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Alt.Ctrl.GDC showcase: OnlySlightly's The Von Neumann Personality Test

Inspired by personality tests, 1-900 number psychics, and his own experiences with conversion therapy, Matt Hudgins came up with a game that's played via an old-school corded phone and a CRT TV.

The 2016 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.

In the modern world of personality tests, choice-driven games, and numerous other ways to reforge your identity in a digital world, sometimes it's worthwhile to spin the test around and ask the test-giver, "How do YOU feel about this?"

In a semi-anarchic response to modern personality tests and his own experiences with conversion therapy, Matt Hudgins of OnlySlightly came up with the idea for for a different kind of way to judge players: The Von Neumann Personality Test.

Now selected as an entrant for GDC's alt.ctrl.GDC exhibit, which showcases alternative controllers and interactions at the upcoming show, Hudgins breaks down some of the inspiration for his game that's played via an old-school corded phone and a CRT TV. He also muses about how unconventional controls can introduce new people to games.

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

Hudgins: My name is Matt Hudgins, my company is called OnlySlightly. Peter Baker did the voice overs and I did the rest.

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

Hudgins: It's called a phone. You pick up part of it and put it to your ear while you press numbers on the other part. 

What's your background in making games?

Hudgins: I've been making games off and on since I was a youngster. I love game jams, and if there's an event nearby that wants to show off games I usually use that as an excuse to make one for it.

What development tools did you use to build The Von Neumann Personality Test?

Hudgins: A quick and dirty version was created in Game Maker and shown in an interactive art show, but this time it's built in Unity. Twine was used to do the story boarding, and the videos were made using After Effects and Premiere. 

What physical materials did you use to make it?

Hudgins: I bought a regular phone, and hooked it up to an arduino that's sending keystrokes based on the numbers pressed or if the receiver is being picked up or hung up. and there are tons of adapters to get the video from the pc to the tv.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

Hudgins: I probably couldn't put it into hours but I've been working on it for a few months or so.

How did you come up with the concept?


Hudgins: I found it amusing that there were so many personality quizzes so people could figure out what Power Ranger or brand of duct tape they are. People enjoy learning about themselves and I thought they'd appreciate it even more if they felt someone official and qualified was doing the quizzing.

The character Von Neumann himself came from a few different places. A lot of is just my brand of silliness but a small part was inspired from personal experience. As someone who is bi, I was sent to conversion therapy as a teenager. I remember thinking about my therapist, 'wow, this guy needs therapy' A couple quotes from him even made it into the game.

How did you initially prototype the interactive conversations that players can respond to, and how did you shape the voice performance in response to feedback?

Hudgins: I guess I never really thought about it that much. My thought process is usually, 'oh that'd be funny', 'ooo, that'd be weird', or 'I bet that would make them uncomfortable'  and then I figure out how to get the player to land on those moments. Once I have those moments scripted I hand it over to Peter with notes and he's usually pretty good on getting it on the first try.

What made you interested in the CRT monitor aesthetics, and how did you replicate that look and feel beyond just bringing in a CRT monitor?

Hudgins: The game takes place in the early 90's. The personality test is meant to be a 1-900 number you can call into. Think Miss Cleo. Having a television next to a telephone to dial in helps cement that experience. I want the player to have to take as few leaps as possible to put themselves in that setting.

In a world where everyone usually winds up taking a “personality test” almost 3 days a week on Buzzfeed or an online quiz, what do you think draws players to the offbeat experience Von Neumann offers?


Hudgins:I went over it a bit before, but the popularity of those online quizzes is a lot of what convinced me to make it in the first place. But once you play it you'll find that there are very few similarities past that. Ultimately it's much more about Von Neumann's distorted perception of you than about you yourself. 

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

Hudgins: To be honest I have no idea. I'm definitely not an expert on the subject. I just make things and hope people like them. But in my experience, I've used alternative controls to invite people to play my games that normally wouldn't ever pick up a controller.

A lot of people are dismissive of video games. And they feel like it's something they'd never know how to do. But they do know how to pick up a phone. So I suppose it will bring a more diverse audience outside the typical game crowd to respect games as a medium.

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

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