There is a dream harboured by everyone who grew up playing Street Fighter. In that dream you put your wrists together, shove them forward, shout "Hadouken!" and a giant fireball flies through the air. Last night, that dream came true.
This is Super Street Fire, a project created by Seth Hardy with Site 3 out of Toronto. It's basically Street Fighter II, played with fire, and set on a real-life version of Ryu's stage. It's an incredible marriage of computer game design, engineering, carpentry, and pyrotechnics. It could only debut at Burning Man.
To play, each player is given two gloves, which contains accelerometers. The player depresses a button with their thumb when they want to make a gesture. That data is sent via Wi-Fi to a gesture recogniser, which interprets the move and then sends that information back to the I/O server. The I/O server then sends messages to Arduino microcontrollers, which trigger any number of 32 flame effects.
There are two parallel rails between the two players—one for right-handed moves, and one for left. When you throw a punch, a small flame starts at your platform and travels in a series toward your opponent. Depending on how you move, you either produce a fireball or a sustained column of flame. Special moves send bigger blasts of fire and do more damage. Best two out of three rounds wins.
The designers, of course, included a bunch of classic Street Fighter moves. You can toss out a sonic boom, launch M. Bison's "Psycho Crusher," throw a flying uppercut, and of course toss a ball of lame. The moves are extremely intuitive to anyone who spent the early 1990s in an arcade—you just make the old familiar joystick motions. The main difference, of course, is that the flames flying toward you produce an incredible amount of heat. Some of the combo moves also trigger flames from the ring of fire separating the audience from the arena. It really gets your heart pumping.
The pipes that deliver the flames are all buried under the sand. A chamber holding propane vapor, under each fighte's platform, allows for extremely fast delivery. The main propane tank is far enough away to be safe from flames, and it's submerged in a bath of water.
The ring master has a set of gloves, too, as well as an Android tablet (an Asus Transformer, currently) with custom-built software so he can tap individual flame effects to amp up the audience. Further iterations will include different coloured flames for each player. There's already a live scoreboard, but this was the first night they had the game up and running, and due to whiteout dust-storms all day, they hadn't had a chance to install it yet.
This is Super Street Fire's first incarnation, so it isn't perfect yet, but currently the system accurately recognises about 75 percent of the gestures you attempt. Site 3 designed a tool to record, train, and test the gesture recogniser. Initially, they had 30 people do all of the moves to help train it—no two peoples' hadouken gestures are exactly the same, and one man's jab is another man's uppercut. So that gives it more tolerance for variances. The more people use it, the smarter it will get, and the better gameplay will become. But it's already incredible—if you want to book it for your next birthday party, Site 3 will likely be touring its creation after it leaves the desert [Site 3]
Big thanks to everyone at Site 3 for taking the time to talk to us.