The Interactive Planetarium of the Future
July, 2007

Steven Meretzky

There was an interesting “flip” in the Game Designers Workshop, which I help to organize, about 2 or 3 years ago. One year it passed the point where a significant majority of the attendees had wireless-enabled laptops with them. And suddenly, instead of a speaker just describing something, he said, “look at this image on my website”, or “google for such-and-such”, or “let me email everyone a link to this webpage”. And often someone else would reply with other emails or links, etc. It changed the entire nature of the discussion, and was very exciting. Connected devices are so cheap these days, the museum could even buy a bunch and just give them to people as they enter and collect them when they leave, like 3D glasses at a 3D Disneyworld ride. You could vote (a first contact scenario—ignore, talk, blast?) (or, the audience members are the residents of a hollowed asteroid at L5 and are voting on various “public policy” issues like buying raw materials from earth—expensive—versus prospecting for them in the asteroid belt—dangerous), or have each person navigate their own rocket (à la the old “one person in the audience gets to try to dock to the Athena” skyshow) and everyone races to be the first to dock at the space station, or land on the moon without cracking up.

Marc Taylor

Two issues here. One is interactivity and audience interface, which comes up a lot at conferences. The trick, of course, is that the majority of the audience will not be on the same page technically and conceptually, so the design of the interface is difficult. There are several types of interactive systems made (Sky-Skan and East Coast Controls produce popular ones) of all levels of complexity and range of options. Wired, wireless, armrest mounted, one button, directional buttons, display screen… One of the simplest systems I ever heard of was one where the options were represented by circles on the dome—people would shine flashlights on the one they wanted. The brightest circle won.

The other is the experience of the interactive interface by the audience. I’ve not heard great results from “vote for A, B, or C” systems, and anything more interactive is popular but stupefyingly expensive. The video projector and flight simulator manufacturer BARCO has created some remarkable interactive systems, but they come dear. Yes, the cost of these interfaces are going down, but they’re also changing quickly. A redone, computerized planetarium will have all kinds of new things in it, and interactivity will probably be one of them.

But don’t let this put you off. Your brother [Steven] has been in the field of gaming and computer-facilitated entertainment since the days of the command prompt. I would like to hear any ideas he has.