January 06, 2019
Last summer, I had the opportunity to contribute to a great project by Abbie Rappaport, a Master's student at the University of Concordia in Montreal. Abbie is studying the esports community built around Super Smash Bros. Melee, an ancient title by competitive gaming standards with a deep, rich history. The project brings together several different mediums to best introduce the uninitiated to what makes SSBM so special amongst gaming communities. I can't encourage you enough to follow through that link and check it out for yourself!
To quote the project link above, an overview:
The work is a combination of writing, drawings and design elements that offers insight about this passionate community. This interdisciplinary work has been uploaded to a raspberry pi, housed in a handmade case, styled after the Nintendo Gamecube. The pi includes a program specific to the work, that allows one to navigate through the piece with a Gamecube controller, using the joystick to scroll and various buttons to zoom in and out. The piece is displayed on a CRT television. These two pieces of hardware are used unanimously in the SSBM community.
In even simpler terms, it's a means of allowing viewers to simultaneously learn about and experience why SSBM is unique. It's so cool.
Picture from Residual Media Depot's twitter account
My role was the programming aspect of the project; to configure a third party USB gamecube controller to control the panning, scrolling, and zooming of an image file on a CRT monitor or television, as described aboce. A very high level breakdown of some key points:
- Composite video out. One of the most obvious distinguishing factors of SSBM is that it's still played on old CRT televisions, since the Gamecube was released in 2001 and serves video out through tri-color cables.
- USB controller input. The informational image being displayed is very high-res, so it's huge. As such, someone interacting with it will need to be able to scroll, pan, and zoom to see the entire thing. Fortunately, there are plenty of third-party USB Gamecube controller replicas.
- An image viewer! Something that can handle large resolutions and allows for all the functionality described in the previous bullet point; scrolling, panning, and zooming.
The Raspberry Pi 3 B+ fit the bill for composite out, as it supports 3.5mm audio/video. It's an often overlooked part of an already awesome device. Our Pi would be running the default OS, Raspbian, so we'd need a Linux image viewer capable of mapping hotkeys (which would be interpreted from reading controller inputs) to the panning, scrolling and zooming functions.
Enter Feh! Feh is a CLI based image viewer for Linux with a ton of functionality (like keyboard shortcuts!). Importantly, as a CLI based tool it is designed to be incredibly lightweight; perfect for avoiding bogging down the Pi. After purchasing a third party USB Gamecube controller replica, it was down to writing the script that would interpret the controller inputs as keyboard presses to allow users to manipulate the Feh-displayed image.
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