Bring out your inner 'Calvin and Hobbes' at Alt.Ctrl.GDC

Shoot spaceships from a cardboard box, bump bellies with strangers and much more.

Ah, the Alt.Ctrl.GDC booth. It's the real reason thousands of people flock to downtown San Francisco every year, under the guise of attending panels, networking and showing off their work at the annual Game Developers Conference. Alt.Ctrl.GDC is a collection of games that use experimental controls -- that means no keyboards, no mice and no gamepads. Instead, the booth is filled with things like laser harps, spaceship control panels, giant inflatable dark rooms, DIY bookcases, record players, furry cat hats, cardboard boxes and waist-high, carpeted treadmills.

These games may be experimental, but that doesn't mean they can't one day become commercial products. Take Super Furry Neon Cat Heads for example: It's a VR rhythm game for the HTC Vive that uses a cat tower as a controller (and a cat hat as flair). Players see a virtual version of the tower, complete with neon mice streaming down to the beat of a peppy electronic song, and they slap the appropriate spots on the real-life tower as the rodents run by. It looks wonderfully silly, but take away the cat hat and replace the tower with a more traditional control scheme, and it's a fun new VR game that anyone can play at home.

And then there's Spacebox, a Calvin and Hobbes-inspired game that has players sit inside a cardboard box with a goofy colander strapped to their head, tilting and tapping to maneuver an on-screen spaceship through enemy territory. If the developers figure out how to contain their tilt- and tap-sensing technology in a durable, portable container, Spacebox would be something that kids everywhere could play. All they'd need is a cardboard box and a screen.

On the other hand, Zombie Crawler may not ever be a game for the living room, but it makes sense as a cool, new arcade installment. The controller is a waist-high treadmill-like platform with grips along the tread. Players grab the fabric and pull; on-screen, a comic book-style zombie crawls down a narrow hallway toward a potential victim with a shotgun. The treadmill tilts right and left, letting players dodge shotgun blasts when the appropriate animation appears, and buttons on either side of the treadmill make the zombie swipe at furniture and other pesky objects -- like the human at the end of the hall. Picture it nestled between a Skee-Ball machine and NBA Hoop Troop at your local Dave & Buster's. It makes a lot of sense.

Not all of the games at Alt.Ctrl.GDC will become commercial products, but many of them certainly could. Regardless of their mainstream appeal, playing with these wacky prototypes at GDC continues to be a highlight of the entire show.

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