Alt.Ctrl.GDC Showcase: Disc Jockey Jockey

"Disc Jockey Jockey is what happened when I tried to involve the player in [radio]," says creator Tim Knowlton. "The game provides the voices and the player puts them on the air."

The 2016 Game Developer's Conference is happening this week in San Francisco (follow along with Gamasutra's in-depth coverage!) and features an exhibition called alt.ctrl.GDC dedicated to games that use alternative control schemes and interactions. Gamasutra will be talking to the developers of each of the games that have been selected for the showcase. You can find all of the interviews here.

Imagine you're a DJ, but instead of mixing music you mix the voices of other DJs. Fade up, fade down, but don't fade out -- that's the premise of Disc Jockey Jockey, a game Tim "Mild Mojo" Knowlton that was born out of the the Ludum Dare #30 game jam.

Inspired by both real DJs and the fake radio performances in games like Grand Theft Auto, Knowlton developed the project into a game where players manually slide dials and listen carefully to a coterie of in-game DJs who have lost control of their mics, requiring them to rely on the player in order to fade in and out as their individual station programming dictates.

It's a neat idea, one that won Disc Jockey Jockey a spot in the Alt.Ctrl.GDC showcase at GDC this week. Knowlton shared some insight into where the game came from, and why he's so excited about the notion of being a DJ's DJ, in the following email conversation with Gamasutra. 

Who are you, how did you get here, and what was your role on this project?

I'm a hobbyist game developer from Lexington, Kentucky, and I'm showing Disc Jockey Jockey at alt.ctrl.GDC. I'm the designer, developer, and I've contributed some voice acting. The game's still in development and I'm still adding gameplay and content.

How did I get here? Well, the nice lady at the security desk said I could use the side entrance because my arms were full and it wouldn't hurt anybody and say, Helen, doesn't he look a little bit like my nephew, Donald? Maybe before Donald started going to the gym, Tamara; he's not so scrawny these days.

How would you describe the Disc Jockey Jockey controller setup to someone completely unfamiliar with it?

The controller is like a micro version of a mixing desk. If you've ever been to a concert and looked over the sound engineer's shoulder at the back of the room, you've probably seen a (very large) mixer with zillions of knobs and blinking lights and slidey bits.

In the studio, a radio DJ has some version of that hardware for managing audio levels on their microphone, backing music, programming, call-ins, and any other audio sources that end up on the air. In the game, you push buttons to switch the tuner to different stations and slide faders to bring DJs in and out when they need to speak.

What's your background in making games?

I'm a software developer by day, and I've been making very small games—mostly jam games—for years as a hobby. First in Ruby and OpenGL, then in HTML5 and Unity.

What dev tools did you use to build Disc Jockey Jockey? What physical materials did you use?

I'm using Unity 5 with Keijiro Takahashi's Unity MIDI Input plugin, modified to add output for controlling the LEDs on a Korg nanoKontrol2 MIDI controller. Unity version 5 added a nice audio mixing system that makes it a lot easier to tween realtime processing effects.

How did you come up with the concept?

I like FM radio as a setting. I like the sound of local radio from the '90s, before deregulation. Before Clear Channel. I like the way radio feels in games like Grand Theft Auto and Fallout. I like the feeling of being "on set" created by the old You Don't Know Jack quiz show games.

Disc Jockey Jockey is what happened when I tried to involve the player in that setting without requiring a microphone and a bunch of speech recognition. The game provides the voices and the player puts them on the air. It's a little like running sound for a theatre production.

How long have you spent working on this, all told?

Maybe a year and a half, off and on? I started working on the game for Ludum Dare 30, "Connected Worlds". I had a functioning engine in HTML5 by the end of the weekend, but browsers were refusing to load and cache 100MB+ of voice and music MP3s. I wasn't able to finish by the deadline.

The idea stuck with me and I rewrote the game in Unity for a regional indie game showcase in Louisville last year. Players responded well and I had some lively conversations with real veterans of radio and TV, so I ran with it. I added the controller last fall because it was an obvious pairing. You can shut the visuals down and play entirely with ears and fingers. It feels great.

How do you think game interfaces and controllers will change over the next 5-10 years? How would you like them to change?

VR's the thing on lips and tongues these days. I think 3D positional controls like the Leap Motion and TrackIR and Kinect will get a lot better as a side effect of VR development.

Myself, I'd like to see a lot more second-screen and multi-screen development. We've had Internet-connected smartphones for nearly a decade with comparatively little second-screen gaming experimentation. I'm hoping smaller devs will be encouraged by the Wii U and successes like the Jackbox Party Pack or The Division (if its tablet support works well).

There's so much potential for integrating an always-carried, network-connected, sensor-filled touchscreen device into console and PC games, and not just as a gamepad for action games or character galleries for MMOs or minimaps for RPGs.

Go here to read more interviews with developers who will be showcasing their unique controllers at Alt.CTRL.GDC.


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