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Interview With Opposable Games

Meant to be Seen is pleased to welcome Dan Page, Marketing Manager and Ben Trewhella, Managing Director of Opposable Games.  Having recently test marketed their Salvaged game on Kickstarter, Opposable Games is in the business of creating unique gaming experiences that often feature tablet and smartphone interfaces.  In the case of Salvaged, they are looking to do a unique mix of tablet interfaces and HMD VR support in a multiplayer gaming environment.


Hi Dan! Welcome to MTBS! Tell us about Opposable Games. How did you get started, and in your mind, what sets Opposable Games apart from the rest?


Dan: Hi Neil, thanks for having us. I've been at Opposable Games for three months now, and I've loved every second of it. I left a full time job at a great digital agency to start here, but it was an opportunity I simply couldn't miss. I've been obsessed with games since I was a kid, and I've wanted to work on them ever since, so I can't stress how happy it makes me, especially considering how nice the team are. My role here itself combines new business acquisition, marketing, events and community management, and I'm even starting to get a little more into the game design side of things. So things are certainly kept pretty interesting.

I think what makes Opposable Games so different is how the individuals in the team are so willing to adapt and how, in turn, that makes us such a flexible company. This last couple of years has seen the team create a toy racing game by the name of Clockwork Racers, begin our sci-fi tactical action game Salvaged and launch a companion game for a big TV show, Embarrassing Bodies: Angry Boils. We're currently working pretty hard on a serious medical game built for a university to be used in hospitals and we're having a lot of discussions about VR and how we can offer services in terms of architecture, automotive trade shows and other forms of 3D visualisation.

Dan Page, Marketing Manager, Opposable Games

As a game developer, what platforms do you tend to support? What is the appeal of these platforms for you?

Dan: We generally try to support as many platforms as possible, which of course has been made easier than ever before with the wonderful program that is Unity. Our focus on dual screens has led us to focus on a mixture of Mac OS, PC, Android and iOS. Having said that, we are in talks with console manufacturers such as Nintendo and Sony with hopes of bringing Salvaged to their consoles.


What is "One Touch Connect"? What does it do, and how does it work?

Ben: One Touch Connect is a Unity plugin we've built to make it easier for developers to connect and send information across multiple devices on a WiFi network. Some platforms (Apple in particular) make it difficult to seamlessly connect to other platforms, so one of the main uses is to connect iOS and Android devices for multiplayer games, but we also use it to create controller apps for PC / Mac games or other installations, particularly helpful where VR is concerned.


Can you explain how tablets and smartphones are used as interaction devices with some of your titles?

Dan: Salvaged turns a tablet or smartphone into a tactical screen, providing players with an overview of the current level's map as well as giving them a way to direct their team. This use of a second screen is vital to the panicked, unattached feeling we're trying to evoke in the game, helping to put the player in the shoes of their character; a squad commander whose input in the battle is restricted to these two screens.


Using a tablet as an interface is a running trend with your games. Clockwork Racers is a good example of this. Do you see the tablet as the core interface of your games, or could it represent one of many aspects in how a game is played?

Dan: There's all sorts of scope for using a second screen. While tablets and phones have indeed been a major focus for many of our games, there's nothing stopping us making a game where they're picked up from time to time, or creating something in which a second player can contribute to what's going on for the first. We've got a few ideas floating around but we'd rather not be too forthcoming with them before they've even left the drawing board.


What type of gaming experience can you offer with a touch screen that you can't with say a keyboard, mouse, and standard game controller? What kinds of opportunities does this open up?

Dan: What's particularly great about touchscreens is how adaptive they are; one moment they're an interactive map, the next a control panel or inventory (and so on and so forth). I think this is what's led to mobile devices being such a successful gaming platform. Being both a display and input device, touchscreen devices allow developers a level of freedom to produce for a series of platforms with only small adaptations.

Ben: The player also tends to carry a touchscreen in their pocket between main play sessions, meaning they can continue to interact with your game, manage inventory or assignment sub-games and engage with the universe.

Wii U Controller
When the Nintendo Wii U was launched, their big selling point was their new tablet-like controller that mixes with their Wii U console. Do you see Opposable Games' touch screen angle as a ubiquitous alternative for getting this Wii U concept on accessible platforms like PC? Is this concept something you see licensing out to others?

