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Kris Graft

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There have been numerous commercial attempts at "games" that are controlled with biometrics, particularly brain waves. There's Mattel's Mindflex, for example, as well as the Star Wars Force Trainer. They're almost purely novelty items, and don't particularly work that well.

Crooked Tree Studios founder Lat Ware (who's programmed games at studios including Realtime Worlds and Crytpic) wants to add some real competitive gameplay to the novelty of brainwave-controlled applications. He's using Kickstarter to try to fund Throw Trucks with Your Mind, a competitive multiplayer game in which players put on a commercially-available brainwave sensor and essentially focus their thoughts to toss vehicles and pieces of the environment at other players to win. Movement is done via mouse and keyboard but attacks are pure thought.

We caught up with Ware to talk about Throw Trucks and pick his brain about the future of biometrics-controlled games.

How does it work?

The headset is an EEG, which is basically a really sensitive volt-meter. It looks at surface voltages in the brain, which decades of research have mapped to specific thought patterns. NeuroSky's MindWave is processing the data for me to extract how calm and focused you are. I do not know the details of the algorithm that they're using, but it does work.

You don't have to think a specific thought to raise your focus, though it is different for different people. In my case, I stare at the dot in the center of the screen and tune out everything else. Some people focus on a specific word on the screen. Some people listen to a specific sound, like the laptop fan. I have one friend who computes prime numbers in his head. The headset doesn't care what you focus on, only that you are focused. Calm is more subject and interesting.

In my case, I have to believe in myself and if I doubt myself, I can't do it. I have one friend that imagines the effect that he wants and trusts that it will happen, and that raises his calm. Focusing on your breathing helps. Thinking about something that makes you happy helps. People in happy, committed relationships often have their calm jump by 30 percent when they think about their significant other. It's fundamentally about mental relaxation, but what makes you relaxed is a complex beast.

What's the difference between this and other biometrics-controlled games? Why is it more responsive?

The biggest difference between this and other biometric games is that this is a fully fleshed out game. Levitating a ball with your focus is not a game. Unlocking doors with your calm is not a game. Filling up a meter is not a game. Those are elaborate meters. Throw Trucks With Your Mind is an actual game, as competitive as the Modern Warfare games, but with a completely new style of play that uses the features of the headset. I have a general rule about games: If you can't win and you can't lose, it's not a game. There are a couple exceptions, but it has served me well.

Where do you see biometrics-controlled games going in the future?

Well, in the next 15 years, a game like Throw Trucks With Your Mind will come out. If my Kickstarter succeeds, it will happen right now. If that is a success, then we can expect a wave of EEG-based games about 10 years afterwards. That would drive not so much innovation, but a reduction in price. Right now, purely brain-controlled interfaces just aren't there yet. We're getting better, and I feel like we might have a good, affordable brain-controlled interface in 15 years, depending on how much is invested in this technology. That said, I don't see the controller going away from mainstream gaming.

Why Kickstarter? Are venture capitalists unconvinced?

I actually spoke to eight venture capitalists and a number of investors about the game and the feedback I kept getting was to prove user traction, then come back. So, I had a conundrum because I needed user traction to get funding, I needed a product to get user traction, and I need funding to get a product. The minimum viable product doesn't work so well when it requires an $80 piece of hardware. Kickstarter broke me out of that loop.

What happens to the game if the Kickstarter fails?

If Kickstarter fails, I don't know. Maybe the project will be salvageable as I will have shown that I was able to raise $27,000 (at the time of this writing), even though I didn't get it because of Kickstarter's rules. Maybe that would still show solid demand for the product, since it was raised entirely from customers. Maybe that would be enough to convince an incubator or investor to pick me up. I am unsure. I haven't given it any thought, because all of my energy and time has gone to campaigning for the Kickstarter as hard as I possibly can. I haven't given myself any time off.

[Kris Graft wrote this article originally on sister site Gamasutra.]

