Alt.CTRL.GDC Showcase: Student project Victor the Loser

Victor the Loser is a controller, and a poor sport. If it seems like you're going to win, Victor starts to interfere, waving flags in front of the screen and locking down buttons.

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.

Victor the Loser is a controller that wants to play a game with you! The trouble is, if it seems like you're going to win, Victor starts to interfere, waving flags in front of the screen, locking out buttons, and doing anything to undo your victory.

Victor the Loser appears to be a normal controller and screen, but there are slots where things can pop out to keep you from pressing a button, block the screen, and generally act like a digital little brother, pouting about its loss by interfering with the play field.

Created as a final project by a group of students at The New School, the controller was designed to emulate a kind of play where victory isn't the end goal, but rather a balance between the two players that keeps it light and fun for all, regardless of skill level.

Gamasutra spoke with the students behind Victor the Loser, which will be on display at ALT.CTRL.GDC,  to learn more about designing a controller that interferes with you as you beat it, and the appeal of creating a controller that sabotages control.

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

A team comprised of Creative Technologists hacking together something that resembles a game.

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

Seemingly an old-school intelligence test machine, Victor the Loser reveals its true colors when it feels threatened by the player’s imminent victory, at which point it tries to sabotage the player’s progress and mock their destined failure. Victor is a bad loser.

What's your background in making games?

We are a group of really bad gamers that play at being game designers with zero to three months combined experience in making games. 

What development tools did you use to build Victor the Loser?

Arduino was used to create the physical controller. A web page was developed for the digital interface.
Node.js to build out a server and allow us to make the connection between physical and digital.

What physical materials did you use to make it?

Arduino hardware, wires, hinges, screws, wood, coffee, and passion. 

How much time have you spent working on the game?

3-4 weeks. The game was created as a final class project.

How did you come up with the concept?

The game came from a discussion about playing games with children and the use of positive reinforcement to keep them engaged and sometimes pretending to lose to protect their blossoming egos. Eventually, we wondered if a game controller could exhibit these traits.

What appealed to you about creating a game that didn't want to be beaten? In building a controller that sabotages control?

It’s great that the final game reflects sabotage, although we may have pivoted slightly during the design process, it is where the discussion began. Originally, we were playing with that idea as our main concept. Sabotage sounded fun and we wanted to take the control away from the side that is seemingly always in control, changing roles in a sense. Later we began creating a controller that exhibited more childlike qualities.

What thoughts went into creating a controller that could interfere with the player? Into deciding how it could mess with the player and keep them from winning?

We started with a series of ways that we could physically interrupt the gameplay experience, such as waving a flag, turning off the screen, hiding buttons, creating unpressable buttons, misdirection of joystick, or an unplugged controller. Ultimately, our time constraints for class dictated the way in which Victor interfered with the user. We were inspired by the simple mechanism of the useless machine, which is simple but gave the box a lot of personality. 

What would draw a player into playing with a game that, in a sense, cheats? What is the appeal of being interfered with? How does that change the reception of the play?

Victor complicates the gameplay process and makes you question the goal. What are you really trying to accomplish with Victor?  It is redefining what it means to win, because Victor only cheats when you are winning. Can you find a way to out-cheat the cheater? It puts an emphasis on being just ok at playing a game. Victor provides a different experience that is focused on the journey versus the result, a journey that is unexpected and becomes a negotiation of sorts.

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

Physical controllers will disappear and be replaced by sensors, then there will be too many sensors and everyone will want physical controllers back. Then Victor will take over.

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