The 2018 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.
Hi-5 Heroes will have players high-fiving, down lowing, and too-slowing to the beat as they work to follow differing sets of instructions in this co-op game of making contact.
Gamasutra sought out Bobby Lockhart and Marty Meinerz to talk about creating a game for those itching for a fist-bump at Alt.Ctrl.GDC, looking to learn more about how they harnessed that physical connection, and what challenges come up in making that high-five connection work for a video game.
What’s your name, and what was your role on this project?
Lockhart: I’m Bobby Lockhart. I was a co-designer and the programmer.
Meinerz: My name is Marty Meinerz, and I am a co-designer and I handled the audio side of Hi-5 Heroes.
How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with it?
Lockhart: In Hi-5 Heroes, the controller is your partner. It’s a rhythm game where you’re high-fiving to the beat.
What's your background in making games?
Lockhart: I’ve been in games for 7 years or so, and a Game Designer for about 6 of those. I’ve made social games, mobile games, puzzle games, tabletop games, educational games, vr games, and on and on, but this is my first Alternative Controller game. PS: I’m looking for a new full-time design job, so hit me up :)
Meinerz: I’ve been a full time composer and sound designer for the past 7 years. Mainly, I write music for TV shows on networks like MTV, E!, and Vice. However, I do have a degree in Game Design and I try to scoop up as many game opportunities as I can. My goal is to make the transition to working exclusively on game audio, so also hit me up :)
What development tools did you use to build Hi-5 Heroes?
Lockhart: The software is all written in Python with the PyGame library. It’s running on a Raspberry Pi connected to a Makey-Makey.
Meinerz: For this project I used in Apple’s Logic Pro X for writing the music and arranging the audio files, but used Cubase Pro 9 for the dialog recording.
What physical materials did you use to make it?
Meinerz: None of the materials were that out of the ordinary, and the bulk of the construction was just PVC pipe, wood, and then some black paint. Hopefully we’re better at making games than uhhh...making games.
How much time have you spent working on the game?
Lockhart: The software took about 24 man-hours. Construction took a little over a day working together (with Marty doing most of the work). Wiring the electronics together didn’t take long at all. Maybe 4 hours.
Meinerz: Between writing the music and recording the voice-over, I spent considerably less time than Bobby did. Probably around 8-10 hours all in.
How did you come up with the concept?
Lockhart: Originally, it was going to be a six-player game where players wore gauntlets with lights on them to indicate when they should Hi-5 and with whom. It was also going to be a fully deployable setup that folded to the size of a smallish suitcase.
After a while, I realized that everything besides a rhythm game with two players Hi-5ing was just making it less likely that I could actually get it done, so I pared it down to just two players and audio indication before I approached Marty with the idea. I’ve included all my sketches here.
Meinerz: As Bobby said, he had most of the design heavy lifting done when he came to me, and so when I got involved it was mainly writing the music, balancing, polishing, re-balancing, and re-polishing until we first showcased the game at Bit Bash in Chicago in August of 2017. Then we went back to balancing and polishing.
What challenges did you face in using the high five as input?
Lockhart: The most fundamental challenge is that the display can’t be an important part of the experience because the players need to be looking at each other in order to high-five. That means we have to explain everything in audio, which is where Marty’s audio wizardry is awesome.
Meinerz: I think that coming up with a script that was descriptive enough to give the players a clear idea of what to do, but also concise enough to match up with the tempo of the song was what we went back and forth on the most.
How did you work to use the high five, fist bump, and low five as inputs without connecting something to the hand? Why use the handle instead?
Lockhart: All the machine knows is when the players make skin-to-skin contact. So you could potentially touch noses or something, as long as the rhythm is correct. But that’s our little secret :)
Why mix up the instructions between players? Why leave a poor pal hanging during a high five with Hi-5 Heroes?
Lockhart: Our repertoire of verbs is pretty limited in the game, and I felt like low-five is an important thing to be able to do. Unlike High-fives and fist-bumps, the low-five is asymmetric, so we need to be able to tell one player that they’re on the top, and the other player that they’re on the bottom. That means we need two different audio tracks. From there, “too slow” is just a really natural next step.
Meinerz: Another important gameplay element was giving players the chance to lose points. If the bottom hand on a “Too Slow” low five doesn’t move fast enough the team is penalized for making contact, so in those situations it is better to be left hanging than lose those precious points!
What do you feel is different about games where players make physical connections?
Meinerz: I feel like making physical contact with another human while playing a game is always a good experience (unless it’s an accidental punch or flailing elbow). Forcing strangers to high five, hold hands, or whatever for a few minutes is sure fire way to get players out of their comfort zone and make people smile, laugh, and have a good time.
How do you think standard interfaces and controllers will change over the next five or ten years?
Lockhart: I have no idea how they will change, but I’ve been hoping for many years that the definition of “haptics” in commercial controllers would come to mean something other than rumble (even HD rumble). The closest thing I’ve come across in a mass-market product is the solenoid behind the home ‘button’ on iPhone 7 & 8, which really makes it feel like you’re clicking a button.
Meinerz: I really don’t know, but I think it will be a “the more things change the more they stay the same” situation. For every handful of players that want a more physically interactive game with a VR headset, there is a handful that wants to sit on their couch with a controller in their hand and look at a TV.