Together We Defend, A Cooperative Crowd Game Prototype

I’ve made prototypes for local multiplayer games with 10+ people before – some very successfully, some less so, but always with great pleasure. There is something magical about a crowd of people all playing the same game together. You don’t just need to design good mechanics though – the game should balance well with a few or with a lot of people, which is also hard to test because you always need a crowd. Another problem is input: While yelling with varying volume in Screamy Bird is tremendously fun, it is a bit limited control-wise. Unless your crowd is very small, giving everyone a gamepad is not an option. But these days, most people have a smartphone with a web browser, and luckily, platforms like AirConsole and HappyFunTimes make using these as controllers extremly easy!

My goal was to make a game where people have to cooperate and that scales well with different amounts of players. To ensure cooperation, the game would feature two radically asymmetric roles: the Shooter, which can attack but dies to a single hit, and the Defender, which has no offensive capabilities, but whose shield can absorb any amount of damage. In the center of the games are the Cores which the players have to defend. Enemies come in from all around the screen and try to destroy the players and the Cores, whatever is nearest. The enemies’ projectiles are heat-seeking – they will always hit something, so without the Defenders, the Core and the Shooters will be destroyed rather sooner than later; but without the Shooters, the defenders could not destroy a single enemy.

This was a jam game done in about 12 hours and everyone around me was busy, so I there was no way I could balance it properly. I solved that dilemma by assuming the role of the game master: I would sit at the keyboard and spawn enemies.

Apart from troublesome connection problems, the game worked rather well for a jam game and the crowd loved it. Here is a video of the presentation:

Together We Defend, A Cooperative Crowd Game Prototype

The video was filmed by Iwan Gabovitch and the sound effects are from the fabulous Universal Sound Effects which I can very much recommend.

Connection problems aside, I am very content with how the mechanics worked out and I think there is a lot of potential there. I will probably revisit this prototype some day and make a proper game out of it.

Gamestorm X Body Play Jam

A few months ago, I’ve been to the Gamestorm X Body Play Jam – a game jam about making physical games which use the players’ bodies as the central element. And what a jam it was! The ideas were flowing, and our team of four (comprised of Xanto, Juri, Nina and me) didn’t just finish with one, but two working games. To round the event off, the other games were incredibly fun to play as well and in the end I left exhausted from moving around so much, but satisfied.

Before I present the games, here is an awesome impression video from the jam. A huge thanks to the Gamestorm team for their filming and editing work!

Gamestorm X Body Play Jam – Impressions

Our first game: Dance it off!

The development of our first game started of really smooth: Juri suggested a dancing game (“I know nothing about dancing, but…”) where you get some kind of behaviour instructions and have to find your partner. After thinking of the board game Inkognito and pondering how to make partners identify themselves and what should happen if somebody wrongly thinks they found their partner, the game shifted a bit from “stealth/bluffing while finding the one partner” to just straight out “party”: Everybody gets 3 dance styles/moves (like “tango”, “picking apples” and “Michael Jackson”) and has to find their three partners as quickly as possible. The first one who achieves that wins the game!

Body Play Jam: Dance it off

Apart from a few hang-ups, the game worked really well. The only problem I can see is when one of the partners doesn’t know how a certain dance style looks like. This could be fixed by having a game master whose sole job is it to explain dance moves.

Developing this game teaches me once more not to give up too early. This is not a game we could test in our group of four, so I suggested we try to think in another direction instead (which resulted in the second game, so no regrets here!), but when we later had people to test it with, it turns out that it worked pretty much out of the box! The biggest thanks goes to Nina here – while we were pondering some details for the second game, she used the opportunity to playtest this one with the organizers and she singlehandedly created dozens of dance style cards.

Our second game: Slurp!

Again after a suggestion by Juri (“I know nothing about biology, but…”), our second game was roughly based on the idea of cells absorbing other cells.

At least 8 players are formed into two teams, and in each team, players are paired up. The two players in each pair hold hands, thereby forming a small circle – and then they try to enclose enemy players in it, either by throwing their arms over an enemy player or by briefly letting go of their hands and then closing them again around an opponent.

Once you caught somebody, you yell “Slurp!” and the caught enemy has to let go of their partner and stay inside your circle where they can try to hinder you by being uncooperative when moving. Caught players can be freed again when one of the enclosing players is slurped.

When one team has caught a certain amount of enemies at the same time, they win!

The rules are sometimes slightly confusing to execute in the heat of the battle and it’s not always clear who caught who first, but the ensuing chaos was still a lot of fun.

