Experimental Interactions

Today was the official last day of my course on experimental interaction, we spent it gathered in the game lab at ITU looking at everyone’s demos of the games they created for their final hand-in. I called it “Demolition Thursday”.

Basically, I just felt like quickly writing a bit about what came out of the course from the students because there were plenty of really intriguing creations and, after a course which was characterised by a pretty intense diversity of lecture topics, it was neat to see the actual, sustained output. In keeping with the variability of the course content, we had a lot of very different games, so I thought I’d just spotlight a couple by way of example of the kinds of things that were getting done.

Think Mario. This was a game of traditional looking Mario Bros. in which you didn’t actually control Mario’s movements at all. Left to his own devices, Mario runs across the screen, jumping on goombas, over pipes, and across holes, all on his own. Instead, what the player can do is control what Mario thinks about as he progresses. He can think about the elements on the game screen or, delving into his memories, he can think about different characters from the world (e.g. Princess Peach). Depending on what the player has Mario think about, different things happen – he might speed up, decide not to hurt goombas, or possibly end his own life. It’s a great presentation of a traditional classic.

Through the looking glass. One student had gone to epic lengths to create a game with a form of real-life consequence as a way of commenting on the mindless shooting we tend to engage in during play. He made two boxes, each containing a video game (running on a laptop) and a peephole on the other side. The first game involves shooting animals of various kinds, pretty standard stuff, and relatively entertaining with its cartoony graphics. The idea is that you then walk around to the other side of the box to look through the peephole. Inside are a bunch of worryingly realistic-looking shot animals, of the same kind as the ones you’ve been shooting (a squirrel, a couple of birds, a guinea pig). In some ways it’s an “obvious” idea, but the physical reality of the box is really quite affective, and the execution is very well done. It goes further (of course). There’s another box. The game you play on that one is to shoot babies crawling out of a nursery. And then there’s that second peephole. Hmmm.

Audioshooter. A classic shmup-style game where you fly your spaceship from left to right across the screen shooting at enemies and upgrading your weapons. To the music! So in this game you start with a really basic techno track, just a single beat, and your ship fires one bullet per beat in a standard four-to-the-floor way. Already pretty cool. But then it gets crazy. By flying past planets you can add particular instruments to the track and corresponding kinds of bullets to your arsenal while the instrument lasts through its loop. Awesome. Then it gets better. If you chain your flying past planets in the right order (which the game indicates), you can build up chains that transform the overall track and leave you with permanently improved firepower. Over time the game starts to look completely insane, with great music and an amazing variation of colourful lasers and bullets flying out of your ship. It’s quite an experience.

There were many other really cool games on display today. A game that asks you to find colours in the real world around you with a webcam in order to grow a (fractal) virtual tree. A game that makes you play a platformer level in reverse before rewinding time to see if you did it right (insanely hard). A strategy game based around little people who live in your computer and gradually develop toward being independent of you entirely. A game that asks you to hit increasingly impossible keyboard combinations in order to be able to jump in a standard platformer. A controller shaped like a cube with buttons on all surfaces.

Let’s just say it was pretty great.

16 December 2010
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