Alt.Ctrl.GDC Showcase: Henning Steinbock's Close the Leaks
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.
Close the Leaks (to prevent imminent death) tasks players with keeping the air inside of their leaking spaceship to keep from suffocating, while also having to release some of that air to guide the ship away from a monster that's chasing it.
Close the Leaks (to prevent imminent death) accomplishes this by giving air hoses to four players, tasking them with working together to plug or unplug holes with their hands, navigating the ship by letting air out while staying alive by keeping air in.
This cooperation interested Henning Steinbock, a developer at Threaks who enjoys going through the intense creative work of Game Jams. Not only that, but he saw the game as an opportunity to make a development idea more fun, giving it a new spin in the shape of his unique controller.
Gamasutra had a chat with the developer about his imminent display at the ALT.CTRL.GDC exhibit, learning about the necessary cooperation his controller demanded of its players.
What’s your name, and what was your role on this project?
My name is Henning Steinbock, I did the controller building and programming on Close the Leaks.
How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with it?
Close the Leaks (to prevent imminent death) is a four player arcade game that is controlled by stopping the air flowing out of hoses.
What's your background in making games?
I work as a programmer in a small indie game studio called Threaks. I also attend game jams as much as possible, to do wired small games.
What development tools did you use to build Close the Leaks (to prevent imminent death)?
The game is built in Unity.
What physical materials did you use to make it?
The heart of the controller is four hairdryers. Inside the hoses, there are wind sensors that can detect if the hoses are closed. There is an Arduino inside the box that communicates with the computer. I also used a lot of expanding foam to keep everything in place.
How much time have you spent working on the game?
Building the controller (including rebuilding it twice) took probably around 40 hours. About the same for building the game.
How did you come up with the concept?
The game is based on a project I made at Nordic Game Jam 2016. There, we used four smartphones to control the game. The game was already pretty fun and we were thinking about what we could do to make it cooler.
What was the appeal of using hoses and blowing air for the game? Why this over a more standard interface? What do you feel it added to the experience?
The game (even before the controller existed) was about interrupting the air blowing out of something. I saw the possibility to build a physical controller as an exact real world representation of that mechanic, which sounded like fun thing to do and also like something that would be self-explanatory, not only for gamers.
The controller is not really built to be handy. If the game would be controlled with a keyboard, it would take four fingers to control it. In the setup I went for, it takes eight hands, because you need one hand to hold the hose and one interrupt the airflow. It makes it impossible to play the game with less players than it’s supposed to be played.
How do you steadily increase the challenge for a game about playing around with leaking air?
In the first levels, there is more than enough air, so players can finish it rather uncoordinated. Towards the end, they are forced more and more to work together. If one of them doesn’t understand how to solve a problem, the others have to explain them what’s going on, or the whole team will fail.
What did you want the player to feel about the conflicting goals of saving air, but also using it to escape the monster? About sharing that across the goals and desires of three other people who might not feel the same as them?
The air in the game is used to change the velocity of the ship. Therefore, as long as nobody releases air, the velocity of the ship does not change (that’s how things work in space). Once players understand that, they’ll figure out that it’s possible to play the game while barely using any air.
I wanted the players to feel smart for figuring that out.
How do you think standard interfaces and controllers will change over the next five or ten years?
With the rise VR and AR, I’m sure we’ll see a lot of interesting stuff in the future!