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Dropchord continues the motion control experimentation of Double Fine

Dropchord may seem like a departure for the quirky, adventure and platformer-centric developers at Double Fine, but for Patrick Hackett and Drew Skillman, it's just the latest in a series of experiments with motion control.

The pair, who worked together on Double Fine Happy Action Theater and Kinect Party, began working on Dropchord as a fascination between projects for the studio. They have a fondness for motion controls, Hackett told Polygon in an interview at PAX East, and the discover of the Leap Motion Controller — a Kinect-like, flash drive-sized device which can sense movement in a small space in front of it — led to Dropchord's creation.

"We were messing around in our free time, just putting together little prototypes figuring out what to work on next," Hackett said. "Double Fine's always got 12 things going on. So we had this prototype put together that we liked, and we got in touch with the Leap dudes, quickly ported it over the weekend to Leap, showed it to them, and they loved it.

"It was a side project that turned into a project overnight, just because we hung out with the Leap dudes."

The game that resulted from their efforts is a dexterity-requiring puzzle game, of sorts. Players stick two fingers into the roughly two-foot sensor zone of the Leap, making two glowing spheres appear on the screen. Once players lock those spheres into place on the level's circular track, a beam of light appears between them, which players then must navigate around a series of obstacles that appear within the circle, potentially interrupting the beam.

There are nodes you can collect to increase your score, and hazards you must avoid, which you do entirely by moving your fingers around the circle and maneuvering your beam. Certain sections require you to paint large portions of the circle with your beam, which you can do by flicking your finger around its perimeter.

"It was a side project that turned into a project overnight, just because we hung out with the Leap dudes."

It's use of original music tracks for each of the game's levels led to some confusion about Dropchord's genre when the game was first announced. Though the circle's obstacles and pick-ups produce sounds which fit into each songs theme, it's not really a rhythm title.

"I've been referring to it as a music-based score challenge game," Hackett said. "It's very arcade-based. You have one life, you try to get a high score, and you progress like that. The difficult thing is if you say music game in our industry, people assume rhythm. There's not much rhythm to it."

Dropchord will be a launch title on the Airspace app store, the distribution platform for software designed for the Leap. It will also be on tablets and smartphones after its initial Leap launch; but surprisingly, no Kinect-based release plans are in the works.

"There's really no reason why it couldn't be a Kinect game, but the fidelity on the Leap is, like, 100 times better," Hackett said. "It's a much more contained space, a sit at your desk, play on your PC experience.

"If you were to do it on Kinect, you would literally be like this," Hackett said, sticking his arms out to the sides. "Not that it wouldn't work! It'd probably work fine."

Still, Hackett said he's more than happy to keep moving on to new motion technology as it's released. At the rate that particular part of the industry is expanding and innovating, the potential to create games like Dropchord is limitless.

"We've definitely talked about attaching to Leaps to both your hands, a Kinect in front of you and wearing the Oculus Rift, and what you could do with that," Hackett said. "But man, is that feasible? That's like, $800 in hardware alone."

"I don't know, I kind of just like watching this evolution happen. Being able to make games from the front line of technology is unbelievable. As this stuff gets built into tablets and laptops, and becomes more precise - it's not really about where the technology is going for me, it's just about, give me the new piece of technology. What new game can be made for that?"

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