Cupcake Puppeteers

Apart from us, there were two other groups. The first one made Cupcake Pupeeteers, an improv game where players are paired into puppets and puppeteers. The puppeteers are given a scenario (for example “Hogwarts”) and characters (Harry Potter, Voldemort etc.). Then they have to play the scenario out by moving their puppets – and the puppets have to guess in which scenario they are.

Cupcake Puppeteers

It was a bit hard to direct puppets bigger than you and I feel like the game would be better with commonplace scenarios (like “in the kitchen” or “at a shop”) instead of pop culture scenarios which needed specific knowledge, but overall it was quite enjoyable for either party – “masterfully” directing somebody else on one side and trying to deduce what the heck your movements are supposed to be on the other.

YOGAme

And here comes my favourite of the evening made by yet another group: A “yoga game” with a master teacher that has transcended so far that they can freely levitate, while the players have to try to imitate the teacher as closely as possible with the help of assistants.

To make this game possible, the teacher is actually lying on the floor. They are filmed by a camera and projected on a wall to make it seem like the teacher is upright instead of lying down.

While the teacher is striking poses and the players strive to get as close as possible, a helper is going around and appoints players who are not doing well to be assistants. Those assistants help players who are still in the game. And that’s desperately needed, especially once the teacher begins “levitating”.

The last player who is still in the game wins and is the teacher for the next round.

I can’t even begin to describe how much fun this game was! The concept itself is already funny, the strange moves of the teacher quickly become absurdly hilarious and even when I dropped out and became an assistant it was equally enjoyable and satisfying to help other players. My favourite part was when the teacher gently levitated of the “floor” and started swimming – first up, and then sideways and down, a point in the game where the assistants had to work as hard as the remaining players.

Critical Hit 2015: CloudKeeper

Continuing the series of Critical Hit 2015 prototypes, here is the next one: CloudKeeper. Again, we had two weeks and a completely new team of four people to make another experimental game. Our discussions quickly arrived at magic as a theme and circular projections. Some members of my group had a circular projection on the floor last time, so to shake it up a bit, we wanted the projection to by on the ceiling. And thus, the idea of the magical sky creatures was born: Creatures that escaped into the heavens, and the player, a cloud keeper, has to bring them back.

I had a lot of fun with electronics in my last project, so I wanted to do more of that. And I still had a Touch Board that I never had time to use so far – an Arduino with capacitive sensing, which, among other things, can do this:

Distance capacitive sensing! (photo taken from the Touch Board kickstarter campaign)

It worked quite well for very low ranges (<4cm), which was suitable for our purposes. At first we tried to make one crystal which players can touch from multiple directions, but players used to swirl their hands around it like it was a crystal ball and that didn’t make for very predictable controls. In the end, we settled for 5 cardboard crystals, each with only one function and aluminium foil inside. The capacitive sensing actually worked really well through the cardboard! Some crystals controlled movement, and the closer you got to them, the faster the movement got. (And not being able to see why cardboard can sense how close you get to it added a fun technological-magical aspect to the whole thing.)

Apart from that, we also wanted to have generative creatures – kind of like my Chimera Maker, but this time I also got to procedurally animate the creatures! Kailin Zhu drew them and created the crystals you see in the video and pictures below, Titouan Millet made beautiful generative cloud shaders and Peter van Haaften generative music and sounds.

Oh, and I also made the creature nest, a separate executable which showed the creatures flying away from and returning to earth, seen in the video on the monitor. It communicates with the main game via a server using the Yahoo Games Network (formerly PlayerIO). I tried to make it work with standard Unity peer-to-peer networking, but the University network didn’t like direct connections at all.

Finally, all this generativeness combined resulted in:

Cloud-Keeper-Icon

Magical creatures have escaped into the heavens,
and the player must sift through layers of clouds
to bring them back to the earth.

Using a set of five crystal touch/distance-sensing controllers,
the player wanders through a generative audio/visual cloud world
to catch these lost mythical beings and return them to their home.

CloudKeeper (Critical Hit 2015)

Credits:

  • Titouan Millet – Programming and generative visuals
  • Kailin Zhu – Craft and illustration
  • Tobias Wehrum – Programming, electronics, and generative creature engine/animation
  • Peter van Haaften – Generative music and sound engine

The video footage was recorded by Mattias Graham and Tobias Wehrum.

This project was made possible through the Technoculture, Art and Games Research Center’s Critical Hit: Games Collaboratory and the support of Concordia University and Dawson College and financial contribution of the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie.

Critical Hit 2015: (un)done

Critical Hit 2015, the incubator for experimental wearable games that I’m currently taking part in, is still going strong. After Fruit Fever, we formed new teams to do our second big prototype. This time we wanted to do a theatrical experience with a non-linear story.

