Drexel reaches for biggest video game record

A preliminary version of Tetris on the Cira Center. Drexel University is trying to break its own record for the world's largest video game. (Jamie J. Moon)
A preliminary version of Tetris on the Cira Center. Drexel University is trying to break its own record for the world's largest video game. (Jamie J. Moon) (JAMIE J. MOON)
Posted: March 13, 2014

And you thought video games were a big part of your child's life.

A new game from Drexel University computer scientists will be much bigger, at least physically.

At 7 p.m. April 4, the team plans to run a giant version of the classic game Tetris on both sides of the glass-encased, 29-story Cira Centre.

If it works - and the group has tested a one-sided version that uses the building's vivid LED lights - the effort would break Drexel's own record for the world's largest video game. That was set at the Cira Centre last year with a game of Pong.

This year, the plan is for contestants and observers to mingle at Eakins Oval, with food trucks, games, and music, said Frank Lee, cofounder of Drexel's academic game-design program. "It's a party to celebrate the creativity and technology innovations that exist in Philadelphia," said Lee, associate professor of digital media.

The Tetris attempt is the starting event for Philly Tech Week, a nine-day festival of all things geek.

If this sounds familiar, the city is home to yet another science-themed fest later in April, with yet another record-breaking attempt - again, from Drexel - to start things off.

That event is the nine-day Philadelphia Science Festival. The record-breaking attempt involves building the world's largest Rube Goldberg machine, led by engineering professor Adam Fontecchio.

Coincidence? Friendly rivalry among Drexel Dragons? You decide. "Since it's a different category, I can wholeheartedly cheer Adam on," Lee said.

Besides Lee, the brains behind the Tetris game are Gaylord Holder, senior systems administrator at Drexel, and Colan Biemer, a sophomore majoring in computer science.

The object is to manipulate blocky shapes as they fall on the screen, fitting the pieces into the ones that have fallen before.

The goal is to allow two players at once, one on each side of the building, using joysticks to control the giant lights. Lee said the signal from the joysticks is sent to a computer that bypasses the Cira's lighting-control system - with the permission of building owner, Brandywine Realty Trust.

Biemer, who is using the Python language to help program the game, attributes its popularity to its simplicity.

"It's something you can play for five minutes or an hour," Biemer said.

Lee said that since Drexel is not making money on its version of Tetris, it falls under the fair-use provision of copyright laws.

Those who wish to play can sign up in an online lottery at http://ph.ly/tetrislottery.

Let the record-breaking begin.


tavril@phillynews.com

215-854-2430

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