Alt.Ctrl.GDC Showcase: Mark Wars

The 2018 Game Developer’s Conference will feature an exhibition called Alt.Ctrl.GDC dedicated to games that use alternative control schemes and interactions. Gamasutra will be talking to the developers of each of the games that have been selected for the showcase. You can find all of the interviews here.

Mark Wars will have players drawing lines with markers in order to guide their ever-moving robot to a goal before their opponent can. However, as they take turns drawing lines, there is nothing stopping them from drawing a line that will mislead their opponent’s robot, creating a constant sabotage between players as well.

Gamasutra sought out the team behind Mark Wars to talk about turning a simple marker into a game controller, what this meant for new players, and the difficulties that come from using it as their input device.

What’s your name, and what was your role on this project?

Our team is composed of 7 members: Matthias, Pierre, Matthieu, Florian, Alessandro, Gaëtan and Louis.
We are all Game Design students from Supinfogame Rubika, except Louis who is actually studying  electronics. Each member of the team worked on different aspects of making the game (game design, level design, graphics).

How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with it?

Mark Wars is a spaceship race between two players where you must reach the Black Star before your opponent. You only need one marker pen. When you draw lines on the board, your spaceship follows it.

There are only two rules to play Mark Wars:

1. You can only trace one line at a time, anywhere on the pre-established board’s lines
2. Players draw a line one after the other

What’s your background in making games?

The team members are currently in school, passionate about game design. We create both board games
and video games, and we participate in game jams when possible, but this is our first attempt to create a
more experimental prototype.

What development tools did you use to build Mark Wars?

We used a software from Louis’s company, similar to Blockly by Google, to program and transfer the
behavior programs to the spaceship robots made out of Arduino hardware cards,. We also used it to create
the phone app which sends instructions by bluetooth and links the robots between them.

What physical materials did you use to make it?

Not that much ! To set the robots, we just needed Arduino hardware cards, a PC, and a cable to link them.
Once the spaceships were fully operational, we bought a lot of markers and whiteboards.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

We first spent a full weekend working on the concept with a first prototype, then the polish phase was
much longer, with a lot of playtests and modifications. In total, I would say that we spent a whole week to
bring a polished game experience, which still needs research and improvements, especially on the
ergonomics part.

How did you come up with the concept?

The first idea that came up was to make a game with a very simple controller: only one action is needed.
We had the idea of drawing early, and that made us think about the Loupiot, these little robots that can
follow black lines thanks to sensors. We wanted to make it playable by everyone in a few minutes, and a game that people could discuss later, talking about their race and what happened.

Accessibility was important to you from the beginning. How did that affect your work in designing Mark Wars?

As game designers, it is often difficult to stay with a simple feature. The key is to always stick to your  intentions, your controller, and remove any feature too hard for the player to accomplish or memorize.
People could think we started creating a simple concept and then add rules with time, but what
happened is the exact opposite.

Our first ideas included several color sensors to boost behavior, as well as add obstacles and specific goals for each player. When we realized those elements were not necessary to create fun, we took them out. What really makes the fun with alternative controllers are the players themselves and not the rules.

What difficulties did you face in creating a game controlled with markers?

The first difficulty was due to the robot. We wanted to add a lot of features on the hardware cards, but it
wasn’t possible: the robots were too heavy and the battery too large. In the end, those technical difficulties
helped us keep the essence of Mark Wars. A big challenge we currently have is to make the robots sensitive enough to black and make the lines less erasable.

Why choose to have player interactions controlled with something as simple as a marker? What do you find using something so straightforward does for new players being introduced to the game?

Drawing with a marker is as simple as writing with a pen. We often see nonplayers being afraid of
controllers full of buttons, but drawing is a daily action everyone is used to. With Mark Wars, we really
wanted to include a larger audience and share our passion through basic gaming emotions.
Players don’t have to follow the lines exactly in Mark Wars.

How do you think standard interfaces and controllers will change over the next five or ten years?

We all have different opinions about it. We all think there will always be standard controllers, because
players are attached to comfort and nostalgia, but we also have interests in the evolution of alternative
interfaces and controllers. Some of us think it’s about Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and motion controls,
while some others think standard controllers are going to be simplified, with less buttons and more
sensitivity.

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