The group at the Christian-Albrechts university in the northern city of Kiel have effectively turned the facade of a university office building into a 1,700-inch flat screen, using it to play historic gaming classics Tetris and Breakout.
"To play this game in this format is something really special," said team member Merlin Kötzing
In the course of their "Project Lighthouse" Jonas Lutz (Business IT), Andreas Boysen, Merlin Kötzing and Chris Kulessa (IT) planned the installation of a total of 56,448 LEDs to light up each of the 392 windows on the front of the building.
Each LED contains a custom-made chip the size of a fingernail.
The four young men even reprogrammed the Tetris game, originally invented by Russian programmer Alexei Pajitnov in 1980, to fit their purpose. They now move the virtual building blocks on the wall using a laptop.
"We put approximately 5,000 hours of work into this," said 23-year-old project manager Jonas Lutz.
Though replicated in cities such as Philadelphia and Boston, the idea of building-scale LED art is a product of German ingenuity, popularized by Berlin project Blinkenlights in 2001.
The word Blinkenlights itself comes from a pidgin German joke by US computer programmers in the years after the Second World War.
After Lutz lacked sufficient funds during his first attempt to start the project, the university press office got wind of his idea – and immediately started looking for sponsors, even contributing their own money to the €30,000 endeavor.
During the 2015 referenda on Hamburg and Kiel's applications for the summer Olympics in 2024, the students showed off their project for the first time, orchestrating a count down.
By now, "the star of the night" attracts many visitors to watch the lights, take selfies - and play over-sized Tetris. In the future, the students want to provide extra game pads for those itching to move around the virtual blocks.
Picture of the game Breakout; Photo: i.ytimg.com
Gaming in the name of science
But the undertaking is not all fun and games, said Lutz. "This is not just playing around, we can do proper research with with this thing."
"At the moment, we're planning on a project concerning Li Fi [a system to use rapidly flashing lights rather than radio signals to transmit data]," university press officer Jan Winters told The Local.
"It's quite special because usually projects are initiated by the teaching body and are carried out by students. This time it's the other way around."
Since the running costs are low, the LEDs may be blinking on for a while. "The costs for an hour of Tetris add up to only a few cents," explained Lutz.
And the university staff are not scared of complaints either.
"It's not like we have a constitutional right to darkness in this country," says Jan Winters.
by Max Bringmann