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Alt.Ctrl.GDC Showcase: Tomás Henriques' Shape Fitter

January 26, 2017 | By Joel Couture

January 26, 2017 | By Joel Couture
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More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, Video

The 2017 Game Developer's Conference will feature an exhibition called alt.ctrl.GDC dedicated to games that use alternative control schemes and interactions. Gamasutra will be talking to the developers of each of the games that have been selected for the showcase. You can find all of the interviews here.

Shape Fitter tasks its player with manipulating a 3D object so it fits in a hole in a sliding wall. To do so, though, the player must move, squish, and twist a metal coil, using this haptic controller to get a sense of touch along with play.

Tomás Henriques, developer of Shape Fitter, has worked with the interactions between humans and machines for some time, and sought to further deepen that connection through adding a tactile sense to gameplay, giving players touch to go with what they are seeing on-screen. 

Gamasutra spoke with Henriques about his controller and game that will be on display at ALT.CTRL.GDC, learning more about important our hands are in our sense of reality, and how he sought to include them in our explorations of digital space.

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

My name is Tomás Henriques. I am the inventor of the hardware interface "Haptic Controller" and the concept designer of the video game Shape Fitter.

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

The Haptic Controller is a new video game controller that provides force feedback and intricate manipulation of 3-D objects/data, offering a new type of interactive play.

The controller is built around a 7-inch spring attached to two handles. Each handle houses sensors that independently track motion, orientation, force, and length as the user modifies the shape of the spring by twisting, compressing, expanding, or shaking it.

What's your background in making games?

I have a background creating new electronic musical instruments and interfaces for human machine interaction. I'm new to designing games.

What development tools did you use to build Shape Fitter?

3D Unity.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

Game was created over the course of 6+ months with the significant contribution of Greg Giles, a 3D Unity game programmer who coded the game. 

How did you come up with the concept?

The concept of the game came about with the need to demo the new features of the controller, namely the intricate manipulation of 3D objects in space and the integration of real physical motion with a direct virtual counterpart.

What do you feel the tactile sensation of squishing or manipulating the coil adds to the experience of Shape Fitter? Why add that sense of touch?

Better grounding overall for a better interactive experience. For instance, for the player to orient a shape in space s/he first has to "pick it up" by squeezing on the handles of the controller, and only while the object is "held" it can be rotated. Turning a shape such as the cylinder shape into a U-shape, by bending the spring, is something that is very rewarding sensory wise, as the player feels the resistance of the spring being bent while visually seeing the transfiguration of the shape.  

Shape Fitter looks to make the player feel that they are holding the object, deepening the connection between player and game. What made you want to make the player feel as if they are actually holding an in-game object?

As human beings, our hands have always played a seminal role with the way we interact with and modify our surroundings. I do believe that the addition of hand-based motions, exerted on a spring, will make a relevant impact within an interface that connects to a virtual environment.

How do you think standard interfaces and controllers will change over the next five or ten years?

Standard controllers will be replaced by the Haptic Controller :)

Haptics is a new thread being explored in Human Machine Interaction as the sense of touch is of primal relevance in the way we feel the world.

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