The 2020 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.
Twined tasks players with working together to jump higher and higher while they're tied together, using communication and separate sliders to reach new heights.
Gamasutra had a talk with Elias Faltin, producer at Tissue Drop Games, to talk about what interested them in having players talk and plan with each other to progress and the appeal of exploring human interactions through the game's controls.
Striving for togetherness
My name is Elias Faltin, and I worked as the Producer and constructed the controller. As a producer, I was responsible for organizing and leading the team’s design and development activities. We worked according to agile philosophy and used a lot of Scrum elements. I also spent a lot of my time during the project designing, prototyping, and constructing the controller for the game.
We are students at Uppsala University Campus Gotland in the GAME department. At the end of our first year, we had a 10 week full-time course with the goal of constructing an alternative input game. At the start of Twined, we had only spent 10 weeks at half-time pace developing a shoot ‘em up game. Twined was our first full time game project.
The course was called the “Arcade” course, and it is an option to get an arcade cabinet and standard arcade inputs, but students are encouraged to come up with unique alternative inputs.
Our controller is a direct representation of the game state of the player characters in the game. In Twined, two people have to cooperate to climb together. They control the quirky “Eeny” (the orange one) and the mellow “Miney” (the purple one), two circular beings mysteriously tethered together.
Players can hold on to the ground or jump with their character. Additionally, they can manipulate “their half” of the tether by lengthening or shortening it. These three actions are controlled by player with the help of two sliders. The vertical slider is equipped with a button to hold on to the ground with. It is also used to charge the jump and is released when the slider is released. The “hold on” button can also be used to give the character a boost while in air. The horizontal slider allows players to manipulate the tether length.
On the tools used to make Twined
We used Unity as a game engine, rhe Ferr2D plugin for quick platform creation and level iterations, Hack’nPlan as a project management tool, Photoshop and Procreate for art assets, and FL Studio for Music and Sound Effects.
As for physical materials, we used wood, screws, glue, a tabletop, 4 table legs, some custom bent metal, 4 computer mice, some buttons, magnets, springs, an iPac (allows you to connect your buttons to it and outputs their input as a keystroke. Basically a usb keyboard), and paint.
Creating friendships through controls
Ultimately, we wanted to make a game where players that sat down together to play but did not know each other previously would get up and continue to have a conversation together. The game and controller should act as an ice breaker and then continue to challenge the players to interact with each other. This continuous interaction would inevitably lead to a sufficient enough level of familiarity with the other person to have a conversation with that person without the game being involved.
The game itself morphed a lot in the first weeks of development. Originally, we wanted the characters to levitate and use the tether to slingshot each other through the level. Through playtesting of different prototypes, we settled on the characters jumping and holding on, which allowed for a myriad of different ways of moving the characters through a level. Having to coordinate to jump over each other or to jump at the same time to progress through the level forced players to communicate with each other in order to progress. Human-to-Human interaction becomes the first priority, followed by Human-to-Game interaction. This was the thing most multiplayer games we played failed to consistently achieve, but when they did, it created the most enjoyable moments of the games.
On how they encouraged players to work together
By making it hard, essentially. We were inspired by games like Octodad or QWOP for their annoyingly fun controls. The two players are reliant on each other (much like two climbers). If one jumps and the other one does not hold on, the two will just fly into the air and land pretty much where they started.
If the players progress through the level, they will encounter climbing problems they can’t solve by jumping over each other. They will have to jump at the same time or adjust the length of the tether between them.
Designing play around working together
Like mentioned before, it is impossible to progress for players if they do not cooperate. This might seem harsh, but it is an effective way of ensuring the players talk to each other. As soon as players start to cooperate, they will quickly find a rhythm in the movement. One holds on, the other one jumps, then the roles get reversed.
As soon as the level can’t be traversed in this fashion any more, players need to stop and cooperate in a new way (synchronous jumping) to progress. This, again, is a quite rhythmic exercise which most players solve by counting down together. This rhythm in the way players move naturally creates a lot of positive feedback in the Human-to-Human interaction.
Visuals that add a joy to the arduous journey
The main challenge was to always make it clear which character the player is controlling. This was solved by giving them different colors and identities. The orange-purple color pattern is continued on the input, where the entire left half of the table is painted orange, the entire right side purple. The tether sliders are also equipped with “Eeny” and “Miney” figurines to give players more reference points.
Their identities are mostly represented through audio effects. “Eeny” is thought of as energetic and quirky, “Miney” is mellow and relaxed, and their sound designs reflect those moods, respectively. Visually, this is mostly represented by their idle animations, as we decided to keep their visual feedback identical otherwise so that players could help each other understand the controls better.
The background and environment is designed in a way that it allows players to easily identify which part of it they landed on should they fall while climbing. The visual mood of the game lightens up when players progress to distract players from the increasing difficulty of the challenges. Since players might stand in place for a second and discuss strategy, the environment offers small details that can be discovered while ascending through the cave into the platform-filled summit. This aims to allow players to “appreciate nature” on their ascent.
Creating environments to encourage players to work together
The level increases in difficulty as you progress. First, players will be able to progress by just jumping over each other. After exiting the first area of the level, they are shown a shortcut that requires them to jump synchronously, and it is much easier to execute if they also adjust the tether length. From that point on, they have to synchronously jump a lot more since the walls are covered in “non-stick” material that does not allow players to hold on to it.
In the last part of the level, we present players with a very open area, meaning they won’t see an apparent edge to the level on three sides (top, left, right) instead of one (top). This leads to a need for navigation, which can be a challenge in a young friendship. The last area also introduces moving platforms which require synchronous jumping and a lot of “leap of faith” jumps that will bring the players even closer together.
A game of human interaction
I think accepting and figuring out a solution to that challenge was a big motivator for the team during the project. Especially once the first playtests confirmed that our design ideas were pointing us in the right direction. We wanted to make a co-op game, and when we started with our design process, we discussed what aspects of co-op games we enjoyed and what aspects we didn’t.
It became quite clear to us that games with strong moments of Human-to-Human interaction were fun for us to play. We did not enjoy co-op games that made you wait for each other or had you staring into a phone all night long instead of into someone’s eyes. So, we challenged ourselves to make a game that focuses on making humans interact; making a game where the actual game is the social game being played by the players in front of the digital game.