$4,315
pledged of $18,000pledged of $18,000 goal
122
backers
Funding Unsuccessful
The project's funding goal was not reached on Mon, December 3 2012 4:59 AM UTC +00:00
Mitchell LondonBy Mitchell London
First created
Mitchell LondonBy Mitchell London
First created
$4,315
pledged of $18,000pledged of $18,000 goal
122
backers
Funding Unsuccessful
The project's funding goal was not reached on Mon, December 3 2012 4:59 AM UTC +00:00

About

I plan to create an extraordinary computer-based chess game (for Windows PCs Apple Macs, Android tablets, and iOS tablets)

The software will feature animated living chess pieces; I call them Chess Peeps™ – little chess people with attitudes (and anxieties). 

Peep: (v) to look quickly and furtively at something
Peeps: (pl.n) [Slang] your best friends

My idea is to have high-quality 3D animated chess characters who continuously show emotion via facial expressions, glances, body posture, and movements (assertive as well as nervous). 

Peeps will be like living chess pieces, not just scripted animations shown during capture.

  • Most chess enthusiasts, young and old, make errors while playing because they do not readily perceive the “threats” on the board.  However, our brains are hard-wired to perceive subtleties in “body language” (including facial expression).  I want to harness this human instinct to enhance chess skills training.

The emotional state of each Chess Peep will be based on AI computed analysis of its board position in relation to active and potential capture by the opposing pieces.  Based on my AI algorithms, the peeps will be fidgety and prone to glance at certain other chess peeps on the board (menacing or of interest for capture).

As the user attempts to move a Chess Peep directly into harm’s way, in fear the peep may pleadingly struggle a bit too.  That's also a big hint to think carefully!

Amusingly enjoyable - it will demonstrate a brand new concept for helping chess learners to recognize potential errors while playing.

Overall, I think it will be extremely fun to play chess this way just for enjoyment, but it will surely enhance your tactical learning as well.

Playing Chess with Sentient Chess Peeps will be FUN!

  • Admit it! You've imagined live chess pieces.  You know this will be cool.
  • Anyone who has read Harry Potter is going to feel like they are playing "Wizard Chess" for real. 
  • Parents who recall playing "Battle Chess" from years ago (it was a famous Amiga & DOS app) are going to be thrilled.  

Project Status Overview

As of now I've written a 3D chess game system as prototype; please see the more detailed  section at the bottom of this page called " What I've Done Already - My Initial Prototype" with screenshots.

I also have the underlying "bones" animation algorithms (for how the characters will realistically move & behave) starting to come together nicely.  I am presently integrating motion capture of facial expressions.

As you'll see here, I've meticulously designed a remarkable set of Chess Peeps characters. 

Still to be done are the AI algorithms for Chess Peep behaviors, and animating a large repertoire of gestures and facial expressions suited to the game.  Overall integration and embellishment will also take quite a bit of effort, but the result should be awesome.

I'd like your support to bring this entire project to completion during the next months.  The expected completion will be in March. 

Chess Peeps

Allow me to introduce the “Chess Peeps” - classic chess pieces that have come to life:

Chess Peeps -- My unique chess piece design concept, modeled in 3D CAD.
Chess Peeps -- My unique chess piece design concept, modeled in 3D CAD.

My stylistic inspiration comes from animation classics such as Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Disney’s Fantasia, as well as more recent Pixar and Disney 3D animated movies.

The Chess Peeps are friendly-looking anthropomorphic versions of easily recognized chess pieces.

And, here is a rendering also of my pieces without faces and other attributes.  My intention in this software program is to present two modes of play: (1) the Chess Peeps rendered as shown above with complete facial and body expression and (2) as peeps more closely resembling static faceless chess pieces, yet still capable of exhibiting nervous or pugnacious movements.

The faceless Chess Peeps mode will provide a gradual transition to standard pieces
The faceless Chess Peeps mode will provide a gradual transition to standard pieces

GIRLS RULE

Does your daughter enjoy scholastic chess?  This cool Queen Chess Peep design will be part our rewards. And, there's also a  "Chess Mom" version too. Check out the rewards.  Thanks for supporting this project!

A Pretty Peep in Pink: Here’s a version of my chess queen peep in pink.  The game will, of course, allow for alternate colorations of the chess pieces.
A Pretty Peep in Pink: Here’s a version of my chess queen peep in pink. The game will, of course, allow for alternate colorations of the chess pieces.

Summary of what I will Create:

I’d like you and your family or friends to participate in this important software release.  I will create a completely functional version of Chess Peep chess game software.  I want to see how chess enthusiasts and chess learners will react to the concept of live character chess.

If it catches on, my future plans will be to make tutorials and fun enhancements like blitz and bughouse chess.  This project is **only** the game play system; no tutorials or drills.

