The 2018 Game Developer's Conference will feature 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 such interviews by clicking here!
Yo, Bartender is about mixing drinks, having players pour actual bottles into a joystick glass in order to get just the right concoction for their customers.
Still, how do you get the sensation of pouring, and pouring the right amount, just right? The recipes at just the right complexity? Make it all come together comfortably? Gamasutra reached out to Alexander Sjöberg and Raoul Man to learn more about turning a bottle of Absolut Vodka (and several other drinks) into a controller.
What’s your name, and what was your role on this project?
S - Alexander Sjöberg, Creative director, lead artist.
M - Raoul Man, Producer.
How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with it?
S - This is a tough one. Whenever I talk and explain how the game works, I tend to focus on the bottles themselves, making sure that the player knows that it is real plastic bottles that he or she uses for the pouring mechanic. Once they figure out the concept of using bottles, the joystick and how it works usually falls into place and they get an overall idea of how the game is played.
M - You use actual bottles to pour digital liquid in a glass in order to make cocktails. That would be the quickest way to explain it. I would particularly like to demonstrate it with any bottle and glass I can find around me. That’s how explained it to my grandfather and he got it right away.
What's your background in making games?
S - Prior to this project, not that much. Slightly less than a year seeing as we made the game at the end of of our first year.
M - Since we were at the end of our first year at the time we underwent this project, all I can say I have as a background was that year and a bit of Unity tutorials before I started the university.
What development tools did you use to build Yo, Bartender?
S - The engine used to create the game was Unity. In terms of programming, I am not that affiliated with all the exact programs that they use, however for the artistic part , Photoshop and Illustrator are the two main tools used.
M - Unity as our game engine, Visual Studio, Photoshop, Illustrator.
What physical materials did you use to make it?
S - Compared to some of our previous games, this project was a lot different, seeing as we needed a lot of physical materials. For starters, we needed 6 different bottle types which would fit into each category of liquid. These would then have to adjusted so that we could fit the technology that we used for tracking the pouring mechanic inside. For tracking the pouring and aiming of the bottles, we used Wii remotes and LED lights. Other than these, we had to create a physical bar table where buttons and joystick could be perfectly implemented. Seeing as the joystick itself is an actual glass, we had to make some adjustments to make it fit perfectly.
M - Wood, plexiglass, bottles that we scouted in the local supermarkets, insulation foam, velcro, LED lights, hard plastic glasses, and a bunch more which I honestly can’t remember at the top of my head. Out of these, the bottles ended up using the biggest combinations of materials. We needed a way to make sure the Wii-motes would be stable inside the bottles. Insulation foam and plexiglass with Velcro is what helped us do that in the end.
How much time have you spent working on the game?
S - Roughly 10 weeks more or less.
M - Approximately 10 weeks.
How did you come up with the concept?
S - A lot of brainstorming lead to this fun, and innovative idea coming to life.
M - Between a lot of brainstorming during our first days of the project and fairly long lists with the ideas resulting from them, the idea came seemingly at random when some of us were eating at a local fast food chain restaurant.
What elements were important for you to include to recreate the feeling of bartending? How did you turn them into elements players could interact with using your bartending controller?
S - I feel like one of the key features here is the fact that you are using actual bottles to pour with. We tried to match each bottle size and type to fit how most of that specific liquor looks if you buy it from the store. For instance, we tried to use a real Absolut Vodka bottle as our vodka bottle controller. The joystick is another important aspect. Seeing as the joystick itself is an actual glass that you poor into, we feel like the interaction between the two makes up for a good feeling of being a bartender.
M - The pouring element was our main focus for this, alongside genuine recipes and the feeling of serving a drink to your customer. With that in mind, we built the bottles and glass to work together, and for us, having to keep the bottles over the glass in order to pour made it feel genuine.
What challenges did you face in capturing the difficulties of the pour just right?
S - To be completely honest, getting the pour just right was hard. I'm still not sure if we have it the way we want it, but it is certainly at a really good state. Thanks to our programmer and tech members, we managed to find a balance somewhere along the way. Calibrations, the right amount of LEDs, and most importantly code for tracking the pouring were the key to making it work the way it does. We had to adjust a lot with trigger sensitivity and delay in order to get it to work smooth.
M - Speed at which the liquid poured, angles at which you can pour, amount of LED’s used, Wii remotes not willing to capture the infrared from said LED’s at times (thus having to adjust their sensitivity to it). Those were most of the challenges we had with making the pouring just right. Thankfully, everyone was onboard to help with that through code, tech, or a ton of testing, thus leading us to the end result we have today. You could say it was a lot of searching for the right feeling.
What thoughts went into making the challenge just right using patrons, recipe complexity, etc?
S - From the start ,we knew that we did not want to make a bartender simulator; that is an idea that we firmly held on to. Every time we tried to use real actual drinks in the game, we did however always lean towards the simulator approach. With a lot of playtesting and feedback, we managed to move away from a simulator and create a fun and engaging game while using real life drinks and actual existing liquors on our bottles.
M - We had a lot of complexity a tfirst. A lot! We realized that from our first playtesting sessions with our peers. We had the bottles, the glass, very long recipes, and even a book to read them from. Along the way, the recipe complexity ended up being heavily adjusted. We had a book in which we kept those recipes at first, but realized early on that it wouldn’t work as most players would spend more time looking at the book than playing the game.
We had more popular recipes at first but quickly realized that some of them were too complex both in terms of quantity of ingredients and how they were hardly realizable with some of our tech limitations. In the end, we were able to find real recipes that would fit our ingredients pool and match the complexity we wanted. We had the recipes split into easy, medium, and hard ones depending on number of ingredients, and through a lot of testing of those recipes we were able to settle on the recipes we have today.
How do you think standard interfaces and controllers will change over the next five or ten years?
S - In all honesty I don't think too much will happen. There will always be developers like ourselves who want to push the limits and boundaries on how you can play games, but seeing as VR is growing exponentially, I think that VR will eventually take over the scene, especially when it comes to fun and new innovative ways of using interfaces and controllers. Overall, I think it's easier to implement these features in VR, seeing as you might not need as many detailed physical pieces.
M - Since I’m writing this at a time when Nintendo Labo was announced, I’m very excited about what might happen in the future. Hopefully we will see a lot of crazy ideas come up. I would love a cardboard Yo, Bartender! :D Other than that, I think VR will be a major player in terms of pushing us when it comes to designing interfaces and thinking of new ways to use controllers.