The March 2013 meeting of Boston Indies took the form of Lightning Talks – eight talks on subjects ranging from lighting effects to gamedev metacommentary to marketing advice.
Darius Kazemi – Fuck Videogames
Darius gave the evening an uncontroversial start with his talk, “Fuck Videogames.” In it, he challenged the idea that videogames should be a catch-all expressive medium, an ideal platform for any and all ideas that occur to the developer to express. Games may share the components of other expressive forms, but they are not greater than the sum of their audio-visual parts – and it is hubris for game developers to think that their medium has more meaning packed into it than any other does. Game development is a tool in your belt, Darius said – creators shouldn’t approach each game project as an imperative to innovate in the medium, but rather as an opportunity to do a particular thing – a methodology rather than an ossified form of aesthetic expression.
If videogames are all you know, try realizing your creative ideas in another form. (Twitterbots, for example.) To get at why videogame developers don’t do this more often, Darius brought up something Rob Dubbin said (quoted with permission):
A lot of the perceived rewards of expressing something as a game are extrinsic rewards from the culture that’s sprung up around gaming, and rather than chase those rewards in all cases, it’s better/more rewarding to pursue the intrinsic reward of successfully expressing something on a case-by-case basis, in whatever medium fits that idea best. [...] buying into the idea that validation can/should/will come from a given culture is way more nourishing to that culture than it is to you.
This talk should surface in essay form soon – and good thing, since this writer suffered from a coughing fit for much of this talk and had to leave the room. If anyone would like to add or correct, we would love to hear from you in the comments.
Jenna Hoffstein – The Golden Arrow
Next we heard from Jenna Hoffstein of Monster & Glitch, giving a postmortem on the just-released The Golden Arrow. The game is an endless runner in which you play as a monster fleeing a princess, and its story is revealed through scrolls that you pick up as you progress.
Jenna went indie in November of last year. She worked on The Golden Arrow through December, January, and February, at which point she began showing it around – at the IndieCade East Game Slam, for example, resulting in a Polygon article. Jenna hadn’t marketed the game when it came out on March 6th, but it caught the eye of the Guardian, Funky Space Monkey, 148Apps, and showed up in a review and interview on TheSpawnPoint Blog. At PAX East, she made an appearance at the Indie MEGABOOTH.
Jenna noted a few things she had learned in the process. First, you should be highly aware of the genre and where it stands mechanics-wise before creating your own instance. Next, work with other people with specialized skills.
Visit Jenna’s website and give The Golden Arrow a try!
Eric Li – Lighting Effects in Canvas 2D
Gradient Studios’ Eric Li gave a quick talk about a technique for maximizing drawing efficiency using Canvas 2D. In normal mapping, bump mapping is applied to low-polygon meshes to make them appear high-polygon.
Further, Eric talked about a way to take three-dimensional art asset for something like an aircraft, split it into two two-dimensional images and draw darkness on each before re-layering them to restore its now-shaded three-dimensional appearance.
See Eric’s presentation materials here, and visit his Twitter here.
Jeffrey Jacobson – Merge the Virtual World of the Videogame with the Physical World of the Player
Jeffrey Jacobson of PublicVR sees the gulf between virtual and physical worlds as an artificial one, and made the case in his talk that game makers can bridge the two. Jeffrey starts from the premise that humans don’t live in physical space, but in psychological space – we have always lived in the virtual, he says, which is “in drag” as the physical space our bodies occupy. We live in a human-built world, so why not construct our virtual realities in the most immersive way possible, designing graphical interface and interface objects for a seamless experience?
We have an elastic sense of our bodies, Jeffrey said. When you use a hammer – an object whose function aligns unambiguously with its function – it becomes a part of you. The same isn’t true of game controllers, and Jeffrey sees this as a barrier to frictionless experience. More than exposing the artificiality of the game experience at every moment, it’s that it is an unnecessarily unintuitive bridge between here and the equally real game-world. The peripherals for Rock Band are thus compelling, as is the Kinect, with some reservations.
Jeffrey aims to improve upon the puppeteering that players do when controlling an avatar in the third-person view. First-person views on a screen also have their weaknesses, he said, but do work. The ideal is the combination of a first-person view and player action that corresponds to what happens in the game world – a flight simulator, for example.
We saw hints of PublicVR’s work in simulation – a performance called Egyptian Oracle using Unity3D and the open-source CaveUT, projected on multiple screens and involving audience participation. Check out the project’s page for more information and videos.
