Beam Me 'Round, Scotty!

Gameplay Video

An archival video showing gameplay from all three versions of Beam Me 'Round, Scotty! (WARNING: Long but it covers most of what's written below...)

Background

Beam Me 'Round, Scotty! was a prototype game I developed as an experimental platform for my PhD. By developing my own game from the ground up, I had full control over every aspect of gameplay, visuals, sound, controls, etc. and could tweak each to serve any desired experiemental purpose. This was in contrast to many (if not most) Games User Research (GUR) projects I'd come across in academia at that time that instead used commercial, off-the-shelf games as platforms for running player experience tests. While that approach certainly had it's benefits (speed being foremost), it also had numerous drawbacks.

From a scientific perspective, comparing experimental results gathered using one game with results gathered using a different game invariably runs into trouble with confounds. Sure, we've observed some differences in the player experience, but was it because of our experiemental manipulation (e.g. playing with friends vs strangers) or was it because of the difference in visual appeal between the two games? The difference in controls? Players' prior familiarity with the game(s)? Narrative? Player "type"? And so on.

I designed, developed, and iterated upon Beam Me 'Round, Scotty! continuously over the course of my PhD and while all of the game development, learning, and skills development no doubt extended the duration of my PhD by many months, not only were my research results richer for it, I came away with a much broader set of game development skills and a deeper understanding of the finer details of game design.

With the exception of certain sound effects, which were borrowed from existing games (see if you can recognize which!), all design, code, models, and animations were created by me.

Gameplay

The core design of Beam Me 'Round, Scotty! centered around exploring asymmetric co-operation. One player assumed the role of courageous space captain Joanna T. Kirk who has crash landed on a hostile alien planet. The second player would assume the role of plucky spaceship engineering Scotty who, still safe on the orbiting starship, could use the ship's various systems to help Kirk escape.

The Kirk role was designed to be action-oriented while the Scotty role was designed to be strategic and supportive. Each role went through many iterations and explored many different facets of asymmetric co-operative play. Interested readers can read my actual PhD thesis but I'll share a general overview here.

BMRS v0

In early iterations of BMRS, Kirk played as a twin-stick shooter. Later versions of BMRS had Kirk playing from an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective. Scotty's perspective was akin to a real-time strategy game; detached, distance, and out of direct danger.

BMRS v1

BMRS v2

The second version of Beam Me 'Round, Scotty! was designed to directly address the impact of asymmetry versus symmetry on players' feelings of social connectedness. This version drove at the heart of my PhD thesis: everything else being equal would players feel more socially connected given asymmetric roles/abilities/perspectives versus having symmetric versions of the same?

Kirk and Scotty navigate a lava maze with asymmetric abilities/perspectives.

Kirk and Scotty navigate a lava maze with asymmetric perspectives.

Twin 'Super Kirks' navigate the same lava maze with symmetric abilities/perspectives.

Twin 'Super Kirks' navigate the same lava maze with symmetric abilities/perspectives.

One of the most prevelant pieces of feedback I received from players of BMRS v1 was the way Kirk's and Scotty's perspectives were tied together. The camera would primarily follow Kirk but Scotty players need to click on the screen (and thereby on the 3D world) to deploy their abilities meant Scotty's targetting was constantly and unpredictably shifting around based on Kirk's movements.

For BMRS v2, I took the opportunity to rework Kirk's and Scotty's perspectives. Kirk's perspective was shifted to an over-the-shoulder, third-person camera in the style of games like Dark Souls. Meanwhile, Scotty's interface was shifted to a newtworked tablet. This had the dual benefit of giving each player control over their own camera and widening the degree of asymmetry between Kirk's and Scotty's in-game perspective. Scotty players could no longer see terrain shrouded by overhangs (e.g. archways in the maze looked like solid walls to Scotty) and Kirk players now couldn't see "behind them"; increasing their reliance on Scotty's visual overview during hectic combat.

BMRS v3

The split perspectives of Kirk and Scotty in BMRS v2.

In BMRS v2, Kirk's perspective shifted to an over-the-shoulder, third-person camera and melee attacks while Scotty's perspective shifted to directly overhead using a networked, touch-screen tablet.