June 20, 2014 5:00 AM | Konstantinos Dimopoulos / Gnome
Alistair Aitcheson, the dev responsible for Slamjet Stadium and Greedy Bankers, has moved from iOS to Windows 8 and released the freeware Tap Happy Sabotage! for the biggest touchscreen devices you can find. A game that's been designed with frantic, local multiplayer in mind and can accommodate up to 52 players. A game that cheekily urges you to cheat, steal and play dirty for that extra bit of chaotic fun!
So... after you have a look of Tap Happy Sabotage running on an 88-inch touchscreen, here's what Alistair Aitcheson has to say on his latest game:
Why work on party games/big screen tablets?
I've been working with local multiplayer on tablets for quite a while now. It's been fascinating seeing what happens when, rather than dividing the screen into "your side" and "my side" you give both players access to the entire screen. Even if they end up getting in each other's way. In fact, especially if they end up getting in each other's way!
When I was testing out the multiplayer for Greedy Bankers vs The World back in 2011 I noticed players started to steal gems from each other's sides of the screen, dragging them onto their own. It was fun watching people cheat because there was nothing stopping them, and I decided to add a points bonus to every gem stolen this way. After that everyone wanted to cheat, and it was awesome because you'd get all these great moments of people pushing each other out the way and arm-wrestling over the device!
It's a really cool kind of play where the exciting interactions are happening outside the screen. When I found out you could get touchscreen PCs on Windows 8 (I've been developing on a 27-inch touchscreen All-in-One since September) I got really excited. You can fit even more people around them, and design games around bigger, bolder movements over the whole device.
Tap Happy Sabotage is designed to support as many people as you can fit around the screen. I've played it with groups of seven or eight people and it's amazing how quickly people will get competitive and start pushing each other around!
How different is the way you approach the design?
When you're building party games like this your focus is to create a memorable experience for a large group, rather than a test of skill or smarts. I want players to laugh, and to make each other laugh, and to go away with funny stories to tell. The game is there as a springboard for players to open up socially, not to be the centre of attention itself.
I try to make sure at each moment there's at least one underhand strategy a player can take. Each player is given a playing card, which represents them, and in the game they'll have to find it, hold a bunch of copies of it down at once, protect it, and all kinds of other things. There's this one round where this bad guy comes on and bounces around the screen and you need to drag your card out of its path. But you can also grab each other's cards and fling them in front of him, or hold each other's hands in place so they can't move until their card gets hit, for example.
You'd think this could get pretty imbalanced, but when you play in a group they'll balance it out for you. If one player's winning through foul play they make themselves a target for the rest of the group to gang up on! It's better than having a balanced game, because now you've got a villain figure, and all the creative strategies the group can conjure up to topple them. That's the start of a memorable story for them to take home.
People like being mean to each other, and games give us a safe space where we can express that side of our personalities. The design process is all about engineering situations where people can be mean in inventive ways!
Why should people really play Tap Happy Sabotage?
I'd like to think it gets at the heart of what makes play with friends fun. There's a growing movement for local multiplayer right now, and I like to think the game contributes to that discussion by asking "what if it we had genuine physical contact in our video games?" and "what if cheating was a positive part of gaming?"
I also want to show what's made possible by big-screen touch interfaces. Rather than simply scaling up tablet games, let's try to use everything this big touch space offers. The game works well on a 10-inch device, but when it's on a touch monitor or bigger where it really comes alive. This is an incredible interface for gaming that deserves more attention.
Earlier this week I got to try it out on an 88-inch touchscreen at the Microsoft offices in Reading. That was an amazing experience; it really gets you moving your whole body.
I understand these devices are relatively uncommon at the moment, so until that changes I'm trying to bring it into public spaces so that people can have a go. I've exhibited it at Pocket Gamer Connects, Indie Games Collective and GameCamp in the UK so far, and I'll be taking it to Radius Festival in London on Friday.
I like running the game as an installation at events, because you get a constant flow of new people. Some come with friends and some make new ones from playing the game together. Physical contact is the purest form of human interaction. It helps us build friendships and connect as people, and I hope my games can bring that to the forefront of play!