The Egyptian Oracle is being staged at the Museum of Science on May 11th – Jeffrey encourages interested parties to contact him here.
Dan Higgins – Lords of New York
Dan Higgins of Lunchtime Studios showed off their work-in-progress, Lords of New York, whose development you can help fund on Kickstarter right now. The game is an adventure RPG set in prohibition-era New York, and involves three gambling characters for whom you play poker with unique story arcs.
Dan showcased the engine, made in Qt Creator, and showed off a technique Lunchtime used to create realistic movement in the characters from a single two-dimensional image, making the most of the processing power of mobile platforms.
It looks like Lunchtime Studios did quite well at PAX, garnering press including a mention as one of the 10 best indie games of PAX East 2013. Visit the Kickstarter and help them reach their goal!
Colden Prime – Intrepid Pursuits
The next lightning talk, by Colden Prime of Intrepid Pursuits, was about the development of Prime’s Quest, a block-sliding puzzle game with adventure elements available now for iOS. Colden’s talk was a postmortem to share lessons learned – particularly about features they had tried to implement.
Intrepid found that the missions in Prime’s Quest confused beta testers, or were ignored entirely by them. After trying different ways of presenting the missions, they were cut entirely. The take-away, Colden said, was that if missions are tacked on top of a core mechanic without forcing the player to engage that mechanic in a novel way, they only dilute the user’s experience.
Colden ended his brief talk with these solid pieces of advice: developers shouldn’t be afraid to cut, especially if trying to hit a deadline. Further, every time something is added to a game, it should enrich the game, not keep it at the same level. Finally, if you’re thinking of changing something in your game, try taking it out.
Caroline Murphy – Marketing stuff you should know (especially for mobile)
Boston Indies’ own Caroline Murphy gave the next talk, a slew of useful marketing tips for indie game developers, particularly geared towards mobile:
To begin with, marketing is important. The top earners on mobile platforms average a marketing budget of almost $30,000. This doesn’t mean you need to spend this much money – but what you can’t afford not to invest is time.
Pick a good name. Names that aren’t unique and memorable will be – go figure – overlooked and forgotten. Include keywords for searchability in the description if not in the name.
Research competitors so you can position your own game.
Make a website – a landing page – for your game.
Enter into festivals (say, oh, the Boston Festival of Indie Games, for which submissions are now open and only $20) – and make it playable!
Create a press kit, and make it easily downloadable (i.e. zipped). It should contain a concise description of the game, high-quality raw video of the best parts of the game, your contact information, and your game’s social media channels.
For mobile developers, several things to ensure before launch:
- Have a good icon! If it looks stupid, cheap, or unattractive, the game won’t get looked at or featured by Apple.
- Your description should be clear and contain useful keywords.
- Screenshots make a difference.
- Be ready to watch the analytics.
And after launch:
- Pitch it to journalists. Choose your subject line carefully, be ready to put your story into a relatable narrative in a few sentences, and don’t pitch to every journalist – pitch to the right ones.
- Promotions and sales help to get your game out.
- You need to climb the charts as high as possible within the first few days.
- Ad networks will help you do this by effectively selling you installs of your game – for each person who installs it, they’ll charge you $1.50. The key, then, is to hook those people who do install – for example by sending push notifications.
- Going from paid to free can lead to mentions on deal aggregators and a boost in downloads. Try doing this and then releasing a premium version.
Note that you can send out press releases for free on gamasutra.com.
Seek other free resources for indie game marketing – indiegamegirl.com, for one.
There are also paid resources, such as preapps.com, appspire.me, and Fiksu.
Robin Johnson – Storytime Studios
Our final Lightning Talker was Robin Johnson, who spoke about his path to independent game development and current project, Skit!, which is currently available on iOS.
Robin had been working on AAA titles, but by way of the TechStars Cloud accelerator, came to make Skit, which he describes as an evolution of visual storytelling. In Skit!, the user is equipped with pre-drawn backgrounds and characters, which she manipulates and provides soundtrack for as the game records in real time. The resulting animation can be shared and added to by friends, allowing for two-way storytelling.
The app can be downloaded free of charge on iOS, so give it a try and send your feedback to Robin.
We’d love to see your feedback and additions in the comments.
Boston Indies is a community of dedicated independent game developers in Massachusetts and the surrounding area. We define ourselves in connection with our community spirit and our group objectives. We gather in person once a month to talk about the art and craft of making video games, and to share our work with each other.