Stephen Morris

Your Move controller is a six-shooter: Behind the scenes with QuickDraw

Your Move controller is a six-shooter: Behind the scenes with QuickDraw

Ben's note: Stephen Morris and I have been e-mailing back and forth, and he sent me a version of QuickDraw to play. I love games that not only encourage, but require, getting friends together in physical play, and these titles certainly fulfill that need. I invited him to share some thoughts about the game's creation, and to give us some ideas behind how th games came to be. Enjoy!

I’m standing back-to-back with a friend, straining to hear a church bell over the din of excited spectators. Dong. I take a step forward. Dong. Trepid step follows trepid step as I grip the PS Move controller tightly until - bang! - we both spin around to take our shot. I sink to the floor with disgrace as my controller glows red whilst my opponent punches the air in clear celebration as the crowd roars its approval.

Welcome to QuickDraw.

My name is Stephen Morris and I’ll be interrupting your regular broadcast to talk about a no-screen digitally-enabled game about shooting each other, and GlowTag, a game about slapping bums. [Ben's note: This may be a cultural thing, so I'd like to point out he means butts, and not the homeless]

QuickDraw is a gun-slinging homage to traditional Western films and Victorian pistol duels. Against the backdrop of a spaghetti western soundtrack, the goal is to be fastest straight shooter around.

Each player is given a PS Move controller and stands back-to-back. A thundering church bell is sounded and each player steps forward in time with the tolling. Only when the tension has reached the maximum level do the draw sounds fire. You spin around to shoot your fellow players, thus fulfilling the Code Duello.

Shoved into the light

It’s no surprise that I am heavily indebted to Douglas Wilson’s Johann Sebastian Joust - a game about pushing and shoving your friends. After watching countless videos of it being played at events like PAX, GDC and IndieCade, I was incredibly eager to play it but also for others to do so.

There was something special in the way people had begun to focus on each other. More importantly, there was no status quo, no cultural stigmas. It appealed to people from all walks of life and returned us back to a playground fascination of childhood fun. It was defining a new genre: digital folk games.

It was during the Kickstarter event that I extended an olive branch to Doug. As co-organiser for GameDev North here in the UK, I recognised it would make a great party piece for the 200 games industry individuals attending. Pooling our collective controllers, we ended the night on a high note with Joust, and developers contributed heavily to the cause - all willing to make a difference.

Global Game Jam 2013

It wasn’t until the Global Game Jam 2013 (a 48-hour development marathon) that I began to explore the PS Move controllers. Driving down to Staffordshire University, my old haunting grounds as a student, I had originally planned several nights of Joust-ing to relieve the intense nature of the jam. Little did I know it would act as a turning point.

Using the given theme, “heart,” I quickly began a crash course in physical local multiplayer and cranked out design after design. In all, nine games were created - some bordering on the cheeky-yet-socially-unacceptable, to the avant garde.

Finally, on the last day, delirious with tiredness at 3 AM, my friend remarked on how similar the PS Move controller was to a gun. A quick reminisce about spaghetti westerns and 30 minutes later, I pulled together the initial prototype for QuickDraw.

Standing around in a circle, we enacted a Mexican standoff as the cheesy western music played, PS Move controllers by our sides. Eyes began shifting left to right as we scoped our prey and the tensions rose. The randomly-timed gunshots were our cue to draw and fire. Much hilarity ensued and was responsible for the countless hours of lost productivity.

Researching the Code Duello

Buoyed with the success of QuickDraw, I began exploring further adaptations to the theme. ‘Outlaws vs Sheriffs’ was a natural extension with teams of players striving for bragging rights. But there was still something missing. Enter Code Duello, or “the code of the duel.”

Reaching as far back as the Roman ages, the Code Duello is a set of rules to settle disputes between two people. Originally fought with swords, it wasn’t until the 19th century that we saw pistols dictating the arguments. The description of noble gentlemen seeking to restore their honor is a powerful image.

Each party would load their pistol of choice and walk a set number of paces before turning to shoot. The more serious the insult, the fewer the paces. The thought of turning your back on the enemy was an experience I wanted to recreate.

In March 2013, I brought QuickDraw to its first public outing in Birmingham. I had already agreed to bring Joust but was understandably nervous. Would they “get” it or just smile and nod politely? After a few rambunctious rounds of Joust, I swapped over to QuickDraw and watched the crowds scream with delight.

Slapping bums

With the high tension stakes of QuickDraw firmly established, I was now keen to explore an alternate, and more frantic, sense of pace. I also had a deadline; the Copenhagen Game Collective, the birthplace of Joust and others, was to run a festival celebrating street games and the submissions were drawing to a close.

Returning back to my playground roots, Tag, Red Rover and Capture the Flag all hold a special place in my heart. The thrill of evading capture reaches far back into our primordial behavior and something I wanted to instill. Several prototypes later, still no success. It was a surprise friendly bum slap from a friend that made things finally fall into place.

Players place a controller into their back pockets, trigger facing outwards. After registration, one person lights up and is designated “it.” The longer you can avoid having your trigger tapped, the more points you win.

Of course, no one really knows who it is and a slow dance begins as everyone circles each other. The catch is, you can’t look behind to see if you are it. Only when everyone notices the telltale glow and fixes their gaze do you realize that you are the target. A mad dash, and hearts pounding, you can only evade capture for so long and the next target is randomly selected.

Playing with friends and making rules

Whilst QuickDraw is serene and tense with moments of elation, GlowTag is its younger cousin, filled with pure, unabashed fun. It’s highly physical with an emphasis on chasing and tagging the target controller by any means necessary. With both games however, there is a great deal of social interaction and player-enforced rules.

By reducing each game to its core rules, players can mould the games into their own unique versions. These modifications create a personalised experience that unfolds naturally as the players embrace that freedom. They can enforce specific rules and naturally remove the ones that didn’t work. It’s an effective ‘trial by fire’ method of identifying the most enjoyable parts of the game to make a greater whole.

Of course, the catch with games like QuickDraw and GlowTag is that you need groups of friends to play with and a large space. With this mind, they are being developed for Windows and Mac laptops, with controllers linked via Bluetooth allowing for play anywhere. We are also looking to release it via PSN. If you would like to play before it is released, QuickDraw and GlowTag are currently being shown at several festivals around Europe with further plans for the US.

Although folk games have existed for many hundreds of years, the digitally-enabled folk game era has only just begun with pioneers such as Douglas Wilson & Koho Abe. It’s an incredibly exciting field to be exploring and with hardly any defined rules, it’s a space that will continue to see new innovations and existing boundaries broken.