Alt.CTRL.GDC showcase: Planet Licker

In this game, the controller is a USB gamepad with three popsicles attached to it. Use your tongue to propel your space monster through space, avoiding obstacles and eating planets as you go!

The 2016 Game Developer's Conference will feature an exhibition called alt.ctrl.GDC dedicated to games that use alternative control schemes and interactions. Gamasutra will be talking to the developers of each of the games that have been selected for the showcase. You can find all of the interviews here.

How many licks does it take to destroy six planets and win the game? That depends on how strong your tongue-eye coordination is.

In Planet Licker, the gamepad has three popsicles attached to it instead of thumb sticks or buttons. Your licks propel a space monster around the screen, avoiding obstacles and alighting on planets to slurp them out of existence!

This unique game will be part of the Alt.CTRL.GDC showcase. The developers told Gamasutra about the creation of it.

How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who's completely unfamiliar with it?

Our controller is a gamepad with three ice pops you lick to simulate button presses. The ice pops use creative flavors designed to work in harmony.

Who all was involved in this project?

Developer: Frank DeMarco
Art Direction: Otis Denner-Kenny
Hardware: Andy An of Mouth Arcade
Music: Azuria Sky

What's your background in making games?

OTIS: I’ve always had an interest in making games. When I was a kid me and my best friend mapped out what was basically a pen and paper RPG and tried to convince his mom to make it into a computer game for us. I took some classes related to game design in school but never really made anything videogame-ey that I was satisfied with or held my attention.

FRANK: I started writing about games and learning to code by running fan sites for Pokémon and Game Boy. After that, I studied programming more formally and made a Game Boy Advance version of Pong. That helped get me an internship where I made artist tools and game prototypes. Since then, I've been making experimental games for PC and web. I've also been running a weekly co-working night with the local game dev community for the past year.

ANDY: I have no formal experience in making games but they have always been a point of inspiration for me in much of my work. I was obsessed with the RPG Maker series as a high school student and made a few short action RPG’s.

SKY: I got into game programming when I was about 10 years old, drawing gritty sprites in Microsoft Paint and writing up sidescrollers in BASIC. I love programming, currently writing a game engine in Python to float a game I started putting together 3 years ago. I’m mainly most experienced with making game soundtracks though. I fell in love with my childhood consoles, and I mainly produce music on a Nintendo Gameboy using the onboard soundchip.

What development tools did you use to build Planet Licker?

FRANK: The engine for the game is Pygame, which is a Python interface to SDL. For graphics, we used GIMP and Adobe CS. The controller was modeled and engineered using Solidworks. All music was made using LSDJ on a Nintendo Gameboy.

What physical materials did you use to make it?

FRANK: The controller is 3D printed on Andy’s machine, and the ice pops are molded using food-safe silicone molds that were created with the aid of a 3D printer.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

FRANK: We worked on the game over the course of two jams; the first being Ludum Dare 33 at Babycastles gallery, and the second being a weekend-long Thanksgiving jam at Otis’ house in Chatham, NY. We’re working on a video to share that experience, using our footage of planet licking, magic tricks, farm animals, oyster shucking, experimental yoga, and lots of back to nature vibes.

How did you come up with the concept?

FRANK: Andy visited Babycastles’ co-working night and told us he had an idea for a game controller with ice pops in place of buttons. We were very into it. The next Ludum Dare was happening that weekend, so we decided to meet and do a project for it. The concept for the character and setting grew out of the Ludum Dare theme You are the Monster. We came up with the Planet Licker idea early in our brainstorming process, and it was the one we kept coming back to until we actually started building the game.

Why popsicles? Did you test out any other edible items?

FRANK: Our first test used ice cubes. We considered gelatin because of its moldable properties, but the idea of licking gelatin seemed too weird because that’s not a gesture you normally perform with that food when you eat it. Ice pops work because they are something people lick anyway, and they’re able to take on the form of most any shape we design on the computer as a 3D model. We’re still considering making the controller in candy, but it would require a bit of extra engineering as sugar isn’t conductive enough for our game.

What's the best popsicle flavor combination?

FRANK: The best we’ve had so far is coffee, cranberry and blueberry.

OTIS: I agree in terms of taste -- that was definitely the most successful, but the popsicles were so rich and creamy that they had problems being conductive enough to play the game.

ANDY: Deconstructed Cola flavor- taking the four main ingredients of Cola Flavor and reimagining them as three ice pops, so a player experiences the complete flavor profile of Cola when playing the game. They are Cinnamon, Vanilla, and Orange-Lime.

SKY: Lime, lime, lime

Has tongue-cramping ever been a problem?

FRANK: Not with the original version, but start stretching your tongues for the longer version.

How do you think standard interfaces and controllers will change over the next five or ten years?

FRANK: I’m looking forward to controlling real-world things like nanobots and solar panels to do things like collectively plant and cultivate a garden.

ANDY: I think standard interfaces and technologies will be getting more immersive, at the expense of intrusiveness, in the next few years. I think devices for seeing a virtual or augmented reality will catch on very soon, but I think there is actually a growing interest in the commodification of all of our senses- not just sight and sound.

OTIS: Lots of money is being dumped into VR right now, I’m sure there will be lots of weird controllers designed to work in tandem with that. Right now it seems like a lot of the excitement around VR is fabricated by corporate interests and has lost some of its magic for me. Maybe when the tension around it all breaks that will change though. I’ve always been interested by the thought of real BCIs. It seems to me that would be the next step after VR.

SKY: Futuristic goggles with infrared sensors that track which direction you’re looking at so it can give you appropriate hints about controller orientation, and even cooler sensors that aim downward at your tongue (or perhaps sensors that reside in your mouth) that detect where you’re licking for some sweet air-licking action.

Go here to read more interviews with developers who will be showcasing their unique controllers at Alt.CTRL.GDC.

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