December 1, 2011 3:00 PM | John Polson
The pairing of accomplished game designer Sander van der Vegte and game novice Han Hoogerbrugge of Submarine Channel was an experiment to see what would happen if a game designer and an artist worked together to further the idea of a video game. The team created four-player Kinect title FLX, where all players are bound together in reality, and they must sway from side to side to avoid obstacles and lean forwards or backwards to move.
FLX now is a 4-player only game that requires Kinect and a PC. When asked if any of those players could be substituted for AI, the team said they are looking into ways to change this in future updates.
Submarine Channel initiated this production, having convinced the Stedelijk Museum and Vegte to participate in the Split Second project. Hoogerbrugge has never designed a game. While Vegte has, this process and pairing were new for him. Showing FLX off at an art museum was also rather new for them both.
In the discussion that follows, these two creators discuss the reactions of showing the game at the art museum, the reasons behind joining the project, the inspiration behind FLX, experimenting in games, and even exploring the definition of a "game."
What inspired you to create FLX?
Han: After a lot of brainstorming (and testing and rejecting of idea's) Sander came up with the idea of characters being attached to each other with elastic strings. This was such a strong and interesting idea with so many possibilities we decided to go for it.
Sander: Han's art was my inspiration. I saw his work on a large video screen at a train station, and thought that would be perfect for a game. His animations are bizarre and funny. Having his characters in straight jackets and tied up to each other was something I think would be interesting to watch, even if you aren't playing. A game for a museum requires a different approach. Not only do you have an audience that is not familiar with games, you also want to entertain a room full of people. So in a way the situation of the event was an inspiration too.
Why did you join this project?
Han: Being involved in the creation of a game was on my wish list for quite some time, so when this opportunity came along I couldn't resist. Since my own work has a lot to do with interaction it feels quite familiar to work on a video game.
Sander: The fact that I could create a game for one of the most prestigious museums in Holland triggered me. A slightly uncomfortable situation, as it's an entirely new audience, but exciting and challenging nonetheless.
What reactions or offers have you received after the event?
Sander: Reactions from gamers were mixed, to be honest. They see the potential in FLX and found it interesting to play, but because the setting was at a museum a huge discussion erupted whether this was the right place for games to be exhibited. Films, music, art, pretty much every form of expression can be enjoyed in a city, yet there is no physical platform for games. I think that, despite the quality of FLX as a gamer's game, I'm happy it added new perspectives.
As for offers, other museums have been following the Split Second project with great interest, so offers have been made to display the project in other venues.
What messages would you like to tell the game developer community to inspire them to experiment in games?
Sander: Let go of standard rules and try something else for a change. FLX is unconventional and in many ways not what you expect from a game. It fuels the discussion what defines a game and I think it's good to question that from time to time. I have been making games for quite a while now, but through this unconventional project I learned quite a lot that I otherwise wouldn't have.
So how do you define a "game" and what did you learn from this project?
Sander: Defining a game isn't as easy as it used to be, but I'll give it a try. I think a game is an interactive medium with a small set of rules that offers a certain challenge. Or something like that. Personally I think the fun factor is of great importance, but there are plenty of games that proved me wrong.
The most important lesson for me was you can't please everyone (close call, though). I tried to create something everybody enjoys including an audience that was totally new for me, plus those who aren't playing, and as a result the game might not necessarily feel like a game anymore. I guess the production clouded my opinion. The comments made during the opening of the event made me realize this was the case. Scary moments. But the story has a happy ending, we're fixing this issue in the next couple of updates.
What do you hope to see experimented with in future games?
Han: Games that are directly connected to the brain and nervous system so you can really feel pain and pleasure without getting injured.
Sander: There are so many experiments done right now, it's starting to feel like experimental fast food. A lot of these games are very good, but also very shallow. It feels like once the trick has been proven, the project stops. I would like to see more depth in future games.