PAX East 2011 – Overview

At least half of my time at Pax East was spent standing in line or being handed a T-shirt, and sometimes both at the same time, because apparently PAX is some sort of T-shirt and line convention with flashing lights. But what the Boston Indies lacked in T-shirts and lines, they made up for in video games. As crazy as it sounds to have playable video games at a video game convention, the indies beat the odds to show the impossible: gamers like to hear about games.


Panels

There were a lot of indie-run panels at Pax East, all of which provided real discussion about video games, as opposed to injecting press releases directly into the audience’s eyeballs.

I was fortunate enough to cover Scott Macmillan’s Death of an Indie Studio for Gamasutra, so there’s a writeup alongs with the slides below.  We’re all sad to watch the death of Macguffin Games and All Heroes Die, but he’s got great advice for anyone trying to get a project going (as well as how to not make his mistakes).

 

Scott also teamed up with Ichiro Lambe, Eitan Glinert, Chris Oltyan, and Damian Isla to deliver two panels on how not to be a terminally naive indie designer (Miyamoto never had to work for memes like this) and how to do it yourself and do it right with your own company.

Photo by David Bolton

Several other Boston Indies participated in a different Start Your Own Game Company panel as a part of content provided by theInternational Game Developers Association.  Video and details below provided by Muzzy Lane.

[Seven developers detail their experiences starting their own game companies. Panel members include Jeff Goodsill (Tencent Boston), Jamie Gotch (Subatomic Studios), Peter Jones (RetroAffect), Elliot Mitchell (Vermont Digital Arts), Caleb Garner (Part12 Studios), Dave McCool (Muzzy Lane Software), and Al Reed (Demiurge Studios).]

"Dialogue as Gameplay" Photo by Iain Merrick

Jonathon Myers organized a meeting of the minds at the Dialogue as Gameplay panel, which I also covered, because I get around.  Regardless though, it was especially great to watch AAA and indies have really great discussions on difficult issues.  From Bioware to IF to PhD research projects, the panelists covered nearly every possible approach to dialogue in games.

Andrew Plotkin participated in a panel on getting games funded through Kickstarter called, counterintuitively, How to Fund Your Game Development Project With Kickstarter. Indies, take note of Andrew’s success.

[In fact, there’s a Boston Indie Kickstarter happening right this second.]


Interactive Fiction

Speaking of Interactive Fiction during PAX East, the Boston-based People’s Republic played host with an Interactive Fiction Hospitality Suite in the Westin directly adjacent to the con.  No badges required, bringing IF to far more people than could fit in the room. An IF mini-con was held on Saturday and Andrew discusses it as part of a separate post and Jason MacIntosh recorded the panel videos below with descriptions.  They also bravely humored inane questions from me like “so what is IF anyway?” and loaded me with resources, recommendations, and places to go. Boston Indies Darius Kazemi and Courtney Stanton participated in the speed IF event to create A Scurvy of Wonders.

[In adventures and other explorational games, the setting is often the most eloquent and memorable character: an island, a castle, a starship. How do these locales tell stories, and how does the player character fit into those stories? (Panel discussion: Andrew Plotkin, Rob Wheeler, Stephen Granade, Dean Tate)]

[How do you design challenges for gamers who haven't played the last thirty famous entries in the genre? What about readers and writers who do not identify as gamers? (Panel discussion: Caleb Garner, Tim Crosby, Heather Albano, Sarah Morayati, Andrew Plotkin)]

[Video quality is as good as it gets, considering it was shot in a cramped and poorly lit hotel room (the panel was not part of the official PAX proceedings). Thanks to Rob Wheeler for assisting with the camerawork.]


Boston Indie Showcase

When they’re not busy putting on panels, Boston Indies occasionally have time to make video games. First of all we have the Boston Indie Showcase indies. We need to give a shout out to Fire Hose and Dejobaan, who were all the stronger for their selection last year. Let’s hope the following three lucky showcase selections achieve the same kind of success over the next year.

    • Blinding Silence, by the WPI students composing Team Uncertainty, has players seeing with sound in a world of darkness. I totally missed this one at PAX but it is downloadable from their website.

Photo by David Bolton

  • In addition to leaving CliffyB speechless, (but fortunately, still able to tweet) Smuggle Truck is attracting good press, and, just as importantly, people who get it. The Owlchemy Labs game is currently awaiting Apple store approval.
  • My girlfriend was super mad she forgot to bring a T-shirt for Retro Affect to silkscreen a robot on. However they also had a video game, and it was hyped by no less a man than Tim Schafer! Going by Twitter hype, this means that Snapshot is going to be like Psychonauts 2 and Smuggle Truck will be Jazz Jackrabbit 3.

Expo Floor Demonstrations

There were plenty of other indies though, so remind us if we missed you among the following roll call:

Moonshot Games Expo Booth

  • Damien Isla, Michael Carriere and the rest of Moonshot Games got a lot of big mainstream buzz for Fallen Frontier.  There’s also an interview with them on Gamasutra by yours truly.
  • GAMBIT Game Lab was definitely the best dressed, and they were demoing several games including Jeff Orkin’s Improviso, an experimental dialogue game. Clara Fernandez showcased her procedural narrative game Symon, winner of the Kongregate Award for Best Browser Game at the Indie Game Challenge. GAMBIT also put together a video on hate speech in online games in response to the Dickwolves debacle. It was incredibly difficult to watch but it was, I’m told, really helpful to a lot of people to help understand the situation in which we’ve found ourselves.
  • Demiurge Studios debuted their first original IP, Shoot Many Robots, the game that lets you do its title. They’ve worked on tons of Boston-centric AAA development since 2002, including Bioshock, Rock Band, and Borderlands, so it’s high time they put their talent into something they can call their own.
  • Although not out on the floor with a booth, Dejobaan’s ever-evolving 1… 2… 3… KICK IT! seemed to somehow always be playing near me, and sources close to me have informed me that it is now on Steam. (Also, doesn’t the ugly baby look like the forever alone guy?)

Made in MA Party

Major Nelson at Made in MA (by Christine Nolan)

Can’t talk about PAX East without mentioning its thrilling prequel, Made in MA. Darius Kazemi and Bostonpostmortem organized the party (along with Mass TLC) as a dev-focused event at the Microsoft NERD Center on Thursday night before PAX. Indies were all over demoing things in a much more relaxed atmosphere; and also there were drinks, so it was basically in all ways superior to the showroom floor. For the above reasons, it’s a much better place to talk and network. As PAX itself is mostly for the gamers, Made in MA is much more by the devs, for the devs.  Check out the following video from Microsoft NERD for more info.


 

Andrew Vanden Bossche is a freelance writer and columnist.  His column, Design Diversions, runs on GameSetWatch and Gamasutra.  His blog, MammonMachine.blogspot.com has occasionally been updated.


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