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An asymmetric, cooperative team-building game.

Rickety Ship Simulator: Kickstarter Video

A co-operative, physical game intended to exercise team-building and teamwork skills, such as communication, co-operation, conflict management and self-organisation. The game features four crew members (a pilot, gunner, intelligence officer and engineer) piloting a spaceship through a dangerous sector of space, collecting resources and avoiding hazards.

This game is heavily influenced by the application of Tuckman's group development model and other team-building activities and theories, using the fast-paced, tightly-coupled nature of a video game to create dynamic, natural and unique problems, compared to more traditional installations with similar purposes, such as escape rooms. It targets specific behaviours and concepts possible in multiplayer experiences, such as distributed cognition, presence and communication, physicality and limiting player abilities, focusing on both physical and social interaction paradigms. This game also uses the asymmetry (distinct goals, opportunities and interfaces) of player roles to emphasise the different strengths and weaknesses of working on a diverse team. Intended for 4 players, ideally suited for smaller team sizes.

Technical Description

The arrangement of Rickety Spaceship Simulator features its four players, all facing towards each other in order to facilitate communication. The pilot and gunner roles share a large screen, linking their roles physically, as well as in-game. The screen is also close to the ground in order to remove any suggestion of a physical barrier between the four roles. Of the four roles, the pilot and gunner are standing and the intelligence and engineer are seated.

The gunner and pilot roles share an additional interface for switching between the gunner's different lasers and controlling the pilot's in-game speed, which is placed on a waist-high pedestal between the two players, such that both players are able to reach this small console with their off-hands. This console uses an Arduino Leonardo to interface with the game, which simply translates button presses to keys, unlike the Arduino Uno used for the engineer's console. An Xbox 360 Kinect is used to read the movements of the gunner's right hand, which controls a reticule in the game. The pilot uses a Wii Balance Board that wirelessly connects using Bluetooth in order to interface with the game.

The engineer uses a console built specifically for the game, which houses two Arduino Unos inside a wooden frame, along with several buttons, switches and potentiometers. This console is fashioned to have the appearance of a petrol pump, also known as a fuel dispenser, complete with its own nozzle that has to be placed into the relevant tank and squeezed in order to work.

The intelligence role has a small table with a computer monitor and a button, used to switch between the in-game ship's cameras. This uses the same Arduino Uno used for the engineer's console. The engineer and intelligence roles additionally have two "halves" of a repair manual, which detail the instructions of how to fix the ship in case of a damaged station. This repair sequence is fixed using a switchboard attached to the top engineer's console, which uses one of the two Arduino Unos in the console.

The game itself runs on a 2014 Mac Mini, which was selected due to its portable form factor as well as its wealth of I/O ports. The Arduinos and the Kinect connect using USB Type A ports, and the two monitors can be connected with either DisplayPort or HDMI. The game itself is programmed in Unity 2017 and runs as a Windows executable, and is designed to scale down to lower-end PC platforms. The Mac Mini itself runs the program comfortably at High settings. There is an additional script that needs to be reset whenever the executable is relaunched, which resets the connection used for the Wii Balance Board.

Final Statement

The public response to Rickety Spaceship Simulator was extremely positive; while it didn't win the People's Choice award, it was clear that players genuinely and thouroughly enjoyed playing the game, and more importantly, interacting, collaborating, and communicating to each other, creating positive and interesting outcomes that the team itself didn't predict. This included players exploiting the physical context of the installation, such as collaborating beforehand, swapping, cheating, assisting or temporarily taking over roles during the game. The game also brought strangers together - while not an explicit goal of the original idea, it was an outcome that the team was most proud of. It was also encouraging to see that the construction was robust enough such that nothing was broken to the point of disrepair throughout its multiple play sessions. From generally observing the usage of the installation during the exhibit, it was clear that the project achieved the goals originally set out by the team: to create an installation that facilitated, encouraged and improved team-building and teamwork, even if the traits or interactions displayed were often unexpected.

While the exhibit and the game itself was extremely successful, there are still many points of improvement that can be found after testing the installation with multiple new users of different ages, backgrounds and skills. These mostly involve the balancing of different roles, as not all roles (specifically the engineer) seemed to encourage the same amount of verbal interaction as others. Another further consideration is to make the game more accessible - there were several instances in which players would leave during the lengthy briefing session at the start of each play session. A final change that may be considered is to explore the use of scoring and how it was affected by the intended outcomes of teamwork and team-building, a question prompted by an exhibit-goer. Ultimately, while the core game and its outcomes are definitely successful, should the Rickety Spaceship Simulator team decide to continue working on the installation, it is encouraging to know that they are working off a strong foundation with a clear path for improvement.