Interactive Playable Bottles: Tootman & Shipwrecked
I had the good fortune to work with James Wheale (director of Understory) and Pete Bennett (researcher in human-computer interfaces at the University of Bristol) on a university-funded project called Interactive Playable Bottles. My role was app programmer, Unity dev, and pixel artist. We applied for a funding grant from the Brigstow Institute which encourages cross-disciplinary research groups to expand upon prototype concepts. Our concept was:
“Toot & Play is a new way to interact with a bottle of drink. Blow across the top of the bottle “toot!” and interact with content on your phone. As you drink further down the bottle, different levels, actions and surprises are unlocked.
In addition to being a brand new method of mobile gaming, Toot & Play is being used to research how technology can impact on our drinking habits. Can we create a game that slows down your drinking? Can a drinking experience be timed to provide a unique experience? Toot & Play offers novel insight into these possibilities.”
We created two games to explore the ‘timing’ involved in consumption of beverages. The user only requires an app on a phone to register the pitch of the toot to play. The first game, Tootman, was an infinite-runner themed around New Orleans jazz and a Southern State voodoo aesthetic. Tooting on the bottle made the trumpet-playing protagonist fire musical notes into the path of oncoming enemies (such as Jazzpyres, flying skulls, and carnival slime monsters). Drinking a bottle down to a certain level and tooting would change the level that selected by the player at the start of the game. We had also planned to include other pitch-based interactions such as changing projectiles, enemies, and puzzle interactions.
We quickly learned (thanks to volunteers at the EWIG conference) that in making the main mechanic reliant on tooting, we were asking the participant to test their physical exertion too frequently. To ensure the game was engaging we needed enemies to appear at least once per 4 seconds. More than this meant the player would experience breathlessness and light headedness. An interesting solution to making the game easier on the lungs was found by the players themselves – more than one player joined in with their own bottle, thus making the experience multiplayer. We liked the social aspect of this discovery and think that it is important to explore further. We also learned that hygiene was an important factor in how we shared the experience with consumers – some volunteers were wary of sharing a bottle with others, especiallyif they were strangers.
The second project was Shipwrecked, a narrative experience that interlaces an interactive fiction with puzzles made up out of rotating concentric rings. Our aim was to integrate tooting into each puzzle, giving the player a sense of story progression as they unlocked memories told through a character’s monologue. We also planned to allow the player to interact with the objects in each scene using the tooting mechanic.
Shipwrecked contained many narrative and animated elements that made the rapid prototyping of the app tricky at times – it was easy to go outside of the scope of the original concept. In the end we were able to test the app at the Brigstow Institute showcase and found that the puzzles were the most engaging aspect, the lengthy audio was not supplemented with a predictable pattern of interactions, and that using headphones to hear the story in a busy environment (that we had hoped would not be a probably based on our tests in bars) changed the microphone input on the phone, thus making it harder for the app to recognise specific toots.
All in all, Tootman & Shipwrecked were well received by our peers at the showcase, and our collaboration with professors at the Bristol University to explore the psychological aspects of alcohol consumption was a very enriching experience. Check out the pictures in the gallery above to see how the showcase went 🙂