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In this article taken from Game Developer magazine, game designer Simon Strange introduces a method for increasing or decreasing player tension in games without altering their fundamental design elements -- a way to tweak a game in order to profoundly change its function.

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Falcom isn't Japan's most prestigious or most successful development studio, and the company's president admits that the Tokyo-based studio doesn't have any big name developers -- but in this interview, he outlines how staying true the the studio's roots has led to a renewed enthusiasm from fans.

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“I started developing Monaco in October [2009], and in 15 plus weeks, it won IGF,” began Andy Schatz of Pocketwatch Games during an Independent Games Summit talk at GDC 2011. Though the game is not yet released, working on Monaco got him out of a depressive rut, and wound up being his saving grace – and it only took him 15 weeks to make the build that won the grand prize at the IGF in 2010.

“I was depressed,” he admitted. “Not clinically depressed … but I was in a huge rut.” He’d been independent for a few years, he had an employee, and he was making a game called Venture: Dinosauria, “and it sucked,” he said. He had to fire the employee, and he ran out of money.

“If I’m not there now, I may as well give up,” he thought, after 5 years being an indie. So he took a break to do other fun things. “I started working on board games. I think board game design is a really fantastic way to get up your designer juices,” he said.

The first board game he made was with African animals. “Finally I got to the point where I’d been working for 5 years on animal games,” he said, with kids as main audience. “But there was this one game I’d had in the back of my mind for years and years, but it was about stealing shit. So I’d lose my entire audience immediately.” But he went for it, and made a Monaco board game.

“I’m gonna make that heist game in XNA,” he thought, and started working on it for fun. He started out by trying to use Torque, “which I think was a mistake,” he admitted “If you prototype in an engine which enforces a certain type of look, you’ll wind up making that game.” He made it just in XNA which kept him out of that rut.

“A couple days later, I’m having a great time working on it,” he said. “Another problem with Dinosauria was that the scale was too big. I was trying to make the game, the game of my life. … I think that was invariably a mistake. It’s very good to have ambitions, but it’s bad to set too many expectations for yourself at the beginning of a project.”

Monaco, which was initially his diversion, became a much better presence in his life. “I made sure to work on one cool thing every day,” he said. “One thing that made it happy, one thing that was awesome, and made the game better. I made sure I worked on one cool thing per day, and I made sure the game was better every day after I was done.”

“I got much further because I was enjoying myself,” he says. In terms of making the game better, one of the best things you can do is to “have people playing your game from like day two,” says Schatz.

“There’s two types of people you should have play your games, first is your advisors, and you can’t have too many of those because you’ll get conflicting information. For me very early on Dan Paladin from The Behemoth helped out,” he said. “He kept the game from being more cerebral, which is what I tend to do, and made it more arcade and snappier.”

“The other kind you want is people who don’t know shit about games,” he joked. “You don’t want their advice necessarily, but what you do want is their impressions. Their experience with the game, and their impressions are always right.” Schatz asks them three questions: “What did you like, what did you not like, and what confused you.” Those things are always right every time, he says.

Schatz had $150k in the bank when he went indie, and through the next five years, he had gotten down to $40k. “At 31 years old when you’re about to get married, and you’re thinking you might have kids in a few years, having $40k in the bank starts to look pretty scary,” he said. He had to do some contract work to build up his finances again, which he says “makes you rich, but is not fun. “

“If you work on a game that’s really cool, you’ll either get recognition or you’ll make money,” says Schatz. But if you make a game to just make money, you’ll either fail, or you’ll make money. “So the way I see it is that if you make a game just to make money, that’s actually riskier.”

At the end, Monaco made him less depressed, “The big reason is that I focused on enjoying my job every day. Every day I built something I thought was cool. Then 15 weeks later I won the IGF.”

When he got into a rut even with Monaco, he told himself, “You should not be not enjoying your job right now! Fuck it! Do something awesome. I made my first game when I was 7, and I’ll make my last game when I die.”

 

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