Fireside Chat: Alex Johansson – Ode to Joypads

This month we have a log-fuelled conflab with British games developer, Alex Johansson: champion of the custom console controller and all-round Makey Makey magician.

How did you get into gaming?
I started tinkering with games about four years ago, but only really got going once I graduated from university in 2013, when I built my first ‘proper’ game, Narcissus – a two player where users have to precisely mirror the movements of the other. What I wanted to do was create a game that was possible to complete alone, but easier if the burden was shared.

There’s plenty of tech connecting people remotely, but little that enhances interaction between players in the same physical space. I’ve always loved tabletop cocktail arcade cabinets, so last year I built a one for Narcissus and took it around the UK to different events and exhibitions.

Did that take a long time to build?
Most people were convinced it was hiding a load of technical stuff, but it’s in fact just a neatly-fitted iPad mounted on a box! This installation was about presentation; but it kindled my interest in building more complex controllers.

Rumor has it you’re building a Narcissus dance mat using a Makey Makey?
Yeah! Got a Makey Makey for Christmas and spent the majority of the day turning everything into a controller with a big stupid grin on my face. The first thing I put together was a basic dance mat – a project which continues to evolve. For the final design I’ll be using a tarpaulin, a sheet of square sponge and a pile of conductive tape (imagine a sponge sandwich with tarp buns). When pressure is applied, the sponge is compressed and the connection is made.

What else have you Makey Makey-made?
Custom controllers mostly – sticky tack buttons wrapped in aluminum foil, cardboard steering wheels – all sorts. I’ve also made some castanets which I’m hoping to use in another game (possibly something to do with crabs) and have built some simple cardboard pistols for a new game called Deathlection (stone skimming…using guns).

Do you think more gamers will embrace the physical aspect of gameplay?
Technology like Makey Makey is still very new for a lot of people – even gamers. It seems like wizardry. Games are a wonderful medium in that whenever a new piece of tech comes along, people find a way to absorb it and create new experiences. The more I work with Makey Makey, the more my curiosity for what can be done grows.

To check out Narcissus for yourself, go to

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