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Dutch Studio Game Oven has come to an end, but in its three-year lifespan, the team dedicated itself to creating innovative hybrid projects that explored the ways we interact physically and socially.
Bounden, the studio's last game, is a charming dance experience where two players wrangle an iPhone in between themselves, tilting and twisting it to navigate a sphere.
It aims to inhabit the awkward, divine distance between two human bodies, and to explore how those distances can be closed with play and technology. Bounden is up for a nomination in the Nuovo Award category, and we caught up with the team for our annual series of interviews with nominees.
What's your background in game development, and what inspired you to create Bounden?
We are Game Oven, three people, with an office in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Before Bounden, we made an IGF 2012 Nuovo award-nominated game in which people have sex with their fingers, a game in which people punch each other in the face, and a game where you talk about awkward stuff. On top of that, we've been making prototypes for years, studied game development, and did internships at larger studios.
Bounden was inspired by a particular situation during a playtest of Friendstrap, one of our earlier games. Adriaan and a friend were playing Friendstrap, while suddenly they found themselves making all these weird moves, rotating the phone, together, trying to entangle the other person. That moment showed us that we were able to use the phone's gyroscope to track the rotation of the phone. This is when Adriaan started prototyping to find a way to guide people.
By the way, throughout this interview I will refer to our Making of Bounden videos often. You can watch them all in one go here.
What tools did you use?
Numerous prototypes were made in Unity, because it's easy and quick. After that, we wrote the entire game in C++, built on our own engine called Furiosity. Our engine runs super quick and is very lightweight compared to Unity. We built a custom editor for Bounden to make the dances, because no tools exist that allow you to place objects using a device's gyroscope. We have a video in which programmer Bojan explains how the level editor works here.
All 3D art was made in 3Ds Max and Maya, while all 2D art and animations were made using Photoshop. We coded in Xcode. To make the dances, the choreographer also 'used' dancers, but I'm not sure whether you can semantically call these people 'tools'...
How long did you spend working on the game?
Bounden's prototyping phase lasted for about three months and included writing a lengthy application for the Dutch Gamefund. After we got word from the Gamefund that we were granted some money, we made Bounden in five months from beginning to end, with 11 people.
Where did you first come up with the concept of sharing a device between two people to dance? Did you do a lot of prototyping?
The idea of two people using their device as a guide to dance crossed our minds first when Adriaan was doing those weird moves with a friend. And yes, a lot of prototyping followed. Most prototypes were built to find a way to guide people. We had prototypes that indicated movements through north east south west notations, prototypes with arrows, and prototypes with other 3d visualisations before we eventually found the mechanism that Bounden was eventually built on. Adriaan gave an in-depth talk about the design process of these prototypes at the experimental gameplay workshop in 2013.
What are some of the influences on the project?
The biggest inspiration for the game was the Dutch National Ballet and ballet in general. At one of our first rehearsals of the ballet company, we asked the coach - a big Russian, very intimidating person -- what ballet was all about.
He nodded, started the rehearsals, and 30 minutes into the rehearsal, answered from the other side of the room: 'Ballet.... is very physical.' It was as if the elegance of ballet had presented itself. Right in front of us were 40 dancers trying to master the movement of every minuscule muscle in their body. This elegance quickly merged with our vision to make people dance -- now we wanted to make people dance and partly experience that elegance you see with dancers by the Dutch National Ballet.
You worked alongside a real dance company, right? What was that like, and how did you incorporate their work into the game design?
What working together with the Dutch National Ballet was like is best explained by this 'making of Bounden part three' video (embedded above), in which you can clearly see the process of developing a dance.
Adriaan considers working together with the Dutch National Ballet one of his most valued experiences in his life. The people at the Dutch National Ballet are one of the best at what they do, and the elegant vibe that these people have is ultimately inspiring.
What kind of experience do you hope people have with Bounden?
We hope that most people will experience the joy and quirkiness of being bound together by a phone trying to do a synchronised dance. We never expected anyone to become a professional ballet dancer after playing Bounden. There are a lot of social things that happen when you try to dance with someone, and it's mainly those things that we hope players will experience.
In fact, many people do not even reach the part of the game which also tries to force rhythm and timing to the players' movements. And most who do don't feel like practising the dances, partly because of the steep difficulty curve of the game, but also because practise takes discipline and hard work. This is why most players will not feel that elegance that we saw at the Dutch National Ballet: one doesn't simply become a great dancer by playing some game a few times. But those who invest time into the game will be rewarded with choreography by the Dutch National Ballet on music by Bart Delissen!
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any you've particularly enjoyed?
We are very excited about Elegy for a Dead World and How do you Do It, as they are amazing examples of games being creative and expressive. We also really enjoyed This War of Mine -- it's an amazing experience that makes you look at war from an incredibly unique perspective.