“SuperSuit is basically the first ever wearable gaming platform,” explained Rajat Dhariwal, founder of MadRat Games, in an interview with Digital Trends. “We wanted to combine some of the best things about physical games with technology.”
The developers have created 12 different games for SuperSuit so far. There are classics like laser tag and hide and seek with a twist, but also new, nonviolent games like Robin Hood, where players can give resources, as well as take them and the idea is to maintain balance. The suit itself is still in prototype form, but it’s reminiscent of the laser tag craze that swept the nation in the ’90s. The difference with SuperSuit is that it’s capable of a lot more than just shooting games.
The chest plate contains the processing engine and radio communication. It records hits and scores, and it also has haptic vibration built-in, so you feel it when you lose a point. The glove has a couple of interactive triggers you can use to zap other players, or share points with them. It’s capable of tracking various gestures, so, for example, you can draw an infinity symbol in the air to create a shield for yourself. Because there’s no screen, a system of lights, on both the chest plate and glove, provide feedback about what’s happening and there are sound effects and vibrations too.
Taken together, it’s a complex system that can enable up to 30 or 40 kids to play physical games together. Dhariwal would also like to see parents get involved, and if you’re worried about how you’ll look running around in the street with a flashing, bleeping SuperSuit, you needn’t be, MadRat has included a subtler beacon system that still allows you to join in with the gang by wearing a pendant.
“We envisaged SuperSuit not as a toy, like laser tag, which you play for a while and then forget about within six months,” explains Dhariwal. “We wanted a platform for all outdoor play, so it can also hook up to an RC car and you can drive it with gestures, or you can fly a drone with the suit. We want a whole ecosystem of bots created around suit control.”
That means drones or robots could be encompassed into group play, with kids teaming up together to defeat them. It also enables real-world racing games with a battle element. The possibilities are endless. MadRat hopes to create an open platform and encourage developers to come onboard and create new games and accessories that will work with SuperSuit, but that’s something for the future.
Dhariwal studied computer science at Carnegie Mellon & IIT Bombay, briefly worked at Amazon, and then taught kids in the classroom for four years. He’s passionate about the importance of physical play for kids and MadRat Games has already had some success with physical puzzle games. SuperSuit is very much intended to encourage kids to be more active and, unlike most modern gaming options, it doesn’t require a screen.
“Play is by far the most powerful medium to engage kids,” says Dhariwal. “But everything in gaming has had a screen at the center of it. Screens are too passive and they limit imagination.”
Few would argue with the fact that screens dominate our lives nowadays, and this sedentary lifestyle is also causing health problems for kids. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the CDC. There are also fears about the impact of all that screen time on the eyesight and mental health of children. Something like SuperSuit, which can be played indoors or out, has a physical element to it that’s largely absent from console gaming, and it encourages groups of friends to get together and play face-to-face.
Another key element of SuperSuit that’s worth explaining is the fact that it doesn’t need Wi-Fi or any connection to another device to work. Kids can go out with their SuperSuits in the park and the devices will form their own mesh network and work together.
The SuperSuit system is completely standalone, so it doesn’t need to be hooked up to a smartphone or tablet, but there will be free Android and iOS apps that can sync data from the SuperSuit via Bluetooth when the kids come home. Thanks to sensors in the suit, including a pedometer, parents can see how active their child has been, what games they played, how long for, how well they performed, and even find out how many calories they burned. There are also plans to include downloadable games within the app, that can be synced with the chest plate, so kids will be able to download new games for their SuperSuit as they are developed.
MadRat is aiming for a worldwide September release, but you can register an interest at the SuperSuit website right now. The starter pack will come with two suits and a couple of the beacons for $199. That system will allow up to four people to play together. You’ll also be able to buy a glove and a single beacon for around $60.
We got to see a live demo of the SuperSuit in action and, though it’s a little rough around the edges right now, it’s easy to see the appeal. In fact, we’re itching to try it out for ourselves.