This weekend, a video game made me realize how hard it must be to be part of the Voltron team.
I played a game called Shitty Voltron on Saturday. Created by Portland, Ore.-based game developers Jack Meade, Oliver Smith and Terence Lee for the Tinderbox arcade cabinet, the multiplayer game tasks four people with controlling separate limbs of a giant warrior robot.
Players angle the direction of the arms or legs with the joystick and three buttons contract or extend the limbs around elbow or knee joints. The only way to move is to fire thrusters. The team’s goal is to grab a super-sword and fly to the top of a hostile, pyramid-shaped spaceship before time runs out. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, since teammates’ lack of coordination sends the robot tumbling all over the screen. If the robot’s pratfalls destroy all of the unnamed city’s buildings, then it’s game over.
I watched multiple groups of strangers play Shitty Voltron and they all laughed a lot as they fumbled their way through the game. “For the most part, gamers don’t like talking to strangers,” Meade said, explaining the unscripted social comedy that happens during together. “Little kids are usually the best at it, because they just yell what they want people to do.”
I played one other game on the TinderBox, a multiplayer shooter/platformer hybrid called Mimic Arena. Created by Tiny Horse Games, it sports a fun gimmick that spawns a ghost that repeats a player’s previous actions every time you get to the opposing squad’s base. After the mimic spawns, you have to protect it from getting shot down; doing so earns a point for your team.
The TinderBox isn’t the first arcade cabinet that aims to bring indie games out into the bars, living rooms and shared spaces of the world. But Meade’s trying to pull together specific kinds of gameplay experiences for the machine. He told me that the TinderBox is his way of extending the lifespan and visibility of games created during gamejams. Lots of quickly iterated gameplay experiences thought up at collaborative design sessions don’t get the chance to find larger audiences. Meade says that he wants to reach out to anyone who makes a 4-player gamejam game to see if they’re like to be on the TinderBox Arcade catalogue. He’s currently got 16 games making up the catalogue.
Right now, there are only two TinderBoxes in existence: a prototype Meade made in his garage and the fancier version that he carted to Austin for SXSW, which was made by an outside fabrication company. Meade hopes to raise enough money to make at least two more TinderBox Arcade cabinets by the end of the year. Until he does, you’ll have to head to Portland if you want to be part of a Shitty Voltron team on a TinderBox. If you want to try it at home, there’s a free version of an earlier build of Shitty Voltron that you can download and play on PC.