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Gilliam's Great Escape turns a toaster into a golf controller

Gilliam's Great Escape is about playing golf with a fish. Except you'll be playing it with a toaster controller - the perfect tool for launching things.

Joel Couture, Contributor

February 7, 2023

5 Min Read
A toaster connected to a pc in order to play a golf game that launches a fish

The 2023 Game Developers Conference will once again feature Alt.Ctrl.GDC, an exhibition dedicated to games that use alternative control schemes and interactions in new, exciting, and clever ways. Ahead of GDC 2023, Game Developer will be talking to the developers of each of the games that have been selected for the showcase.

Gilliam's Great Escape is about playing golf with a fish. Except you'll be playing it with a toaster controller—the perfect tool for launching things.

Deegan Kosen, one of the programmers on the game, spoke with Game Developer about the thought process that lead to playing golf by launching a fish from a toaster, the challenges that came from making the most out of a toaster's possible inputs, and the natural appeal of a toaster's mechanisms that lead them to using it as their input mechanism.

What’s your name, and what was your role on this project?

My name is Deegan Kosen. My role was as one of the gameplay programmers for the project.

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

It's a toaster we all know and love, but now you can play with it. Push and release the lever to shoot, and turn the dial to rotate.

What's your background in making games?

I don't have much of a history of making games. I learned game programming in high school as a hobby and then got into game programming. I made a couple of small games for fun and now I am currently in a game design program.

What development tools did you use to build Gilliam's Great Escape?

For Gilliam's Great Escape we used the Godot game engine and the Arduino API to handle the toaster's input. For the 3D models, we used Blender.

What inspired the creation of Gilliam's Great Escape, a game about launching a fish out of a toaster?

Our team was trying to quickly come up with an idea for a game-making challenge from the college called design week. It's a challenge where we have to create a game in a week. At first, we had an idea of shooting with a gun to move, and then another person also proposed another shooting game. It seemed like the team was going towards shooting something as a mechanic.

Then, one of them opened a YouTube video about alternative reloads. It's basically a person reloading different things like a remote battery, toilet paper, and such. One of them was a toaster which caught our attention. After that, one of our teammates said "You know, you can fit a lot of stuff in a toaster". We then came down to using a fish because it just sounds fun and funny.

What challenges came from turning a toaster into an input device? What interesting possibilities did the device hold that drew you to it?

One of the biggest challenges of turning it into an input device was definitely figuring out how to use the dial as an input. It was our first time using an Arduino and we didn't really know how to approach it. Fortunately, Marcus was willing to try and understand it. After that, we discovered that Godot can't handle Arduino inputs. So what Marcus Kuffner (another team member) did was he connected the Arduino board to the "makey-makey." Now, the turn of the dial gave simple arrow key inputs. That part took so much time, but it was a great experience overall.

I think what drew us in the most is the feeling of pushing and releasing the toaster lever—from the activity that is very familiar, to the sound it makes. Everyone is very familiar with a toaster, making it very welcoming and accessible. The idea of playing with something that people are very accustomed to sounded interesting.

What thoughts went into creating the on-screen game? Into making a game that would work well with what a toaster was capable of?

One was aiming in the game. We decided to use one vertical value and that players would not be able to control the verticality of the shot. This is because we don't want to add too much abstraction between the controller and the game. Turning the dial to rotate in the game is enough and adding more would make it feel like any other controller.

Because of that, the level design had to accommodate. We made sure that there were walls to stop players from slipping off of the platforms and we limited verticality. However, that wouldn't be that fun, so we made skipping parts of a level a feature. The walls are short so that players can go over them. One level has a massive drop so players could go out further. This adds variety to the levels and still allows the toaster to have limited inputs.

What interested you in using golf as the base of the game? Why did golf suit the toaster's capabilities?

The main part of the toaster is the lever, so the mechanic is definitely going to be about shooting or launching something. After that, I think the reason for choosing golf was because it was small in scope. This game was made during design week, so we didn't have time to create something complex. A golf game is very modular. We just needed a launching mechanic, a simple grey box for a level, and if we had more time, we could add unique obstacles and such.

What do you feel the surreal, silly gameplay (launching fish from a toaster) adds to the appeal of the game? Why launch fish when it could be something more ordinary?

I think it adds a surprise factor to the player. It's not something you see every day.

Why launch a fish? I would say it creates a connection with the player. The story in the game is about a fish going to the afterlife. So, there is a more tangible purpose in finishing the game compared to something like launching a football to the finishing line.

Has building a game around a unique controller taught you anything unexpected about game design?

Definitely. With a unique controller, it becomes a part of the game experience. The simple games I have created until now only have simple controls with a keyboard. I never thought of the experience outside of the digital game itself. I discovered that people could also design a new experience through a different controller. It made me more open-minded to new ideas in designing games.

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