Spin the Bottle brings physical contact to the Wii U, and shows Nintendo’s new love of indies
One of the strengths of the Wii U system by Nintendo is the system’s GamePad. Suddenly developers have a way to deliver information to players without using the television, and this opens up many possibilities for play. KnapNock Games is known for its physical, sometimes experimental game play design, and their upcoming Wii U title Spin the Bottle lets players touch, look at, and sometimes manhandle each other… all with the TV blessedly removed from the experience. “The TV is this obnoxious little dictator in our living rooms that decide where we sit and what we look at, so turning it off will give the players freedom to sit where they want,” Lau Korsgaard told the Penny Arcade Report. “Around a table? On the floor? On the porch? In the bedroom? It especially gives us freedom to look at each other.” Even when players are in the same way, sharing games with each other, they’re usually all staring at the TV. It’s a social activity, but can often feel oddly alienating. “We have been playing games for thousands of years, where looking at each other, touching each other and talking to each other has been the core joy,” Korsgaard said. “I feel that we have given some of that away to the computers with the introduction of video games, but it doesn’t have to be like that.”
Roughing each other up
Spin the Bottle is a collection of minigames or, as the team calls them, metagames. The challenges often involve touching or looking at other players, and each game teams two random players together. Each round requires the players to work together to win, but after that game the teams dissolve. “This game play creates constant shifting allegiances; you compete with everybody else, but you can only gain points by tight collaboration with another player,” Korsgaard explained. “Some people might call it broken, but I love all the social dynamics and negotiations going on in games like these.” Each game is different, and they use the controllers in interesting ways. One metagame involves two players trying to hit a ball back and forth for 20 seconds, with only the sounds coming out of the Wii Remotes to guide them. In another game two players hold onto the same remote and spin around, mimicking the movement of a drill. When is the last time you, as an adult, got together with friends and spun around until became dizzy? Physical play is often lacking in our recreational activities as we grow up, and games like Spin the Bottle allow people to be pleasantly physical with each other.
Nintendo’s newfound love of indie games
This is the sort of experimental game play that is common in indie games and prototypes shown at industry shows, but to see a game like Spin the Bottle coming to a mainstream console, by Nintendo no less, is a welcome surprise. “Nintendo knew our reputation of doing weird, offbeat party games and hardware hacks and encouraged us very early on to do something for their new console,” Korsgaard said. Still, it took some time before they saw the innovation in the controller. Like many others, they had thought it would be used as just another tablet.“At some point we realized that the Wii U is not about hardware innovation, it is about social innovation. This new machine asks you to break up your normal social layout of your living room, where everybody sits in the sofa and looks at the TV,” he told the Penny Arcade Report. “The game pad brings something you can pass around, secretly look at, touch or listen to and all this creates a lot of new ways of interacting with each other. In fact, many of the weird party game prototypes we have made over the years, which made the players look at each other not the screen, suddenly made sense on a game console.” The screen in the game pad will give players instructions and show the results after every challenge, but it won’t give out any information while players are taking part in the challenge. This was intentional: Players are supposed to look at those taking part in the challenge, or each other, not a screen. The games were designed so players wouldn’t want to look at the screen during the play itself. Other small developers have praised Nintendo’s policies when it comes to games sold on the eShop. Smaller developers are allowed to set their own price and control the timing and pricing of sales. Nintendo has already said that add-on content and patches will be free for developers, which opens the door for games that offer ongoing support and content. “Nintendo messed up the worst last time around,” Mikael Haveri, a marketing manager at Trine 2 developer Frozenbyte, told IGN. “Now they really know that they have to make a huge improvement to get back into the game. What I have seen and heard so far is amazing and it's definitely going in the right direction as far as small developers are concerned.” The Wii U is an innovative system, and it may take developers some time before we see everything it can do, and the new types of games that are possible. Nintendo is doing everything it can to make its system attractive to smaller teams and indie developers by encouraging them to experiment with the hardware, and making the eShop flexible with pricing and updates. Spin the Bottle is just the beginning.