Alt.Ctrl.GDC Showcase: New Arcade's Fear Sphere

Gamasutra spoke with Andrew Genualdi of New Arcade to learn how the Fear Sphere dev team captured and projected the sense of being trapped and afraid.

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.

Fear Sphere takes unsettling horror of lighting your way through dark halls with a flashlight and takes it into the real world, locking the player in a tiny space with a light that projects the game world onto the surface around you. You can only see where you shine your light, and something is definitely creeping up on you in this enclosed, claustrophobic space.

Using a projector shaped like a flashlight inside of a large balloon, trapping players in a small space with limited vision. The flashlight projects what the player would see in that direction, only letting them move where the light is aimed. 

Created by New Arcade, a team of developers who all come from non-coding/development backgrounds, its creation was a new experience, but not entirely unfamiliar for the developers of Crank Tank, which was shown at GDC 2016.

Gamasutra spoke with Andrew Genualdi of New Arcade about Fear Sphere, learning about how they captured that sense of being trapped and afraid, and the fearful repercussions of projecting a horrifying place into a real world space (which you'll be able to try for yourself at the ALT.CTRL.GDC exhibit).

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

My name is Andrew Genualdi and I am one of our two developers on this project. 

Fear Sphere controller

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

The best way (I think) to describe it is: A reality bridging flashlight.  The controller allows you to shine light from our reality into the game world, revealing the landscape around you.

What's your background in making games?

As a team, this is our second project together.  Our first experimental arcade game, Crank Tank, was also exhibited at GDC last year.  All of us came from non-game development/coding backgrounds, so all of this is pretty new to us. 

What development tools did you use to build Fear Sphere?

We used Unity 5.4 and Arduino. 

What physical materials did you use to make it?

The controller itself is made out of a Micro Arduino Leonardo, an MPU 6050 (6-axis gyroscope/accelerometer), a joystick, and a short-throw projector.  The enclosure is made out of black plastic sheeting and inflated using a standard box-fan.

Fear Sphere encolusre

How much time have you spent working on the game?

Currently?  About 30-40 hours.  As we get closer to GDC time we'll be putting in a little more time to make sure it's all good to go. 

How did you come up with the concept?

The concept itself was prototyped by one of our members, Henry, during his time as a Masters student at Parsons. 

Why lock one player in a bubble? How does this make the game work well while also increasing the player's anxiety and fear?

The bubble actually came about in conceptualizing different enclosures which could function as projection surface.  We played around with using a cylinder-shaped enclosure, as well as others, but the physical properties of those shapes didn't quite lend themselves to the degree of immersion we were looking for.  The sphere provided us with a uniform, edge/crease-free surface which we felt provided the player with the most uninterrupted immersive experience.  

We view placing the player inside the enclosure as part of the game play itself.  The physical act of having to crawl into a confined, cut-off space makes it feel more like you're exiting our reality and entering something new.  This makes our game work particularly well as it plays on an innate fear in many of us of being lost in a completely foreign location, in complete darkness.

Fear Sphere places one player in a bubble, avoiding the monster and moving as a player outside of it guides them using blueprints. Why use a second player as a guide? What does this co-operation add to the experience?

This part of the game was added a little later in development.  In thinking about the type of space we would be exhibiting in (GDC), we wanted to be able to incorporate more than 1 person into the game at a time.  Our previous game, Crank Tank, was a multiplayer game that garnered a decent amount of spectators as well.  

We felt that having 1 person inside a bubble with no indication as to what was going on from the outside would be a little...mundane for observers on the outside.  As a result, we added this blueprint component which allows people outside of the bubble to partake in the experience as well.

Do you feel that projecting the horrifying game world onto a real-world object changes how we interpret it? That it changes our reception of the game?

Interesting question, this isn't something that we had thought about!  I'd have to say I don't think it changes the reception or interpretation of the game, as the projection surface is merely a mechanism to exhibit the digital world, a limitation of the technology currently available to us.  

While this isn't something we had talked about, I would be inclined to say that, given the availability, the next technological evolution of this game could work just as well as an augmented reality game, where we can use/manipulate any space to morph it into the game world.  Right now the bubble/projector combination is, to us, the most effective and accessible medium for accomplishing our goal.

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

For the mainstream consoles/etc I think the controllers are pretty much at where they will be for the foreseeable future.  They work well and I feel like they've settled into the 'perfect' form factors.  If anything, we'll see the most changes coming out of Nintendo, as they are doing the most innovation in the mainstream console/controller space.

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