Only one star ship remains: yours. Unfortunately, you’re missing some key crew members… actually, your crew is entirely captains, and one engineer. You’ll need need to work together to operate the ship’s weapons, shields, and thrusters to survive the dangers of outer space. There’s just one problem: the engineer can’t see the screen, so everyone will need to talk it out, FAST!
Too Many Captains and Not Enough Wire is a gnarly party game that involves wireswapping on a custom controller and chaotic communication between captains and engineer to safely pilot a starship.
The game invites players to immerse themselves in a high-stress, highly-collaborative sci-fi adventure involving a lot of novel and unconventional gameplay.
I worked with Avi Romanoff, with an engineering and HCI background, and we both took on fluid roles ranging from artwork, interface design, software and electrical engineering, CAD modeling, to physical fabrication.
Early prototypes of the game began in an experimental game design class, and we continued working on the project after getting an opportunity to present it in 2018 Game Development Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, improving the game, including making a new controller.
The prototypes were created for Paolo Pedercini's Experimental Game Design in 2017 at Carnegie Mellon University. The assignment was to make a game with asymmetric controls.
We did research on many relative games like Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and we were interested in the cooperation pattern of players having different but complementary controls.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Our initial game concept is piloting an alien starship: one player had to read the manual to tell another player the wiring configuration to activate weapons. We used a USB hub and colorful USB cables to prototype a controller, wirelessly connected to the game in Macbook.
In playtesting, we observed how people were satisfied with physical wire swapping compared with conventional interface.
The information of wiring cofigurations was only shown on game screen
In the next stage, we introduced more elements from classic space shooter games, providing palyers with a familiar game environment.
To improve the physical feedbacks while plugging wires, we replaced USB cables with audio jacks, building the first game controller which is totally custom.
Lastly, we established roles and responsibility of captain and engineer. The game mechanism was based on ruinning command structure by having too many commanders.
Controller made of black foamcore
Intro to the early version of game
iterating & playtesting
As long as confirming the mechanism was feasible, we started developing the game in iterative design process to make it approach a finished product.
Abandoned Idea: Charging System
We observed that captains' control sometimes became overly unbalanced: since few captains performed too boosily, others might mute themselves and become less involved in the game.
To mitigate the issue, we came up with the idea of the charging system to fairly share power with each captain. Captains had to pick ID cards before starting game, and they could use the cards to temporarily activate a sub-system for few seconds. In this case, captains had to work together to keep their orders achievable.
However, in playtesting, this new feature made the game utterly chaotic, so we abandoned it ultimately.
Prototype ID cards and the scanners
Playtesting charging system using ID cards
Making New Controller
We decided to build a controller more portable and functional and got rid of the original skeuomorphism design.
Moreover, we added an Intel NUC into the new controller to enable it to independently run the game with enough graphic capability.
Taking human factors into account, we placed the four sub-systems from vertically to horizontally and redesigned their pilot lights.
Drafting new controller using SolidWorks
Assembling controller case made of wood and acrylic
At the final stage, we focused on improving user experience before and at the beginning of the game since we defined it as a party game.
Sense of Participation
In spite of having discarded the charging system, we retained the procedure that all players have to pick their ID cards and scan them to start game, which could set a clear boundary between players and other viewers. Once holding an ID card in hand accompanying an assignment to a specific role on the starship, players participate more actively in game.
The final version of ID cards
Reducing Learning Curve
In terms of a party game, we set the expected game time to 7-10 minutes each round. It means the game sould be learned and start providing entertainment in a short time.
Using persona technique, we classified the possible players into three: experienced players, people who know a smattering, and others who know nothing about the game. The solutions we offered to the second and the third group of people are a redesinged game's lobby and a very short training video.
Redesigned lobby interface with clear instructions