SAN FRANCISCO - Every year, GDC poses a question to developers: What would a game look like if it didn't use a controller, or a mouse and keyboard? alt.ctrl.GDC celebrates the weird and wacky experiments that let users play without familiarizing themselves with dozens of buttons. Most of these games will never see a commercial release, but any one of them could spark a conversation about where game controls might go next. After all, motion controls weren't a big thing before the Wii, and now look at how vital they've become for VR.
From the strange to the incredibly strange, here are the highlights of alt.ctrl.GDC:
Sand Garden takes the term "sandbox game" to a whole new level. This game asks players to sculpt an entire town from scratch, using Kinetic sand and a Kinect sensor. That's not as easy as it sounds, since each building has its own desires, and it's up to you to keep all these edifices happy. Some buildings need to be at sea level, while others need to be up in the mountains, making you responsible for not only architecture, but also an entire landscape. If you had a sand castle at the beach that acted very judgmental about your skills, it might look like Sand Garden.
Remember all those "Calvin and Hobbes" strips in which the titular 6-year-old would jump into a cardboard box and become the heroic Spaceman Spiff? Spacebox re-creates that experience in a video game. You hop into a cardboard box that's rigged up with motion sensors, then lean left, right, forward and back to fly through an asteroid field, collecting badges as you go. You can even hit a button to fire lasers, complete with a "pew, pew!" sound. A colander on your head is optional, but it does help to keep the aliens from reading your thoughts.
The name says it all: Doggy Tug-Of-War is about playing a game of tug-of-war with a digital dog. You grab hold of a string, and pull it, but a dog (represented on screen by a series of Imgur-worthy photos) pulls back in infrequent, unpredictable bursts. You can even set six different levels of difficulty, all the way up to St. Bernard. Right now, the string is fragile, but with a more durable peripheral and a webcam setup, how many dog owners would love to play this with their pooches back home?
The game is called Orpheus Quest because "Lyre Hero" just didn't have the same ring to it. Orpheus has descended into the underworld to rescue his love Eurydice, but first, he'll have to play his lyre to soothe all the forces of Hades. Players control the game with a laser harp that registers notes whenever they "pluck" one of the bands of light. Naturally, the piece in question is Jacques Offenbach's Infernal Galop from the opera "Orpheus in the Underworld." If laser harps and satirical French opera ever go mainstream, this could be the next big rhythm game!
Every library has secrets, but Cryptogram's are a little creepier than most. The controller is a huge bookshelf, with dozens of titles that you can pull halfway out. By finding unusual objects on screen and reading more about them in a physical journal full of clues, you'll gather information to determine which books to pull in a limited amount of time in order to unlock the next room of the library. There's a catch, though: Take too much time, and a Lovecraftian nightmare beast will end your game. Isn't that always how it works when you find a good book?
Photo credits: Tom's Guide