by Danny Kim
Video games are generally considered products of the digital realm. Sure, we as the players press buttons and fiddle with joysticks, but ultimately, all the action’s happening in the digital space. Even with motion-based control systems like the Kinect and the Wii, their physical motions are just means to achieving a desired result in the game – you swing your Wiimote to swing your tennis racket in the game, and you move your arms in front of your Kinect to interact with something on the screen. The digital-physical divide has a particularly noticeable effect in social gaming situations where you play together in the same space as other people, such as a split-screen match of Halo with your buddies. Although you might be trash-talking to each other, the emphasis is still clearly on the screen and the game within it, not the players themselves or their physical interactions.
With Combiform, that’s definitely not the case. Created by project lead Edmond Yee (MFA Interactive ’12) for his MFA thesis and developed by a team led by him and producer Josh Joiner (BA Interactive ’12), Combiform is unique compared to many projects in IMD in that it isn’t just a game; it’s a full-on platform on which developers can create their own experiences. The system consists of a set of four wireless controllers connected to a PC via a dongle. Each controller has a button, twisting knob, multi-color LED, and accelerometer, but the coolest thing about the Combiform controllers is that they are equipped with magnets that allow them to combine with each other. The ability to combine may seem gimmicky at first, but it works with the other capabilities of the controller to open up refreshing new gameplay experiences. To demonstrate this fact, the Combiform team is working on a host of games that really showcase the unique capabilities of the platform, and I had the chance to check some of them out.
The first game I played was called Blow it Up. It’s a 2v2 game where the players on each team combine their two controllers and use the combined device as an mock air pump, moving it up and down in the air to simulate a pumping motion. The faster you pump with the two controllers combined, the faster your balloon fills up; if the controllers become disconnected, you lose air fast. The surface-layer simplicity here is deceiving, because once you realize that the core of the gameplay – said pumping motion – takes place in the physical world, it opens up some unique strategies that you can use to win. Indeed, while messing with someone else’s controllers might be considered a gaming etiquette faux pas in most scenarios, with Combiform and Blow It Up, karate-chopping apart the other team’s two controllers to make them lose air is completely normal. Continue reading…