Penn alum brings Flappy Bird to life

Flappy Bird is a mobile game released in 2013 by a Vietnamese developer

· March 3, 2014, 4:32 pm   ·  Updated March 4, 2014, 3:40 pm

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Wharton graduate, Fawn Qiu, brought the mobile phenomenon Flappy Bird to life for the Tribeca Film Institute national hackathon. 

Flappy Bird is back, and this time in 3-D.

Fawn Qiu , a 2010 Wharton graduate, built a physical version of the mobile game Flappy Bird, called Flappy Bird in a Box.

Flappy Bird was downloaded over 50 million times before it was shut down by its founder in February because he was worried that it was too addictive. The notoriously difficult game consists of making a bird fly between pipes without touching them or falling to the ground.

Recognizing the huge popularity of Flappy Bird, Qiu decided to make a real world version of it for Tribeca Hacks, a national hackathon held by the Tribeca Film Institute. “I wanted to bring that experience to the physical world,” Qiu said.

Flappy Bird in a Box consists of a simple cardboard box with three motors. The motors recreate the digital game by rolling a background and moving a paper bird up and down. Players must tap a button to keep the bird up in the air, and if they fail, a magnetic sensor detects the loss and closes the lid of the box, ending the game.

“The box tries to visualize this game so that people who don’t really play [on their phones] will also know what Flappy Bird is like,” Changbo Li, a College freshman who found the Flappy Bird in a Box highly interesting, said.

Qiu is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign to make a kit which would allow people to build Flappy Bird in a Box themselves. The proceeds would go to engineering workshops for low-income female high school students in New York City that Qiu hopes to start.

“If people can make those kits themselves, it will be very empowering,” Qiu said, referring to the huge number of complaints the developer of Flappy Bird received due to the difficulty of his game. She believes that if people build the game themselves, they will be less frustrated with Flappy Bird’s difficulty.

Qiu first came up with the idea for Flappy Bird in a Box because of her interest in turning technology into art using simple tools. With her idea, she applied to Tribeca Hacks, which aims to build relationships between media artists, technologists and designers.

Her current position in the Digital Media Department of Sesame Workshop ­- a nonprofit organization producing educational children’s programs like Sesame Street - also inspired her to make Flappy Bird in a Box, as she was “aware of what’s happening in the digital environment.”

Although Qiu found that “there was a learning curve” in building Flappy Bird in a Box because she did not have any coding background, her many programmer friends helped her in the process.

“Sometimes it was time consuming because you don’t know which component went wrong,” she said, describing how she had to test possible variables in the game over and over.

Qiu ended up receiving a mixed response to her game. Some found the box a “pleasant surprise,” Qiu said, whereas others thought the creation was a waste of time.

Li thought Flappy Bird in a Box was very creative. “Even those who knew the game will be surprised at how this can be displayed in a different manner,” he said.

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