Backers will also get free software updates for 10 yrs as the Chess Peeps product matures.

This is what I will produce now:

  • An animated chess program featuring "Chess Peeps"
  • The "Chess Peep" chess pieces will behave in ways that strongly hint at optimal game play strategy
  • This program will enable you or your child to play against a novice to medium strength AI computer opponent incorporated into the software program. 
  • It will also enable play across the Internet (human vs human) with text chat (each player will see similar Chess Peep behaviors)
  • The program will feature a simulated chess tournament clock
  • The software will generate handwritten-style printable chess notation

I believe this approach will be extremely effective and very enjoyable for teens and adults as well as young children.

Chess Peeps: my current (functional) chess game prototype (above) and my UI concept for close-ups with rendered background of a living room (foreground).
Chess Peeps: my current (functional) chess game prototype (above) and my UI concept for close-ups with rendered background of a living room (foreground).

Full funding of my project will enable me to implement the key functionality outlined above (complete chess game play and very expressively animated characters).

If you are involved with chess instruction or planning to teach your son or daughter, let’s give this a try!  It could catalyze a huge new wave of enthusiasm for scholastic chess.

I’ll explain here about the design idea and why I believe it will significantly enhance chess learning & fun.

Chess Peeps will run on Mac, Windows, and Tablets

First a quick note about devices.  I produce software using a multi-platform development system, so the chess peeps software will run on every major platform:

  • Windows (XP - Win8)
  • Mac 
  • Android tablets
  • Apple iPad tablets   
  • Linux

Just for fun, I plan to also make the characters fall down temporarily if the Android or iPad tablet shakes abruptly!  (most tablets have inertial sensors)

Why This Will Help Chess Learners

Most chess enthusiasts, young and old, make errors while playing because they do not (at first) readily perceive the “threats” on the board.  Some chess threats are very direct, and others become apparent only after a sequence of moves.  

Chess is a symbolic game.  Whether viewing actual pieces or a diagram such as this, most people new to the game do not immediately see how the symbolic pieces are interacting.

Scholar's Mate (public domain image from Wikipedia)
Scholar's Mate (public domain image from Wikipedia)

Nonetheless, humans are instinctively perceptive to “threats” in real life based on body posture and menacing sneaky glances and sinister stares.  Likewise, humans are aware when threats are perceived by our adversaries or our colleagues.  This comes naturally, simply by observing submissive or frightened body posture and movements.  Our brains are hard-wired to perceive subtleties in “body language”.

The confident Chess Peep rook stares down his opponents.  A muscular bodyguard to the King, Peep rooks closely monitor ranks and files during the end game.
The confident Chess Peep rook stares down his opponents. A muscular bodyguard to the King, Peep rooks closely monitor ranks and files during the end game.

My concept is to optimize the teaching of chess in a playful manner using a very familiar style of chess pieces, but with 3D game quality life-like animation.  My chess piece avatars will be richly emotive.

Their royal highnesses, the King & Queen of Chess Peeps
Their royal highnesses, the King & Queen of Chess Peeps

My program will analyze the board position and realistically animate the characters for their circumstances.

During game play Chess Peeps will express worry, fear, pugnacity, arrogance, conquest, and despair.   If threatened on the board (even in non-obvious ways), these pieces will cower slightly and frequently glance nervously at the potential attacker.  If they themselves are threatening or participating in a group attack, they will behave confidently, aggressively, or sneakily.   This information is conveyed subconsciously via body posture, facial expressions, and eye motion.

Pawn peeps are your loyal foot soldiers, trustworthy and ready to sacrifice themselves in the call of duty.
Pawn peeps are your loyal foot soldiers, trustworthy and ready to sacrifice themselves in the call of duty.

Pieces that are ‘captured’ will remove themselves from play and stand along the sideline rooting for their team-mates.  Even from the sideline they will express emotions that hint at threats which are on the board.  i.e. they will be glancing at situations that should be worrisome for their comrades.  They will gleefully cheer when an opponent piece is captured.  They will frown when another comrade is captured.

Try to imagine how the King and other peeps will react when a pawn promotes to a second queen!

I can’t say with certainty yet (since, to the best of my knowledge, something like this has never been done before) but I feel very confident that Chess Peeps will greatly enhance understanding of middle game and end game scenarios.  

I think children will enjoy Chess Peeps so very much that they will play many, many more practice games.

About My Design

The most common standard chess piece design is called the “Staunton” chess set.  That’s the very familiar style in use at home and at nearly all chess tournaments.   (Staunton was the name of a chess master long ago).  The Staunton design became popular in the late 1800’s.

My pieces will look similar to these standard "Staunton" pieces but they will have come to life.
My pieces will look similar to these standard "Staunton" pieces but they will have come to life.

