Johann Sebastian Joust – Folk Gaming

GDC was last week, here in San Francisco, and it was pretty awesome. Lots of clever people, interesting projects, and great discussion. I want to go over one of these interesting projects. I’m sure many of you have, at this point, heard about Johann Sebastian Joust. In case you haven’t, let’s go over the rules:

  • All players have a PlayStation Move controller.
  • If a player moves their controller too quickly, they’re out.
  • “Too Quickly” is dictated by the tempo of the music. The faster it is played, the faster people can move, giving them opportunities to be aggressive, or saving a seemingly doomed player.
  • The goal is to knock out other players, while defending yourself, and be the last person standing.

A demonstration:

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Categorized as a “Folk Game”, which may seem like a really strange thing to have on the PS3, Johann Sebastian Joust has received a huge amount of attention on the indie scene. Some of you might not even know what a Folk Game is. As a general rule of thumb, they’re games that are generally very inclusive, promoting other players to join. They can incorporate a large number of people, and usually have very simply rule sets.

Look at how simple this game is. It’s ridiculous. I’m not sure if I can even call this game clever. Clever might not be the right word for it. It is, certainly, very novel. With all the new hardware we see game console develop, we are finding that developers are beginning to think outside the conventional box. They’re less video games, and more “traditional games that are enhanced by video game hardware”. That’s a whole new way of looking at games, a way that’s not limited by the preconceived notion of what video games have been.

This is the sort of thing that, I think, is going to open a lot of eyes in to alternate ways to used input devices like the Move, Wii Motion+, and Kinect. Of course, equipment is a limiting factor. I don’t know anyone who owns a neighborhood’s worth of PlayStation Move controllers, but that doesn’t detract from the value of Johann Sebastian Joust.

A lot of times, I observe innovation in an area of gaming, and it’s clear that the game is a first step. That it’s pioneering new ideas, but that those ideas will be improved. Johann Sebastian Joust isn’t that way. It is a fully functioning game that is complete. I don’t think you can really improve on that design. You could give it bells and whistles. “After you get someone out, that player is immune to being out themselves”, or something. But I don’t think that that improves the gameplay any.

As a designer myself, all I can do is tip my hat to these guys. The game is legitimately fun, and it shows impressive “outside the box” thinking. Here’s hoping we see more hardware used to enhance existing games. Hide and Go Seek? Red Rover? Who knows.

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