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This Lego robot arm plays free-to-play games while its owner sleeps
April 15, 2014 | By Mike Rose

April 15, 2014 | By Mike Rose
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    16 comments
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Business/Marketing, Video



3D production director Uli Kilian has found a novel way to earn in-game currency for his favorite free-to-play games without having to lift a finger -- he gets his Lego Technics robot to tap, tap, tap for him.

As reported by Wired, Kilian has built a robot arm out of Lego Technics, strapped it to an Arduino board, and programmed it to roll an iPad around and repeat the same sequence of taps over and over to earn currency in mobile free-to-play games.

The robot arm currently works with Jurassic Park Builder, a free-to-play game from Montreal-based Ludia Inc. Dinosaurs can be tapped in the game to earn currency, so the arm has been programmed to cycle through each dinosaur, and earn thousands of the game's currency over night.

You can see the robot in action in the video above. Kilian says he's looking to make the robot arm work more quickly for similar projects in the future.


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Comments


Lars Doucet
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Back in my day, we held down the A button with a rubber band and we LIKED it!

Jean Baptiste
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Another title for this article could have been : "how to realise your game design sucks"

John Flush
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While I liked your comment, it is also interesting how many, very popular games, have these really bad flaws in the system. The easiest that comes to mind is in Minecraft. Entire systems have been designed for harvesting XP just so one can enchant in the game.

I usually build one, to prove I can, then modify the level to have a block that can just dish it out easier and without waiting. Honestly, I wonder how much energy (Servers, PC's, etc) just run in a loop like this for useless grinding?

I'm not an environmental nazi or anything but I wish some environmentalist would look at the cost of things like this and attack it if for no other reason than to force designers to take it out "for the children of the future" - telling designers that grind sucks doesn't seem to work.

Michael O'Hair
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"Minecraft has XP?"

Andrew Pellerano
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If the game design compels a fan to mod the game I would not say that it sucks. Many people play video games for different reasons than you do and have completely valid fun while doing it.

Also here's a robot arm playing Threes which I guess means that Threes sucks now using your heuristic? (Threes doesn't suck)
http://www.twitch.tv/teamcolorblind/b/517504404

This lego robot can solve a Rubik's cube so fast it holds the world record. Does the game design of a Rubik's cube suck?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0pFZG7j5cE

John Flush
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@Andrew

you are right it depends on how you look at it. Your examples do point out a good difference in types of games and their value. If the goal of a Rubik's cube is to solve it, then yes, any time used by a human learning such a 'game' is probably poor use of time. If it is a 'release from stress' or something like that then it probably holds some value.

Same thing with game of Threes. These games waste time - what value is being provided to the player? Which equates to grind wasting time... some people don't want to waste time they want a different type of experience.

Like I said in my post about Minecraft. I had had to spend time figuring out how to automate the redundant parts of the game... but once I did I wished the whole system would just go away. But I don't think people that like said features are going for efficiency really...

"game design sucks" is probably harsh, sure, but it clearly points out there is probably something here that could be removed to increase enjoyment.

Grind games (or grind in games) usually only becomes satisfying or interesting when one figures out how to remove it, via a mod or a robotic arm... and the articles never quite point out that is what is getting valued here. It is not the game.

Kyle Redd
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@Andrew

The difference is that the Lego arm is performing the same automated routine over and over again, while the bots playing Threes and solving the Rubix are using logic and mathematics ("brain power" if you will).

Meaning, the fact that the game is played by a robot isn't what matters, it's that the robot isn't doing any thinking in the process.

Michael Wenk
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@Kyle

Some people like games like that. I know I sometimes do. Its nice not having to think about it and yet keep my hand and eyes somewhat occupied. Playing Tetris and games like that are good for that reason.

I find @Jean's remark to be in poor spirit. I haven't played this particular game, but to call it a poor design just because someone decided to automate it is just wrong. People automate World of Warcraft and EVE Online. Does that make them poor designs because of that fact?

Fact is this is just an enthusiast making something he thought would be cool. Do you honestly see that many people doing this? Doubtful.

I think this is a cool robotics project, but that's about it. Reading more into it is just advancing your own ideology on someone else's back which to me is uncool. Attack em directly if you must, don't use stuff like this.

Kyle Redd
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Regarding the tasks of farming mobs in WoW or asteroids in EVE - Yes, those are poorly designed elements in otherwise good games. For all the praise those two titles have received, the grind has never been a part of it.

