Alt.Ctrl.GDC Showcase: Martín Sebastián Wain's Doggy Tug of War

Martin Sebastian Wain's game simulates simulates playing tug of war with a playful dog. It uses a string, a modified broken printer, and a video of a dog to recreate the experience.

The 2017 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 of the interviews here.

Doggy Tug-Of-War simulates playing tug of war with a playful dog, using a string, a modified broken printer, and a video of a dog to recreate the experience.

Using the modified printer and a motor, Doggy Tug-Of-War works like playing with a dog, providing tugs and releases of varying strengths and at different intervals. 

Martín Sebastián Wain, developer of Doggy Tug-Of-War, has previously created several games, working on adventure games, multiplayer experiences, and exploration-based games. Then, a broken printer lying in the street connected with an idea he had, turning into his gameplay version of playing with a dog.

Gamasutra spoke with Wain about his experience, and how he shaped its play around the chaotic, yet lighthearted, act of playing with a dog, which will be available to play at the ALT.CTRL.GDC exhibit.

What’s your name, and what was your role on this project?

I'm Martín Sebastián Wain, and I'm the designer, builder, programmer, and dog-lover of the project.

How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with it?

It's a responsive real-life string that pulls your grip with different strengths and detects how much force you use against that.

What's your background in making games?

I've been an indie developer and worked for hire as a programmer since 2008.

What development tools did you use to build Doggy Tug-Of-War?

I've used Arduino and Python 3.

What physical materials did you use to make it?

It all started with a broken printer I found on the street. That printer, some wood, some electronics, screws, wire, soldering, and a string made the device.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

I've thought of it for a while - it was a pending idea. The Alt.Ctrl GameJam gave me the motivation to start it. The controller and game prototype were done in less than two weeks part-time.

How did you come up with the concept?

The original idea was about a metaphor for human relationships. Imagine a boat with a crystal glass on it, and a rope holding it to the dock. You physically control the rope (string): If you pull too hard, the glass would fall and break, but if you don't hold on at all the boat drifts away.

It's a game about patience. But with the time I had, I could only come up with a prototype to test the controller and it ended up being a tug-of-war with a virtual dog. The original idea was more experimental, but the prototype of the doggy is satisfying enough because it proved entertainment for children.

What was it about the act of playing tug-of-war with a dog that drew you to make a game of it?

It was just by chance. I wanted to try the controller with something and it seemed like a fun idea.

What challenges did you face in capturing the erratic changes in pull and power that playing with a dog entails?

Besides the technical challenges, like detecting with precision and fast pulls, the gameplay was kept very simple: You can either win or quit, and the dog pulls at random intervals. But at some moments, synchronized with the video, the dog pulls extra hard and you must really fight it.

What is it about your special controller that makes playing Doggy Tug-Of-War feel special? Why does that physical feedback of pulling and fighting add to the experience?  

It's strange. Being a haptic experience adds a sort of instinctive feeling that's hard to explain. You know objectively that it's a computer, but it feels more real for some reason.

The other special thing is that this controller also controls you. Every person giggles or laughs when the controller surprises them by not letting them do what they want by pulling back.

How do you think standard interfaces and controllers will change over the next five or ten years?

I think VR, AR, and eye-tracking are the next big things that will reach most consumers. Other, more specific controllers, like mine, seem to have little commercial value and I find it hard for them to reach a market. Nevertheless, with good education structural improvements and all the available resources online, I truly believe people will start making their custom and personal controllers to suit their very own specific needs, and maybe even make a culture out of creating them!

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