Some video games bring you closer to your friends. Spacebro Justice Rocket, a game made by Louis Sciannamblo and Nick Kornek featuring intergalactic buddy cops, is one of them.
Spacebro Justice Rocket is a cooperative video game that can only be beaten by buddies. Wearing custom elbow length blue gloves made of fabric and repurposed sensors from DDR mats, players are prompted to high five, knock elbows or pound fists in order to take down a giant robot skeleton. Players begin by high fiving each other in real life instead of pressing start, and even in a festival space like last weekend’s Gamercamp Level 6, it’s a demand that takes a while to sink in.
“It seems like with a lot of people it doesn’t really register right away that they’re actually gonna be high fiving,” said Kornek. “There’s this great moment every time. You tell the players, ‘When you’re ready, high five to start.’ Sometimes they’re just like, ‘Wait…’ and then they actually high five. Instant smiles. Like, ‘Oh my god this is the best.’”
“That’s been my favourite part so far,” he added. “Watching how people react to it and how happy it seems to make everyone.”
The power of supercool friendship and positive vibes goes all the way back to the game’s inception. Spacebro was born in Critical Hit Montreal, a summer incubator at Concordia University’s Tag Lab, or Collaboratory as it was being called at the time.
“Out of about a hundred applicants, sixteen people got in,” said Sciannamblo. “Over four weeks, among those sixteen people, we made seventeen games. Then we went ahead over the next six weeks to produce whichever games we wanted. That was how Nick and I made Spacebro.”
The idea for Spacebro came from one of the Critical Hit jam themes: bizzaro controllers. During a brainstorming session, one of the participants had suggested making a game that’s like greeting a friend with a jocular “Hey Bro!”
“He didn’t really know where to go from there,” said Sciannamblo. “So we started talking about secret handshakes and the gameplay that could come out of that.”
I played the game twice, first with Kornek and then again with Dork Shelf Games Editor Eric Weiss. Both times that vague idea – a game that’s like saying “Hey bro!” to a buddy – was actually tangible.
“I’m a big fan of games that blend cooperative and competitive aspect,” said Kornek. “It’s fun because it’s not just cooperative in the game; it’s cooperative in real life. If one person messes up the high five you don’t just mess up on screen, you actually whiff. You’ll completely miss each other and there’s this real physical feedback.”
It took Sciannamblo and Kornek awhile to get to that point of maximum fun. The fact that Spacebro Justice Rocket is festival-only has a lot to do with their trial and error process.
“At first it looked a lot more like a DDR game where you have stuff sliding down the screen,” said Sciannamblo. “The original jam game was on a horizontal plane where you were on the left, the boss was on the right. It looked kind of like an RPG.”
Kornek says the Dance Dance Revolution style, with a stream of prompts running down the middle of the screen, was too distracting for the players. People would focus too much on what moves were coming and not enough on the person they were playing with.
“We got the idea of moving the prompts onto the actual characters. They wind up for a high five and it’s super clear that you need to high five now.”
Having your on screen avatar show you what you physically need to do with your partner is intense. After a successful stream of moves, the cartoon spacecops do a little victory dance and at that point you’re so tuned in that the impulse to boogie along is almost too strong to resist. In fact, the two girls playing Spacebro during our interview did dance along with their characters, and it looked like they had more fun than any of us.
In the future, those kids might actually be earning points dancing along with the Spacebro cops. Though the game is currently in festival mode, Sciannamblo says that a home version of the game would ideally be made with Kinect and full body motion controls.
“That would be the best tech to make this into a ‘real game’ rather than a festival game,” he said.
Still, there’s already something special about Spacebro in its current iteration. Seeing two people you don’t know (and who might not know each other) enthusiastically doing secret handshakes is about as unique a gaming experience as you can get. When you’re invited to put on the glove and high five to start, there’s really nothing else like it: saving the world with nothing but the power of friendship.