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.
Allow me to introduce the “Chess Peeps” - classic chess pieces that have come to life:
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.
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!
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.
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)
- Android tablets
- Apple iPad tablets
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
The Staunton design is very good because the pieces are easily differentiated. With the exception of the knight (the horse) they are all faceless.
Chess Peeps will have mannerisms that express their personality and noble role.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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