Kicking off the first of a regular series of short interviews on the Hack Circus blog, we chat to artist and speaker Seb Lee-Delisle about his piece Lunar Trails.

What is Lunar Trails?

It's an arcade cabinet, running the 70s arcade game Lunar Lander, coupled with a 3m wide hanging plotter that traces the trails of the players on the wall as they play.

How long did it take to build?

I've been working on the remake of Lunar Lander on and off for quite a while, initially in Flash, and then I converted it to JavaScript a couple of years ago. The physical build of the installation was probably around three months.

What was the process like?

When I first made the online version of the game, I was experimenting with socket servers and I set up a secret page where I could watch people playing the game in real time. I drew a trail as they moved around and Lunar Trails was born!

But the full installation was something I'd been thinking about for a while - to make a real-world physical version of the trails image. So I bought one of Sandy Noble's Polargraph kits, which languished in the box for over a year before I got it working. I enlisted engineer Paul Strotten to help me scale it up and he convinced me to use servo motors instead of steppers. We rebuilt the polargraph and I eventually replaced most if not all the arduino code.

How did the idea change as things progressed?

I don't think it changed at all really, once I'd figured out that I wanted to make a bigger version of the Polargraph. I thought at one point I'd have to use black markers on white (because all the opaque light pens would dry up in minutes – I tested probably 100 different pens!) Eventually we found that silver sharpies worked pretty well and last a couple of hours, and most importantly it meant that we could use a black background, which I really wanted.

At one point I wasn't going to build a full arcade cabinet, and just make a control panel with a screen, but I decided it was too important to sacrifice. An arcade cabinet is the embodiment of an invitation to play, which is really important when you're trying to get the public to engage with an installation!

What made you choose Lunar Lander, or did you always know you wanted to work with that game?

It chose me, really. Discovering the beautiful patterns that people made when they played the game was a happy accidental discovery. But I have always been obsessed by the game. It's so difficult, it really takes practice. And it seems really slow for ages and then it's a mad panic at the end.

Is it important for art to be playful?

It's a recurring theme in my work, it's what I like and it's a good way to encourage participation, but I don't think art necessarily has to be playful.

What do you make of the retrogaming trend?

I think it's pretty cute, I've never been any good at modern console games. Although I'm a bit unsure about pixel art when there are fake pixels that rotate and scale.

Have you seen any other game/art hacks you've enjoyed or been inspired by?

Sam van Doorn did something that has a similar aesthetic to Lunar Trails except using a pinball machine with inked balls that left a trail on a poster. Very cool!

Lunar Trails was on display at the Dublin Science Gallery until January of this year. There's some more info on Seb's site, and lots of nice pictures of it in action on his Flickr stream, here.


Lunar Trails from Seb Lee-Delisle on Vimeo.