Ben Kuchera

Four Move controllers, one laptop, countless bruises: we play Johann Sebastian Joust

Four Move controllers, one laptop, countless bruises: we play Johann Sebastian Joust

“The more I drink, the more likely one of us is to get hurt,” my friend tells me before finishing his beer and triggering his Move controller. A sound not unlike an igniting lightsaber comes from the computer’s speakers. The other three players, myself included, hit a button to activate our own controllers. We begin to move in a slow circle as the music plays. Our eyes are locked on one another. The light on the top of my friend’s controller shifts from blue to white. Shit. He darts at me, and his hand shoots out at my eyes. I try to block the attack with my forearm, but it’s a feint. Once I’m off-balance another player behind me shoves me with his shoulder and I stumble forward. A gunshot sound rings out from the computer and the light on the top of my controller goes from yellow to a bright red. I am out of this round. Johann Sebastian Joust is a game that you play using a laptop and up to seven PlayStation Move controllers. This isn’t a video game, although it uses a computer. Once play begins there is nothing to look at except the other players. The game is purely physical. The idea is to move at the same tempo of the music, and if your controller senses a sudden movement or jerking motion, you hear the gunshot, the light goes red, and you’re out. Your goal is to compel the other players to move their controllers fast enough to trigger that gunshot.How do you do that? By any means necessary, or possible. You can swat the controller out of their hand. Slam into them to try to knock them off balance. Shift your body weight to get them to try to avoid an attack that isn’t coming. The trick is to move and attack other players without tripping your own controller; the challenge is to unleash a large amount of kinetic energy with some of your body while keeping the hand holding your controller as still as possible. What contact is and isn’t allowed has to be agreed to before the game begins. The game can be as rough or as civilized as you’d like. The embedded video above makes it look like a civilized activity. We played on concrete as if it was a blood sport. “I first prototyped the game at the Nordic Game Jam last year. At that time, it was for the Wiimote. I quickly realized that the game would work even better using the LED light on the Move, and in May I got Thomas Perl's PS Move API working on my computer,” Douglas Wilson, the game’s creator, told the Penny Arcade Report. “We debuted the PS Move version of the game in June, in the streets of Copenhagen. Since then, I've been slowly adding new features and fixing bugs in my free time. I'm currently finishing up my PhD dissertation, so until now I've only been able to work on the game very gradually, on the side.” It feels like an unfinished product in many ways. It takes me a few tries to connect the Move controllers to my laptop using the included pairing utility. You can adjust the game’s settings using a text file and relaunching the application. We were playing with the invincibility mode on, which meant you could hold the trigger to turn on a short-lived blast of invincibility. You can then attack other players with fast movements. If you notice your opponent’s controller turn white, which happens when invincibility is triggered, you know they’re about to go after someone else. If you try to use that power and it has already been depleted, you get knocked out of the game. You can’t be afraid of other people and expect to win, and we play with four people in the back yard of a friend’s house, in the dark, with only the Move controllers and the laptop as light. We push and pull each other. We run when we press the invincibility button. Someone gets shoved into the side of another house. You have to be precise in your movements to win. The tempo of the music goes up and down, allowing you to move faster or forcing you to move slower. The controller vibrates in your hand when you begin to move too quickly, reminding you of your limits. This is a game that gives adults an excuse to rough house. You don’t apologize when you bump into someone, and we used our feet and legs to trip and attack each other. We made a rule about no hitting the genitals, but if you jerk your knee towards someone’s crotch, they will unconsciously flinch and move to protect their testicles. This is an easy way to get someone to lose a life. We learn to press the trigger to use our invincibility the moment we begin moving. This will keep us from telegraphing our attacks to other players. Alliances are made with the eyes, and four players became three on one in order to knock out the largest player. If you’re staring someone in the eyes, and nod towards another player, you may both decide to team up for a moment to attack that player, keeping your own controller as still as you can. Or you can double cross the other player and get a cheap win. I asked Wilson what he would like to do before releasing the game commercially. “At the very least, I want to add a bunch of different game modes and settings so that different groups of players can configure the game to their liking,” he said. “I'd also like to allow players to use their own music. For me, the Bach music is a core part of the ‘vision’ behind the game, but I also recognize that it's fun to experiment with different soundtracks.” My friends and I made up our own game variants. During some rounds we held Nerf swords in one hand and the controller in the other. This changed the strategy in many ways: Do you use your sword to try to hit the other player’s controller? Do you simply hit the other person hard enough to get them to block the attack and knock themselves out of the game? Sometimes the best thing to do is simply defend against other attacks, and wait for the other player to over-extend their movements and trigger their own controller to go red. We try a bunch of different game variants we make up on the fly. In one we lock hands like we’re in a West Side Story-style knife fight. You lose if your controller registers the movement and goes red, or you let go. I’m a little guy, and many of the other players were much larger, and I excelled in this mode by letting the weight of the other players work against them. You wait for them to move forward to attack, and instead of pushing back, you simply pull them further and wait for that gunshot sound. It’s unclear when the game is going to get a proper release, and I’ve been sworn to only install the program on my own laptop, but I can say that this is a game that people need to play. It’s physical, it’s exhilarating, and it gives you an excuse to rough house with your friends. When the music begins we hold our controllers behind us, our arms cocked at 90-degree angles. I wonder what the neighbors think we’re doing. At one point I accidentally jab my friend in the throat. During another round my finger is jammed. We’re all sweating, although the night is cold. We are all suffering from bruises and various small injuries. The music’s tempo increases. We attack.