After the brainstorming, we came up with (un)done, a story about love and break-up. Two players face each other, wearing ponchos with strings dangling from them. When they tie a string together, they hear a positive memory from the couple’s relationship, like the first date or kiss, moving in together or getting a pet. When they open a knot instead, a sad memory will play: a fight, a thing they hate about each other or just drifting apart. By players tying und untying different strings (and with the help of a little randomness), the story that unfolds is always different.

Additionally, a woven screen on which generative art is projected separates the players from an audience. The more strings are tied, the more colorful and intricate the projected art becomes; when knots are opened, the projection is slowly erased again. In the end, the projection is blank again and nothing remains but the memory of what once was there.

This project was a lot of fun and very interesting. I never made a theatrical experience before – and additionally, I wanted to learn how to deal with electronics and soldering and expand my knowledge about the Arduino. Thanks to my team and all the helpful other participants and mentors at Critical Hit that was a big success!

And now I proudly present:

FullSizeRender2_400x313

Step in the shoes of a couple as they meet,
fall in love, fight, and fall apart again.

Embody a relationship as you tie and
untie yourself with the other player, in:

(un)done, an intimate non-linear audio game
made at Critical Hit 2015!

(un)done, an intimate non-linear audio game (Critical Hit 2015)

 

Credits:

This project was made possible through the Technoculture, Art and Games Research Center’s Critical Hit: Games Collaboratory and the support of Concordia University and Dawson College and financial contribution of the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie.

Critical Hit 2015: Speedmaking (3 games in 30 minutes)

One of our creative exercises, lead by Jorge Lopes Ramos, was to make 3 games in 10 minutes each with a set of utensils. As if making a game in such a short time was not hard enough, he added another restriction: We could not give direct instructions to the group who would play our game afterwards. Instead, we should come up with a more creative way to instruct them.

With 16 participants making 3 games in groups of 4, we had a lot of different approaches.

Critical Hit 2015: Fruit Fever (Week 2)

Last week we finished the third week of Critical Hit 2015 in Montreal, an incubator for experimental wearable games! We continued our game from the week before about eating foodstuff to balance your health values:

The player is ill – their heart rate, body temperature and digestion are either two high or too low – and so the player tries to get healthy by eating foodstuffs. Each foodstuff raises or lowers one or two of the aforementioned properties. (To keep it replayable, those effects are randomly decided at the start of each round.) It’s a logic puzzle: The player has to find out what each foodstuff does by eating them, then look at the current status on their apron, and in the end figure out which foodstuffs to eat to get healthy.

The core concept didn’t change much except going from multi- to singleplayer – this week was mostly about finishing the hardware (last week we only had a digital prototype to test with) and figuring out how to teach the game to new players.

We came up with two ways:

  1. Starting simple, upping the difficulty: First there is only “temperature slider and 2 foodstuffs”, then there is “temperature + heart and 3 foodstuffs” and finally we get to “temperature + heart + stomach and all 4 foodstuffs”.
  2. Using a screen which displays hints for the effect of all 4 foodstuffs in the beginning (“Kiwi: -1 temperature”, etc.) and then reducing the amount of hints by one every round.

In the end, we couldn’t decide which one we prefer and implemented both: One version self-sufficent with just the apron/fork/Arduino, and one version with an additional screen.

And now, without further ado…

FF

Malnutrition is making you sick.
Luckily, you have found some healthy-looking
food, but you don’t know what it does yet.

Pick up your fork and watch as what you eat changes
your body and figure out the right combination.

Munch your way to health in FruitFever!

Source code available at GitHub.

Made possible by Critical Hit 2015.

Fruit Fever (Critical Hit 2015)

 

Credits:

This project was made possible through the Technoculture, Art and Games Research Center’s Critical Hit: Games Collaboratory and the support of Concordia University and Dawson College and financial contribution of the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie.

Chronic the Hedgehog, An Urban Game About Persuading Strangers On Escalators

I’m currently taking part in a Concordia summer program called “Critical Hit” in Montreal, Canada. It’s about making games – and, more specifically, about making experimental games using wearables. The first week was more about getting to know each other, getting several workshops (among others for using Pebble and Muse) and playing urban games with each other before the actual jamming is going to start.

I did make one game this week though: Chronic the Hedgehog, an Urban Game on escalators about persuading strangers, made in about 1 hour together with Jessica Blanchet, Grayson Earle and Titouan Millet.

(Video taken by Jessica Rose Marcotte)

The game is played with two teams, two escalators, two cups, a dice per team member and a lot of unsuspecting strangers.

One team starts at the upper position, the other one at the lower position. I will explain the game from the lower team perspective – the other team just does the same mirrored.

