Magia Transformo – the Dance of Transformation – is a playful physical experience with digital augmentations. Three players enter a ritual chamber furnished with an altar and a rack of hats and cloaks. A glowing magic circle is laid out on the floor, with a cauldron in the center. Colored flames periodically shoot out of the cauldron. The voice of Alistair – a magical mentor figure – welcomes the neophyte witches to their initiation into the mysteries of the arcane. He invites the players to each select a hat and a cloak, and sanctify them at the magical altar. When players touch their magical garment to the altar, interactive spellbooks light up, with information about the mythos and history of each item. Once properly attired, the three witches are transformed into members of one of several secret magical societies (each with their own history and mythology to unlock) and invited by Alistair to pick up their spellbooks and gather around the magic circle. Following guidance from their spellbooks the players chant magic words, and dance around the cauldron to cast magical spells. If the players successfully complete the rituals, and the right combination of hats and cloaks have been selected, a spell will unlock, and the cauldron will emit colorful flames. Players may then return to the altar to explore other combinations of hats and cloaks, unlocking more spells in their spellbooks, and discovering more about the hidden world that they’ve entered into.

Magia Transformo at Indiecade 2017

Transformative Theatrical Play

Magia Transformo creates experiences that live at the intersection of play and theater. We draw on techniques from interactive theater and actor training to create a sense of character identification through play, using novel hardware interfaces and digitally augmented environments to support an experience of “outside->in” identity transformation. We know from our studies of actors that costumes, makeup, props, and masks play a significant role in producing the sensation of “becoming another person” on stage. Magia Transformo takes this as the inspiration for a game about magical transformation where the players must attire themselves as different characters as they explore and discover the hidden stories of our magical world. The act of putting on a costume, and seeing oneself in a mirror can be many things: playful, silly, dramatic, powerful, and transformative. Hats and cloaks invite players to adopt new body language, or twirl and swoop. They give players permission to embrace the fiction of the game, and to fully enter into the imaginary world of Magia Transformo.

Design Innovation for Tangible Gameplay

Magia Transformo is a design experiment, intended to explore new kinds of gameplay experiences that don’t fit neatly into existing genres or platforms. We hope that it can illuminate new design spaces for games that embrace the complex interconnections between physical embodied experiences, social interactions, and self-perception. The recent proliferation of “escape rooms” and “augmented reality” games (like Pokémon Go) demonstrates that people are eager for playful experiences that extend beyond the screens of their devices, but the high-profile failure of embodied interfaces like Microsoft’s Kinect sensor suggests that designing hybrid physical-digital experiences requires new literacies and new ways of thinking about play. Magia Transformo demonstrates how rich narrative elements and an emphasis on the role and identity of the player can create new possibilities for hybrid digital-physical game designs.

To accomplish the technical challenges inherent in this design, we’ve had to draw on a wide range of sensing technologies.  The “magical altar” is equipped with an RFID reader, and each costume piece has an RFID tag incorporated into it in the form of a “magical medallion”.  The spellbook interfaces use android phones embedded in physical books, that provide a direct connection to the game server, and act as beacons for a Kinect sensor mounted above the cauldron.  The magic cauldron has a ring of addressable “neopixels” that cast colored light on a set of silk flames that are blown upward by a circular fan.  Using an Arduino microcontroller, we can control this magical fire to simulate many different visual effects. Taken together, all of these elements conspire to create a narratively rich atmosphere that knows where the players are and what they are wearing, and can respond by altering the ambience of the room, transmitting instructions to the spellbooks, or providing spoken support and suggestions to players.



Director: Theresa Jean Tanenbaum

Game Technologist & Designer: Ke Jing

Design Lead & Early Prototyper: Natalie Nygaard

Music & Sound: Vincent Jongkae Chang

Art & Graphic Design: Mark-Justin Avila Pareja

UX Design, Video Production & Playtesting: Karen Tanenbaum