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Puppet shows, zombie heads, and a unicorn costume: meet the weird controllers of Alt.Ctrl.GDC

A rhythm game where you fist-bump and high-five a partner. A battle of wits played out with tiny robots. A puppet theater where the puppets are also controllers. These are a few of the projects at this year’s Alt.Ctrl.GDC, an annual showcase at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Alt.Ctrl.GDC features games with “alternative controllers” — from the simple, like a spray bottle or slappable rubber zombie head, to the elaborate, like a small tent where players role-play a unicorn with an office job.

Some of these games go on to commercial release, like the 2015 virtual reality title Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. Others are one-of-a-kind art installations that get a chance to shine at GDC. With the series in its fifth year, here are a few of the projects at Alt.Ctrl.GDC 2018.

Too Many Captains (And Not Enough Wire), from Avi Romanoff and Giada Sun: an engineer keeps a spaceship running with a switchboard-like controller, guided by other players.
Hi-5 Heroes, from Bobby Lockhart and Marty Meinerz: a rhythm game about high-fiving, low-fiving, and fist-bumping.
Mark Wars, from Matthieu Alves, Louis Bernot, Alessandro Cheinisse, Gaëtan Cloarec, Florian Eschalier, Matthias Johan, Pierre Llanusa: two players guide their tiny robots by drawing lines across a board, or try to misguide each other’s bots.
Vaccination, from Installation Required: one player scans a body for bacteria on a monitor, telling another where to inject a specific color of “vaccination” before the patient dies.
Disco is Dead!, from Third Floor Games: a “buddy cop comedy horror arcade game” about disco-loving police officers who fight zombies with slapping.
Grave Call, from Totally Not a Game Studio: one player is stuck in a coffin. The other is a police dispatcher who’s trying to find them. They’ve got until the buried player’s phone battery runs out.
Striker Air Hockey, from Guerrilla Nouveau: a super-cheap lo-fi touchscreen made of a button grid and projected video — and used for playing air hockey.
Yo, Bartender!, from Kraken: a bartending simulator where you mix drinks with a collection of bottle controllers, trying to keep customers happy.
Shcocoococo VS, from Miyazaworks: control a bird with Raspberry Pi-equipped soap bottles, spraying to fight germs.
Puppet Pandemonium, from Fluffy Games: two players control puppets whose heads are also controller buttons, while their audience participates in a series of mini-games.
Bot Party, from Phoenix Perry and Frieda Abtan: players help out a group of tiny robots, which can only communicate through skin-to-skin contact.
Unicornelia, from The Sad Rainbows: climb inside the body of a unicorn with an office job, balancing work, fun, and relationships by hitting buttons with your horn.

Photography by Adi Robertson / The Verge

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