Play these 20 unique games at GDC 2019’s alt.ctrl.GDC showcase!


The 2019 Game Developers Conference is just months away, and today organizers are excited to debut the 20 games selected to exhibit at alt.ctrl.GDC, the on-site showcase of alternative control schemes and interactions in games.

One of these games will win the alt.ctrl.GDC Award — which includes a $3,000 prize plus a special trophy handmade by game maker (and former alt.ctrl.GDC participant) Robin Baumgarten — at the IGF ceremony during GDC, with judging taking place on-site.

No matter who wins, all GDC 2019 attendees who stop by the alt.ctrl.GDC exhibit will have the chance to play all of these inventive and innovative games using unique, one-of-a-kind controllers. You could, for example, take hold of a genuine household toilet plunger and put its proven functionality to a new use: playing the unique mini-games of Plünge.

You could also try your hand at guiding a flock of mechanical birds with the mechanism of a cuckoo clock in Koo-Koo, or cooperatively explore the dreams of a physical robot dozing in front of an actual TV in Roambot.

If you want a more immersive experience, you can try actually climbing inside Neon Nemesis, a normal-looking arcade cabinet with room for four players to compete in a 2D platformer — as well as a secret hidden chamber into which a fifth player clambers to play the Nemesis, cranking on dials and pulling levers to put obstacles in the players’ path.

As always, it promises to be a fantastic showcase. This year’s roster of alt.ctrl.GDC finalists is as follows:

  • Cathode Mk 1 (Public Games) – Using multiple CRT monitors, Arduinos, Unity and a bunch of cables and soldering, Public Games’ Ryan Mason was able to build a game console prototype that offered an entirely new space for game design. He launched the project with three of his own games, designed for the system, (That Night, Long Pong, Cube’s Quest) and have since had other developers build their own projects for this unique machine,
  • The Book Ritual (Alistair Aitcheson) – Because The Book Ritual is played using a book and shredder, players must do something that no purely digital game could ask them to do: permanently destroy something. The game uses this to confront the player with how they feel about that destruction, reflect on other things they may have lost, and lets them play out the idea of growing after a period of grief. The book that they damage becomes a unique and personal object – their destructive acts become creative. Using a physical book to act out the emotions behind a story helps players feel what that means to them on a physical level. 
  • Guitar Wizards (Ben McInnes, Adoné Kitching, Jason Sutherland, Luc Wolthers) – Guitar Wizards is a unique take on a rhythm game that lets players make music together. It can be played competitively, as players try to out-maneuver one another or it can be played cooperatively, as players settle into a groove and find a flow. By taking away the screen, Guitar Wizards brings players face-to-face in an epic battle, and creates space for a crowd to form around their performance. The LED battleground also creates the feeling of being a badass rockstar wizard, casting flashing spells that travel towards an opponent.
  • Plünge (Darryl Feniquito, Gavin Nelson, Jackson Lanaus, Sebastian Scaini, Sprite Man Vuk, Xin Zhang) – This game is designed to be controlled via the unique motions and functions of a household toilet plunger. Interesting one-button game design keeps the mini-games fresh and exciting, while short play sessions allow people to come, plunge and leave without much commitment.
  • Table44 (Alan Adda) – Table44 is a table designed for a number of participants, who play either as opponents or in collaboration. The game does not make use of conventional means of control such as a mouse or keyboard. It is played by touching sensors located on the table. In addition, the game also does not include a screen. The progress is conveyed visually via LEDs. The game requires physical movement and promotes a special interaction among the players, an experience unparalleled by any computer or console game
  • HOT SWAP: All Hands On Deck (Peter Gyory, Clement Zheng) – HOT SWAP: All Hands On Deck is a two-player cooperative arcade survival game were players must swap out and trade inputs on their controllers survive the onslaught of approaching enemy ships. Each controller consists of two input slots and corresponds to one side of the ship, port or starboard. There are five actions in the game, each executed with a dedicated physical input: a crank to raise and lower the sails, a wheel for turning the rudder, a hatch for loading the cannons, a wick for firing the cannons, and a flame button for dousing the fire. Each input is a shared resource. Players must consider the physical space around them as they trade parts of their controllers to stay afloat for as long as possible.
  • Koo-Koo (Overtimers) – In Koo-Koo you control a flock of mechanical birds with the mechanism of a cuckoo clock. The birds all move in their own tempo, which encourages the player to jump from clock to clock to give new commands. The interaction contains visceral pulling on weights and finely setting the hands of the clock. The gears inside the mechanism resist pulling and rattle along with the movement of the birds. All in all this creates a frantic multiplayer game where you are never really in control.
  • ReLeap (Orbit Break) – ReLeap is a casual 2D arcade runner game where you leap over rooftops and dodge obstacles to complete the level. The controls in ReLeap focus the player’s experience by capturing the game’s intended aesthetic goal: anticipation and release. When anticipating a jump, the player pulls back their body and Feng reinforces that feeling by preparing herself for a leap. The longer the bar is held in, the more the leap becomes charged thus emphasizing the sensation of anticipation. When ready, the player releases their energy and pushes the bar forward, sending Feng soaring through the sky capturing that moment of airborne weightlessness and freedom. 
  • OVERTIME (Josh Delson, DePaul University) – Based on the positive feedback from Extra Credits (YouTube channel), the team challenged themselves in creating an accessible alternative controller from a basketball toy. Partnering with the Idea Realization Lab in Chicago & DePaul University, OVERTIME was able to implement hardware the recorded player’s movements with the alternative controller. 
  • Machinaria (Black Mamba Studio) – This game was designed specifically to be played in a retro-futuristic console studded with text readouts, knobs, buttons, and flashing lights. With this device, Machinaria is meant to give players the feeling of being an operator in charge of manipulating information to influence the public opinion. 
  • Roambot (Jack Ford) – A robot has fallen asleep in an armchair, and by adjusting his slumbering shell (including his twin antennae) you can explore his dreams via a nearby TV. It’s designed to be played as a two-person cooperative game, with one player handling the antennae and the other the robot’s arms and legs.
  • Neon Nemesis (Marcus Ford, Alexander Peck, Adam Olsson, Anton Berglund, Anna Malkan Nelson, Patrik Lindkvist, Petrut Raileanu) – Neon Nemesis is a seemingly normal arcade game, sporting a colorful screen with 4 sets of joysticks and buttons awaiting players. But what you wouldn’t expect is that the game has a secret… a hidden entrance behind the arcade booth. Those who enter find the lair of the Nemesis; a dark room with a screen, chair, and a plethora of controls, including: a rope, crank, lever, pedals, and various buttons of diverse shapes and sizes. While the players on the outside enjoy a high speed competitive 2D platformer, the Nemesis hides in their lair, utilizing the tools at their disposal to activate environmental traps and weapons to tactically dispose of the players and become the ultimate victor! 
  • Ruins Climber (Takahiro Miyazawa) – A game about the pleasure and the pain of climbing rope, replete with actual rope controllers. 
  • Coal Rush (Team Moon Moon) – Coal Rush is a game built around the physical experience of shoveling coal. Less emphasis is put on the game screen, which displays racing steam engines more as a motivation to the player to play and compete. not only are the controls not traditional, they’re the game; Coal Rush shows a different way of creating games, where the controls aren’t the accessory but the experience.
  • Cook Your Way (Enric Llagostera) – Cook Your Way is very open about its political argument and sardonic humor, and the controller is central to that argument. Similarly to how the narrative and system focus on an immigration process that feels a lot like a cooking reality show, the controller extends that with a cooking set that feels very much like an inadequate, commodified version of migrant foodways. The controller presents an embodied political critique by mixing three different things: 1) a cooking play set / appliance, in which players’ gestures are an evocative and playful mimicking of cooking; 2) a border security device, like the automated photo booths and passport scanners found in airports; and 3 ) language test center equipment with a banal but uncomfortable presence. It mixes humor in its chaotic performance of cooking with the discomfort of asking players to perform. In conventional controllers, transparency, black-boxing and mastery are design goals. The cooking station works to try and make these values strange and unfamiliar while also being a playful object.
  • Continuum Bacterium (HNRY) – Continuum Bacterium uses two custom-made face shield ‘controllers’ paired with two custom fabricated control panels. In order to give each player their own “split-screen”, the face-shields flicker a voltage-dependent privacy film at (safe) varying rates. In coordination with this rate, the on-screen game also flickers at the same rate, effectively showing two separate screens to each individual, depending on the rate their mask is flickering. In order for each player to see all of the enemies on screen, they must adjust their mask to the ‘frequency’ of each type of enemy. Once adjusted, they will be able to see the encroaching enemies and eliminate them with their turret controls.
  • EXTRAREALITY CODEBREAKER (FLEB) – A single-player puzzle game where each puzzle is designed in two parts. The first part uses a dial to interact with a small game, while the second part requires the player mimic that interaction outside of the controller. This creates a unique experience, which ends with the player constructing their own version of the controller in order to solve the final puzzle.
  • Octopad (Patrick LeMieux) – Instead of one controller with eight buttons, what if there were eight controllers with one button each? Instead of a single-player experience, what if Tetris was a team sport? The Octopad is an alternative interface for the Nintendo Entertainment System that transforms classic titles like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Tetris (or Yo! Noid, Gremlins 2, and Hatris) into cooperative puzzles and multiplayer parties for four to eight people
  • HELLCOUCH: A Couch Co-op Game (Carol Mertz, Francesca Carletto-Leon) – Hellcouch subverts the idea of “couch co-op” local multiplayer video games by cutting out the video part of the game, moving the entire experience onto the couch itself. LED lights and audio serve as multimedia feedback as players interact with the couch cushions, which act as the game’s controller. Hellcouch plays with the way we interact with each other on couches, in video games, and in public spaces, challenging the implicit rules of these social spaces in order to create a silly, unexpected experience for players and spectators alike.
  • Tied Escape : Curse of Cortez (ATE Team) – Tied Escape is characterized by simple instructions, but constrained capacity of movements. The orders are simply shown on a screen, but the buttons of the controller are scattered around the room, and the players have to move toward them hand in hand, while staying tied up on their chair, creating a true experience of two captured individuals trying to make the best of their situation.

As always, the alt.ctrl.GDC exhibit is open to all GDC attendees and will make its sixth appearance at the conference from Wed-Fri, March 20-22 in the Moscone Convention Center. Any questions about the showcase should be directed to alt.ctrl.GDC co-creator and organizer John Polson!

So don’t miss your chance to play these unique, one-of-a-kind games — GDC 2019 may be your only chance to do so! For more information visit the show’s official website, or subscribe to regular updates via Facebook, Twitter, or RSS.

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For more details on GDC 2019 visit the show’s official website, or subscribe to regular updates via FacebookTwitter, or RSS

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