To prepare the game, the lower team places a cup in front of the downstream escalator. Then each team member takes a dice and they queue in front of the upstream escalator.

Once the game starts, the first team member steps on the upstream escalator. They cannot move their feet – they have to stand on it until they reach the top. In the meantime, they try to get a stranger on the parallel downstream escalator to take their dice and put it in the cup on the botton of the downstream escalator. If they succeed, this team member is done. If they don’t, they have to take the downstream escalator to go down again and queue for another try.

Once your team member reaches the top, the next queued team member can start.

The goal is to be the first team which has all their dice in their cup.

And yeah, that’s the game. It was a bit chaotic, but pretty fun.

If you want to read more about the first week, take a look at the recap post on the Critical Hit website!

PS: Here’s a picture to appease the preview thumbnail generation gods of Social Media.

Chronic-the-Hedgehog

Starship Command Center Pro, The Trial Version of a Global Game Jam 2015 Game

Somewhere in space, a lone starship discovers that the theme for this year’s Global Game Jam was “What do we do now?”. It also discovers that a very cool game was made for three players. And that there something is wrong with its Operating System.

Starship Command Center Pro

Starship Control Center Pro

Deep in space, nobody hears you scream
when the trial version of your OS runs out.

Not that screaming would do much.
Instead, you and your two friends now need to
figure out what the randomized buttons of the
free version of your system do.

Together, operate thrusters, cannons,
shields and a mining magnet, collect
gold and buy a proper license!

A cooperative and confusing space adventure
for three players with gamepads.

Download for Windows
GGJ page

Starship Command Center Pro (Global Game Jam 2015)

 

Credits:

  • Brian Davis: Idea, Game Design, Music and Sound Design
  • Mikko Lepistö: Art
  • Tobias Müller: Programming
  • Tobias Wehrum: Lead Programming

With sounds assets by Ricky SituCST 201 KaWilson and Jim Rogers.

The theme is used twice in our game – once in the game mechanic with players having to talk to each other what do to next because they need to work together, and secondly in the story: The trial version of our control system has ended and the result is a chaotic and unknown button layout, what do we do now?

We even satisfied a diversifier (sort of an achievements for the developers) this time: Noise Generator, “The mechanic of the game is based on players having to stay in constant communication with each other.”

Fun fact: Originally we wanted to do the controls Spaceteam-like with custom controls on multiple smartphones – buttons, sliders, rotatable knobs. It took us over a day to get it to connect and run smoothly between Android and PC, only to find out that using controls on a touch screen while looking at another monitor felt awful and (apart from buttons) was nearly unusable. So after that day of work, around 5 in the morning, I spent 30 minutes to program replacement gamepad controls. It worked perfectly and felt good.

Master’s Thesis: Evaluating the Advantages of Physical and Digital Elements in Hybrid Tabletop Games

Preface

A few weeks ago, I finished my studies at the HTW Berlin in International Media and Computing with the defense following my master’s thesis. I thought that its content might be interesting to others on the internet too, but I understand that not everyone wants to read 100+ pages. For that reason, I am now writing this “too long; didn’t read” summary. It is also a lot more informally written. If you like what you read, you are quite welcome to read the longer version too! Here are the links:

Master’s Thesis

Source Code (open source, MIT license), Screenshots, Photos, Videos etc.

You can also read this summary as a PDF, but you would miss out on the videos.

Electric Finger Jousting – A MaKey MaKey Game

At the November Mini Game Jam (for which we had over 100 participants, wow!) I made my first experiments ever with the MaKey MaKey, an Arduino-based kit that measures when a circuit is closed – even through very high resistance like a chain of people holding hands. My game is less about hand-holding though, and more about poking your opponent’s hand with a pen-lance. Enter Electric Finger Jousting!

electric-finger-jousting-title

Take your pen-lance! Get ready, and… fight!
Poke the other player before they poke you!

But beware, don’t touch them before
you hear “fight”, or it’ll be a foul…

Electric Finger Jousting

Electric Finger Jousting Berlin Mini Jam Game

It’s not all fun and sunshine though: The game is a rather repetitive. I hoped to get a fencing kind of game, but it is really hard to balance the distance so it’s neither too easy to hit nor unreachable. Moving while touching the copper wire (which ensures that the right distance is being kept) isn’t easy, so you aren’t very flexible. That leads to very short distance jabs that are nearly impossible to react to and each round was pretty short. Despite that, fun was definitely had while developing and playtesting!

PS: When you do something like this, have water nearby to regularly dip everything into which will make circuit contact for a very short time. Water improves the conductivity so much.

Credits: