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Alt.Ctrl.GDC Showcase: Continuum Bacterium

A mask allows players to change visual frequencies, seeking hidden viruses they can shoot down with their wristwatch-controlled turret in Continuum Bacterium.

The 2019 Game Developers 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.

A mask allows players to change visual frequencies, seeking hidden viruses they can shoot down with their wristwatch-controlled turret in Continuum Bacterium.

Gamasutra had a chat with Henry Lam, Creative Lead on Continuum Bacterium, to talk about the immersive effects of wearable controllers, the draw of giving the players limited information, and the thoughts behind creating games where players must work together to overcome.

Inspired by privacy screens

My name is Henry Lam and my role in this project is creative lead. I have been designing and documenting games for over 15 years, but only have been actually making them in the last 5 years.

Our controllers consist of a wristwatch apparatus and a face mask. The wristwatch has a dial and a button that serve as the main controls. The face mask filters visual information from the screen. Both devices also help convey additional information that is not on screen.

The concept of using the mask to filter what players could see came from the use of electric privacy filters. Common uses for them are for conference rooms and bathroom windows where you want to be able to turn a piece of glass from transparent to translucent and back with a flick of a switch. I had never used one before and I wanted to see how I could play around with what players could and could not see.

Creating a wearable game

We used Unity and Arduino for the development of our game.

We used an off-the-shelf face shield as the platform for the mask/helmet. Acrylic, cast metal, and 3D-printed parts were used for building and decoration of both the helmet and watch.

Encouraging cooperation through obscured vision

The appeal of obscuring what players can see or not see from each other stems from two things. First is the common circumstance where you have two players using split-screen and "cheating" by watching the other player's movements. Second is that this is an extension of stereoscopic (3D) shutter glasses, where they alternatively show information to each eye using a single display. I wanted to deconstruct and extend it in another direction. This treats each player as a separate eye, and the difference between what they see becomes a point for cooperative play.

We wanted to have player communication and cooperation as an aspect of our gameplay and using that difference between what they see as individuals as they toggle through visual "frequencies" allows them to see the same things or different things. Pardon the puns, but while both players can be on the same wavelength, we ultimately want them to cover different frequencies in order to more effectively deal with the entire spectrum.

Some of the themes we have had in the past, as well as in Continuum Bacterium, are ones that focus on player dynamics. We try to make games where dialogue and expectations between players are key components to the gameplay, whether that communication is to draw out cooperation or competition.

Adding the wristwatch controller to the obscured gameplay

The wristwatch controller actually came after the mask and the time narrative of the game had been conceived. Once time became a central theme, it became natural to use a controller in the form of a wristwatch within the context of the game.

The immersive effect of wearable controllers

I think costumes are an integral part of immersion. Having costumes, especially functional ones, extends the experience beyond what is merely onscreen.

The game controller is the physical touch interface that we have that corresponds with the visual and audio experience of the game. Having a unique controller is akin to designing your own visual assets or producing the soundtrack. It really allows you to express that craftsmanship of building a game experience to another degree.

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