pay off like this but there was a lot of frustration and frayed nerves – that and Michel has since graduated and started work, and Stephen and I do have courses to finish of course.
Well, there you have it. A big thanks to Ben Allen for answering our questions and congratulations on recieving the World Record. Now I am off to my garage to continue working on my 100-person Balance Board.