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Reviews

Spaceteam

Andy Robertson

Spaceteam

Sleeping Beast Games

iOS, Android

Video-games are a strange animal, not least because they appear to ape other creatures when in fact they are an entirely new species. Spaceteam proves this point, apparently an 'app-ified' version of the Simple Simon colour matching memory toy but in-fact a study in how communication deteriorates under pressure. It is a free-to-play game for iOS and Android devices. By connecting multiple smartphones and iPod devices each player's screen presents a range of futuristic spaceship controls - buttons, buzzers, dials and the like. The challenge is to quickly press, turn or pull particular elements when written instructions pop-up on the screen. The twist is that instructions appear on one player's screen for another player's buttons. Players have to tell each other which buttons need to be pressed or settings set. Complete the instructions quickly and you progress to a more advanced level. Fail to fulfil them in time and the control panels start falling apart and must be repaired by the player while also continuing to complete ongoing instructions. A range of specific conditions add to the challenge as players progress through broken control panels, electrical storms, wormholes, and asteroid collisions. What starts as polite communication amongst the players quickly deteriorates into frantic shouted commands and frenetic taps and presses on the smartphone screen. This is amusing for both players and onlookers as it becomes clear that both listening and speaking is stretched to the limit. Entertainment is raised further by the technobabble names of each element of the spaceship panel. The serious and urgent nature that players inevitably shout their commands is matched with the comedic naming to great effect. 'Set Finite Plexus to 3', 'Baste the Emergency Whittler' and 'Set Capacity Omegasphere to 2'. Developer Henry Smith describes the chaos well. 'People start shouting because it's the only way to getting someone to hear your instruction. In harder levels, you basically have to talk over each other otherwise the timer AUGUST 2015 43 REVIEWS VIDEOGAMES runs out too quickly. It's just what you do in that situation - all hell's breaking loose - and you're trying to get people to hear your instructions.' What starts as a quick reaction challenge moves quickly into a study of communication under pressure. The most common reaction from a group who have just crashed out of the game is to try again with fresh strategies on how to communicate better. Some will plan to take turns to speak, others will suggest everyone avoids raising their voice. Another interesting approach is to pass a cushion around that controls who can speak. Younger players often attempt success by simply shouting ever louder - finding the excuse for verbal exuberance both entertaining and liberating. Spaceteam is a basic video-game by many measures. Visually limited and with only basic audio it is unlike anything you can experience elsewhere. It excels at being a video-game because it leans heavily on what video-games are - interactive - rather than adopting written narrative or filmic direction. Here we find something rather exciting about games. They are much less about being a medium like films, books and radio are mediums. They are more focused on the people who play them. Of course we know games are interactive, but rarely think through the implications of this. Video-games porously welcome players into their meaning making process. Spaceteam's simplicity uncovers the currency of games in general, people. Writing this down sounds like the sort of philosophy you would apply to a piece of art rather than entertainment. This may be true, but this art uniquely demands our engagement, our presence, before it gives up its meaning. So then what is Spaceteam about? For me it's about the conflict and violence inherent in communication. It creates temporary Babel moments, where language becomes confused and muddied, where even direct and elegant commands miss their mark in the midst of the chaos. It addresses the discipline of holding back what I have to say until I've heard and acted on what others are saying. This is my review of Spaceteam, although in fact like the game it's not entirely what it appears. More than assessment or score, it's a call to try the game with your friends and decide amongst yourselves what it's all about.