GDC 2012: The Word of the Day is “Proprioception”

Today at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco Double Fine’s Nathan Martz spoke about developing Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster for Kinect.

“The ability called proprioception [From Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own” and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement] tends to be poor in children,” explained Martz, “Which means they struggle with asymmetrical gestures and frequently confuse their left and right.

“We realized we had to do was add very forgiving gestures,” said Martz. This way Once Upon a Monster doesn’t worry if the child raises her left or right hand. Determining which false negatives kids are more likely to offer and developing around it, even against common Kinect development rules, was necessary. The natural relationship with the movement of the body had to be a bit forgiving, because kids move a LOT. Sometimes kids don’t always move the way they think they want to move.

Additionally, Once Upon a Monster was designed to be as Martz explained, “Friendly to the rhythm of family life.” This means something even more dynamic than your traditional drop in/drop out multiplayer. It meant that as long as the Kinect could see someone, you keep playing.

When it came to the tried and true backbone of Sesame Street, educating kids in an entertaining way, there were additional challenges. Figuring out how to teach age appropriate lessons such as ABCs or 123’s didn’t really fit with the game. Instead, Double Fine took a “whole child education” approach that tackles larger, stickier emotional issues. Empathy, sympathy; Dreams, hopes; Wants, needs – these are the elements of the puzzles the Monsters ask kids to help solve.

“Joy is worth it,” Martz concluded. “If we want to reach a broader audience, let’s make our games about feeling more than ‘fight or flight’. We have a finite number of ideas we can express in the time that we have, and it’s incumbent on us as developers to make those ideas count.”

“Do something worth doing.”