The Staunton design is very good because the pieces are easily differentiated.  With the exception of the knight (the horse) they are all faceless.

Horse-peeps are not much different visually from the Staunton knight, but of course as a peep they'll prance confidently in 'L' patterns, and express emotion with facial expressions and head motions.
Horse-peeps are not much different visually from the Staunton knight, but of course as a peep they'll prance confidently in 'L' patterns, and express emotion with facial expressions and head motions.

Chess Peeps will have mannerisms that express their personality and noble role.

Bishop chess peeps are trusted advisers of the royal family, always keeping a close eye on adversaries!  They consider all angles of attack and intrigue.
Bishop chess peeps are trusted advisers of the royal family, always keeping a close eye on adversaries! They consider all angles of attack and intrigue.

My Inspirations for Human-like Chess Pieces & Expression

I’ve been fascinated by the expressiveness of the famous “Lewis Chessmen” archaeological find.  (The Lewis chessmen are a 12th century set of chess pieces carved from walrus ivory; they are now on display in the British Museum).  The Lewis chess pieces were also the inspiration for the animated “Wizard Chess” sets in the Harry Potter movies.

On display in the British Museum, the “Lewis Chessmen” are a 12th century set of chess pieces carved from walrus ivory.
On display in the British Museum, the “Lewis Chessmen” are a 12th century set of chess pieces carved from walrus ivory.

While admiring these pieces I came to realize that emotive and human-like behavior by the chess pieces themselves could help reinforce key learning concepts and enable students to more readily learn the common patterns in chess play.  And, of course, it will also be amusing and engaging.

Here’s another design from long ago that helped to inspire my thinking about life-like chess pieces.  Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice in Wonderland (Through the Looking Glass, 1871) uses chess rather than cards as its theme, with Alice as a pawn on a giant chessboard with living chess pieces.

The Red King asleep, by John Tenniel for "Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carroll [Alice in Wonderland] (illustrated edition published in 1898)
The Red King asleep, by John Tenniel for "Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carroll [Alice in Wonderland] (illustrated edition published in 1898)

My Motivation and My Capability to Create This Chess Software

I'm a software development expert who has created or managed production of numerous successful consumer “shrink-wrap” software titles.  I studied computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, one of the the top universities for this field (and a pioneer for chess algorithms too).  My career in the software industry spans more than 20 years.

Nowadays, I specialize in animated avatar educational software.

I'm an avid chess enthusiast who also has a 20+ year track record in advanced software development, beginning at Microsoft in the mid 1980s (I helped write the earliest versions of Windows).
I'm an avid chess enthusiast who also has a 20+ year track record in advanced software development, beginning at Microsoft in the mid 1980s (I helped write the earliest versions of Windows).

In general, I have a strong belief in the efficacy of animated dynamic avatars together with quality graphics for educational content.  I manage Headroom Learning which produces SAT/PSAT/ACT test prep software and uses talking avatars to provide tutorials.

This is an example of my skill with animated avatars: The teenage characters shown above have featured prominently in educational software that I have produced.  Each has a distinctive personality and outlook on life.
This is an example of my skill with animated avatars: The teenage characters shown above have featured prominently in educational software that I have produced. Each has a distinctive personality and outlook on life.

Moreover, I am a supportive “chess dad” who encouraged his son to compete in scholastic chess tournaments!  And so, I’ve become passionate about chess education.   Frankly, I’m not an incredibly strong player myself.  But I’ve nurtured my son’s accomplishments at state and national level as he grew up, and from these experiences, I appreciate the enormously beneficial aspects of school chess clubs and chess education.  I believe that chess education has a positive effect overall on cognitive development.  It also encourages ethical sportsmanship and self discipline.  This is what motivates me. 

I shared my son’s jubilation after placing in national chess competition and national speed chess (blitz) [off-camera – one very proud chess dad!]
I shared my son’s jubilation after placing in national chess competition and national speed chess (blitz) [off-camera – one very proud chess dad!]

I also helped organize several large scholastic chess tournaments and our state chess championships.  The chess idea that I’ve outlined here germinated while attending my son’s chess events, thinking often about how to enhance and promote the greater adoption of scholastic chess.

I love scholastic chess club activity and tournaments.  More parents should be aware of chess opportunities for their kids.  I'm convinced that chess education has positive effects on cognitive development.  It also encourages ethical sportsmanship!
I love scholastic chess club activity and tournaments. More parents should be aware of chess opportunities for their kids. I'm convinced that chess education has positive effects on cognitive development. It also encourages ethical sportsmanship!

What I've Done Already - My Initial UI Prototype

The following screen captures show a prototype I have prepared with standard Staunton style pieces.  It will give an idea of my capability to do this project.

