Of all the games littering the IndieCade floor at E3, just one of them truly belonged there in a way that the others just couldn't touch: Ramiro Corbetta's Hokra. It wasn't necessarily flashier, prettier or more famous than any of the other titles, but it was a game made for public exhibitions – literally.
"Hokra was originally created with the public space in mind, but it was also developed to be the kind of game that I'd like to play with my friends," Corbetta told Joystiq.
Hokra premiered on May 12, 2011 at the NYU Game Center's No Quarter exhibition, and Corbetta developed it with that venue specifically in mind.
"I developed Hokra to be a multiplayer game, and to be honest when I was first developing it I wasn't thinking about how to sell it," he said. "I was only thinking about how to make the best possible game, and since it was going to be displayed in a gallery space, I knew there would always be multiple people around to play it."
Hokra is a simplistic, competitive digital sports game for four local players, and only four local players. Not online, not three, two or one, but four physical people ideally using Xbox 360 controllers, always. This design choice stems from Hokra's gallery goal, but also from Corbetta's passion for local multiplayer titles.
"I absolutely love local multiplayer games," Corbetta said. "The connection you make with someone who is next to you is incomparable. Playing an online multiplayer game is the equivalent to having a phone conversation – it's great that I can speak to my friends on the phone, but almost anyone would prefer meeting up at a bar over having a conference call. Local multiplayer games create a social connection that is very hard, if not impossible, to achieve over the internet."
Not that he hates online multiplayer: "Let me make it clear that I also enjoy online multiplayer, and that I've spent quite a lot of time playing online Battlefield and FIFA over the last few years. It's incredible that I can still game with my good friend from college who now lives in Puerto Rico."
The social aspect of gaming is what draws Corbetta to living-room multiplayer, that true sense of interpersonal interaction and using games as a tool to bring people together. That said, what works in a gallery doesn't always work on someone's couch. Hokra is four-player-only and right now only on PC, which is great for an exhibition piece. That system may have to change if Corbetta wants to see Hokra in the wild, and he knows this.
"As I plan on releasing it to a wider audience, I have to be aware that these restrictions could be problematic," he added. "I'm definitely considering options like adding AI and online multiplayer, but I haven't started working on them yet. I won't hide the fact that I think Hokra is at its best as a local multiplayer game, but it's a bit unrealistic to expect people to always have three friends around whenever they want to play the game."
Hokra, once it gets running, is a deeply engaging sports title using only orange and blue squares and frantic, competitive mechanics that I have seen firsthand pull laughter and immediate camaraderie from a group of four players. In the sense of creating true human connection, Hokra shoots and scores.
"I can't really make an argument for how or why local multiplayer games will survive," Corbetta said. "I can only hope that people don't forget the social aspects of games. Playing locally is not always an option for everyone, so even if they are playing online multiplayer games, I hope that they do so in as social a manner as possible. Games are a great tool for bringing people together, and I hope that they continue to play this role in our society."
As a bonus, Hokra is also a brilliantly entertaining game, a sports title wrapped in an art installment, and I suggest keeping an eye out for it, in whatever form it takes on, in the future.
"I have plans to release it, but there is nothing I can talk about right now," Corbetta said. "It will definitely come out at some point. That's all I can say."