New gaming platforms don’t come along every day, so when they do they’re always worth taking a look at. In 2011 years ago a small tech company, Sifteo Inc., headed up by David Merrill and Jeevan Kalanithi – two products of the MIT Media Lab, released an innovative gaming product, the Sifteo Cubes. They were a collection if small, 1.7 inch blocks with clickable LCD screens that communicated wirelessly with one another, allowing for responsive information to be passed between them, creating a system of tangible interactive objects. While they were pioneering, they we not without their limitations (requiring a computer to transmit data, a limited number of applications, hardware restrictions, etc.), but served as a great introduction of the concept for consumers and developers alike. Today Sifteo announced an updated, second generation of the Sifteo Cubes to build on the solid ground of the first generation by improving the platform in just about every way.
The original Sifteo cubes offered a new way to interact with media by making it more tangible and tactile. Being able to touch what you were playing with, instead of needing an intermediary like a controller, made the experience with the cubes unique by turning your hands into the controllers. Additionally, the size, shape, and overall feel of the cubes evoked some level of nostalgia, as the cubes were reminiscent of youthful toys, like Lincoln Logs or Jenga blocks. The new cubes do the same thing, but Sifteo have improved the tech behind them, opening up the possibilities of expanding the platform.
Some of the changes that the company has made are more visible than others. For example, the screen has been updated to provide better graphics, and now features a touch sensitive interface. Perhaps the most important upgrade is the base adapter, which allows for the Cubes to function without needing to be within range of a computer that was hosting the data and feeding it to the cubes. Now, a small, battery operated wireless base serves the same purpose meaning the cubes are no longer held back by the portability of your computer. Now, all you need a computer for is to download new games and applications from the Sifteo app store, Sifteo Sync, and update the transmitter. Once everything is loaded onto the portable base, you’re good to game anywhere.
A gaming platform is only as good as the games that are on it, and for the next generation of Sifteo Cubes, Sifteo have partnered with some big names like Richard Garfield (the creator of Magic: The Gathering) and Nickelodeon (look for a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game coming soon) to really make the system a viable outlet for a wide range of enjoyable interactive experiences. One of the ways that generation two will improve the gameplay aspect is by expanding the number of cubes that can be used at once, from six to twelve. While some games may not be compatible with this, others that can take advantage will use the additional screens to create a new, expanded playing field, opening up these miniature games that much more.
The Sifteo Cubes have gone up for preorder today, on Sifteo’s website for $129.95, which will net you three cubes, the base, and four pre-installed games. For $199.95 you can get an expanded starter set, adding three additional cubes, or you can buy the cubes individually for $29.95. If pre-ordering isn’t your thing, you can keep an eye out for these unique devices when they hit store shelves this November.