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Alt.Ctrl.GDC Showcase: vinylOS

February 15, 2017 | By Joel Couture

February 15, 2017 | By Joel Couture
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More: Indie, Programming, Art, Audio, Design, Production, 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.

A DJ's turntable becomes a video game controller with vinylOS, a game that uses scratching, spinning, and rewinding to play through games that are projected down on it from above.

A modified turntable and projector make the unique game and controller bond with vinylOS, with players making motions on the vinyl record to play through the various games and experiences the developers have in mind for it..

This is just the beginning of what Josef Who? And Jonas Bo, the pair of artists and developers who created vinylOS, have in mind for the controller they've created together. The two have plans for further games and experiences to play on vinyl, with players able to swap them out like a record.

Gamasutra reached out to the pair to talk about what this sense of touch - of making physical contact with the play space - appealed to them in the creation of vinylOS, and how they've taken the natural motions of playing with a turntable and translated them to gameplay controls (which players will be able to try at the ALT.CTRL.GDC exhibit in a few weeks).

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

We are Josef Who? and Jonas Bo. We both did game design, art, and code quite evenly for vinylOS. The technical setup of our project is based on a media art installation Bo made at university.

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

We had to do this quite a lot because it was hard to understandably communicate what we are doing with vinylOS. At the moment, we would say that you are playing games and game-like experiments on a DJ turntable that is projected on it from above. The vinyl on the turntable is therefore transformed into a controller and a screen at the same time. It feels like an analog and circular touch screen that lies on a turntable. 

But there is more to it: at some point, we realised we had invented our own kind of media apparatus, for which various content could be made. Therefore, we named the project vinylOS (OS stands for Operating System), a hint to the concepts of platforms/console systems. Looking at the project from this viewpoint puts it in the context of “Device Art”, a Japanese style media art practise that blends art, design, technology, and entertainment in a playful way. For the future, we would like to invite other designers and artists to realise projects for vinylOS

What's your background in making games?

Who? mostly worked as level designer and game designer for the Viennese indie studio Broken Rules. He also did a lot of QA and console submission there. Besides vinylOS, he is currently working on a non-screen game running on a PocketC.H.I.P computer which is using PS Move controllers for input.

Who? originally has a background in architecture and wrote his master's thesis on spatiality in games before getting into the game industry as a level designer.

Bo is a media artist and creative technologist working as a freelancer as well as educator.

What development tools did you use to build vinylOS?

Most of vinylOS development was done with Unity. To decode the timecode pressed on the vinyl, we are using a PureData port of xWax. Some graphics are generated with Processing. We are also using a library originally developed for the really great platformer Flat Heroes. Lucas, one of their developes, was so kind to help us out implementing it. Our friends at Broken Rules (Jan and Felix) helped us with some more tricky coding issues. 

What physical materials did you use to make it?

vinylOS is actually a mash up of multiple devices and technologies: a standard DJ turntable, a projector, timecode vinyl, and a computer. The main physical element is the vinyl and the (many) ways to play and interact with it (turning, scratching, rewinding...). The experience is best when you can play and touch it for yourself and the sensation comes from being able to interact with something you would normally not play a game on.

We are also experimenting with technology (RFID/computer vision) for enabling smooth changing of games so anybody using vinylOS is able to pick a vinyl, put it on the turntable, and have the system change the game automatically in the same way you change a game cartridge or disc on any regular console. 

How much time have you spent working on the game?

We worked on vinylOS as a project by itself about a year. Only around our normal day jobs - not full-time - and based on how much time we were able to devote to it.

How did you come up with the concept?

Bo had built a media art installation based on the same setup and wanted to enhance its playful character even further. So, he joined forces with Who?. 

At first, we tried to find some use cases for the interaction possibilities and built small game experiments around those. That was also the point we decided there had to be some kind of possibility to change games. By this time, vinylOS started to become not only a game based on an alternative controller setup, but a full-fledged turntable console with small interactive experiments you can choose from. Here we also drew inspiration from an Austrian project from the late 90s called vinylVideo by Gebhard Sengmüller. His project stored video data on vinyl records. 

What sorts of play possibilities can come out of scratching, spinning, or rewinding a vinyl record? 

We are still in the process of discovering that, and we do so every day we work on it. It is very interesting to map these kind of gestures - that are very physical and analog - to interactions in digital games. Some are quite straight-forward, like scratching to shoot in a circular shoot-em-up. Others are more abstract, like painting a smiley by spinning the vinyl and hundreds of little dots on it. 

We have also discovered that everybody does use the console and the games rather differently, depending on their background. Somebody that has been using turntables a lot has another play-style than somebody who has not and is very carefully interacting with the game and the machine. The setup seems to have some kind of magic to it, and everybody wants to get their hands on it to try it out. 

What drew you to turn a musical device into a play space? What made you want to make a turntable into a game playing device?

If you have ever used a turntable before, you will definitely agree that the device itself and the things you normally do with it are very playful. It is a really nice haptic experience, something that we feel is sometimes missing in current gaming devices. Motion controls, ordinary controllers, and especially touch-screens, are lacking a haptic sensation besides a little bit of rumbling that doesn’t convey touching something and feeling it under your fingertips.

A turntable and the vinyl on it does have this kind of sensation. You can feel the heaviness of the device and the fragile character of the vinyl. That is a really great and interesting combination we wanted to work with. 

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

Maybe they will become more modular. Not only the devices themselves, but also how you can use them as a user and as a designer. What we mean by that is that the device itself will have so many features already packed in that you can choose which ones are best suited for your idea and concept. Like a swiss army knife. 

Maybe the latest controllers being produced by the big console manufacturers are an indication for that. In our opinion, this idea of packing more and more stuff into a controller or input interface without putting your potential users off by getting too complicated is key, and will continue on in the upcoming years.

But, the much more interesting stuff will be coming from a whole different area eventually. Maker culture, 3D-printing, and cheap, widely-accessible electronics will get a lot of people into building their own controllers. Controllers and devices that are custom-made for a particular experience. The alt.ctrl.GDC showcase and furthermore, the alt.ctrl “movement” in general, might be just the beginning of things to come.



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