John Flush
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@Michael

Yes, Minecraft has XP. It is used for the enchanting aspect of the game, which is another grind mechanic in the game (a mechanic I hate). It isn't XP like a typical RPG where you would see valuable returns and character building, rather it just counts to lvl 30 (or more), where you get a max enchant, you go to an enchanting table and you pray you get a good roll when you enchant your items. If you don't, you grind up to 30 again.

So people have made XP generators using spawn cubes, usually including Skeletons or the like so you at least get arrows and bone meal as a good side effect. you make one of these, leave your character logged in doing nothing while the game piles up all the skeletons, then kill them all when you get home from work - then enchant again.

Yeah, I wish it was cooler than that, but it keeps the kids playing the game all day and people logged in, which helps the user base numbers and other mumbo jumbo like that high. It is just crappy design in the end though that wastes time and energy and distracts from the creative elements.

Michael Wenk
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@Kyle / @John

Both of you are saying the same thing, and that is because you don't enjoy the mechanic that automatically makes the design bad. And that is completely and utterly wrong, as all that means is you don't like the mechanic.

For the design, being a good design can mean many things to many people, but as a (non game) developer, I strive for:

- Has to be successful at the goal its trying to fulfill.
- Simple. Complexity for the sake of complexity is idiocy.
- Maintainable. It must be maintainable throughout its life.
- Elegant. Finally if all the the others can be handled, I like a bit of elegance. However, I'm perfectly fine with simplistic maintenance as elegance.

Looking at those, I don't see why they wouldn't go for a game design. Tech is tech. And while I fully get that both of you don't like grind mechanics, and while I somewhat agree with you, I know from experience that there are many peeps out there that like grinding.

As an example, I knew a bunch on EVE that would just love going in a 1.0 system and reduce each rock in it to nothing. And if that mechanic made them happy, then I'm awesome with that. In fact, in my opinion the design that implemented that mechanic succeeded and was good simply on the fact that it made people happy as that is what a game is supposed to do.

And I still stand by what I said, its poor behavior to use someone's cool project to belittle a game design simply because you don't like the mechanics in said design.

John Flush
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@michael:

- Goal? what is the goal of grind? Make the game play longer than it should? keep the login and play rates high to artificially increase player numbers? If a robotic arm can do it, it doesn't seem like a very effective or useful goal.

- Simple? Puzzles (table puzzles) have complexity for complexity's sake. People that do 2000 piece puzzles are looking for only complexity for the sake of it. Are you saying puzzles are idiocy? Complexity is what some people want. They want to unravel the puzzle that is complex. Sure, niche. I get it. But if you are complaining about us saying "bad design" as a blanket statement this is outright hypocrisy. Simple != Good.

- Elegant, Maintainable? Agreed.

I never said other people wouldn't or don't like grind, I'm just saying it doesn't hold much value if 'grinding' is the point. Why do people like grinding and how do you fill that need and still have added value to the person experiencing it would be a much better and ethical design.

In the end I guess I'm just poorly behaved I guess. I would like to think that the developer that is wasting electricity and peoples lives though to be in the category or poorly behaved, but oh well. Kudos for the person that made a robotic arm to remove such an irresponsible game design that could have potentially wasted this persons life.

Michael Wenk
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@John

"what is the goal of grind? Make the game play longer than it should? keep the login and play rates high to artificially increase player numbers? If a robotic arm can do it, it doesn't seem like a very effective or useful goal. "

The goal of the grind is in the eye of the player. I accept that you don't like it. Hell, in most cases I agree with you. But it is foolish to ignore those players that like grinds. And there are players out there that do. The percentage of players that like that may not be as high as those that do not, but the grinder players are out there, and if you ignore them, then you ignore the revenue that those players bring in. And the goals of the game design are at least revenue and fun. It has to bring in money. It also has to be fun for its players.

As for the robotic remark, you realize that any game can be automated. So does that mean that all games are ineffective? No. Not even close.

"Simple? Puzzles (table puzzles) have complexity for complexity's sake. People that do 2000 piece puzzles are looking for only complexity for the sake of it. Are you saying puzzles are idiocy? Complexity is what some people want. They want to unravel the puzzle that is complex. Sure, niche. I get it. But if you are complaining about us saying "bad design" as a blanket statement this is outright hypocrisy. Simple != Good."

Again, you're confusing mechanics with design. A game with complex mechanics can have a very simple design. Consider Angry Birds. That game has a fairly simple (compared to say World of Warcraft) design. However, some of its mechanics are incredibly complex with many many variables in it.

