ALT.CTRL.GDC Showcase: Maximity's U.F.O. Bellies

In U.F.O. Bellies, players wear a life-preserver-like plushie around their midriff. Parts of it are color-coded, and they can rack up points by bumping the correct colors together.

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.

U.F.O. Bellies will have players shouting and bumping into one another, using a soft controller placed around their waists to bounce bellies in a silly, lighthearted gameplay.

In U.F.O. Bellies, players wear a soft, life-preserver like plushie around their midriff. Parts of it are color-coded, and by bumping the correct colors together, the players can get ahead of the other team. The words and colors on-screen don't match, though, encouraging frantic talk alongside the physical gameplay.  

Miyeon Kim and the team at Maximity put the cushy controller together, working as students at the Parsons School of Design to bring this silly physical experience to life.

The team was interested in creating a more physical type of play, one that brings players together, both in their bodies and thoughts, through a fun experience that will be available to try out at the ALT.CTRL.GDC exhibit.

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

Hello, we are Maximity! We are formed in 4 people, Miyeon Kim, Yue Lin, Xiaomeng Tang and Xianghan Ma. Miyeon Kim is one of the developers of U.F.O. Bellies, and my role on this project was a coder and an art director. Yue Lin's main role in this project is the physical part, specifically arduinos, circuits, and serial communication. Xiaomeng Tang is responsible for the fabrication of the physical U.F.O. Bellies. Xianghan Ma is also responsible for the fabrication. 

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

I am sure people are familiar with color trick games. This is also a brain test that uses colors and mind tricks to force you to concentrate and give the correct answer as fast as possible. We wanted to use the simple mechanics that people can easily understand, but approach it in a different way.

What's your background in making games?

We are currently MFA candidates at Parsons School of Design, studying Design and Technology. 

Kim - I’ve been making games since I came to this program, combining my existing design skills into something more interactive and challenging. 

Lin - I don’t have much background in making games. I used to be an interaction designer before I came to this program, but I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of experience design that’s related to “play” in some sense.

Tang - I don’t have much experience on making a game, but I did several game projects in a game class, it was very fun and amazing. I would love to go further in this area if I have any chance.

What development tools did you use to build U.F.O. Bellies?

We used Arduino and a software called Processing, which is a Java language. Processing is an easy and fast tool to build any simple games. 

What physical materials did you use to make it?

We used Arduino uno with bunch of resistors, both conductive and regular fabrics to make the controller, and bluetooth to connect it to the computer wirelessly.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

It was one of our class assignments, which was done in 2 weeks. We’ve kept developing it even after the end of the assignment.

How did you come up with the concept?

We’ve talked a lot and brainstormed with hundreds of ideas in the beginning. We all wanted to create a game with a physical interaction that allowed people to move their body to make it more interactive, instead of sitting on the chair and playing just with the screen. 

U.F.O. Bellies involves players belly bumping to input the correct colors. What was it about this silly near-contact between players that appealed to you?

We are interested in the idea of awkward body gestures. In games, we are made to do all sorts of things by rules, so it’s interesting to explore something that you wouldn’t normally do in daily life.

What do you feel that physical player contact brings to your game? How does this contact make it special?

Since our game is a team-based game, the physical contact creates teamwork and communication between each other. When the players play the game, they don’t just make a physical contact, but they talk, discuss, and take all those actions make them laugh. 

With players wrenching and bumping the controllers, what difficulties did you face in durability? How did you make controllers that could stand up to this kind of punishment?

Surprisingly, we didn’t have much difficulty in the durability part because we didn’t use any buttons or sensors. When bumping into each other, it’s simply completing one circuit. The controller is made out of conductive fabrics that are durable. The only problem we had was to choose materials for the outer part and the inner stuff to fill the controller. We used felt fabrics for the outer part, filling them with cotton, but then the controller came out way too soft. So, it was hard to make contact in our first prototype.

Why have the players work with the word's color, and not the word for the color, to know which move to take? What did that layer of confusion add to your game?

During our first playtest, we only showed the color, and it’s way too easy. We also found out that if two people were collaborating, they shout out the words of the color. That reminded me of a very famous cognitive psychology test called Stroop Effect. For human perception, word processing is much faster than color processing. If the name of a color is shown in a color that’s not matching the name, it takes us longer, and we are more likely to make mistake, than when the color matches the name. This added more complexity to our game.

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

Even though the technology is developing every day, and some day we will live in a post-digital age, we believe that our interest in human interaction and physical activity won’t change. We think U.F.O. Bellies will remain as it is now.

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