Sunday 2 November 2014

Tap Happy Sabotage: Dash & Bash Edition hits GameCity Nottingham

This week I ventured to sunny Nottingham for the annual GameCity festival, which has been a highlight of my year since I first showed Greedy Bankers there in 2011. This year I created a new version of Tap Happy Sabotage as an installation for the venue.

It’s called Tap Happy Sabotage: Dash & Bash Edition, and it’s built for a room with four monitors and big bashable buttons.

While the original touchscreen game was all about people’s arms getting in a tangle, I wanted to build something that got people moving around a space with their whole bodies - possibly even tripping over each other!

Each player is given a card to look for. Your card will appear on one and only one of the screens. When you find that screen you need to hit the big green button below. The first person to do this gets a point, five points wins you a round, and three rounds win you the game.

Just like the touchscreen original, each round has a new pattern and objective. In some rounds you’ll be hunting for your card among a mish-mash of different cards on each screen. Sometimes there’ll be just one card on each screen, so you need to keep your eyes peeled and react faster than the other players.

You might have to find the one screen which has exactly three of your card on it. You might have to find the one card where your card is upside-down. In one round, bashing your card will force it to another screen. You have to bash each new screen it goes to until you have bashed it 16 times.

My aim was to give players frequent reasons to move between screens to force them into each other’s personal space - much in the same way as the card layouts in the touchscreen version force people to reach to different parts of the screen. The more physical they have to be the more they'll loosen up and the more they'll socialise.

The original Tap Happy Sabotage taught me a lot about pacing, and the importance of challenging a variety of skills. Give players a reactions-based challenge, then give them an observation based challenge. Fill them with adrenaline by making them run around and then give them around where they need to think. 

Switching between the different mindsets is a challenge in itself. It keeps players on their toes, building the sense of chaos that makes the game memorable. 

Not only do you get the joy of surprise this way, but you also create an opportunity for players who were behind in the previous round to prove themselves. A steady flow of surprises, and the sense that the next round could be yours to win, keeps players invested until the end.

The biggest adrenaline rush came from the “Find Your Card 16 Times” round. Bashing a button would move your card to another screen until you’d done so 16 times. It was a lot like a bleep test, except you had to keep on checking where you needed to go next. You also needed to avoid bumping into your opponents! 

This is the kind of interaction that would only possible in an installation, and why this project has been an absolute joy to work on.

An unexpected consequence was that observation challenges became more taxing when players were exhausted. Aside from chess-boxing I can't think of many games that challenge mental stamina like this.

To my surprise and delight, it gained a reputation as one of the must-play games of the festival. The local student newspaper rated it as their favourite game, and it's been picked out by fellow developers as a festival highlight in interviews. I feel like I have to pinch myself to check it's real, but I'm overjoyed to receive such an excited response to my work!

Being able to create something for a space like this is an absolute privilege and I’m incredibly grateful to the GameCity team for the opportunity. The organisers and technicians who put together the physical construction were fantastic, and the stewards did a fantastic job of getting visitors involved.

The GameCity venue will be home to the National Videogame Arcade from March 2015, and I can't wait to see what incredible things they'll be doing with the space!

Update: I put together some of the footage from the event into this short video so you can see it in action!