It might have taken longer than you would have expected ten or even twenty years ago, but you can now use your mind to play a video game.
Haven’t picked up such a headset yet that lets you do that? That’s not surprising given all the major game developers aren’t that interested in the technology. That’s where a new Kickstarter for a game called Throw Trucks With Your Mind comes in.
To learn more about the upcoming game that is only halfway to its goal of $40,000 with just over a week to go, I spoke with the “mastermind” of the game, Lat Ware, over email. Here’s what we discussed.
For those that haven't seen your Kickstarter, what can you tell us about it?
Throw Trucks With Your Mind is about fulfilling childhood fantasies of being a Jedi and winning battles by having a stronger mind.
I have wired an EEG headset that reads your brain into a video game to give you telekinetic super-powers controlled with your thoughts. The core game mechanic is crushing your enemies by throwing cars at them with your mind.
The game is not purely brain-controlled. You look with the mouse, select your powers with the keyboard and move with the keyboard just like any other first-person shooter.
However, the strength of your powers is controlled by how focused and calm you are, which is read by the headset. These are independent axes. You can do both at the same time, but it is very hard.
Also, I made it so that your powers do not work directly on other players, going right through them instead. I made this decision because the core game mechanic of any first-person shooter is to look at the person you want to die until they die. There are plenty of games competing over that and I don't want to get into that mess.
Instead, I wanted this to be a game where you have to be clever and figure out how to use the environment to destroy your enemies. So, it's a game that rewards both cleverness and mental discipline.
Where did you first come up with the idea for the game?
The game came from a number of things.
The first of which was Star Wars. Who doesn't want to be a Jedi?
Another influence is some of the therapy I went through for my ADD. I have done neurofeedback therapy, where you learn to control your brainwaves. So, I knew that technology existed, but it had a lot of problems: calibration, contact gel and it cost over $10k.
Then, about 8 years ago, I saw a demonstration by NeuroSky of their headset rigged up to the Half-Life 2 engine. The headset itself was measuring how calm and focused you are without any contact gel or calibration. The demo had cars and chairs and you could push things with your focus and lift things with your calm.
Immediately, [I] saw potential for this game. I asked them when they were going to make this and they said, "Never. We only make hardware." Being a budding, young game developer, I asked them if I could make the game and they said that they would be happy for me to. Then they told me that the SDK was $5,000. Being a college student, my heart sank. But I kept following the company and 2 years ago, they released the headset for $100 a piece and I immediately started work on Throw Trucks With Your Mind.
It was just a hobby project at the time, but with the game in a demoable state, I quit my job 5 months ago to make this my full-time job. I tried to get funding from investors and they kept telling me to prove user traction, then come back to them. I also had trouble attracting the attention of incubators.
So, I decided to do a Kickstarter campaign to prove user traction and raise seed funding in one fell swoop.
Explain how the technology works.
EEG technology is basically a really sensitive volt-meter. It measure surface voltage patterns in your brain, which can be used to figure out how you are thinking. Figuring out what you are thinking is a much more complex beast.
Why settle on throwing trucks as the implementation of the game? Did you consider other game types before settling on that?
What do you mean by "settle?" Throwing large objects at people with your mind is awesome!
In all seriousness, I dabbled with a bunch of ideas, but violent, brute force applied by mental discipline was the most fun. You can throw smaller things in the game, but truck-sized objects are an instant-kill if they connect.
One thing I tried was having elevators powered by how calm you are. But people had so much more fun by standing on top of a car and levitating it with their calm. It was the same challenge, but framing a problem matters a lot.
I'll assume this game is safe to play, but I've got to ask the question since I'm sure others have thought of it—is it safe to wear that headset for so long and to use it in this way?
EEG technology is over half a century old and is well understood. It is completely safe, though it can be mentally exhausting if you haven't practiced before.
You've gotten a ton of great press attention so far—that's actually how I found out about you. Why do you think that hasn't translated into helping push you past your fundraising goal?
There are a couple of things hurting me. The first is that this game is the stuff of science fiction. It sounds like it’s 15 years out, even though it could happen right now. A lot of people do not believe that I can deliver on what I promise.
But once people play it, they suddenly become evangelists for the game. There was one blogger that I reached out to who stopped just short of accusing me of lying about everything in the Kickstarter video. I won him over by answering all of his questions, explaining the things that he perceived as signs of fraud (like how you never see anyone sitting at a computer playing the game in the trailer, which happened because it was reconstituted from playtesting sessions, with fraps recording the screen and my crappy cell phone camera recording their face, because that was the information I needed to improve the game) and showing him a video of myself, sitting at the laptop, explaining the headset, and showing him the game in action.
Another thing that hurts me is the cost of the headset: $80. Shipping runs pretty close to $20, hence the reward level for getting the headset at $125 ($25 for the game).
This isn't a game like FTL where you can put $10 into hit because you want to check it out and not worry if nothing comes of it. Also, people don't like to give money to things that they don't know are going to win. It's a good trait most of the time, but a fallacy on Kickstarter, because no one is charged if I don't meet my goal.
I think the other thing that hurts me is that I am relatively unknown and had little web presence prior to the Kickstarter. No one has anything to compare against except that I have worked at Zombie Studios, Virtual Heroes, Cryptic Studios, Realtime Worlds and IMVU.
Right now, you're targeting desktop computers for the game. Would you ever look at mobile? And why do you think something like this doesn't exist on console yet?
I really don't like the mobile platform. Hardware is incredibly fragmented and I don't like how you have to obscure your view of the screen to interact with it. Also, mobile games are great for 5-minute games like Angry Birds and Space Team. But actually doing something competitive that requires attention is better suited to a desktop where you can sit down and not be distracted by other things.
I would really like to get this to work on consoles, but that is an engineering hurdle that I don't have the time to address right now. Maybe something after launch.
As for why something like this doesn't exist, I think that there is too much focus on the educational and therapeutic side of things, or absolutely using all the features. It's really easy to over-complicate something like this. Gameplay is often best with simple rules that produce complex, varied behavior.
As for the therapeutic side, Throw Trucks With Your Mind is legitimate neurofeedback therapy. A quick Google search will show plenty of studies showing that regular practice with an EEG helps ADD, ADHD, anxiety and depression.
The trouble is getting people to practice. Therapy only works if you want to do it. I've focused on the fun side of things, which will keep people coming back and give them a reason to practice beyond self-improvement. Competition is a powerful motivator, and the multiplayer is all about being the most focused and calm player on the field.
I think this can do a lot for helping people with those problems while also letting them pretend to be a Jedi.
What else are you doing right now to try and make sure you hit your goal before the deadline?
When not talking to the press (I'm running an Ask Me Anything right now on Reddit), I'm going to entrepreneurial meetups with large numbers of people, setting up the laptops and doing live tech demos for 3 hours at a time.
Everyone who plays the game immediately becomes an evangelist and that has been the most effective thing I can do for driving donations.
VentureBeat's article has done a lot to give me credibility.
Getting as many people as possible to play the game seems to be my best option.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Running a Kickstarter is way harder than you would expect.