Week 4: Meaningful Output Iterations

Playtesting Whistle the Dots in class generated useful feedback and questions to consider for iterations of this and future projects.

In our game, two players provide complimentary inputs to achieve a fixed goal together. Eventually our playtesters figured out how to work together to move the ellipse to connect the dots and doing so seemed gratifying for both and also the audience. The role of the audience was an unexpected takeaway from the playtesting; we observed how they participated in supporting the player in the room—either by supplying additional input or empathizing with them. 

Some initial observations and reported player feedback included frustration at not understanding their input level at any given moment and not always knowing if the ellipse was moving in response to their input. Also, it was not always clear to players which dot was next in line.

Because our project utilizes sound input, it’s difficult for two players to occupy the same room without interfering with one another. What is the impact of being separated from the other person? What if they could see each other over a webcam feed or text through a message center? If we strapped lapel mics to capture directional sound, might players remain in the same physical space? 

During the class discussion the rules of interaction were clear to folks: players change their volume or pitch to connect the dots in a specific order. Players choose their style of expression (pitch or volume) and set their own range. The more expressive person differed according to our interpretations of each player—sometimes it was the volume person, other times the pitch person. 

Our playtesters reported a strategy of waiting for the other player to get the ellipse into an advantageous position before contributing their own input. Thinking back to the Crawford reading from September, what degree of interaction is involved here? Is it a low level form of interactivity because players are merely listening to one another by watching the direction of the ellipse (are you moving in the correct direction?) and speaking at the right moment (great, you’re in position so I’ll move part of the ellipse now)? With this strategy there’s no high-order or critical thinking involved for either player: each player is responsible for their part only and at the right time.

But what if there was no order to connecting the dots? What if the players had to somehow figure out which dot to aim for? This scenario matches the “speaking in one voice” improv skit we practiced in class in which partners figure out their collective speech together as opposed to contributing complimentary actions to achieve a fixed goal. How would partnering to figure out and arrive at a shared goal in the moment change the interaction? How would players feel about the experience? Might it give them a greater sense of meaning through their collaboration? 

Our project currently focuses on the expressive ranges of the players’ input. If we captured different kinds of data, such as content (words), rhythm, or changes in the rate of modulations, might this encourage a greater range of expression from the players? And what of the expressive range of the output? In Whistle the Dots the output is represented the same way for both players: through the movement of the ellipse. But there’s potential to open this up and explore a range of expressive output, too. What if the individual inputs were somehow represented or expressed, too?

In our group's post-mortem meeting we proposed changes to 1) make it easier for participants to play within the current conditions or to 2) alter the rules of interaction.

Whistle the Dots 2
Remix on Glitch

First we added volume and pitch gauges to provide users with more direct feedback and increase their awareness of how much their effort impacts the movement of the ellipse. We did not change any of the original conditions of the game.

Whistle the Dots 3
Remix on Glitch

Even though we were only suppose to make one change, our curiosity got the better of us. We created a competitive mode for each player to aim for their matching set of dots. No lines drawn this time, just a point for each dot you tag for your team. Players still control a shared dot but must consider offensive and defensive moves. To compare it to last week's improv skit: players share the same mouth to say different things. (Note: since this was a quick change, the scores are not sent through the server via sockets; each player should refresh their screen before play to set scores to zero.)

Whistle the Dots 4
Remix on Glitch

Finally, we ditched the dots and provided a provided drawing prompt. The goal is shared but players must negotiate how to arrive there together, even though they may be playing in separate rooms. (My cat above is looking out a window.)