Ben: Yes absolutely – we're big fans of the Wii U, but it's probably fair to say that it suffers from a lack of titles that create new experiences with the dual screens. By opening up the same play potential to everyone with a touchscreen device and gaming computer we feel that developers will have more opportunities to try out ideas and find out what players want. OneTouchConnect is licensable to other developers, although we've been too busy making our own games to make this a well known fact.


Tell us about Salvaged. What's the idea of the game, and how does the tablet interface fit in?

Ben: Salvaged was a concept we started to circle around a few years ago during the development of one of our first games, Clockwork Racers. Myself and a few of the team were big fans of early nineties first person adventure games like Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, and sci-fi variants such as Captive. We were playing with concepts where each player had a first person view on their own tablet and a shared map on a central screen, but it wasn't very engaging until our design director tried to flip the game on its head by giving the player control on the map and watching the first person views on the main screen.

Suddenly we had something that felt very much like a classic scene in Aliens, and we knew we were on to something. We immediately realised that this was a big title and would require a larger development team than we had at that point, as well as connecting technology, so we began building the team via work for hire, and investing in OneTouchConnect.

Late last year we beat 97 other entrants to win the Sony / IC Tomorrow Second Screen competition with our Salvaged demo, which we've used to develop the vertical slice featured in the Kickstarter. As you can see from the video (and demo if you sign up to our forums) the tablet interface is used to command your squad around in real time, while you witness the encounters they make on the main screen. You can also manage inventory and set up your teams on the tablet, as well as manage your growing salvage empire and status with the relevant corporations between play sessions.

Ben Trewhella, Managing Director, Opposable Games
From what I've seen so far, the tablet is the interface, and you can see the squad perspectives on a single screen based on the commands you've submitted. So, the user is the commander who sends commands and hopes for the best. Have you been toying with the idea of one player being a commanding officer, while others are using different controllers and experiences entirely? How is Salvaged played in multiplayer form?

Ben: We've got some unique ideas for Salvaged multiplayer. The game features an infinite universe thanks to procedural content generation, and the Corporations who provide the player contracts (locations of space stations etc) will be providing the same contracts to all the players in the universe on a daily basis.

Each space location will only have one black box or other high value target, and these will be very hard to reach, and available only to experienced players willing to sacrifice a fairly upgraded team. Once they've acquired the box, it will be taken out of the game for all players, so there is a motivation to manage your teams' survival over a few missions and ensure they can make an attempt for the main goal and the huge benefits that come with it once in a while.

Everyone will of course still gain loot and items they can sell from every mission, and we'll be creating a persistent dynamic universe so that items will be sold to each other through markets that react to player fluctuations.

While players will not actually see each other in a play area, their actions will impact each other throughout the game. We hope that groups and alliances will form where players can lend resources to each other to make an attempt on the black box. Should we see a lot of pickup in the game, we hope to make a more traditional multiplayer version, where players can take on missions together, or one player can control the alien or plague races.


Your Kickstarter is promoting Salvaged as supporting VR through the Oculus Rift. Can you explain how you see this working? Can you effectively use a tablet while you are wearing a Rift and not seeing your hands? Are there risks for motion sickness if you are experiencing movement that is outside your control?

Ben: The great thing about Salvaged is that it's a sitting down experience – you play the commander of a scout ship who is sending commands to the RISC team on the ground, watching what happens via head mounted cameras on your cockpit screens. As such there will be no motion sickness, and in the VR setup the player will see both the soldier cameras and a virtual tablet laid out in front of them in the simulated cockpit.

Salvaged will be controlled either via mouse or by Hydras, with a cursor over the squad commander's expanded touchscreen replacing normal touch gestures.

Dan: We'd like to trial displaying a translucent hand onscreen and we may even employ some hand-tracking via camera, but it mightn't be necessary to do this at all. It's all about the testing really.

Ben: We have used OneTouchConnect to allow the player to use a touchscreen as a sort of trackpad over the screen, which seems to work, but it's actually a little unnecessary when the relevant visual data is being displayed entirely on the headset.


There is a definite appeal to making this a VR game; the spooky sci-fi environments for one. Are there technologies that have caught your eye beyond Oculus? For example, have you been looking at augmented reality technologies like Technical Illusions' castAR or Epson's Moverio Glasses? I could completely see this as an AR game where you can see the tablet, and you get motion tracked stereoscopic 3D visuals mixed around your room or even on the table in front of you, for example.

