Play the game! Play the Game

Blast Calder’s mobiles to a million brightly coloured bits! Instead of being a mere spectator to the play, irony, and humour of the toys in Calder’s Circus, or a spectator to the free play of the motion of Calder’s mobiles, in Calderoids you get to play with his art yourself when you climb in your spaceship and fly around his sculptures, laughing as you zap them to pieces!

Calderoids illustration

Few artists approached the world with as much of a sense of play as the inventor of mobiles: "Alexander Calder chose, aesthetically and morally, to play, to play for keeps at playing the game, because art at the time was a game or it was nothing. That’s how Calder understood it, and that’s how the best minds in that Paris which was a ‘moveable feast’ understood it as well" (Francisco Calvo Serraller, Gravity & Grace, 2004). Calder’s workshop would have found a home in the playland of the early Atari development lab: explosion"Work is a word used very loosely at Atari. Most of the Atari employees I saw projected an aura of almost delirious bliss. They didn't seem to think of themselves as working. This isn't a company, I said to myself, it's a candy factory" (David Owen, Esquire, 1981).

Calder’s first major artwork was the animated Circus, a series of wire automata whose motion delighted and amused avant-garde Paris. Crashes between his abstract Circus forms foresee the cosmic conflagrations of Calderoids: "It was possible to move colored discs across the rectangle, or fluttering pennants, or cones; to make them dance, or even have battles between them. Some of them had large simple majestic movements, others were small and agitated" (Calder, Mobiles, 1937).

With mobiles, Calder plays with the fourth dimension of time: "Just as one can compose colors or forms, so one can compose motions" (Calder, Modern Painting and Sculpture, 1933). In Calderoids the gravity and grace of his mobiles arc through space with the zero-g elegance of Ed Logg’s spaceship: "Asteroids fulfilled the fantasy of being out in space, with no gravity, and free floating. The spaceship had a very elegant grace. A lot of motion in the game had grace, even the way the boulders floated around" (Rich Adam, original Atari programmer, The Atari Library).

Math & Science

Welcome to the 4th dimension!

"There is, of course, a close alliance between physics and aesthetics" (Calder, A Propos of Measuring a Mobile, 1943).


Calderoids combines the relatavistic theories of Alexander Calder's kinetic sculptures with the virtual dimensions of Atari's arcade classic Asteroids in a game that spans 20th century models of the universe: "If you can imagine a thing, conjure it up in space, then you can make it. The universe is real but you can't see it. You have to imagine it. Once you imagine it, you can be realistic about reproducing it" (Calder, The Artist's Voice, 1962).

Einstein's Theory of General Relativity dominated the first half of the century, and forced the world to consider time as simply another dimenion describing the geometry of the universe. Meanwhile in the art world Picasso’s cubism moved beyond the artificial 3D of perspective and realism to create a flat 2D painting that showed a shattered mirror view of the 3rd dimension as seen from many perspectives. Piet Mondrian took this a step further when he expressly dropped any reference to the third dimension, creating a strict grid of two dimensions.

Abstract painting confronted us with the true nature of the medium: pigment on a two dimensional field of canvas. Sculpture is three dimensional by definition, but Alexander Calder realized 3D sculptures really inhabited a 4D universe, so in 1936 along with the other members of Abstraction-Creation he signed the "Manifeste Dimensioniste Revue N+1" which calls for sculpture to "abandon the closed immobile and dead space, that is to say the 3D space of Euclid, in order to conquer for artistic expression the four dimensional space of Einstein" (Calder, 4D Manifesto, 1936). Calling his earliest mobiles ‘Constellations’, Calder modelled his sculpture after the movement of the same bodies from which Einstein modeled his theories.

In 1979, Lyle Rains and Ed Logg created Asteroids. The simple game reflected a modern knowledge of the nature of the universe. Logg programmed the game to ensure "there is conservation of momentum" (Logg, Esquire, 1981), so the ship continues to float at the same speed after you stop thrust, providing an accurate depiction of Newtonian physics. However, "Ed Logg's space, like Albert Einstein's, is curved: any object that disappears off one side of the screen reappears at the corresponding point on the opposite side" (Owens, Esquire, 1981). Pressing the "hyperspace" button makes the spaceship disappear from the universe in one location and reappear at another point instantaneously, which engages the theoretical properties of multi-dimensional space only possible in a post-quantum physics world.

