18-player Johann Sebastian Joust! Yup, we made it happen.
Three armies of six face off in an epic battle. And there’s an additional twist – there’s one traitor lurking on each team! The traitors, though they don’t know who each other are, comprise a secret fourth team. A small rumble at the beginning of the round tells you if you are a traitor. It’s kind of like J.S. Joust meets the famous parlor game Mafia.
The suggestion to introduce backstabbing to the game came from my friend Manveer Heir. Partially inspired by some scenes from Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, I decided it would be more “epic” to have three colored armies, rather than an 18-person free-for-all. Actually, I’ve been joking about calling the installation “Johann Sebastian Bushido.”
Running a game with 18 Move controllers isn’t trivial. Not only do you have to track down that many controllers (luckily, my friends and I were able to pool together 25 of them), but you also have to overcome some Bluetooth hurdles. One computer can only connect about 7 to 9 controllers.
Fortunately, my friend Thomas Perl – the mastermind behind the PS Move API (upon which Joust is based) – was in town for this year’s Nordic Game Jam. Thomas wrote some code to network together three OSX laptops over LAN. Two client computers simply relay commands back and forth between their connected controllers and a master computer. We had actually developed this new technology for a brand new installation game that features 20+ Move controllers (I’ll write something about that game in an upcoming blog post), but we decided to first test it with Joust. Luckily, Thomas had abstracted away all the network code behind his existing API, so all I had to do was add the traitor mechanic and a few other small tweaks.
At about 4am on the Saturday night of the game jam, we rounded up a bunch of fellow jammers and gave it a whirl. Thomas’ new code was surprisingly stable, and the game itself was a blast! There was this one moment where I pushed a guy into two of his team-mates, taking out all three in one glorious triple-kill (you can see it in the video above). Ace!
In theory, given enough controllers and OSX laptops, we could scale up the number of players indefinitely. At some point, however, the game will start suffering from Bluetooth interference. But it’s not clear how many controllers it would take to reach that point. My guess is we could at least manage a 40-player game. Some day, I hope!
I may try to run the 18-player (or more?!) version at GDC this year. Stay tuned!
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with one last video – the very first game we played, actually. This round is especially exciting because it ends with my friend Rami Ismail defeating me with a shoe-throw. Well played, Rami, well-played.