The first UCF-affiliated mobile game designed to help children with physical disabilities learn how to use bionic arms will be released at the end of May under the title “Limbitless Runner.”
Limbitless Solutions, a nonprofit organization on the UCF campus that created the video game, also develops free personalized 3D-printed prosthetics for children ages 6 to 18. In addition to a full staff of UCF alumni, it also has a team of student interns that help create video games for those who have physical disabilities — including the new endless runner video game.
“Limbitless Runner” was designed similarly to the popular mobile game “Temple Run,” where players can run, jump and collect coins down an infinite path for as long as they can survive. “Limbitless Runner,” however, can be controlled with a bionic arm or by tapping anywhere on the screen to jump.
This is the first game the team will release for children with bionic limbs and the general public. It will be accessible on both iOS and Android devices.
Angel Rodriguez, senior game design major and lead game programmer for Limbitless Solutions, helped create the game to randomly generate paths as the player goes, which gets more challenging the further players progress.
“The endless runner genre lends itself incredibly well to training the kids to use the arms as it allows for infinite playability and for the relatively small design team to create a game that looks great and feels complete,” Angel Rodriguez said.
The game interns work with School of Visual Arts and Design Professors Peter Smith, Matt Dombrowski and Ryan Buyssens to create the games. The main goal of turning the bionic arms into controllers was to train the kids to use their new bionic arms, Smith said.
Although the team doesn’t know how it will monetize “Limbitless Runner” yet, it does know that all proceeds will go directly back into funding the organization and the video game team.
Before using video games as practice, the team would take the children through standard training that included picking items up, throwing them and catching them. Now, it incorporates video games into training the children as well.
Angel Rodriguez said patterns and repetition are the key to learning and games are perfect for that.
When the children messed up or were unable to use their new arm perfectly, it got quite frustrating for them, Smith said. He also said oftentimes, it would make them want to give up on the arm entirely, as it can start to feel like a new barrier rather than the answer to an old one.
"In video games, there's a cultural awareness that you'll fail then try again, and that makes it so much less frustrating for the kids to learn how to use their arms,” Smith said.
Intern and sophomore game design major Tomas Rodriguez said that Limbitless Solutions has been an incredible experience for his schoolwork and teaching him lessons he would never learn otherwise.
“It almost makes me shed a tear to see kids play the games with their arms,” Tomas Rodriguez said.
Limbitless Solutions has made several games so far, including “Magical Savior of Friends” and “Tootin Pooches,” but each one has been exclusive to the company’s computers and were playable for Limbitless Solutions’ clients only.
The research Limbitless Solutions has done so far on whether the games increase the speed of training has been very promising, and the kids seem to love the games, Smith said.
The games that Limbitless Solutions creates are made in the Unity engine, he said. Angel Rodriguez designed a software plugin for Unity, allowing the arms to function as a controller. Unity is a game development engine where all the code and art come together and are assembled to make a game function.
The arm itself is controlled by an electromyography, or EMG, sensor, Angel Rodriguez said. These sensors read the electrical output of muscle tissue and output a number that tells the arm how much to move, based on how hard someone flexes their arm.
Angel Rodriguez coded the plugin to control different aspects of the games, such as an attack move or jumping, by coding Unity to use the same output number that controls the arm. A 30 percent flex might make the character do a fast attack, while a 70 percent flex might make the character do a stronger, slower attack.
For “Limbitless Runner,” the amount of flex controls how high you jump.
Currently, the arms use hardware that Smith designed to connect to a computer through USB. In the near future, however, Angel Rodriguez said that they will be able to incorporate bluetooth into the arm to wirelessly connect to a computer or mobile device and control the games.
"A colleague of mine, Matt Dombrowski, an art professor who teaches 3D modeling, was approached by Limbitless [Solutions] to do modeling for their arms,” Smith said.
“During one of their early conversations, he mentioned the power glove and had the idea of turning the arm into a game controller. Then he contacted me because I knew how to do alternate controllers — like a pencil sharpener that you can use to control a virtual pencil sharpener."
They began creating the games about two years ago at the Limbitless Solutions office next to CFE Arena. Around the same time, they were given a grant by the School of Visual Arts and Design to help with some of the cost of making the games.
Those who work at the Limbitless office on campus welcome questions and visitors from the public, sometimes even inviting students to come and play their games.
"The primary goal of the games is to train, but the wider mission [is] accessibility, for anyone to be empowered, regardless of any disability or limb deficiency," Angel Rodriguez said.