The 2020 Game Developers 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.
Ozone puts a pair of players in gas masks, tasking them with communicating problems about their partner’s breathing apparatus without being able to speak.
Gamasutra spoke with the development team behind Ozone to discuss the natural inspirations that came from the gas masks they used as controllers, the communication challenges that came up in using the masks, and the appeal of designing games built around cooperating.
Our team came together thanks to a college class on connected objects in June 2019. We kind of knew each other (well, some of us knew some of us) already, and we were nine in the team at first. The college class was a game jam; we had a week to create a video game we could control thanks to an alternative controller. At the end of the week, we had our first version of Ozone.
We loved making this game and when one of our teachers offered us to participate in the GDC contest, five of us accepted right away.
My name is Louisa, and here are the five people in our team:
Diane: Project manager. Born leader. She’s the one who had the idea for a game with gas masks. She manages the project and is the link with our teachers who follow the project.
Etienne: Hardware manager. Our engineer. Connectics and wires have no secrets for him.
Laura: Immersion and communication manager. Focused on the user, she operates to create a total immersion for the players and manages our social network.
Louisa: Art director and UI designer. Creative, her artistic touch finds itself on all our screens and in our communication, as she designed the levels of Ozone.
Maud: Developer. A true geek, she knows programming like she invented it. She is the one to talk to about coding.
We almost all have a certain background in making games, but not necessarily video games. Louisa, Etienne, and Laura have participated in creating board games or card games, and Maud has helped developing some small video games in the last three years. Diane is the only one who had never worked on a game before.
But for all of us, it was a first working on such a big project, and having it selected to GDC on our first try is really motivating and it gave us an occasion to improve ourselves in this field!
Ozone is an immersive game with alternative controllers: gas masks. It’s a cooperative game where, if you’re not in sync with your partner, you lose oxygen and die (but not for real, I assure you) – a game where your controller is your survival kit: your oxygen mask. As the human body is conductive, we also use it to conduct electricity between the metal parts of the mask and the computer – in a way, we become the controller as well!
Maud used Unity. This well-known software works in creating pretty big games, but is also adapted to smaller projects like Ozone. It’s a software she is used to operating to develop her projects, since it is easy and fast to create prototypes on it. Ozone’s first version was prototyped in three days.
The programming language used was C#, an object-oriented language.
For the physical controller, we have two gas masks with metal parts around the eyes, the nose, and the tube. Each part is linked with an electric cable to a Makey Makey, itself linked to a computer. We also linked a cable to the player’s skin so the electric circuit closes when the player touches one of the metal parts of the mask.
Since it all started in a game jam week in college, we had two constraints to keep in mind: we had to make a cyberpunk game, and we had to make it a cooperation game. The cyberpunk constraint is what gave us the idea of a post-apocalyptic world, and Diane, the project manager of our little team, already had the masks at home, so the idea of using them fell in our laps naturally. The game jam was also based on connected objects and alternative controllers, so it all came together pretty easily.
When we thought of using the masks, everybody on the team was immediately on board; it was original and a fun challenge for the conception. Using the masks is what basically gave us the ideas for the rest of the game, and we knew it was a way to immerse the player completely in Ozone. As games today use virtual reality to enhance immersion, we decided to physically change the players with the masks.
It was also a way to convey a message about ecology and air cleanliness, with Ozone’s post-apocalyptic world being based on today’s pollution.
As for communicating with the masks, it makes it harder to talk for the players, which makes the game more fun.
We did several tests of nonverbal communication (we placed the players on each side of a glass door so they couldn’t talk to each other – just use miming motions), to work on the best scenario possible and to see how the process could work. At first, we used post it notes to indicate the actions to take. Players understood they couldn’t hear each other, so they naturally started miming the actions!
When we added the masks to the process, knowing it would naturally block the player from talking and being understood, we didn’t have to add anything to further complicate the communication between the players. However we did have to limit the actions of the game to keep it easy to understand and to mime.
Players tend to want to yell or talk loudly from inside the masks, knowing very well it’s useless. They also tend to panic when the oxygen bar in the game lowers – the more it lowers, the more they panic, the more they make mistakes, so the more it lowers, etc. It’s pretty funny to watch!
As I said earlier, we had a theme (cyberpunk) and a constraint (cooperation) to work with. Still, even if it was at first a constraint, we loved having to work around cooperation. We were all more used to creating games about fighting so it was a nice change for all of us.
After the game jam week was done, we continued to explore this theme even if we could have changed it if we wanted, because it felt natural for us to continue to work on cooperation.