The Chess Peep software will build upon my previous experience.  It will be true 3D continuously animated life-like mannerisms of the chess peeps.

Note also these features which will be in Chess Peeps software:

  • the chess tournament clock
  • chat interface (for play with friends) 
  • dynamic highlights of valid moves and board coverage 
  • simulated handwritten chess notation

Here's another user interface concept that I am considering: wood textured boards and realistic scenery rendered into the background, so that it will seem like the Chess Peeps are really in your living room.

A hyper-realistic rendering style that I am considering.
A hyper-realistic rendering style that I am considering.

My Real Peeps

This is primarily a "solo project" suited particularly to my implementation skills and experience.  But, it's worth noting that I have a supporting team available to assist me if/as needed.

My real peeps:  I employ 15 young programmers and designers who enthusiastically help me implement many creative and challenging projects.
My real peeps: I employ 15 young programmers and designers who enthusiastically help me implement many creative and challenging projects.

Risks and challenges

The biggest challenge will be to implement the AI for determining what other pieces on the board are of most "interest" to each Chess Peep, and then to limit and randomize the amount of animation so that it seems realistically life-like. It will also take a lot of effort to get satisfactory motion captures for all of the body gestures that I have in mind.

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Support

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    Pledge US$ 1 or more About US$ 1.00

    FIRST THANK YOU! Every chess match starts with a respectful hand-shake. And, every project starts with a first backer. You are the first, and I sincerely respect the initiative. Pledge any amount you like, and please choose from either of the t-shirt rewards (pink or gray). Thanks for being first to make a move!

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    THANK YOU! I truly appreciate your support and will acknowledge it with a mention on my website. Of course, you'll also receive the final Chess Peeps software to enjoy with your family.

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    Pledge US$ 28 or more About US$ 28

    SPECIAL THANK YOU! You'll receive a plastic molded Chess Peep soldier (pawn) and a refrigerator magnet featuring one of the Chess Peeps (your choice of Pawn, Rook, Knight, Bishop, Queen or King of the Chess Peeps for the magnet). You'll also be thanked on my Chess Peeps web site, and of course, you'll get to enjoy the final product. If you are outside of the United States please include an additional $4 for the international shipping costs.

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    Pledge US$ 67 or more About US$ 67

    PINK QUEEN T-SHIRT REWARD Your choice of a Chess Peeps T-shirt featuring her royal majesty, the pink Queen Peep with the slogan "Girls Rule" (children's sizes) or "Chess Moms Rule" (adult female sizes). You'll also receive a cool refrigerator magnet. Please add $8 if you also want a chess queen molded plastic figurine. If you are outside of the United States please include an additional $6 for the international shipping costs.

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    STONE GRAY ROOK PEEP T-SHIRT REWARD Your choice of a Chess Peeps T-shirt featuring the powerful Rook Peep (child and adult sizes available). You'll also receive a cool refrigerator magnet. Please add $8 if you also want a Rook Peep molded plastic toy. If you are outside of the United States please include an additional $6 for the international shipping costs.

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    Pledge US$ 99 or more About US$ 99

    TWO T-SHIRTS REWARD As a thank you please accept two t-shirts (your choice from the pink and gray options described above) plus two figurines and one refrigerator magnet. You'll of course, also receive the final product: Chess Peeps software to enjoy with your family. If you are outside of the United States please include an additional $8 for the international shipping costs.

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    Pledge US$ 301 or more About US$ 301

    THE FULL PEEPS DISPLAY CHESS SET REWARD You're the kind of BIG supporter the Peeps need and love. As a thank you, you'll receive a complete physical set of Chess Peeps molded chess pieces that you can proudly display in your office or living room to show that you helped bring the Chess Peeps to life. A huge thank you for this generosity; it is greatly appreciated. You'll of course receive the Chess Peeps software too and your choice of t-shirt, as well as a refrigerator magnet! If you are outside of the United States please include an additional $12 for the international shipping costs.

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    Pledge US$ 501 or more About US$ 501

    SCHOOL CHESS CLUB REWARD, INCLUDING FULL PEEPS DISPLAY CHESS SET - You'll receive the software for unlimited use at your school's computer cluster , plus you'll receive a complete Chess Peeps physical set to proudly display in your chess club's trophy case! Thanks for making the Chess Peeps a living part of your educational program. If you are outside of the United States please include an additional $12 for the international shipping costs.

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    Pledge US$ 10,000 About US$ 10,000

    KING (OR QUEEN) OF THE PEEPS I don't know how to thank you enough. I'll be happy to provide (in your honor) a statewide Chess Peeps software license for all children who participate in your state chess championship. I'll also send you a silver and gold plated limited edition Chess Peeps Display Chess Set. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

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Funding period

- (60 days)