Calderoids goes one further where the laws of physics that govern Calder's mobiles now drive the behaviour of the shapes you must destroy. Strangeness rules in this world, and the objects do not follow the classical paths of billiard balls in a 4 dimensional universe. This is Calder brought into the multi-dimensional, paradoxical world of today's physics.

When Calder gazed at the same sky as Einstein, he imagined the space of Calderoids: "The underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof. For that is a rather large model to work from. What I mean is that the idea of detached bodies floating in space, of different sizes and densities, perhaps of different colors and temperatures, and surrounding and interlarded with wisps of gaseous condition, and some at rest, while others move in peculiar manners, seems to me the ideal source for form. I would have them deployed, some nearer together and some at immense distances. And great disparity among all the qualities of these bodies, and their motions as well. A very exciting moment for me was at the planetarium - when the machine was run fast for the purpose of explaining its operation: a planet moved along a straight line, then suddenly made a complete loop of 360 degrees off to one side, and then went off in a straight line in its original direction" (Calder, MoMA Bulletin, 1951).

Art theory

The same two artists who most influenced the genesis of Calder’s mobiles also provided the same spark in the creation of Calderoids: Piet Mondrian and Joan Miro.

Calder’s first visit to Mondrian’s studio led directly to the invention of mobiles: "Mondrian lived at 26 rue de Depart. It was a very exciting room. Light came in from the left and from the right, and on the solid wall between the windows there were experimental stunts with colored rectangles of cardboard tacked on. I suggested to Mondrian that perhaps it would be fun to make these rectangles oscillate. And he, with a very serious countenance said: ‘It is not necessary, my paintings are already very fast'" (Calder, An Autobiography in Pictures, 1966).

"It was more or less directly as a result of my visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930, with the sight of all his rectangles of color deployed on the wall, that my first work in the abstract was based on the concept of stellar relationships" (Calder, A Propos of Measuring a Mobile, 1943).


After creating Pac-Mondrian, we were on a mission to create a videogame art mashup for Atari’s greatest selling arcade hit, the space shooter Asteroids. The first artist suggested whose work lent itself to the form of the game was Joan Miro, whose pen and ink ‘Constellation’ series resembled a field of asteroids. Ian Hooper declared Calder’s mobiles filled a far better formal fit, given their fanciful free flight. Creating the first body of sculptures that moved, Calder called his early sculptures ‘Constellations’ after Miro, and presaged their videogame destruction in 'Vertical Constellation with Bomb'. Although Mondrian’s squares provided the initial inspiration, the biomorphic forms in Calder's mobiles were directly influenced by his friend and sometime collaborator Joan Miro. Ian Hooper’s conception of Calderoids mirrors Calder’s own aesthetic merging of Mondrian & Miro in the mobiles. After consuming the brightly coloured squares of Pac-Mondrian, and contemplating Miro’s constellations, the motion and form of Calder’s mobiles led directly to shooting stars in Calderoids.


Similarly, the collaborative development of Calderoids followed that of Asteroids. Atari engineer Lyle Rains thought of shooting rocks that disintegrate into smaller rocks, and Ed Logg spent months designing and perfecting the game. While Ian Hooper first conceived of combining Calder and Asteroids and went on to create the arcade side art and marquee, Mike Horgan designed the complex interaction of the zero-G Asteroids space ship and the physics of an exact model of Calder’s mobiles, achieving a fine balance worthy of the praise original Atari programmer Ed Rotberg had for Logg: "It's an incredibly intense game. The tuning in terms of how fast the spaceship turns and how fast the bullets move and how far they go and how fast the [Cald]eroids can go, just all the tuning that [Mike Horgan] put into that, is real artistry. [Cald]eroids is a video game artistic masterpiece" (Rotberg, The Atari Library).

Calderoids was adapted from source code for the Virtual Calder applet found at Zachary Booth Simpson's home page.