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Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes: The deadly combination of isolation and cooperation

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You and the bomb are alone together. The good news is that you're the only one who will die if you fail to defuse the device.

The better news is that your friends are speaking to you through a radio, and they have access to the bomb’s documentation. The bad news is that it’s still your life hanging in the balance.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a game created by three developers and a musician for the Global Game Jam, and the player defusing the bomb wears an Oculus Rift headset to isolate themselves from the rest of the team. The rest of the players look at a hard copy of the bomb’s manual, which is laid out almost like a logic problem.

The player next to the bomb has to describe what they see, as they are the only person who can "touch" or examine the explosive device. The team has to use those descriptions to decipher the instructions and tell the player next to the bomb what to do. It’s a game about communication, pressure, and the ability to work together.

It also requires a whole lot of specialized hardware.

You'll be the only one who dies

"The key to the whole experience is that one person feels isolated and in their own place, and the other players have no concept about what they could be seeing," Ben Kane told Polygon.

Kane was one of the developers who created the project and, although they didn’t start out thinking about the game as a commercial product, interest in a for-pay release has exploded. The team is discussing a possible next step towards turning their prototype into a full game. But it won't be easy.

"The bomb is actually fairly simple in the current iteration. It’s made of independent components that get randomly generated, so the bomb is different every time," Kane explained. "Within those components there is some variation on those properties."

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Designing a randomly generated bomb is possible, but the game also requires the use of a hard copy manual that the other players use to decipher the steps needed to defuse each version of the bomb. The challenge is to make both the bomb’s design and the paper manual dynamic. This would be easy if players used a device such as a phone or tablet to view the manual, but that loses some of the joy of the game.

"I personally love the hard copy concept, just the idea of having people huddled around a table, spreading out papers everywhere, adding to the chaos of it," Kane said. "If you had people standing around looking at their iPhones it wouldn’t be quite so interesting."

This is where the tension comes in. The player inside the virtual reality simulation has to examine the bomb and explain what he sees, while the rest of the team pores over the documentation for clues about how to successfully defuse the explosive before it kills the person in the room.

The game currently requires the use of the Razer Hydra, a now-discontinued motion controller for the PC, but that will have to be changed for the final release.

"The ideal way to play it is with some sort of virtual reality headset and some sort of one-to-one motion controller, like the STEM system or the Hydra," Kane said.

If you had people standing around looking at their iPhones it wouldn’t be quite so interesting.

"Having said that, if this ever does goes commercial, we’d pretty much be forced to support as many things as we could, keyboard and mouse support would have to be implemented in some way, or you’d never be able to reach a big enough audience."

There are interesting ways to do that without requiring virtual reality, however. You could even play the game over Skype: One person sees the bomb on a standard monitor, while the players in a remote location use only voice chat to explain the process needed to defuse the explosive.

A next-generation game

It may be optimal to allow players to use a mouse and keyboard along with standard screens from a business perspective, but the real joy in the game comes from the immersion of being alone in the room with the bomb, and that's a feeling that requires the virtual reality headset and the motion controls. This is the sort of game that causes enthusiasts to get excited about the possibility of retail virtual reality hardware in 2014.

The game requires a large amount of specialized hardware, but it gives players in the same room the illusion of being isolated, and the feeling that at least one life is in danger if they mess up. The player wearing the headset also has to deal with a high degree of concentration, immersion, and of the fear of what happens if anyone messes up.

In fact, Kane's original idea was to map the player's view to a physical object in the game that would be thrown around the room if the bomb went off. The result would be a first-person view of having their head blown off.

"People weren't on board with that," he explained. "It was a bit too grotesque."

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