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Game Changer: Designing Co-Located Games that Utilize Player Proximity


Abstract and Figures

The Game Changer Suite is a collection of multiplayer game prototypes developed to explore cooperative and competitive gameplay in a co-located setting. In particular, the game mechanics employed by each of the Game Changer prototypes utilize the respective proximity of players to encourage them either to work together or compete against each other in different scenarios. Although preliminary gameplay analysis suggests that the utilization of player proximity is effective in fostering player awareness and safety in a co-located game, unintended player behavior was also observed that may require further measures.
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Proceedings of DiGRA 2015 Conference: Diversity of Play: Games Cultures - Identities.
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Game Changer: Designing Co-Located Games
that Utilize Player Proximity
Jeremiah Diephuis, Andreas Friedl, Georgi Kostov,
Poorya Piroozan, Daniel Wilfinger
University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria
Softwarepark 11
4232 Hagenberg, AUSTRIA
+43 (0)50804-22122,
{andreas.friedl, georgi.kostov, poorya.piroozan, daniel.wilfinger}
Game design, co-located play, player proximity
As games become more pervasive, leaving the living room and entering the public arena,
the sheer physicality of players takes on a more prominent role. Whether a massively
multiplayer hybrid-reality game, such as Ingress (Niantic Labs, 2013), or a camera-
tracked two-player competition, new issues arise that are largely unaddressed in the
design and development of traditional console or computer games. Although limitations
in regards to player speed and size, in addition to the high degree of variance of these
attributes between individual players, are to be expected and these can indeed lead to
some difficulties in creating a fair and balanced gameplay experience the combination
of multiple players competing and/or cooperating in the same physical environment
presents a number of interesting design challenges.
Playing games with others in the same physical space can offer several benefits such as
increased levels of communication between players and even foster sociability and
collaboration between unacquainted individuals (Machaj et al, 2009; Fischer &
Hornecker, 2012). However, in large-display and floor-based games in which an
immersive environment is created, specific problems can arise, such as the inability to
distribute attention over such a wide field of view (Feng & Spence, 2010). The presence
of other players in the same space can also easily block the view, distract or otherwise
frustrate other players, severely inhibiting cooperative gameplay (Diephuis et al, 2013).
The Game Changer Suite is a collection of multiplayer game prototypes developed to
explore cooperative and competitive gameplay in a co-located setting. In particular, the
game mechanics employed by each of the Game Changer prototypes utilize the
-- 2 --
respective proximity of players to encourage them either to work together or compete
against each other in different scenarios.
The general design process for public space games (and many co-located games) requires
the consideration of certain limitations that most games do not have to deal with
(Kortbek, 2008; Mueller et al, 2014):
The controller is the player’s physical body: Some players may be able to run
faster, or be physically larger or heavier. Thus, there are fewer constants, such as
how fast players can move in the virtual world. Also, although basic interaction is
fairly intuitive (players simply move their body to correspondingly move their
character), there are no unambiguous controls like button states to designate tasks
such as picking up objects, firing a weapon, etc.
Limited game space, virtual world: Although the environment for a public space
game can be quite large, it is usually constrained by physical barriers such as
walls or the range of a tracking system. Also, the mapping of the virtual world to
the real playing field can be quite tricky, particularly in combination with a large
display that may tower several meters above players’ heads.
Designing for a varying amount of players: Games that are played in public
spaces almost always require the ability for players to start or leave the game at
any time without creating a severe disadvantage to the other players.
Avoiding physical collisions: As the game pulls the attention of players from the
real world to the immersive virtual environment, physical collisions are a very
real danger. As such, efforts need to be made to make players aware of their
proximity to other players.
An examination of these design issues combined with a review of existing large-scale
interactive applications (Praxmarer & Wagner, 2013) revealed player proximity as a
critical design element. Although the use of player proximity as a central game element is
certainly not a new approach, particularly since the emergence of GPS and Bluetooth-
enabled smartphones (Lautamäki & Suomela, 2008), documented experience of its
utilization in co-located games is still fairly rudimentary.
To explore how player proximity could be utilized in a co-located setting, five game
prototypes were developed for a large-display environment with a focus on different
aspects of competitive and/or cooperative gameplay, both from an individual and team
perspective (see figure 1).
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Figure 1: The Game Changer menu (a) utilizes a co-located democratic
process to select each of the five games. Beelzeball (b) is a point-based,
360-degree multiplayer version of “Arkanoid-meets-Pong”. Fish Feast (c)
pits players against each other in the quest to become the biggest fish in the
sea. Both Tower of Power (d) and Fluridus 293 (e) employ team-based
approaches to collect resources; the former to build towers and the latter to
repair a spaceship. Swarm Defender (f) requires players to occasionally
join forces to destroy invading ships with the right color of laser.
