We spoke to Knapnok designer Lau Korsgaard to determine how this weird hardware and this weird game found each other.
"The idea behind Spin the Bottle was definitely inspired by the hardware of the Wii U," Korsgaard told Joystiq. "I have over the last few years worked on lots of party game prototypes, such as Dark Room Sex Game and Monkey See Monkey Mime, where the players look at each other, not the screen. The problem is that these ideas have been really hard to distribute commercially – until the Wii U."
Korsgaard calls the traditional console party game, in which everyone directs their attention to the TV, "to some extent always a party killer," taking attention away from the people at the party and putting it on a screen. "The Wii U has another potential," he explained. "Players can turn off the TV, sit in a circle with the GamePad between them and use the Wiimotes to interact with the game. They choose where to sit and whom to look at."
Given this emphasis on active, party-friendly local multiplayer, it's no surprise that Knapnok is part of the same Copenhagen Game Collective from which B.U.T.T.O.N originated, co-founded by Johann Sebastian Joust creator Douglas Wilson.
"Lots of really interesting things have been going on in the last few years about moving attention away from the screen and towards the players," both in and out of the Collective. "Johann Sebastian Joust by Die Gute Fabrik is an obvious example, but also games like Fingle by GameOven, Hit Me by Kaho Abe and Swordfight by Kurt Bieg and Ramsey Nasser are excellent examples of why turning off the TV can be hilarious," Korsgaard said. Now, the Wii U is becoming another venue for incubating these kinds of experimental, social experiences.
"It took me a while to figure out the philosophy behind the Wii U, but I think we are starting to see how big a social innovation this new console represents," he said. "I have never talked so much with my friends when playing console games, than when I play some of the multiplayer Wii U games."
He added: "The synergy between the GamePad, the Wiimotes and the screen gives us a lot of different ways to play together and I feel we have only seen the top of the iceberg right now. The question is if the developers dare and have the imagination to break up the social conventions around console game experiences."
Spin the Bottle's unconventional game experiences are built around two-person activities. "Each player plays solo, but has to collaborate with another player in order to score points," Korsgaard said. "The challenges will often involve body contact or tight communication."
For example, the "Waltz" activity makes two players dance with a Wiimote stuck between their faces. "You have to actually dance," Korsgaard noted, "else the GamePad would start booing at you. If you can manage to do that for 30 seconds you win." Hide the Monkey is a more "psychological challenge:" "The pair secretly hides the Wiimote on one of them and the audience has to guess on whom. The problem is that the wiimote will rumble and make monkey sounds when it is moved. So the audience needs to pay attention to these clues, but the pair might bluff and so on." These challenges are held together through a "metagame with small micro challenges," Korsgaard said, "like WarioWare: Smooth Moves or Mario Party."
These challenges can incorporate an embarrassing amount of contact, but the game's website bills Spin the Bottle as an "innocent game for innocent kids." The game is innocent by design, but of course the players may not necessarily be.
"I am super fascinated by these games which are innocent for kids to play but become slightly awkward when teenagers and adults try," Korsgaard explained. "So yeah, the game will be clean and totally safe for parents to let their kids play. Whether the parents should play the game with their friends is a totally different question."