Thursday 6 April 2017

Project Sentinel

The Goal

To use smart devices as "assistants" for tabletop game play.

To improve the board game experience by filming the gameplay and:

  • providing extra complexity, without the headache
  • automating rules enforcement
  • saving your game state
  • providing new game play mechanisms


As fun as video and mobile games are, there is something very solitary about most of them, and the focus is predominantly on the screen - not the other players. This is where tabletop or boardgames bring a more personal and social element to the *ahem table. Tabletop games are also more tactile, with lots of objects to handle - be they miniatures, cards, counters or anything physical that enhances the gaming experience.

As social and personal as tabletop games are, they tend to lack the depth and complexity that video games can bring - particularly when considering RTS (Real Time Strategy) and TBS (Turn Based Strategy) games.

There are lots of hybrid video/tabletop game concepts that are emerging, both sides of the digital and physical divide. From Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia on the digital side to Playtable on the physical side - not to mention all of the Augmented Reality offerings, including the sadly demised Ogg Board.

I would like to see more complex, tactile games that are played socially - that could have the complexity of a deep video game, without the learning headache.

Will this be a popular or profitable concept? I have no idea. All I know is: I have a burning desire to start creating the Sentinel concept, and I have the skills and drive to bring it into reality. I lie awake at night visualising what life would be like with the Sentinel in it, and how other technologies will be able to leverage the concept - Technologies such as Hololens, Meta 2 and CastAR.

So to answer the question of "Why?" .... because I absolutely have to! My mind won't rest until it exists. With every milestone that I reach, the drive and excitement builds. If I don't do this, my head will explode... FACT!


After starting the Sentinel app and setting up a gaming session, all interaction is via the camera and sound. If you have an Apple TV and Apple Watch, you will also be able to view and control the Sentinel from there. Control via Siri may be implemented too, as there will likely be improved reliability if you don't need to touch the Sentinel - and jogging it.

Ideally, the Sentinel would be suspended directly above the game table and connected to a mains power source. In reality, this is very unlikely to be practical - so I'm currently aiming for a tripod mounted solution.

The initial prototypes will be tested in a fairly clinical environment (i.e. a film studio), as early experiments have shown that changes in light can cause serious detection issues. There will need to be a lot of clever logic and tolerance algorithms to get the Computer Vision aspect of this app working well in a typical home environment.

Initially I planned to write the Sentinel app in JavaScript, but it became obvious fairly quickly, that the camera api on mobile devices do not provide the low level functionality required. As I do not possess an Android device, I have opted to create the prototype using an iPhone 6 - in XCode - using native Apple development tools.


Well it depends. Work HAS started - but this is a complex project. Ask me again some time.

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