Alexey Pajitnov today took honors at the Game Developers Conference by winning the annual Game Design Challenge, a friendly competition hosted by GameLab’s Eric Zimmerman, this year asking game designers to invent a hypothetical game using a needle, thread, and fabric as the input device.
“The Game Design Challenge: The Needle and Thread Interface,” as the session was formally titled, drew a full house at the conference; the audience votes for a winner by applause, and the enormous gathering showed support for the Tetris creator from the start, cheering for him from initial introduction, through his presentation, and of course at the end of the challenge.
Pajitnov’s winning design was the simplest one presented, but clearly used the given constraints to their most obvious advantages. His game, called Stitch & Cross, pits two players against one another in a sewing racing game.
In it, each player holds a square of cloth and begins to sew stitches across the fabric, one player moving in a vertical line and one horizontally. The objective is to reach the other side of the fabric fastest, but also to “kill” the opponent by crossing his or her own stitch work. Both player’s stitching appears on a television screen on a common playing field.
Design Challenge reigning champion Harvey Smith of Midway Games (best known for his work on Deus Ex at Ion Storm), presented a console action adventure game with an elaborate back story of a young girl whose father is in peril.
The Tailor’s Daughter, as Smith named his theoretical game, required that the input device be slightly augmented. In his game, several pieces of cloth are stretched on a cross stitch hoop shaped like a Native American snowshoe, which maps to various controls. The controls are activated when the player either pokes, plucks, or sews into the section of fabric, wich each portion of the “shoe” represents some area of visualization or player action, such as basic motion and weapon control or mini maps or menus.
Although Smith’s game was highly symbolic and chock full of deep storytelling elements, the audience was ultimately much more drawn to Pajitnov’s simplistic solution of using the interface for sewing — not reconfiguring a mapped input device.
The third contestant, David Jaffe, created a game that allowed the player to use the fabric (in this case “playper,” a paper-like fabric) to make paper airplanes, which are flown to compete against other planes for distance or speed.
Ubisoft’s Clint Hocking, a former contestant of the challenge, was called upon to help Zimmerman give out awards: three sets of knitting needles.
“There’s nothing stopping us from conceiving of games and from having exercises like the game design challenge,” said Zimmerman, inviting attendees to keep themselves continually mentally stimulated. “There’s nothing to stop you from making a game inspired by what you’ve seen today ... it’s up to us at the Game Developers Conference to make games better.”