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.
Alternative controllers are not necessarily the primary method of input for a game. It can still be engaging to use one alongside traditional controls to enhance the experience overall, both mechanically and thematically.
Such is the case with Operator, a desk job simulator by Killigan Industries. In this expanded version of a Ludum Dare prototype, the player combines using the mouse to interact with their workstation with a technical support phone which will guide them through a troubleshooting process as they go through their work routine.
What’s your name, and what was your role on this project?
We’re Peter Javidpour and Travis Chen. Operator was conceived, designed, and programmed by the two of us. Peter wrote the game’s script. Travis designed and constructed the phone peripheral.
How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with it?
Players use a touchtone telephone to connect with a customer support line to simulate the convenience and fun of navigating an automated phone menu for several minutes at work.
What's your background in making games?
We both come from the world of traditional game development, having worked at various studios, including Naughty Dog, Bungie, Activision, Blizzard and more. We’ve been collaborating on passion projects for almost a decade.
What development tools did you use to build Operator?
We built the game in Unity.
What physical materials did you use to make it?
The phone itself is an old factory phone with most of the phone guts and and rat poops removed. There’s an Arduino and a couple arcade buttons in there somewhere.
How much time have you spent working on the game?
The original prototype (without the physical phone) was made in a weekend for Ludum Dare in April 2015. After that jam, we put in a few more days over the following months to create a version that uses the phone.
How did you come up with the concept?
We originally made the game as a Ludum Dare submission under the theme “Unconventional Weapon.” We became fixated on the idea of engaging in a sinister activity on a very mundane level. After some brainstorming, we settled on having the player take on the role of an incompetent employee in an organization that deals out death and destruction.
What role does the support telephone play in gameplay, and what other ways does the player interact with the game besides it?
Players connect with customer support to troubleshoot their Killigan Industries Extermination Satellite Console. Once they have the information they need, they click with a mouse until things work. A lot of people talk into the phone, but that’s wrong.
What aesthetic inspirations did you have for Operator, and where do you intend on going with them?
We drew a lot of inspiration from James Bond films and technical trade videos.
Can you explain how the phone and game interact on the hardware/software level?
An Arduino controller inside the phone transforms the keypad into a USB keyboard that sends input to the game. The game’s audio is split into two channels - the game channel plays all the environment audio through speakers, and the phone channel plays the custom support audio through the phone receiver itself. Two arcade buttons mounted to the case provide additional game functionality, including a direct connection to Killigan Industries Emergency Services.
How do you think standard interfaces and controllers will change over the next five or ten years?
We expect to see a touchtone telephone in every American household by 2019!
Go here to read more interviews with developers who will be showcasing their unique controllers at Alt.CTRL.GDC.