An Interspecies Game
This challenge raised the question: Why shouldn’t games be available to more than just humans? Indeed!!!
The challenge had only three rules:
1. The game must be playable by a human and at least one other species.
2. It can't be an ordinary game that's simply being played by an animal.
3. Special hardware to let the animal play the game was allowed, but couldn’t be the point of the game.
Alexi Pajitnov, Steve Meretzky and Brenda Braithwaite, all truly amazing game designers, more than rose to this challenge, expanding the boundaries of game play beyond the human race.
Alexi (last year’s winner of the infamous Needle and Thread challenge) decided dolphins as a species had a lot to offer… especially if they were saddled… and part of an augmented reality game where the dolphins in their water element provide the movement for humans virtually positioned in a cabin atop the saddle. The two humans on the Dolphin Ride “team” could administer shocks to different parts of the saddle to steer their mounts. Game play consisted of shooting targets balls of different colors, but the big win was when you shot the other team’s dolphin. It was hard to understand exactly what in this game was fun was for the dolphins.
Steve Meretzky used an extreme multiplayer game concept and populated a “TrayStation” with trillions of bacteria (after rejecting a game that involved larger and less numerous ants). In his BacAttack the growth of the bacteria becomes a threat that you can keep in check via microwaves. Surviving bacteria can mutate and evolve and may develop immunity to the waves. But the best part of this game is that the human player has the rights to any new organisms that come out of the game and can license or sell them to opportunistic biotech companies. Now, I am no expert on what bacteria consider fun, but I doubt they enjoy that lethal microwave death ray!
Finally, Braithwaite, the first “person of gender” to be part of the Challenge, chose a species close to her heart for her game design. Inspired by play with her own dog, she presented a doggie version of an ARG Facebook social network for the furry set.
Dog owners in 50 cities head to the site OneHundredDogs.com to get challenges for their dogs and themselves. Doggie challenges are based on normal doggie skills, and human ones on human skills. Completing a challenge gives points and access to more challenges, and the dog with the highest score becomes the Alpha Dog for that city. But the genius of this game is the network it creates for humans and their pets; and the last nine of the hundred dog challenges require dogs and their owners in all the cities to work together to complete the full game.
What was obvious from this very entertaining session was the unbridled creativity of the participants (not to mention the exuberant moderation by Eric Zimmerman). I could see myself playing each of these games should they ever be made. The first game was very competitive, even to the death (well, maybe I wouldn’t go THAT far), and the second more like a god game with a defenseless opponent (did the bacteria even have a chance to ‘win’?). Only OneHundredDogs offered undisputed fun to the other species, in a spirit of true interspecies cooperation. Now cooperative game play is just not as widespread as the competitive genres, so it was refreshing to see it still exists and can provide enjoyable play.
Of course, the challenge had to have a winner, decided by a boisterous audience vote. It was a near tie between Meretzky and Braithwaite, requiring a second vote, where BacAttack won by a slim margin. This panel was one of the highlights of GDC for me. Not only were my own concepts of what games and game players could be greatly expanded, it was also great fun to see these awesome designers apply their talents to such an exotic challenge.