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.
Neck ‘n’ Neck sees a pair of players stretching and contracting a giraffe’s neck to avoid obstacles, racing towards the finish line while riding stuffed animals.
Gamasutra sat down with Erik Norstedt, one of the designers of the giraffe-based title, to talk about the origins of the giraffe controller, how the input design influenced the game they made, and the importance of keeping things silly with their unusual controller.
My name is Erik Norstedt and I was the product owner and one of the designers on Neck ‘n’ Neck. During production, I helped out with the art, but mostly worked on constructing the controllers. I also came up with the concept of the controllers and pitched the project in front of my class in order to put a team together.
I’m currently enrolled in a game design program at Uppsala University, Sweden. Before enrolling, I had not worked with any game development software (unless you count Little Big Planet’s level creator).
It’s a big plush giraffe that you mount and then grab its head and tail. You move the head upwards and the neck will extend, which affects the game in the exact same way, as you will see your giraffe on-screen extend its neck in a similar fashion. The tail on the controller giraffe is pullable, and when you pull it, the giraffe on-screen will react by jumping up into the air.
The game was made in Unity. For the art, we mostly used Photoshop, Illustrator, and in some cases, Krita. For audio and music, we used Logic pro and Reaper.
For the physical materials, we used a lot of wood to build a sturdy frame and we made the neck extend by using drawer slides. After we had completed the functioning controller, we wrapped it in foam to make it soft and safe from sharp corners and finally attached a fabric made to look like giraffe fur. It was a lot of work to put it all together, but It was a lot easier than getting two real giraffes and training them to race.
There was a big focus on silliness and keeping the entire experience really light-hearted. So, when we added an item that gave you a speed boost, we didn’t just put in a classic dash arrow. Instead, we made the boost item a hot chili that would make the giraffe rush forward with flames coming out of its rear end. The silliness of the controllers is at the heart of our game. It set the groundwork for the design decisions that followed.
In our case, we happened to design the controller before the game. The entire idea for the controller originated from a brainstorming session with a bunch of friends. We were preparing for a course that was rounding out our first year of studies at the Game Design program at Uppsala University. The course is called “Arcade games” in which you are tasked with creating a game with non-traditional inputs. A bunch of us got together and brainstormed weird and unusual means of input. One of the ideas I had was a joystick that extended and retracted. To better explain my idea, I drew a giraffe with a neck mirroring the joystick by stretching out to eat apples and contracting to duck under obstacles (I still have the post-it stored away).
Since I had come up with the idea for the giraffe controllers first, all we had to do was to come up with a bunch of games you could design around an extending and retracting mechanic. A racing game where you raced giraffes and moved their necks to avoid obstacles was the victorious idea.
The biggest challenge of turning a giraffe into a controller was hunting down an endangered species and stuffing it (haha just kidding!). No, but really, the hardest part was making the neck part of the controller match the avatar in-game and its neck movement.