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.
OVERTIME takes a toy basketball and infuses it with the drama of the final moments of a basketball game, having players work through a tense series of minigames.
Gamasutra had a chat with the development team at Overtime Games, to learn more about the thoughts that went into turning a basketball toy into an input device for their dramatic basketball game, how they worked to make it accessible for many players, and how they drew upon the power of anime to create a lasting impression.
The basketball team
The Overtime Games team includes Josh Delson as the project lead, producer, and artist; Don Herweg as the lead programmer; Sam Zapiain as programmer; Daniel Song as designer, illustrator, and environment artist; Eric Moen as composer and sound designer; Thomas Newsome as creator of the game controller; and Grayson Ducker as artist and animator.
Delson: Our team consists of students/alumni of the Junior Development Experience (JDE) in Chicago, IL. Two years ago I returned from my first experience at GDC, inspired to create a community of passionate developers at DePaul University. The goal was to bring students, alumni, and faculty together in order to one day showcase at the Game Developers Conference (GDC). Now we have achieved that and have become an amazing resource that offers studio teams, industry mentors/speakers, development workshops, game jams, and showcase opportunities.
Creating a new game from a toy
Zapiain: The way I would describe it is taking a toy basketball game that one would find at any toy store and having that action translate to a virtual game. For example, if I move left with the knob on the toy, it would move my character to the left in the game. We tried to keep the controls similar for each game so it would be easy to jump into each one.
The tools of b-ball design
Newsome: As the controller developer, I used the Arduino IDE to program the keystroke inputs coming from the controller. For the physical device, we used the basketball toy, of course, placed atop a base of wood, and wired to an adafruit Flora microcontroller, which is what we had on hand. The handle input comes from a rotary encoder attached to a belt and a simple button is inside the handle.
Moen: The software I used for audio was Studio One 3 Artist. The game itself is made in Unity.
Song: Art wise, we used Autodesk Maya and Photoshop to create OVERTIME’s art assets.
Iterating on OVERTIME
Song: Our team decided to participate in Extra Credits’ first game jam. The theme was based off of their video "Awesome Per Second". We were inspired to create a game with simple minigames. We received a lot of positive feedback and decided to expand the gameplay experience.
Herweg: After the game jam, we decided how we wanted to proceed with the project. Then we were joking around about really outlandish things that we could do with the game. One of those ideas was: "What if we used an old basketball toy to play the game?" So, we went to the Idea Realization Lab (IRL), talked with our friend Thomas Newsome, who said it would be pretty simple, and he became part of the team.
Song: The original pitch consisted of an actual basketball with sensors on it, but that was eventually changed as we wanted our game to be simple and easily playable. OVERTIME’s first iteration consisted of too many keyboard buttons, however, we eventually limited the game to use only a basketball toy’s left/right movement and clicking.
If we were to make more minigames, we would create minigames that have a different theme, but similar controls, allowing the players to catch on quickly and understand what needs to be done. The end goal is to have players learning how to play the game just by watching the person in front of them for a few seconds!
On capturing the drama of the final moments of a basketball game
Delson: I’ve always found the over-exaggeration in anime interesting, so our game incorporated that idea. Since we were trying to make every second dramatic in OVERTIME, we designed the simple gameplay to mimic a Warioware-like experience. Its format worked to bring tension to our players, similar to the climax of an anime battle. We then split each moment of a basketball match into a microgame to ensure that each moment felt tense, diverse, and exciting.
Moen: For me, the music/audio feedback is what allows OVERTIME to capture the tense moment of drama. I wanted the music to really build up to a climax once the player hits the final dunk. So, for the last 15 or so seconds, I increased the scale and made the game as top notch as possible.
To take this a step forward, OVERTIME is partnering with industry voice actors Brandon Fague and Aryn Rozelle to make our characters even more dramatic. Along with that, we’re currently making an anime opening and anime credits sequence with musicians Marina City & UkeWithNix to satirize the anime tropes in modern entertainment. We want players to feel as much positive tension and accomplishment through the feedback of their actions. Regardless of how they play our game, they’re always rewarded in the end!
How a basketball toy controller makes OVERTIME special
Herweg: I think that unique controllers bring a sense of novelty that gets lost on a fun game with just a regular controller. It can sometimes come off as gimmicky, but I think that it does add another layer that surpasses a controller/keyboard game.
Zapiain: Patrick Curry taught us how to use his Shark Fin Theory when brainstorming games. It's this intersection between unique resources and good ideas creating games that have never been done before. With the rise of alternative controllers and maker spaces, I believe our controller adds a sense of hilarious connection to the game that wouldn't be as prevalent if the player was using a keyboard.
I wouldn't call it “immersion,” but I would say it helps better sell the idea that OVERTIME is a silly game that tries to emulate the feel of a '90s sports anime and the controller helps create that feeling. If OVERTIME was played on a normal mouse/keyboard of console controller, then we would be a knock off basketball game.
Creating a basketball game with accessibility in mind
Newsome: Playtesting and research were the biggest challenges for OVERTIME at first. We’ve showcased our game at large events such as MineFaire and DreamHack, and with every player, we took away more ways to make our controller even better. Some players were colorblind, others had weak muscles, and even a few played with a cane or wheelchair. Since then, we’ve partnered with Accessible Video Game Design to continue our research.
We wanted the controller to be used by as many people as possible, so keeping the inputs low was useful towards that end. With the weight of the controller, the handle can be shifted quite easily with one hand, and the button inside the handle doesn't have a high threshold for pressing. We plan on adding a linear potentiometer for easier sliding, and a capacitive touch section so that those who can't grip the handle to click can just tap that section instead.
Delson: Alex Seropian once told us that “simplicity is key” when developing games. When he overlooked the students behind Octodad, their limitations were merely to make a PC build and a short 15-minute experience to showcase. This inspired us to not focus on the console porting or what happens an hour into the game, but making the best of the few minutes a player experiences when playing OVERTIME.
Games, now, are becoming much complex with more button inputs, combos, and hours of grinding, but I feel that simplicity is key to accessibility. Having a strong core gameplay experience, with as little input as possible, allows one to cater to more people and keep things accessible for a wider audience.