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Paper Glider uses a pulley controller to create a feeling of flight

Paper Glider gives players to a sense of flight by using a pulley system to control the tilt of a paper plane as it soars through a small world.

Joel Couture, Contributor

March 16, 2023

7 Min Read
a person sits with a pulley system in each hand, using it to guide a plane's flight on the screen in front of them
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The 2023 Game Developers Conference will once again feature Alt.Ctrl.GDC, an exhibition dedicated to games that use alternative control schemes and interactions in new, exciting, and clever ways. Ahead of GDC 2023, Game Developer will be talking to the developers of each of the games that have been selected for the showcase.

Paper Glider gives players to a sense of flight by using a pulley system to control the tilt of a paper plane as it soars through a small world.

Game Developer spoke with Team S213, creators of the pulley-based flight controller, about the thoughts that went into creating a paraglider-like feel with the game's pulley controls, the work they put into making these controls comfortable, and what drew them to represent the player's flight with a simple paper airplane.

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

Il Abejo: My Name is Jose Jesus Il Abejo. I was the programming lead and game designer on this project. I was responsible for programming the game and controller.

Diab: My name is Lucas Diab and I was the game design lead for this project. I was responsible for overseeing the foundation and execution of the game mechanics.

Ho: My name is Kien Ho and I was involved mostly with the overall game feel and aesthetics, as well as creating the level for the game.

Plowman: I'm Paige Plowman and I worked on 3D assets and animations for the game as well as textures.

Vilela: I’m Adrian Vilela and I worked on building the controller as well as the documentation. I was also the guy with the car who drove everyone around.

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

Diab: Our innovative controller is a basic pulley system that allows players to control a paper airplane in the game. It consists of two ropes, one for each hand. By pulling and releasing the ropes, players can control the tilt of the paper glider and navigate it through various environments. You are able to move how you want in our space depending on how much you pull against the rope. The ropes create a sense of tactile feedback, allowing players to really feel like they are flying!

a person sits in a chair, holding a pully in each hand

What's your background in making games?

Il Abejo: I have a background in making small games during my personal time. As a game design student for Sheridan, I’ve been making multiple projects to learn from. In my free time, I just dabble in improving my skills or trying to learn something new.

Diab: This is actually my first experience making a full-fledged game! As someone in the Game Design program at Sheridan I have been tasked with making a few projects here and there, but in terms of personal projects, this is a first.

Ho: I have created a few small prototypes in the past, most of which were just for experimental purposes. We are all currently Game Design students so, yes, we are all actively making games in school. Other than that, I am also in the process of developing a puzzle/visual novel game on the side as a passion project.

Plowman: I have used Blender and other 3D modeling software for many years and have worked on a number of small games doing character models, textures, etc. This project has been one of the few games I have actually worked on directly, as most of my experience is in creating assets for other peoples' projects.

Vilela: I have a background in project management and industrial design. I am also attending the Game Design program in Sheridan and have been working on multiple school projects since joining.

What development tools did you use to build Paper Glider?

Diab: We used Miro and Jira to plan out our ideas and tasks. In terms of software to create the game and assets, we used Unity to create the game and Arduino software to create the programmable controller to work within our game. We also used a mix of Blender and Maya to create 3D art assets for the game. Finally, we used good old photoshop to make simple UI elements dress our game up.

What physical materials did you use to make it?

Diab: For the controller’s frame, we used PVC pipes held together with super glue and reinforced with metal braces for structural stability. For the input, we used an Arduino pro micro and 2 Rotary encoders to receive the player’s rotational input so that we could mirror the turning degree of the player character in game.

an in-game screenshot of the plane going towards a windmill

What inspired the creation of Paper Glider? What interested you in tying the movements of a paper plane with that of a complex paraglider-like rig?

Il Abejo: I had the original idea for Paper Glider. I had this Idea when I was playing around with a previous project that I created using an Arduino and rotary encoders. Rope pulling was actually inspired after I was looking through previous Alt.Ctrl.GDC games and found Ruin Climbers. They used a rope-pulling controller that played well with their game. After iterating on the idea for a bit, we decided to have a paraglider-like controller as we simply liked the idea of flying through a level.

What challenges came from making pulling ropes feel intuitive for controlling a plane's movements and turning?

Diab: Some challenges we had were tuning the movement to make the rope pulls feel natural based on how much a person tugs on the rope (even when they pull hard). This was easily fixable after playtests and suggestions from others of how it felt when playing.

Why turn players into a small paper person flying a paper plane? What was the appeal of this perspective over a more traditional paragliding experience?

Diab: We knew at the beginning that we wanted a cartoon aesthetic. So, we just wanted to find a way to convey that the player is also within the game controlling a character that would mimic the player's actions. Additionally, we wanted to recapture the joy and simplicity of childhood. It's something we all miss. The paper plane is a timeless symbol that almost everyone has interacted with before. The perspective allows players to feel as though they are soaring through the air just like the paper planes they used to throw.

a person sits in the room, pulling both ropes to fly the plane in game

What thoughts went into creating the environments and speed boost mechanics so they would challenge the player to constantly adjust their flight path?

Diab: The goal was to create a sense of constant movement and dynamic interactions. We wanted the player to feel as though they were constantly on the verge of collision as they dodged obstacles and navigated through the different landscapes. Really pump up their adrenaline.

With so much tugging and pulling happening to the controller, what ideas went into making it comfortable for players to use? Into making it durable so it could handle the actions people would be taking with it?

Diab: Comfort and durability were key considerations when designing the game's controller. We wanted to ensure that players could enjoy the game for extended periods of time without experiencing discomfort or fatigue. Players will need to keep their arms above their heads and constantly fight against the counterweights on each rope, which can definitely be exhausting if you start in a bad position. The main means of making it comfortable was weighing down the controller with sandbags. This kept everything in place and got rid of the player having to fight against the initial unstable build.

During our prototype phase, we used a simple Green screen stand support system and a small rope. But after some more iterations, we ended up using PVC Pipes for our structure, and a much more durable rope for the… rope.

Has building a game around a unique controller taught you anything unexpected about game design?

Diab: It was definitely a learning experience. It taught us a lot about the importance of considering the player experience from all angles, and how even small design choices can have a significant impact on the overall enjoyment of the game. Additionally, we've learned how to effectively balance the requirements of a unique controller with the need to create a fun and challenging game that appeals to a wide audience. There's much more to learn, and hopefully, we can put that all on display the next time we’re here!

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