Living the fantasy: B.S.B.B. MKII: Call it art

A random sighting at GDC 2019 reveals an interactive art project by Bay Area filmmaker David Shuff, who built the Big Steel Battalion Box as an experiment in immersive gameplay.

We came across the B.S.B.B. MKII while wandering aimlessly around GDC. Cordoned off, alone in the exhibit area, a man sat in the control center barking orders, or receiving them, we’re not complexly sure in an industrial cockpit complete with blinking lights, colored switches, fire alarms, and a land line phone for emergencies.

The B.S.B.B. MKII travelled from its permanent home at the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) in Oakland where visitors can play Steel Battalion in an interactive session by appointment. (Source: Jon Peddie Research)

The Big Steel Battalion Box was built for the Xbox game Steel Battalion but the name is more than an acronym. There’s a lot of happy BS in the design of the Battalion Box from the switches to the alarm system and the pilot-grade safety harness. It was built by filmmaker David Shuff who says in his artist’s statement about the Box that the project began as an experiment in immersive game play by putting the gamer in an isolated environment with integrated stimuli such as lights and vibrations and all those buttons and controls.

He discovered that the addition of an external monitoring capability with communications added a more compelling dimension to the game by allowing players to collaborate on game play. The usual mode of play in the B.S.B.B. MKII is for a pilot player in the box to be guided by a remote coach. Shuff says the experiment became even more interesting when the coach player was just as clueless as the pilot leading to a shared experience of discovery as well as collaboration.

What do we think?

The MADE is a labor of love by a team of people who love digital games and their history. They have found and restored a huge library of games and also gaming machines. The group has regular meet ups and also introduces local kids to games and game development. The museum is open on weekends.