Dan: Augmented reality is certainly on our radar, and we've been toying around with the idea of making a Salvaged board game for a little while, given the resources, that could be suited to something like castAR or the Moverio glasses. We can't really say too much at the moment.


Speaking of Salvaged, it's fair to say that the Kickstarter is going to have to have another run to make its goal, though it's clear your game has been well respected in the press so far. Will Opposable Games be able to deliver this game regardless of the Kickstarter outcome? What did you learn from the crowdfunding experience, and what are your next steps?

Dan: We're still making Salvaged, although at a slower pace as we have to fund it via investment of work for hire proceeds.

Ben: Running the Kickstarter did allow us to gauge player and industry interest, which seems to be going pretty well. The main thing that hurt us in the Kickstarter was just not getting it seen by enough people. Of those that did visit the page or see the video via a news site, 3.6% provided a pledge, which was on average just over $40, which definitely makes the game viable.

Dan: We also learned that our suspicions were correct about going into a Kickstarter with a very early pre-alpha – don't do it. It might work for the odd title but you're always going to be limited to what you've got to show off, and in our case we feel the work wasn't quite at the point your average backer has come to expect.

Ben: The plan now is to concentrate on building the game to a releasable demo stage with more of the meta game present, this will allow us to build an audience and garner some more feedback. After that, we mightn't need to run another Kickstarter, but if we do we should have a larger following and gain more support in a second run.


What are gNATs, and what is their relationship to Bristol University and Opposable Games?

Ben: As well as developing games for fun, Opposable Games has built a number of titles that are used in non-gaming situations. One of these is in psychological childcare, and gNATs is a joint project between Bristol University (under the commercial entity HandAxe) and Opposable Games to create a product that allows children and teens to talk with their doctors about minor psychological issues such as OCD and Negative Automatic Thoughts. It includes a full 3D world with a number of characters for players to interact with, as well as a therapy model, companion app and administration system to be provided to NHS and private hospitals in 2015.

Immersive Technolog Alliance Logo

As an independent game developer with limited resources and time, why did you join The Immersive Technology Alliance? Why was this a good move for Opposable Games?


Dan: We're committed to being a significant part of the virtual reality movement. It's something we've been interested in for a long time both as individuals and as a company. In our eyes, anything that can help the industry to progress, bring people working in the field together, and further the various technologies is a positive thing.


Independent game developers seem to get the potential of immersive technology right away and are acting on it. In fact, I would venture there is much more VR content today than there ever was for stereoscopic 3D displays in general (natively programmed, that is). Why has Opposable Games and fellow independent game developers embraced this so quickly?

Dan: The obvious answer would be to assert that indie game developers often tend to lean towards left field ideas, but I'd say the reality is that they're simply a lot more open about what they've been up to than the bigger studios.

Since the DK1 became available I've read countless blog posts written by indie devs on various aspects of creating virtual reality experiences. I've played all sorts of free, fun experiments these guys have created and spoken to a lot of people about what they're up to in the field. The R&D departments of bigger studios aren't quite so open about their projects, which generally take a lot longer to create, so I believe it creates a slightly warped sense that it's just the indies making VR games.

My belief is that practically everyone that's picked up, or even heard about an Oculus Rift has been immediately excited about virtual reality. While there are still a few naysayers bogged down with the hangover from last time VR looked like it was going to become "a thing", they're in their minority. The majority of folks that try a Rift realise the technology is leaps and bounds beyond that which let the industry down last time.

To contradict myself entirely though, I do think the assertion I didn't want to make stands true; indie studios have time for making unusual products, and they're very excited about what can be done. Loads of us have grown up filling our minds with the awesome visions of authors like Philip K Dick and Neal Stephenson et al, and we're super keen to make them a (virtual) reality (sorry). Many of the bigger studios will be more comfortable developing products once they know how big the market is.


Ok! Last question! When can we look forward to a release of Salvaged? Any final hopes and dreams for immersive technology?

Dan: At the moment it's very hard to say when Salvaged will be finished. We will be as transparent as possible about it when we're a little closer to knowing as we've no desire to keep our fans in the dark.

Our hopes and dreams for immersive technology are wide and varied within our ranks, but what we'd really like to see, at least in the very near future, is for AR and VR to become as common in the home as televisions or games consoles.

Great stuff!  Thanks for joining us on MTBS!