The five game prototypes of the Game Changer Suite were tested over a period of five
days during an international media festival. Observation and post-game video analysis
from the testing phase corroborate the utility of player proximity in a co-located setting.
Additionally, some unintended but rather interesting behavior was observed:
In Fish Feast, players would frequently be so involved in trying to evade the
largest fish that they would inadvertently leave the tracking area, unfortunately
resulting in the virtual death of their fish.
In Fluridus 293, some players would physically surround and block an opponent
player from even approaching an available resource.
In Beelzeball, a few players engaged in behavior endearingly referred to as
“body-check-cheating”, in which they would hijack another player’s avatar (and
points) by physically occupying the same space.
In Swarm Defender, large numbers of players (>20) would occasionally
congregate, resulting in a high number of merged spaceships. In these cases,
personal distance was still usually maintained by staggering the positions of
players (i.e. players stood either further to the front or back to maintain their
In Tower of Power, some players would physically push away an opponent player
who had grabbed a bomb to prevent him/her from destroying their tower.
-- 4 --
Co-located games in immersive settings require specific considerations to ensure an
enjoyable experience. Utilizing player proximity as a key game element not only serves
to encourage cooperation and competitive gameplay between players, but it can also
foster awareness of other players, and thus, increase player safety. The Game Changer
Suite provides a working model for the integration of player proximity, but will require
further adaptation to deal with some of the observed unintended behavior.
Diephuis, J., Lankes M., Hochleitner, W. (2013) Another Brick in the (Fifth) Wall:
Reflections on Creating a Co-located Multiplayer Game for a Large Display.”
Context Matters!, Vienna, Austria, (pp. 162-167).
Feng, J., & Spence, I. (2010). “Left or Right?: Spatial Arrangement for Information
Presentation on Large Displays,” in Proceedings of the 2010 Conference of the
Center for Advanced Studies on Collaborative Research (pp. 154159).
Fischer, P. T., & Hornecker, E. (2012). Urban HCI: Spatial Aspects in the Design of
Shared Encounters for Media Facades,” in Proceedings of the SIGCHI
Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 307316).
Kortbek, K. J. (2008). “Interaction Design for Public Spaces,” in Proceedings of the
16th ACM International Conference on Multimedia (pp. 1031-1034). ACM.
Lautamäki, J., & Suomela, R. (2008). “Using Player Proximity in Mobile Multiplayer
Games: Experiences from Sandman,” in Proceedings of the 2008 International
Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology (pp. 248-
251). ACM.
Machaj, D., Andrews, C., & North, C. (2009). “Co-located Many-player Gaming on
Large High-resolution Displays,” in Proceedings of the 2009 International
Conference on Computational Science and Engineering Volume 04 (pp. 697
Mueller, F., Stellmach, S., Greenberg, S., Dippon, A., Boll, S., Garner, J., ... &
Altimira, D. (2014). Proxemics Play: Understanding Proxemics for Designing
Digital Play Experiences,” in Proceedings of the 2014 Conference on Designing
Interactive Systems (pp. 533-542). ACM.
Niantic Labs. Ingress. (accessed January 2015)
Praxmarer, R., & Wagner, T. (2013). Playfulness and Large-scale Interactive
Projections in Public Space,” in Proceedings of the 2nd International workshop
on (Re)Creating Lively Cities through Ambient Technologies: Arts, Culture,
and Gastronomic Experiences. No. 2013/3, (pp. 18-30).
... The basis for this thesis was formed through the development of five floorbased multiplayer games. Together, these games form the Game Changer suite [11]. It was first shown at the Ars Electronica Festival 2014 in Linz and afterwards became a permanent exhibition in the Ars Electronica museum. ...
... In large-display and floor-based games the players are often constantly moving around in the playing field. For example, most of the games in Game Changer involve fast-paced gameplay in which player proximity is a major concern [11]. For these kind of games the distraction through a second screen can even be dangerous as players not focusing on their surrounding might crash into each other. ...
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Playfulness and Large-scale Interactive Projections in Public Space
  • R Praxmarer
  • T Wagner
Praxmarer, R., & Wagner, T. (2013). "Playfulness and Large-scale Interactive Projections in Public Space," in Proceedings of the 2nd International workshop on (Re)Creating Lively Cities through Ambient Technologies: Arts, Culture, and Gastronomic Experiences. No. 2013/3, (pp. 18-30).