Most of you have heard about J.S. Joust and want to play it (the few of you who have no idea of what I’m talking about, I suggest you go consume this website). If you want to live the full J.S. Joust experience, your best bet would be to travel to attend one of the events where J.S. Joust is demoed. But if you’re like me and have no money (and don’t live in a future where the game is already released on multiple platforms), you’re kinda stuck. However! If you’re willing to sacrifice some fidelity in order to get a similar gaming experience, let me tell you about my dirt-simple, dirt-cheap analog demake.
For 4 players, you’ll need:
- Around 1 meter of PVC pipe or any other rigid tube, between 1,5 and 2 inches diameter (yes, empty TP rolls work fine too).
- 4 same-size and same-weight brightly colored balls, not bigger than 3,5 inches in diameter. Ball pool balls are a great fit and are cheap and plentiful.
This is where it gets complicated so pay attention:
- Cut the pipe in 18 cm segments (that’s roughly 7 inches for you Imperials). Ask an adult for help on this if you’re not confident with a saw.
- Place one of the balls on one end of the pipe segment.
The main gameplay variable you can tweak is the ratio between the pipe and the ball. A ratio of 1/2 calls for a very sensitive setup. Playtests show that the ratio’s sweet spot is at 2/3 to allow some roughhousing.
Sadly, some original features of J.S. Joust get lost in translation:
- Ability to play with the controller upside down (gravity’s a bitch).
- Ability to dynamically modify the controller’s sensitivity to shocks during gameplay.
- Ability to make the ball change colors to give feedback.
- Ability to play in the darkness (included in this demake’s “premium” version).
In return for these shortcomings, this demake offers some interesting new gameplay opportunities:
- Ability to play anywhere, even in the absence of electricity.
- Gameplay area is no longer constrained by the Move’s communications radius – go wild.
- Ability to play with an infinite number of simultaneous players.
- Gameplay can now be influenced by atmospheric events – mind the wind!
- Ability to cheat.
The premium version tries to regain some features lost in the demake, at the cost of being more expensive to build. I haven’t tested all improvements yet, but these are the ideas I’ll be developing to refine the “emulation”.
One of the neatest side effects to the Move’s tracking ball is that it looks very cool in the dark.
The easiest way to replicate this effect is to use a cheap 9-LED flashlight. You can either put it inside the tube or just use the flashlight as tube, since they usually have a protruding ring at one end where a ball could rest. For this to work you need to be using balls made of translucent plastic (again, like ball pool balls), and voilà! Nighttime fun.
The original J.S. Joust loss condition is having your controller shaken over a given threshold, which means that players can try putting their controller upside down (or in any direction other than up) to protect it from other players. To achieve similar possibilities in my demake, the most obvious solution for now seems to be using magnetic force to bind the ball to the stick, thus keeping the ball from falling if upside down all the while allowing both to become separated if shaken strong enough.
Ideally the magnet would be hidden inside the stick, while the ball would have some small metallic object inserted into it or stuck to its surface. I guess the setup should not allow the magnet to touch the ball, otherwise they might become too difficult to separate.
Atmospheric events will still have a diminished influence on the ball, providing some dynamism to the gameplay.
If you manage to make the device gravity-independent (see above), adding a lanyard to the end opposite to where the ball goes will allow dangling it to attempt to reduce shocks.
We’re entering speculation territory here… There are various ways you could do this, depending on your tech solutions…
- To control the sensitivity to shocks of each device, you could maybe use a centralized computer system communicating by RF to each device. You could also imagine that each device varies independently its own sensitivity and tells the player (maybe dimming the LED lights when the system is more sensitive)
- Since you’re using electricity, use an electromagnetic coil as magnet and vary its intensity.
- If you’re using an actual magnet, varying its distance to the ball will vary its attractive power.
There is no practical, easy solution worth implementing that I can think of to mimic this behavior. Maybe you can?