Alt.Ctrl.GDC showcase: Spooky Elephant's Disruption

Spooky Elephant's Disruption takes players in and out of the digital world at Alt.CTRL.GDC, combining 2 games into 1 asymmetrical challenge.

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.

Disruption isn't just a game with a custom controller--it's two games with a unique symbiotic interaction that happens through a custom controller. One person is playing a sidescrolling shooter, the other person is playing a PacMan-style maze game. If the person playing the maze game screws up, the person playing the sidescrollling shooter loses a method of input--e.g. moving up, moving down, firing--and they have to scramble to reconfigure the sockets on the custom controller to get that input back.

The games will be part of the Alt.CTRL.GDC showcase. One of the developers told Gamasutra more about the project.

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

My name is John van Rij and my role on the project was to develop one of the two games.

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

We’ve made two games. One directly uses a modular controller that features typical arcade machine controller that you can reconfigure whilst playing. The other game takes place inside that controller, so if a wire is broken in that game the player using the controller is forced to rewire it.

What's your background in making games?

Spooky Elephant is made up of staff and students from the University of Hull who enjoy making games with the help local illustrators and graphic designers. We have all taken part in a variety of game jams over the years and dabbled in the world of indie game development.

What development tools did you use to build Disruption?

On the software side, let say we had a difference of opinion, and all of us being quite stubborn we stuck to our guns and made each game using a different technology. That way all we had to do was decide on a protocol to get the games to interact with one another. This kept everyone happy as we were able to write one game in monogame and the other using unity. The controller uses an Arduino Leonardo microcontroller which drives a 64 LED NeoPixel array and reads controller information using analogue inputs that connect to resistor networks fitted inside the button and joystick.  The Leonardo is connected via a usb serial connection to the PC which can obtain the connections and setting of the controls and also send bitmaps to populate the LED array. The Arduino software was written in C++ as an Arduino sketch.

What physical materials did you use to make it?

Our team of programmers was fuelled by coffee and pizza. The first prototype was made out of a cereal box and held together with hopes and dreams. Hopes and dreams turned out to be a non-optimal solution, so as soon as we could we created plastic housings using a 3D printer. Most of the components are standard buttons and joysticks that you would find on arcade machines, but it’s the way they can be configured and reconfigured together that makes our controller unique.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

The original game was created during the global game jam 2014, so we spent 48 hours in total on the game. Unfortunately despite creating two working games and half a working controller we had problems with the Arduino crashing during play. The judges were cheeky enough to award us the “most ambitious failure” award. This snub fuelled us to continue and after not too much more effort the game worked, controller and all. 

How did you come up with the concept?

The theme of the global game jam was “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”. From this we came up with the concept of creating two very different games that were symbiotically linked to one another. Seemingly inconsequential actions in one game can have a significant effect on the other game. The global game jam also has optional diversifiers so we chose to attempt the Hackontroller diversifier, which states that the game must use a custom controller invented by the team, or use an existing controller in unconventional manner. As one of our comrades is enthusiastic about embedded devices and 3D printing that seemed like an interesting challenge.

What was the most surprising part about giving players an active choice to interfere with each other’s gameplay?

Initially we had hoped that players wouldn’t be aware of the effects they were having, but the lack of feedback meant that players just screwed each other over. When the concept is revealed we find that players tend to want to communicate more. They give each other warning if they are forced to take actions that will detriment the other player. They even apologise to one another whilst playing.

What do you feel about the transition of players concentrating on a challenge within the digital space to suddenly making decisions and solving problems in the real world space?

The transition between the digital space and the real world can be very jarring, however when one of your controls suddenly stops working in the digital space that is very jarring as well. Players want to fix the problem as soon as they are able. This is why we included a big red emergency reset button. This provide the player with an easy option, but using it has a significant negative effect on the other player’s game.

Do you think the broader realm of video games can benefit from games sending data to each other this way?

Perhaps not in this way exactly, but we’re already seeing concepts where data crosses game borders, and crosses from games into the real world. Look at the popularity of peripheral used in games like guitar hero, Skylanders or Disney infinity. Similarly, Nintendo’s hugely popular amiibos allow users to create and share data across multiple games.

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

Human Computer Interaction is changing at a phenomenal rate. What’s a novelty today will be the expectation tomorrow. If you go on you tube you can see countless videos of toddlers complain that the touch screen on their magazine is broken. Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s echo all allow you to request and receive information in a very natural way. I think games will follow suit. Our games systems can already track body positions, voices and to some extent emotions. We just need developers to embrace these trends. Unfortunately creating a game in which this sort of interaction is seamlessly integrated is a high risk strategy aimed at a limited market, so it’s unlikely that sort of project will receive funding.

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

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