Last week I attended the 2017 Games Developers Conference with only one thing on my mind— Virtual Reality. I walked into the expo planning to try out VR games the whole day, but within half an hour and playing just a couple games, I felt like I had been on a deep sea fishing boat for hours. I had to stop— because I felt sick and nauseous but also to reevaluate my game plan for the day. I planned on VR game-hopping the whole day, but fuck that because my body was telling me no. Instead, I spent most of my time at the alt.ctrl.GDC exhibit. Alt.Ctrl.GDC is a competition and showcase of interactive games that aren’t VR (although some of the games had virtual reality elements to them like wearing a headset). These games were unique and often involved weird and creative input methods—using a flashlight as a projector, donning cat paws to put on your own virtual concert as a cat DJ— some pretty out of the box ideas, but they worked and I was fascinated. The best part? No nausea. Most of these games didn’t even require the use of a headset, but were just as interactive, if not arguably more immersive than conventional VR games. The contestants and exhibitors of Alt.Ctrl.GDC were students of various graduate and undergrad programs across the U.S. The following are just a few of the games on display.
Super Furry Neon Cat Heads
Even though this game required the use of a headset, it didn’t play like conventional virtual reality. Imagine rock band meets, er— I can’t think of a cat game right now. So just imagine rock band. You put on the headset and you’re transported to a colorful, whimsical concert where you are the DJ and judging from the furry cat head you don before starting the game, a cat DJ. As the music starts, shapes start trickling down the screen and you hit the different panels in front of you to the beat of the music. It’s a pretty simple concept but done beautifully. As a filthy casual gamer, I can totally appreciate this.
When I walked up to Sand Garden I immediately thought — well there’s a literal take on a “sandbox game”. The game was set up as a sandbox and screen in front of you. You play it by putting your hands in the mounds of sand and shaping it in front of you to create hills and valleys as the villagers on screen in front of you instruct you to do. It’s amazing how my actions in the sandbox are captured and relayed to the game’s world. I’m so amazed by the technology that I completely flub my interview with Dakota, the game’s UI/UX designer, and scramble to find the words “augmented reality”. Luckily, Dakota (appears) understanding and gently prompts me in the right direction. Never have I been so ashamed to be so filthy and casual.
Remember how I briefly mentioned the competition aspect of Alt.Ctrl.GDC — only briefly because after seeing all the entries, they are clearly all winners in some aspect of another. Well, I got to try out “Fear Sphere” and talk to the team behind it. They were the formal winners of the competition. We couldn’t include footage of actual gameplay because it largely involves standing in a bubble of blackness with a flashlight that projects the game image on the wall (our state of the art Dorkaholics camera had trouble capturing that). But it plays like this: one person stands on the outside of the bubble and looks at a map. One person stands inside the bubble and holds the “flashlight”. The person outside uses the map and a microphone to relay instructions to the person on the inside of the bubble so he/she can navigate to the exit point. On the inside, the person is standing in complete darkness and holds the game controller. The game controller is effectively a flashlight that projects a small circular image on the wall of the building that he/she is supposed to be navigating through. There is a joystick on controller to control the backwards and forward motions (compare this to the “w” and “s” keys on a keyboard when you’re playing on the PC) and the person can look left of right using the actual controller along with the pivot of his/her body (compare this to “a” and “d” keys). The team is nice enough to explain the game and the mechanics/technology behind it, but it’s pretty obvious I’m having trouble understand anything besides, “Our game’s name is _____ and it does ______.” You can actually see the dazed, glazed over look in my eyes. Eeesh.