From Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect through to Virtual Reality beast, the Oculus Rift, the way we are interacting and controlling games is changing and developing at a rapid pace.
Amongst the big name breakthroughs from the likes of Nintendo and Sony, as well as those mentioned above, there is a growing number of alternative controllers being created by low-key developers and a throng of indies.
This alternative controller movement has even spawned an exhibit at the Game Developers Conference (GDC), with the conference taking submissions for their appropriately named ALT.CTRL.GDC exhibit, to try to find the best in alternative controllers, from sources that may not be a household name.
Alan Zucconi, a UK-based indie developer, has submitted his homemade alternative controller to GDC and spoke to n3rdabl3 about the project.
“It’s really important to have this idea of alternative controller, because if you say an indie game almost everyone knows what you mean, but if you say alternative controller not everyone will know what you mean.” Alan told us.
He went on to speak about why he was intrigued by the idea of an alternative controller and some of the challenges that the process posed, as he said:
“It is really hard to find controllers that give you a different way of moving that is not pushing a button and I think that is what is interesting and it is more exotic in a way.
“Admittedly it is harder to build this and it is somewhat more fragile because buttons are really hard to break, unless you smash them, whereas something that has moving parts is more prone to be abused by players while they’re playing with it.”
Talking of GDC Alan told us that he was excited about the prospect of going to the conference in San Francisco but appreciated the level of opposition he was up against and realised that there were certain aspects that would play both for and against him with the select committee.
He appreciated that his controller may be slightly fragile for the conference and that may go against him, he even spoke of indie meets in which other developers have been slightly over-excited with the homemade piece of kit and ended up snapping aspects of the controller.
There were aspects that will play into Alan’s hands though, as he feels that some of the submissions for the ALT.CTRL exhibit slightly missed the requirements of entry, as he explained:
“This year they got around 90 submissions (for ALT.CTRL), but some of them weren’t exactly controllers. Some of these 90 aren’t real alternative controllers though, they may be games that give you a bizarre way of moving but not something physical you can actually use.”
Despite the entry to GDC the San Francisco conference was not the reason Alan began work on an alternative controller, as he sees it more as a medium that will boost his popularity and prestige within the gaming community, as he told us:
“I think almost everyone now is becoming indie and is trying to do an indie game and in a way this is nice because more people are approaching computer science and programming.
“It also means that there is an inflation of games, so now that everybody is indie there are millions of indie games and its really hard to get noticed, so in a way if you want to still be a ‘hipster’ you have to work on it, in a way you have to find a way that is a little bit more novelty, just like indie games were a novelty in their context.
“So I have seen that recently, and this is probably because they have a higher entry barrier to start, alternate controllers are starting to get a lot of media attention.
“If you have been to any game event you see that every time there is an oculus rift people queue for 45 minutes to play with it, they don’t really care about the game, what they really care about is to try something new because they know that if it is a game they can have it on their machine when they arrive home, but if it is a controller they can only play it there.
“So that’s what actually makes an “indie” controller so interesting, the fact that they are mysterious, because they are usually not widely available and they are a new experience.
“The way you control (games) is always the same, it is always with either the keyboard, or with the mouse or with the joystick, but these type of (alternative) controllers provide a completely new way of moving and controlling and I think that’s what actually makes a difference.”
This idea that Alan’s alternative controller is more of a novelty, for him and his games to get more attention, is supported by the fact that he will not push the controller onto the market or make it for sale.
“The problem is, unless you want to start a Kickstarter, it’s not something that you can actually sell, it takes me a day to make one, so it would take me three years to make 1,000.
“That’s not the point, I’m not making this controller to sell, I’m making this controller on one hand because it’s the way I want to interact with games but also because I want people to talk about it.
“I want people to see something novelty. I made this controller because I think it’s an awesome way of allowing people to control games in a more natural way.” He explained to n3rdabl3.
Having being lucky enough to use the controller and try it first hand I can safely say that Alan succeeded in his goal, the controller was responsive and gameplay as a result was fluid and engaging, in a really refreshing way.
The small metal draw that fits onto the body of the controller allows a change in pitch or speed (depending on the game being used) and differentiates this controller from a more traditional steering wheel controller.
All together the controller is intriguing and shows the power indie developers have, not just in terms of producing games, to shape our experience and relationships with games and the mysterious aspect that Alan mentioned is certainly evident in this homemade and fun peripheral.