Ghostboi in the Land of the Dead
Ghostboi in the Land of the Dead is a physical, alternative controller narrative game. It explores themes of nostalgia, mortality and haunting using colorful design and cute characters. The gameplay centers on controlling Ghostboi’s earthly vestiges, allowing him to once again feel the various highs and lows of mortal experiences as he tries to understand his new place in the afterlife. The game consists of a controller that represents Ghostboi’s remains and a display that depicts Ghostboi in the afterlife. The controller contains a variety of touch sensors and materials that are meant to evoke certain emotions. The user’s interaction with the vestiges will affect how Ghostboi feels in the afterlife and will be represented on the display.
The development process of this game reveals how alternative controllers, touch, materials and tactility can be used to create mechanics and emotionally engaging and embodied narrative experiences in gaming. The development of tactile machine interfaces approached touch interactions from a clinical standpoint and misused the touch organ as a site of remediating audio and visual data. As a result, the developers of these technologies overlooked how the skin organ could be activated as a site of transferring affective and emotional information with a computational system. Alternative game controllers which employ tactility as a core mechanic show how the affective qualities of the touch sense can be used to interface with a computational system and to communicate feelings and emotional information.
Research and Testing
Based off of my experience watching users interact with the previous prototype, I chose to remove the capacitive touch sensors in the eyes and teeth in order to make the game play easier. As a game designer, guaging the difficulty of a game is challenging because I spend months developing the controls and playing the game. Therefore, I’m an “expert” player while the people I show it to will be playing it for the first time and do not know how everything works. I think that this iteration of Ghostboi proved to be too difficult for the public at large, although some experienced gamers were able to figure out how to use it pretty quickly.
I noted that some people were hesitant to pick up the controller unless they were specifically prompted by me. A few others were not comfortable with bendind and contorting the controller as much as was need to move Ghostboi, unless prompted by me to do so. However, many others were eager to do so and figured out how to use it with minimal guidance for me. Overall, I found that it was much clearer to use this controller than it was to use “Void of Memory”. Also, the audience responded well to the haptic feedback I included in the controller. The vibrating sensation emphasized the sense of discomfort happening on the screen.
I am quite excited to take Ghostboi to gaming-centered exhibitions in order to see what the audience reaction will be like and to see whether the crowd over there is as hesitant to pick up the controller on their own and how much guidance they need from me before they figure out how to use it.
Below are sprites from the final Ghostboi iteration:
Ghostboi in the Land of the Dead has gone through several iterations in its development process. Below are some videos of previous playtests:
Before I turned to silicone, I made a cardboard controller embedded with capacitive touch sensors:
Here is some concept art I made for the game:
Below are some sprites and backgrounds from previous iterations: