Screengrab from a video about the video game Line Wobbler.

You don’t need control pads or keyboards to play awesome games

Think you need a control pad or a keyboard to play video games?

A bunch of mad-scientist developers at the 2015 Game Developers Conference just proved you wrong. From a single strand of LED lights to a pair of wired-up gloves, nearly anything can be made into a game. 

GDC always makes space to highlight bona fide innovation in gaming. This is exemplified by ALT.CTRL.GDC, an exhibition of DIY wizardry that features unique ways to control gameplay. We chose the five entries from the show that best demonstrated what ALT.CTRL.GDC is all about.

Line Wobbler

Dennis Scimeca

This year’s star, without a doubt, was Line Wobbler. The game is described by Robin Baumgarten, a photographer and indie game developer from London, as a “one-dimensional dungeon crawler.” 

The player controls a green dot using a controller attached to a shoehorn spring. Red dots are enemies, lines of yellow dots are lava, and strobing white dots are conveyor belts that push the player forward.

When the player releases the controller, the green dot turns yellow and “wobbles” back and forth on the LED strip. If a red dot touches this wobbling line of yellow dots, the red dot is “killed.” This video shows you how the game is played.

DodecLEDron

DodecaLEDron, created by indie developer Alan Zucconi, is a dodecahedron-shaped controller lined with LEDs. Users play games by holding their hands over specific segments of the controller, with each segment tied to certain functions. 

Dennis Scimeca

Where Line Wobbler’s innovative controller was tied to a single game, the DodecaLEDron is an alternative controller that can be used for different games as long as the controls can be mapped onto the DodecaLEDron.

At the ALT.CTRL.GDC exhibition this year, the DodecaLEDron was paired with an inde game called Nimabtus. In Nimabtus, the player controls a drone as it blasts its way through obstacles in space. 

In the demo, the lower set of the DodecaLEDron’s panels controlled the ship’s thrusters, and the upper set controller the ship’s guns. Here’s what the game looks like in action.

Spacebro Justice Rocket 

Spacebro Justice Rocket was created by Nick Kornek and Louis Sciannamblo during Critical Hit 2014—a game jam that specializes in experimental designs. The game is played with two people, each of whom wear an elbow-length glove fitted with pressure sensors on the knuckles, palm, and forearm.

Dennis Scimeca

Spacebro Justice Rocket plays like rhythm games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero. The players are law enforcement agents in the far future who harness platonic energy to fight the bad guys by following on-screen prompts to fist-bump, high five, or bump elbows. 

If they get the timing right, the players do damage against that level’s boss. If they screw the timing up, the players take damage.

A.F.T.E.R.G.L.O.W.

A.F.T.E.R.G.L.O.W. was one of the strangest—and most awesome—games at ALT.CTRL.GDC. Jerry Belich, an indie dev from Minneapolis, took a briefcase, an old rotary phone dial, and a circle of LEDs, and turned them into a post-apocalyptic game about shooting down the last, few nuclear warheads left to rain down over civilization.

Dennis Scimeca

Belich says he was inspired by arcade games like Tempest and Missile Command when designing A.F.T.E.R.G.L.O.W., and he wrapped the game into a 1950s Cold War-era Soviet-technology vibe. In this YouTube video, Belich makes his best attempt at a Russian accent to demo the game. 

Deluxe Turbo Racing 360

The last game at ALT.CTRL.GDC that we had to stop and play for a while was Deluxe Turbo Racing 360, developed by the game and art studio Super Soul. Deluxe Turbo Racing 360 is a series of minigames that use the rumble motors on Xbox 360 controllers, to turn them into de facto board game pieces.

Dennis Scimeca

Each Xbox 360 controller is remotely connected to a pair of knobs, one for the left rumble motor and another for the right rumble motor. Players can control the intensity of either rumble motor by way of trying to make the controller turn or move in a straight line.

Deluxe Turbo Racing 360 supports a number of different mini games, like a race from edge to edge of the game board, a game where players have to push Lego blocks out of a circle in the middle of the board to score points, and a Sumo-style minigame where players try to push each others’ controllers out of a ring.

What makes all the games of ALT.CTRL.GDC special (and not just the five we chose as our favorites) is that the same spirit of play embodied in the final products is the same spirit that led to their construction. Exhibits like these are partially what define the Game Developers Conference. 

When game designers throw caution to the wind and let their creativity run wild, these are the sort of awesome games they come up with.

Screengrab via Robin Baumgarten/YouTube

Dennis Scimeca

Dennis Scimeca

Dennis Scimeca was the Daily Dot's gaming reporter until 2016. He loves first-person shooters, role-playing games, and massively multiplayer online games. His work has appeared in Salon, NPR, Ars Technica, Kotaku, Polygon, Gamasutra, GamesBeat, Paste, and Mic.