I am a motherfucking Jedi Master.
I always knew this, but after spending an hour crushing my enemies solely with the power of my brain in the appropriately named, first-person smash-em-up game Throw Trucks with Your Mind … oh yeah. Confirmed, baby. The Force is strong with me. Moving and aiming in its open arena keeps to standard PC keyboard/mouse configurations, but combat plays out entirely on a mental level courtesy of lightweight, wireless, commercially available EEG headsets.
So yes, you actually throw a virtual truck (bearing a superficial resemblance to Halo’s Warthog) with your mind and crush other players with it. Crates, barrels, and cement blocks, too. But that truck is the one-hit-kill motherload.
It’s also tougher to move than anything else. Size matters not, but throw-attacks require your full concentration. Specifically, NeuroSky’s Mindwave headset reads spikes in your brain’s beta waves, and the game translates them into proportional telekinetic force. “It doesn’t matter what you focus on so long as you focus,” says Lat Ware, the game’s creator/designer. “It’s the act of giving attention to one thing and taking it away from everything else.”
Ware’s done exactly that to get his game off the ground, and it’s been a long time coming. A graduate of famed game design school DigiPen and an alumnus of developers Realtime Worlds (APB: All Points Bulletin) and Crypic Studios (Star Trek Online, Champions Online), Ware first came across NeuroSky’s brain-monitoring EEG devices eight years ago.
“NeuroSky did a demo of their headset using the Half-Life 2 engine,” he says. “They had cars and chairs, and you could lift things and push things. I thought this had the potential to be the best thing ever, so I went to the people in the booth and said, ‘When are you making this game?’ And they said, ‘Never.'”
Six years later, NeuroSky launched the MindWave, a commercial-market EEG headset. That’s what Ware had been waiting for. “I said, ‘OK, I’m making the game you refused to make.'”
Candidly, the game he’s making — on the cheap, no less, using Unreal Development Kit freeware — is seriously awesome, though it definitely takes getting used to. I had to figure out what to focus on and how to channel that focus in order to do some damage. Ware told me a friend of his with ADHD does math problems in his head to get objects rolling, but since math is for suckers, I ended up holding out a hand, Star Wars-style, to exert my will on the game. That worked just fine. With a mimed shove, I sent the truck smashing into my first unsuspecting victim.
I’ve test driven a few sluggish, dull games using biometric inputs, and they don’t even compare. Ware’s game moves and responds to my level of expectation.
And it’ a pure, giddy thrill when you launch something across the arena just by thinking about it. If that emptied Throw Trucks’ box of tricks, I’d still be fairly amused by it, but Ware’s building a much deeper experience that casual and core gamers can dig into … assuming Throw Trucks reaches its Kickstarter goal and actually gets made.
The MindWave also tracks alpha waves, so you also have to let go, trust your feelings, and use your calm to pull and/or levitate objects. I’m not exactly a serene person, but I didn’t have any problem picking a barrel (amusingly stamped “caution”) off the floor and keeping it suspended against the ceiling indefinitely. Still, that’s a party trick; when you’re in psychic combat, switching to your “pull” ability becomes a sneaky way to damage and distract enemy players by yanking a crate and nailing them from behind.
You can’t use your posthuman abilities on other people, just the objects in the arena. You can hop on the car, lift it with you on top, and throw it across the room. If you’ve got the brain power.
It’s insanely difficult to balance your focus and calm at the same time, much less max them out — I did it exactly once — lending a strategic quality to the mental warfare. Two status bars in the upper left track your alpha and beta levels, but nothing crashes your focus or your calm like glancing at them, one of several devious touches Ware’s incorporated. I got into several intense duels for control of the truck, turning it into a furiously twitching, would-be projectile as we poured energy into it. I also had to make a few fast deflections by shifting my reticule (and thus the force I directed) to one end of that monster when my focus wavered and it suddenly tumbled at me.
That was with only two people in the match. Ware’s planning for 16-player matches in the final product.
The possibilities for endless psychokinetic carnage warms my black heart. It’s not tough to picture multiple players competing for the truck from different directions while others go to the smaller, easier-to-control objects as distractors or multi-hit demolishers. Ware also has designs for modes like Capture the Fridge — also a one-hit-kill object if you’re willing to risk throwing it closer to the opposing team’s goal. A campaign mode fell to the wayside when his focus testers told him they really just wanted to throw stuff at people with their brains. Message received.
Of course, the big drawback is money. Throw Trucks isn’t finished and likely won’t be unless his Kickstarter campaign reaches the $40,000 mark. It stands at just under half its goal pledged with just over two weeks to go.
Ware has drawn some interest from the venture capitalist sector, but not enough. “The feedback I’ve gotten has been to prove user traction, then come back to us,” says Ware. “So with Kickstarter, I’m trying to raise seed funding and prove user traction in one fell swoop. If it fails, I can move on to the next project.”
On the consumer side, MindWave headsets retail for $80. Ware plans to price Throw Trucks around $25. That’s a big expense for one game. But it would instantly become the standout — possibly the killer — app among the fairly anemic selection of games in NeuroSky’s store. And it’s a lot more fun that the Star Wars Force Trainer, a successful $130 MindWave toy where players levitate a ball in a tube until soul-draining boredom sets in. If NeuroSky bundled this game in with the MindWave headsets, Throw Trucks with Your Mind would be a winner, period.
Even so, Ware’s the first to admit his game is a hard sell, and he’s right. Unless you’ve played it.
It’s not easy to understand the true appeal of Throw Trucks’ mind-versus-mind combat until you’ve actually sat down and dropped an automobile on your friend’s head. I felt the kind of power-tripping exhilaration I never got by, say, pushing a button to Force-shove Stormtroopers in a Force Unleashed game or even by using Kinect-based motion controls. I moved that truck through sheer force of will. That’s the very definition of an immersive experience.
Plus, now I am a motherfucking Jedi Master. Nothing beats that.