The killing floor of PAX: welcome to 18-player Johann Sebastian Joust, complete with traitors
Johann Sebastian Joust, played at the higher levels, can turn everyone into a dancer. Every man who picks up a Move controller and understands the mechanic of appropriate speed, while trying to knock out his opponents, begins to move with more grace. Every woman who learns to evade while keeping the door open for attacks becomes a ballerina.
The game is not available for sale to the public, but creator Douglas Wilson is hoping to change at some point in the near future. “I really need to release this,” he told me while packing up the controllers and laptops at the end of the night. You'll hear no argument from anyone who has been lucky enough to play the game.
Joust is a game that has become nearly legendary at gaming events, and this was our chance to take over a small part of PAX Prime in order to share the game. We cleared out a large section of the queue room, where people wait to watch the larger presentations, after the show floor had shut down.
Wilson had reportedly created a small sign in his booth to advertise the event. An hour before it began we both tweeted the location and time, inviting anyone who would like to play. To our surprise and delight, players began streaming through the doors. The game is simple, but fiendish: if you move too quickly, the Move controller senses your speed and knocks you out. You must move at a slow speed while also attacking other players and causing them to move their controller rapidly enough to knock them out. It's a game of quick hits, hip-checks, and fake-outs.
While you can only connect up to seven bluetooth devices per laptop, Wilson and his friends brought eighteen controllers and three MacBooks connected via a wired hub. We also were able to play a new game type that had been added to the game since I had first tested it out.
With so many players, Wilson was able to split people into teams, but there was an added twist: If your Move controller rumbled at the beginning of the round, you were a “traitor,” and on a secret team. Your controller may be the same color as everyone else on your team but, as players are knocked out of the field, you must begin to pick off your friends.
This added a new wrinkle to the game play, and everyone began to look at everyone else with suspicion. “I'm not the traitor,” I told a team mate as we talked strategy. They narrowed their eyes and searched my face. That was certainly something the traitor would say.
Many rounds ended when two or three of the same color were left in the middle of the playing field. If everyone's controller began to blink, that team won. If the game continued, that meant there was still a traitor in the mix. The tensions of waiting for the traitor to strike and become known could be intense. The players began to improvise as they grew comfortable with the rough and tumble nature of the game. One woman in the game had a perpetually scared look on her face, but managed to execute some stunning escapes from nearly impossible situations as the crowd cheered. Some players loosened their shoes and began to kick them at others, causing them to be knocked out as they dodged the projectiles.
Putting down your controller and attacking others, while hoping no one kicked your controller to remove you from the game, proved to be a controversial and hotly debated tactic. Rami Ismail of Vlambeer has played the game against its creator around the world, and he was often the last player left standing.
He would hold his hand up, palm forward, hoping his opponent would engage. Once you met his hand, it was over. He pushed when you expected him to be soft. He pulled when you expected an attack. I watched him snake his arm around the bicep of a competitor to pull them off balance.
When the game is down to only two players, it becomes a dual of wits as much as power, and Ismail had all the moves. He would bow before going in for the kill. “This may be my favorite game,” he told me, and I waited for the qualification. Of the show? The year? None came. One of the developers of the wonderful 2D shooter Jamestown showed up to play. One half of MikenGreg stayed to play a bit, and we talked Gasketball. The crowd was a lovely mixture of fans, developers, Enforcers, and Penny Arcade staff. The Move controllers would be offered to players who haven't played yet between rounds. “If this is your first night at Joust Club,” we told people as they showed up to watch, “You have to Joust.” The crowd became rowdy the longer the night went on. “Two men enter, one man leaves!” the crowd chanted when two players faced off.
“Traitor! Traitor!” they would shout when the last two players shared the same color controller. There were heroes that night, and villains. Many of the stories are best told through pictures. We played for hours, and only dispersed when the building shut down. The new game mode was amazing, especially with that many players. “So can I buy this somehow?” players asked as they left. Wilson smiled, thanked everyone for playing, took his equipment, and disappeared into the night. We can only hope there will be an answer to that question very soon.