GDC08 Challenge: The Inter-Species Game

SeaQuest Darwin

By Evan Ackerman

For the last several years, GDC has hosted the Game Design Challenge, where three talented game designers create games based on some sort of weird concept. This year, the challenge was to create a concept for a game playable by humans and at least one other species. The competitors included Brenda Brathwaite (the Wizardry series), Steve Meretzky (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Zoo Tycoon), and returning champion and the most famous puzzle game designer you may never have heard of, Alexey Pajitnov (inventor of Tetris). Read about the concepts, including paintball dolphins and killer mutant bacteria, and learn who won, after the jump.

Alexey Pajitnov: Dolphin Ride

Dolphin Ride

Dolphin Ride is an interspecies game that takes place in open water. The playing field is a cube of ocean 300 meters on a side, filled with virtual targets. Each team consists of one dolphin and two humans, a navigator and a shooter, and there are 3 – 8 teams playing against each other. The humans “ride” the dolphin in virtual reality, through cameras mounted on the dolphin’s back, and a server projects the virtual targets into the camera views based on the position and orientation of the dolphin. The navigator looks forward, and controls the dolphin through “heels” which emit “very low voltage” electric shocks (!), or through voice command (the dolphin gets a headset, too). The shooter looks backward, and has control over a paintball gun. As the dolphin swims through the real ocean, the humans will see virtual targets consisting of colored spheres 1m in diameter worth varying amounts of points. When the shooter fires at a target, the server computes whether or not a hit was made, and if the hit was valid, fires a paintball. This is mainly for the benefit of the dolphins, since paintballs can’t travel very far underwater. Targets can also be activated by the dolphins themselves, and the shooter is allowed to shoot at the opposing dolphin (!!) with the paintball gun (“killing” the other dolphin is worth lots of points). The winner is the first to 500 points.

Steve Meretzky: Bac Attack

Bac Attack

TraystationSteve started by looking for a big demographic, and he found it in bacteria, of which there are about five billion quadrillion. How do you make a game with bacteria? Bac Attack is a realtime classic strategy game of attack and defense. A petri dish is placed above a TrayStation game system, which incorporates a powerful digital microscope as well as a projector. Terrain is projected onto the petri dish, and the bacteria react to the different projected colors of light in different ways, either enhancing or retarding their growth rates. The human player uses the terrain to gather resources and build defenses, which consist of focused beams of microwave radiation. The bacteria will continue to evolve due to natural selection, automatically “leveling” themselves, forcing the human player to improve their defenses. Eventually, the bacterial will overwhelm the human player, at which time the human can sell the mutant bacteria to the biotech industry or the military.

Bac Attack

Brenda Brathwaite: OneHundredDogs


We’ve played games with dogs for, um, most of human history, so why not transition that into our digital, socially networked world? OneHundredDogs is an interspecies challenge involving 50 real dogs and their owners from every state, as well as 50 virtual dogs on Facebook. Over the course of 4 months there will be challenges in 50 cities for dogs and their owners (i.e. dog-based as well as owner-based challenges), designed to build local social communities of dog lovers. The winner of each local competition becomes the “alpha dog” representative of the city, and those winners become dogs 1 through 50. Those dogs then get a Facebook friend invite from virtual dog 51, and in order to reach dog 52, communities will have to work together within themselves and eventually with other communities to solve challenges, creating a huge real-world social network. Eventually, all kinds of dog and human skills will need to be combined to find the last virtual dogs, and when dog 100 is found, everybody gets a brand new collar. The real prize, though, is the communities that develop, as well has the fun that both dogs and their owners get to have over the course of solving each challenge. The fun starts on February 29; check it out at

The winner? Bac Attack just barely beat out OneHundredDogs, and the grand prize for Steve Meretzky was a pair of Playboy bunny ears.

[ GDC ]

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