Julia Makivic

Julia Makivic

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 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.

This is a preliminary iteration of the Ghostboi game. The controller is shaped like a ghost and made out of silicone rubber. It contains capacitive touch sensors and tilt switches. Players move the arms and poke the eyes and teeth in order to control Ghostboi on the screen.

Research and User Testing

During the Work in Progress show, I had the chance to observe how players interacted with the controller. Although many players were able to figure out how to move the controller in order to play the game, other players didn't know how far they had to bend the arms and when to poke the eyes and teeth. It also seemed that poking the eyes and teeth made the game much harder for players who were not familiar with the mechanics.

This made me realize that controller was far too complex. In order to make an intuitive interaction, I needed to decrease the amount of inputs and to highlight the role of each input.

You can read about my improvements in the next iteration here.

Previous Iterations

Here are previous iterations of the Ghostboi game which feature an exposed wire as an input, and a cardboard pad with three seperate capacitive touch inputs. These iterations served as technical proofs of concept, which allowed me to see how capacitive touch as an input could be integrated into a digital game. It also allowed me to see how players interpreted the goals of the game and whether the intended interaction was clear enough.

Read about the very first version of Ghostboi in the Land of the Dead here.

Art from the game, concept art and installation pictures are featured below: