Investigating the Impact of Cooperative Communication Mechanics on Player Performance in Portal 2

Our paper, Investigating the Impact of Cooperative Communication Mechanics on Player Performance in Portal 2, was presented at Graphics Interface 2016 in Victoria, British Columbia! The paper is based on former-student Vaddi’s thesis, and was presented by Rina Wehbe, co-author. The paper addresses how players make use of game mechanics to communicate; while they find voice most effective, the ability to reference the gameworld is key to solving puzzles.

We expect the manuscript to be posted in the ACM Digital Library soon.

PIxL lab at CHI 2016


The ACM SIGCHI Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2016 in San Jose was the biggest CHI conference ever with more than 3,500 participants. The research presented at the conference shows that the field of human-computer interaction has evolved drastically. The keynote sessions were exemplary as Marissa Mayer, Alan Kay, Salman Khan, Kimberly Bryant, Dayo Olopade, and Vishal Sikka shared their personal experiences making technologies to improve life. Alan Kay offered inspiring words: “Big companies just want to earn millions & billions. Great researchers create new industries worth trillions.”

There were many interesting research projects showcased at the conference. The Carolan Guitar by Steve Benford et al. focussed on artcodes and a guitar that told it own story through a mobile app. Microsoft Research showcased interaction of real and virtual objects using Oculus, Kinect, and Unity. A demonstration by Prof. Åsa Unander-Scharin showed how webcams can help generate relevant music by analyzing performer movement during a live performance event. Infosys showcased flight information simulation using samsung gear and VR, Google showcased its mobile User testing lab while HP demonstrated its projector and depth camera based scanner and alternate input device and Samsung demoed interaction of pictures in smart TVs using Android phones as remote controls.

A number of projects were relevant to research conducted at the PIxL Lab: the social impact of head-mounted devices, transparent interfaces, movement games, how gamers make breakthroughs, mapping in disaster, non-verbal communication and team performance in online gamescomparing different sensemaking approaches, and supporting sensemaking with spatially-aware mobile interactions.

Prof. Zachary O. Toups from the PIxL Lab, along with Ph.D. student Sultan Alharthi and graduate student Hitesh Nidhi Sharma attended the conference.

A video overview of the highlights is here: CHI 2016 Overview Video

A number of recorded research talks may be found here:

PIxL students finalists for wearables challenge!

NMSU’s Team DeSIGN, a collaboration between the PIxL Lab in the Computer Science Department, the Department of Engineering Technology & Surveying Engineering, the Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Psychology Department, was named one of four finalist teams for the Body Sensor Networks 2016 Icehouse Challenge to design wearable computers for disaster responders. Team DeSIGN leveraged its collective experience studying and designing for disaster contexts, unmanned system control, and wearables to develop a winning design. At the BSN conference, US Coast Guard operatives will undertake a live-action disaster response simulation game using the wearable software designed by the competing teams to determine the best design.

The team will receive wearable prototyping equipment (including Sony’s SmartEyeglass platform) and funding for travel. The competition carries a grand prize of $20,000.

Team DeSIGN consists of:

  • Sachin Sunka (PIxL, CS)
  • Sultan Alharthi (PIxL, CS)
  • Hitesh Nidhi Sharma (PIxL, CS)
  • Rolfe Sassenfeld (ET&SE)
  • Cayden Wilson (ET&SE)
  • Wei Tang (ECE)
  • Igor Dolgov (Psych)
  • Zachary O. Toups (PIxL, CS)


Joining PIxL Lab


Interested in supporting disaster response with gameplay? 

Excited about the opportunities to play afforded by wearable computers and mixed reality? 

The PIxL Lab is seeking talented Ph.D. students!

The Play and Interactive Experiences for Learning (PIxL) Lab generally has funded openings for new Ph.D. students in the New Mexico State University Computer Science Department. Selected student will undertake research with Prof. Zachary O. Toups in one of the following areas (or some intersection of them): game design, interface design, games for learning, mixed reality, wearable computing, and/or disaster response information technology. Any project that fits into the general scope of the lab’s research will be considered.

The PIxL Lab conducts research on games for education, with an emphasis on game user interfaces and real-world interaction (mixed reality, wearable computing). Current projects include mixed reality games for designing wearable computers, games for educating disaster responders, studying communication in Portal 2, wearable unmanned systems interfaces, and game arenas for testing AI agents.

Candidates should be motivated to research games and play, as demonstrated through an initial research proposal, and be prepared to demonstrate strong computer science skills. The NMSU CS Department requires that all incoming Ph.D. students complete qualifying exams within the first year in Design and Analysis of Algorithms and Data Structures; Programming Languages; Discrete Mathematics; one of either Operating Systems or Computer Architecture; and one elective subject. Qualified candidates are expected to show high scores in the previous subjects, with the expectation that they will succeed at the exams.

Required Application Materials: Applicants should provide the following application materials for a funded position in the PIxL Lab (application to the university and the department are independent processes; information on the other application processes is found at: and

  • A recent CV.
  • An unofficial transcript with relevant computer science courses highlighted; if the university uses a grading scheme different from the US 4-point scale, please provide the appropriate transformation to the 4-point scale.
  • An initial research proposal, no more than one page in length (excluding references), that identifies your research interests, outlines a program of study in computer science, and explains why your expertise is a good fit for the project.
  • Contact information for two references; for promising candidates, we may request a letter of recommendation from these references.

Please email all required materials to with the following subject: “PIxL Lab Ph.D. Application”.

PIxL @ CHI PLAY 2015

The PIxL Lab presented five works-in-progress posters at CHI PLAY 2015 in London:

Collaborative Planning Gameplay from Disaster Response Practice

Imperfect Robot Control in a Mixed Reality Game to Teach Hybrid Human-Robot Team Coordination

Understanding Player Attitudes Towards Digital Game Objects

Validating Test Chambers to Study Cooperative Communication Mechanics in Portal 2

Designing to Split Attention in a Mixed Reality Game


The PIxL Lab works at the intersection of games, human-computer interaction, and mixed reality, developing game experiences that educate and function as scientific experiments in HCI. Beyond development workstations, it includes a custom wearable computing platform that connects sensors, a head-mounted display, and a hand-held display to enable players to enjoy mixed reality experiences away from the desktop.