Redefining Videogames: This Company Lets You Control the Physical World Online

Want to play pinball in Helsinki from Tokyo? Now you can.
Chris Young

A company is changing the way videogames are made by combining old school retro games, such as RC racing cars and arcade pinball, with the benefits of online accessibility and interaction.

How have they achieved such a feat?

The company, called Surrogate, lets you control these physical games in the real world from anywhere via an online connection.


How it works

The inventors at Surrogate hooked up the inputs of real-life physical games — that are located in Finland, Helsinki — to computers, allowing gamers to play them online via a video feed.

It wasn't easy. For the team's first game, Real Race Cars, they had to devise clever solutions to issues that came up throughout the building process.

For example, as a sensor processes when the RC cars cross the finish line, cheating gamers could reverse and cross the finish line in two seconds and be registered as the winner.

Redefining Videogames: This Company Lets You Control the Physical World Online
Source: Courtesy of Surrogate

To overcome this issue, the team at Surrogate created their own image recognition setup that recognizes the colors of separate cars and keeps track of whether they actually traverse the whole circuit.

Redefining Videogames: This Company Lets You Control the Physical World Online
The image recognition software for Real Race Cars. Source: (screen capture) Surrogate

They also devised a way to have the cars autonomously drive to wireless charging stations when they were close to running out of battery. The technical achievement — and it really is quite impressive — is detailed in the video below.

The streamed video feed is filmed using a GoPro 7 Black with an Elgato capture card. These were chosen to provide an HD image with the least amount of latency possible.

We tried the RC racing game ourselves and the latency, while more noticeable than your average online videogame, was minimal.

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Redefining Videogames: This Company Lets You Control the Physical World Online
Source: (screen capture) Surrogate

On-screen startup videos, leader boards, and "finish" graphics were nice touches that gave the real-life game that interactive videogame feel.

Who are Surrogate?

Surrogate was created by a group of friends who worked on the idea in their own free time over the course of two years before deciding to go full time.

A year ago the company was running a demo from one of the team member's kitchen. In July of this year, however, they raised $2 million in funding from investors including Initial Capital, ProFounders Capital, Brighteye Ventures, and Business Finland.

Creation as part of the fun

The company has much more in store, as Stan Dmitriev, co-founder and Surrogate CMO tells Interesting Engineering.

He talked to us from the company's new space, which is full of videogame memorabilia, and other toys, from the walls to the floor. Ideas for new online real-life games?

The company is, in fact, aiming to release a new game every month. The first of these after its real race cars is Real Batman '66 pinball, which is already functional.

Dmitriev tells us that they release the 'making of' videos to "inspire makers and engineers."

And what of future accessibility for Surrogate's games across different platforms? While Dmitriev tells us that the focus is currently on creating new games, he says they will eventually look to build an app and possibly integrate their platform into consoles going forward.

A breath of fresh air for gaming?

In the future, 5G might normalize surgeons carrying out complex procedures from miles away, or incredibly fast online gameplay.

In our current archaic 4G times, however, where latency is still an issue, this is one of the most innovative, effective, and fun, implementations we have seen of online remote control of physical objects.

Redefining Videogames: This Company Lets You Control the Physical World Online
Surrogate CEO, Shane Allen, describing the workings of Real Batman '66 pinball. Source: (screen capture) Surrogate

Whether it truly signals a change in the way games are consumed remains to be seen. But we're keen to see how this will evolve as the concept, as well as internet speed and latency, improves.

After all, what could be more immersive than reality itself?

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