These developers were all incredibly passionate about what they were doing, and it really showed in the high level of the work that I saw wandering between tiny printers and brightly lit sliders. Out of around ninety submissions to participate in alt.ctrl.gdc, fourteen were selected to be showcased alongside GDC Play and their newly updated Career Centre – and by the looks of the games that were displayed, it must’ve been a pretty tough decision for the organizers.
I couldn’t help myself from talking to a couple of the developers that were showcasing their games in the exhibit, thoroughly intrigued by the innovation as a developer myself and also a big fan of buttons. Well, who doesn’t love pushing buttons? After around ten minutes of navigating Droqen’s Bonus Look with another random attendee and repeatedly meeting our untimely ends, I came over to a rather mystical-looking box, laden with blinking lights. Stuff that dreams are made of. This, my friends, is Slapfest.
Developed by Ted Molinski and Brian Gabor Jr., Slapfest is a game about out-slapping your opponent. No surprises there, really. However, talking with Molinski, he gave me more of an insight on how Slapfest came into existence, out-slapping me the entire time.
“We wanted to make something simple, so we met once a week and exchanged game ideas,” Molinski explained, slapping the red buttons on the side of the box. “There was a lot of rapid prototyping, and we tried a bunch of things, such as playing with controllers. We then transitioned to physical hardware, and we realised the more we took away, the more fun it was.”
If you’ve ever played that game with your friends where you hold your hands up, palms together and try to slap each other, the game is kinda like that. You can attack and defend, but if someone attacks you while you’re defending, you can stun them and slap them a-plenty. The points are counted by the life meters running up either side, and a little red LED lights up each time you land a successful slap. The best part is you have to put a lot of force into slapping the buttons too. Slap-o-rama.
The other developer I had a natter to was Jerry Belich, the creator of the Choosatron Deluxe Adventure Matrix. With such a fantastic name, you’re already expecting the world from this little machine, and trust me; it did not disappoint. As I walked up to the booth where the wee Choosatron was sitting, Belich informed me the man before me had just gotten the high score of the conference on “The Spy Who Killed Me” – a whopping 35 points. Determined to best him, I immediately selected the same story from the plastic button array and unsurprisingly died soon after, killed by a maniacal scientist wielding a bunch of scalpels à la Freddy Krueger. Fifteen points, a pathetic effort.
“When I laid my eyes on a thermal printer and coin acceptor after work doing another installation project in Las Vegas, I knew I had to make it,” Belich said, handing me my abysmal printout from the Choosatron. “I love interactive fiction and used to set up scene improv stories as a kid.”
The Choosatron is a small box with big stories to tell and defined as an interactive fiction arcade machine, printing out the adventures as you go on a little receipt-like printer. You can take the print-out with you after you play, a tangible relic of your own personal journey through a story, which is a really, really neat idea. Created by Belich to explore the relationship between the game designer and the player (or the author and reader), Choosatron was a unique experience that was also inherently nostalgic at the same time.
I could’ve done with fewer scalpels to the face, though.
alt.ctrl.gdc was one of my highlights of GDC week, and I really hope that they bring back the exhibit again next year – perhaps even bigger. Knowing that what was on show was such a small slice of the alternative interaction and controller work going on in the game development scene was incredibly inspiring, and I’m probably not alone in saying that I began Googling a bunch of places to buy button sets after I came home from the expo that day, craving to wire some circuits of my own.
I’m thinking… these ones.
To read about the other games on display at alt.ctrl.gdc, you can take a look at the official list here.