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How tight deadlines led to a fun shopping cart controller in Grocery Trip

In Grocery Trip, players run cooperative errands with a shopping cart controller: one person steers while the other grabs food and punches customers.

Joel Couture, Contributor

March 1, 2023

7 Min Read
a person pushing a shopping cart while someone inside the cart works some pulleys
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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.

In Grocery Trip, players run cooperative errands with a shopping cart controller: one person steers while the other grabs food and punches customers.

Sara Brugioli, one of the game's designers, took some time to chat with Game Developer about how they turned the misery of grocery shopping experience into something fun, how the shape and feel of a shopping cart affected the game's design, and how designing the controller and game in a short amount of time helped them hone Grocery Trip to its best form.

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

My name is Sara Brugioli, and I am the vision owner and one of the game designers of Grocery Trip. I initially conceptualized the first prototype of the game.

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

When describing our controller, I usually tell people that the concept of the game is based on two things. The first is the near-universal experience of getting in a cart and being pushed around at breakneck speed by your friends (when young and stupid…). The controller is also based on the frustration that many people have felt when shopping when other people just stand in front of the items you need or want.

So, our controller allows people to replicate these experiences in a video game, while splitting the tasks between two players—one driving and controlling the trolley, the other one sitting inside the cart and grabbing the items and freeing the aisles by punching the costumers.

one player pushes a grocery cart as a second player grabs items

What's your background in making games?

Me and the other game designer (Victor Motti) are currently students in Game Design at Rubika, a university in France. We are currently in our third year and aiming to get a Master’s Degree.

What development tools did you use to build Grocery Trip?

The video game was created using Unity, which is the tool we mostly use when developing our student projects, and we had the help of our Game Programmer, Mathis Jibert. The connections from the controller to game were made with JoyToKey, a software which allows easy simulations of inputs with buttons.

What physical materials did you use to make it?

To create the alternative controller, we used resources that were available to us through to school: wood, rope, soft materials for the cushions, etc. The electrical parts were also provided by the school, with buttons, cables, and a main card to create all the necessary connections from controller to game.

What inspired you to turn grocery shopping into a game with a unique controller?

As we got the assignment to build an alternative controller, I immediately started thinking of fun and easy experiences to transform into a video game. Turns out, that was not the way to go. My inspiration came from a situation in which I struggle a lot: grocery shopping. As a person on the Autistic Spectrum, I sometimes experience sensory problems, especially in supermarkets, where the lighting is bright and the music is loud. So, the idea came to me when shopping for groceries, and I started thinking about how to twist my experience to make it fun and an interesting game.

a first person image of punching a hostile customer

What thoughts went into designing the different things that both players could do? How did you split up the job of pushing the cart and shopping between two people?

The idea of splitting up the tasks for the game came from Victor Motti, my fellow game designer. He had the idea that splitting the tasks would let the player driving the trolley focus on the direction in-game without being overwhelmed by the different objectives. Two players also allowed for more cooperation; we really wanted to replicate the feeling of playing a coop game with someone and having to coordinate. In this case, both players need each other, as the one in the cart can’t reach the items without the player driving.

What ideas went into capturing the shopping cart experience while keeping both players stationary?

We had originally thought of creating a wall with the cart halfway inside it. The wall would have had the game projected onto it, and the invisible part of the cart would have been replicated in the game digitally. So, the player would have had the feeling of being halfway in the game, and controls would have been directly on the cart, in the handlebar or on the wheels.

However, we quickly realized that we did not have the resources and the time necessary since this was a graded school project for which we only had three weeks. We therefore decided to build a wooden structure around the cart which allowed us to create easy connections with buttons and cables. The idea was to keep both players engaged with different actions and to give them a feeling of movement even when stationary through the game.

What was the appeal of capturing the feel of pushing a cart around? Why do you feel there's fun to be had with a shopping cart?

To us young university students in France, a shopping cart is a fun item. Who doesn’t fondly remember being put in a shopping cart by their mother? And, of course, fooling around with friends, trying to figure out how fast you can go while you're inside it. The feeling of being pushed around by your friends to screw around and do stupid things was something that was essential to the game.

a player seated in the grocery cart controller grabbing items

How did you create the game around a shopping cart's capabilities? How did the game and cart affect one another's design?

[With] the controller being built around the shopping cart, we had to think of many things. For example, we had to think about how the handlebar would move as to not hit the cart. We also had to consider how tall to make the structure because that would impact the players in the cart having to reach for the grabbers and the punching bags. The game itself also had to be quite a short, quick experience, both to not tire the player but also because, admittedly, a shopping cart is not the most comfortable place to sit for long periods.

Why let the player punch customers (besides it being the dream of most people who've ever worked retail)? What do you feel that added to the silly experience?

As mentioned previously, the game was partially inspired by my own issues with grocery shopping as an autistic person. Plus, the idea was to make a silly, goofy game which would surprise players. What better way is there to do that than to let them sucker punch other customers? Our first draft of the game was also inspired by Black Friday madness, or at least an exaggerated version of it. Further inspiration came from the horror game Night of The Consumers.

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

This being a school exercise, our controller was actually going to be graded when production was done. We had three weeks to conceptualize and actually build the controller, which taught us to act fast and make quick decisions concerning gameplay. Thanks to the guidance of our wonderful teachers, Tatiana Vilela Dos Santos and Olivier Drouet, we managed to create a game completely from scratch in a short time. This limited time window allowed us to chip away at the original concept to extract the fun, interesting essence of it.

It was also very fun to create an alternative controller. Until now, most of our school projects had focused on traditional game controllers, but this allowed us to think outside the box and push the boundaries of what we considered "doable" in game design.

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