This article explores what makes local multiplayer special. Furthermore it suggests an experimental setup to translate the virtual game play of SPiN WARS into real physical play. In that, it is also a reply to “Time for Local Multiplayer to Get Physical” from Alistair Aitcheson.
Our new game SPiN WARS was originally developed as a 3 day prototype to submit it to the "Gamma4 one-button challenge" back in 2010. SPiN WARS was an experimental project to us from the beginning. Now, about three years later, we decided to release it on all kinds of different platforms like tablets, phones, PC and even a version on Ouya. It will be interesting to see on which market a pure local multiplayer game will perform best. However, what excites us about this experimental game is to watch the way players interact with each other.
In SPiN WARS you control the movement, shooting and release of a special attack with holding, tapping and releasing the same button. Watch a trailer on spinwars.brightside-games.com or look at the “how to play” picture in this article to understand the game better. Since the first prototype, we played it over and over at parties and showed it at events. It was always an interesting experience to see how differently new players accustomed to the uncommon one-button controls and how that influenced their social interactions.
It seems that SPiN WARS is as much a game about the interactions of the players as it is about its game play on screen. We asked ourselves what aspects of SPiN WARS make it especially enjoyable at local multiplayer, why it would not work as an online experience and how to go one step further and translate the experience to a real world installation (jump to the last chapter if that’s what interests you most)?
Playing locally with others is of course a shared experience. That contains both the immediate situation as well as a shared memory of former play sessions. You remember what happened last time, who won and how they reacted to success and disappointment. Usually you know more about the players you play locally with when compared to online multiplayer.
Also, the intention of playing is different. If I meet with friends to play SPiN WARS or similar local multiplayer games, I mainly do this to have fun together with them. That involves everyone having fun whereas when I play online I’m mainly concerned about my own experience.
How does that alter the actual process of playing?
Have you ever played a session of UNO online on the Xbox 360? In my eyes it’s boring, mainly because all the social interaction of the game is missing. Still most would agree that UNO can be great fun at a table with some friends. Why?
Direct emotional feedback
I think it is mainly because you see their direct emotional feedback on what happens.
UNO is a very simple game and doesn’t give the player a lot of options, either you have a card that fits on the stack or not. So playing it online more or less reduces game play to pressing the A button. At some point either you or an enemy player finishes.
If you play it at a table with friends, you’ll see their emotions. For example one gets annoyed because he just can’t get rid of his last card or you might forget to say “UNO”, but will anyone notice it in time? There is also a good share of Schadenfreude involved, that only work when you see the other one failing. So there is a lot more going on than the plain rules when you play locally.
If we take a look at SPiN WARS it is a competitive arena shoot ‘em up. It might work as an online game if you only account to those aspects of the game. The specific controls of SPiN WARS make the difference here. Online you would just experience the limiting control scheme as unfair or bad user interface design. Why don’t I get the controls I am used to with shoot ‘em ups?
In SPiN WARS’ local multiplayer you will experience the others struggling and mastering the control scheme while you are going through a similar experience. You can see their emotional feedback in this process only in local play. Only when you are in the same room with your other players you can directly address these reactions by social and physical responses to the other players.
Social and physical interaction
You have a shared experience with people you know and you see the others emotional reactions. Does that really change how you are playing the game?
Winning and losing, but also how you treat the others has a meaning in your play experience and social group structure. If you are consistently a bad loser or keep picking on
players who just aren’t as good in playing games as you, it will affect your player group. They might just never play with you again.
This is why players will help each other out to level the playing field and make the game more interesting for everyone. In SPiN WARS we have seen 3 players attacking one because he won the last round. We also discover players purposely holding back to give others some moments of glory.
Players of SPiN WARS also “extend the limits of the screen & play dirty” (see Alistair Aitcheson). It is interesting to see different ways of disturbing other players depending on what device they play on.
On an iPhone they try to drag the phone a little further to their side with every tap so they see the screen better. When it is played on a projector they walk in front of another player hindering him in his sight or pull their arm with their free hand because they need only one hand to play the game.
To explore this aspect of the game experience of SPiN WARS we thought about a setup that focuses on enforcing the physical interaction of players with the game and each other.
Taking it a step further – or spinning in virtual and physical space
To bring even more physicality into SPiN WARS we are considering an installation where the players stand on a platform in the center surrounded by 3-4 screens across which the game spans.
With this in place, not only do you spin with your character in the game you are also turning your own body trying to keep your character in our field of view. At the same time other players will be getting into your sight and you have to bend and dodge to avoid that to disturb your play. Decreasing the size of the platform all the players stand on and also increasing the amount of players it will most likely get more competitive and physical.
The game play restrictions of either turning or flying straight will most likely make sure players won´t just stay on one screen. This is supported by the ability to teleport yourself to a random new position, which comes with the disadvantage of having to find your own character again.
We did not have the opportunity to test the game with this setup yet, but we are looking forward to see how it changes the game playing process.
Please contact us if you are willing to try this setup with us at your event or exhibition.
SPiN WARS will be out on iOS and Android the 21st of March 2013 and on PC, Mac and OUYA soon after that. Find more information at spinwars.brightside-games.com
We are looking forward to your feedback and comments!
Thomas Bedenk is Creative Director of Brightside Games (follow him @tctomm and @brightsidegames) and Co-Author (and his twin-brother) Markus Bedenk is Game Designer at Brightside Games