Any piece of software should be only as complex as required. Anything that requires complexity should be complex, but only just as required. The problem is many developers seem to thing complex is better, that its epic just because its complex. However, in most of those cases, they just confuse their players. A confused players is not likely to be a happy player, and not likely to be a returning customer (or in this free to play age, a paying customer). Want an example? Consider Glitch, the browser MMO game that failed last year. That game failed because it was so convoluted that players didn't understand it. If a player can't understand it, then its too complex. If the game is too complex, then its likely its design is too complex.

Again, don't confuse individual mechanics with the overall design unless each mechanic is so complex and the interactions between them are as complex.

Also, Grinding isn't necessarily complex. Tapping on a dinosaur doesn't sound all that complex of a mechanic, does it?

"I never said other people wouldn't or don't like grind, I'm just saying it doesn't hold much value if 'grinding' is the point. Why do people like grinding and how do you fill that need and still have added value to the person experiencing it would be a much better and ethical design."

Have you examined what you said in this paragraph?
"I'm just saying it doesn't hold much value if 'grinding' is the point." That is a subjective statement, and you have no right to put your opinions to other people. Neither do I. People have the absolute right to determine the value of their own entertainment. If you think it doesn't hold value just don't play.

I think the cost of a hero on League of Legends is too high for the value you get from it. So does that mean that I should belittle people for deciding it does have value? Or all those people that spend tons on movies? Does that mean they don't get the right to determine the value of their entertainment?

And ethics? I don't see how you can make it an ethical issue. Are those people who play this game forced to do so? They have every right to play or not to play accordingly. Is the game chemically addictive like tobacco, gambling, or narcotics? No, not likely.

You're on real thin ice here. If you want to belittle others on their stuff because it doesn't match your ideology, then go ahead. But you should realize that people can and sometimes will call you out on it.

John Flush
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"As for the robotic remark, you realize that any game can be automated. So does that mean that all games are ineffective? No. Not even close."

I would disagree to an extent. Most games are completely worthless. They are the equivalent of movies or books that provide no lasting value to their consumers. If the game can be fully automated and nothing is missed by it you bet that game is worthless. It is a time waster. When the automation though would bypass something of value then I would agree that game is not ineffective. Again though, I understand some people just need to waste time for stress relief or other personal reasons... it isn't black or white.

"Also, Grinding isn't necessarily complex. Tapping on a dinosaur doesn't sound all that complex of a mechanic, does it?"

I never said it was complex. In fact I think I said the opposite... I think this subconversation has gone way off topic now to put it back on track though. All I was getting at was Simple = Good is the equivalent blanket statement that started this whole conversation "automated = bad design" I think by now we both agree the original blanket statement was wrong to a degree. I tried to defend the part I did agree with though, whether or not anyone heard it.

"So does that mean that I should belittle people for deciding it does have value?"

You bet. It is called analysis and judgement. As humans we are required to judge other people all the time. People just don't like other people to do it to them. You are right though, they get to determine what they value. I get the right to say if I agree with them. Then industry either chases the money (most likely) or the vocal opinion (less likely). Seeming my individual value, money wise, is very small I try to make up with it via vocal opinion.

"Is the game chemically addictive like tobacco, gambling, or narcotics? No, not likely. "

Ah yes, another debate worth having. Probably backed by opposite results via study after study with no resolution. I'm on the side of the debate that does believe though games are chemically addictive just as much as the rest of these items. Playing games causes a response in the mind just as effective and addictive as any of these. Please lets not go off topic on this one though.

and I'm still trying to figure out what "calling me out on it" has caused me other than to explain myself better which is a good thing I suppose. I don't feel defeated or even "proven wrong" on anything yet. I was going for concise originally, but when ideas go against the grain they tend to need a lot of additional explanation or they get overlooked. I would like us to continue the discussion on whether or not this craft has value beyond "Fun" and "Makes money" though, whether that be the ethics of a design decision that wastes time or whatever. too many good discussions end with "but is it fun? then who cares?!"

Mike Griffin
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As a kid I used to leave Rygar for NES on overnight with a NES Advantage controller on rapid fire, in a particular spot very early in the game, with the attack button held down by something heavy.

It was the perfect spot to attack endless waves of enemies without danger, and the main attack also picked up the power ups left by enemies (without having to walk over them) at just the right range.

Come morning, I'd wake up to a fully powered-up main attack and maximum health hearts, happy to proceed with the game.

But I only ever did this rarely, and it was mostly for the amusement factor that such a spot could exist in a game.

Will Hendrickson
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Best use of robotics. Ever.


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