In Spaceteam, yelling at your friends is not only acceptable, it's encouraged.
Indie developer Henry Smith's space themed, cooperative screaming match is one of eight finalists in IGF 2012's Nuovo category which honors abstract or unusual games. As a team of two to four, Spaceteam players rattle off orders to each other while trying to escape an exploding star. Smith's goal was to create an asymmetric multiplayer with the feel of a board game. As a result, each person has a different control panel and therefore a unique role to play.
The idea, Smith said, came to him in a dream.
"A dream [is] kind of cliché," Smith said. "The idea of seeing something on one screen and something else on the other and your team having to respond to it — I had a weird dream when I was playing a game like that. It was a pretty bad game, but it gave me the idea to do something about that."
Smith isn't new to the gaming world by any means. In 2012, he quit his job as a BioWare programmer to pursue his own work. Prior to that, he worked on Dead Space 2 for Electronic Arts and Irrational Games for a canceled project. Spaceteam wasn't the game Smith set out to make. Instead, it began as practice project for Smith to experiment with iPhone and iPad app development.
When crafting the game's universe, Smith pulled inspiration from many sci-fi sources, including Doctor Who, Red Dwarf and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But the Spaceteam's biggest inspiration came from a board game called "Space Alert." As interstellar explorers, players survey the galaxy and stamp out problems as they arise.
"[Space Alert] has a lot of the same humor and chaos," Smith said. "I also really like the idea of people shouting ridiculous things to each other while playing ... Techno babble has this kind of place in our culture, where everyone sort of knows what it is. So a space ship and shouting crazy science fiction terms at each other, everyone understands that. It seemed like a natural fit."
Spaceteam's techno babble came from a random name generator Smith intended to use for another game. Shouting, too, wasn't originally part of his game's design, but more it became inevitable. People are shy the first time they play, Smith said, but eventually they're yelling along with the best of them.
"It just came out as the levels get harder," Smith said. "People start shouting because it's the only way to getting someone to hear your instruction. In harder levels, you basically have to talk over each other otherwise the timer runs out to quickly ... it's just what you do in that situation-all hell's breaking loose, and you're trying to get people to hear your instructions."
As far as Smith's IGF nomination on his first solo project, it's been a validating experience for him. Of all the categories Spaceteam could fit into, Nuovo makes the most sense, Smith said. The game's use of familiar themes rules out from being too weird for him, but the way players act is outside the usual realm of gaming — something Smith hopes to see more of in the future.
"It's not just pushing buttons or staring at screens without interacting with anyone," Smith said. "There haven't been a lot of games like that, which is one of the reasons I wanted to try it. I'm hoping to see a lot more social games like that. Players sitting round a table or a couch, more like a board game."
Spaceteam is a finalist for the Nuovo Award. The Independent Games Festival will take place during the 2013 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco from March 25 through 29.
Polygon will be speaking with the IGF's student showcase winners and Nuovo Award finalists almost daily for the month of March. Follow along with their stories in our StoryStream below.