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Playing the Fool With Johann Sebastian Joust

As GDC 2012 kicks off, Johann Sebastian Joust designer Doug Wilson explains how we need more stupid in our games.

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If you watched our Big Live Live Show Live! last year, you witnessed Alex attempting to kill me during a game of Johann Sebastian Joust, a game from Die Gute Fabrik and designed by Doug Wilson.

Wilson had one of the first presentations at the Game Developers Conference this year, and talked extensively about the inspirations behind the still unreleased Johann Sebastian Joust.

"I'm not interested in how technology can improve games," he said. "I'm interested in how games can improve technology."

Wilson lamented over how seriously Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony take their individual pieces of motion technology, wishing more developers with embrace the imperfections of each device.

"Moving in slow motion, no matter what you're playing, is fucking sweet," he said. "That really is the inspiration behind Joust. 'Let's make a game where we just fucking move in slow motion.'"

He's right, you know.

"Despite all these promises and optimism, all of these technologies kind of [sucking] is the reality," he said. "To me, that's awesome. It's precisely because these technologies suck that makes them really interesting and fun. Part of the key is to embrace the set ethnological limitations rather than trying to fight them."

Johann Sebastian Joust makes you look pretty stupid when you're playing. Wilson loves that, and having played it for hours, I'm with him. Wilson believes we should look dumber when we play our games, since games where we look dumb often end up resulting in the players themselves feeling like bad asses and anyone watching is entertained.

"There's an aesthetic in imperfection," he said. "[My] games are deliberately messy, the technology is imperfect and [it's] really embracing that."

He pointed to one of his other games, which involved strapping a Move controller to your…butt…and a bunch of players acting like dogs. I should have snapped a picture.

Wario Ware Smooth Moves is Wilson's favorite Wii games because it embraces lunacy.
Wario Ware Smooth Moves is Wilson's favorite Wii games because it embraces lunacy.

"Tying a Move controller to your butt is just not what you typical do with controllers--it's not what they were really designed for," he said. "That's why these games are really fun. Apart from the game itself, there's something fun about using this technology in deliberately stupid ways that you were meant to use them in that kind of way. There is a joy in subversion."

Wilson didn't disclose any new details on when Johann Sebastian Joust might be released (I'm told sometime later this year), Wilson did say Die Gute Fabrik hopes to release a series of Joust-like games on iOS in the future. Die Gute Fabrik are classifying these games as Spielplatz, which means "playground" in German.

I can already see players uploading videos of dropping their brand-new iPhone 5 while playing the new release from Die Gute Fabrik.

Given how often these devices prompt us to endlessly shove our faces in front of their glowing screens, the promise of games encouraging players to physically interact with one another sounds welcoming.

"The only thing that Joust uses is this toy to detect if you move too much," said Wilson. "This isn't that new. We've all been enforcing rules when we play board games and sports for centuries. This is something we'e used to. The design trick is making the players think it's fun to improvise the rules, to enforce the rules, to improve new rules. We can't expect the computer to do everything for us."

Patrick Klepek on Google+