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Go to GDC. Do Not Pass Go.

Authored by Ichiro Lambe of Dejobaan Games
A colleague recently e-mailed me to ask if she should go to GDC. If you’re just starting out as an indie (she weren’t, but that’s another story), and are on the fence: if you can go to GDC and not starve, go to GDC. Here’s a slew of thoughts on why/how, especially on a budget:
GDC Pass
Holy crap, it’s like $1500, and that’s the discounted rate. You could buy a new computer for that. But the IGS pass and the Expo pass aren’t bad at $325 and $195, respectively. I typically snag the IGS pass. And if I had no pass ($0), it’d still be worth my time to go because of the people I’ve met outside the con. Read on.
Your Built-in Network
You already know a bunch of people going to GDC, which is a great start. These people are grand, and they also know other people who are grand. You’re probably zero degrees of separation from the woman who runs the Indie Megabooth. She’s important (in part) because she brings together enough indies so the likes of Apple, Google, Valve, and Sony come by to visit everyone. As a result, she knows everyone. She’s also a punk. Whatever. My point is that you’re currently part of a friendly, awesome network of folks you don’t know yet.
Networking
When you’re out there, connect with everyone you know, and find out what they’re up to. We’ve been setting up a GDC-Devs mailing list to coordinate events. We call out for food (“Who’s up for Shalimar?”), beer (“How big can the indie Katamari get?”), random hallway rants (“I started my own session on how much Intellivision still rocks.”) and chat sessions (“We love F2P P2P IAP” or “Strategies on getting your games noticed by the press“). Caroline doesn’t like to brag, but it’s there that she hunted down John Graham and gave him a noogie (but only after securing $1M in funding).
Big Parties
They’re fun, and you feel all special going to them, but I find the smaller ones more useful. YMMV.
Room
There are a number of hotels nearby, but you can also rent out entire apartments via AirBNB. Places go quickly, but we’ve found comfortable, close-to-Moscone-Center ones for about $50/person/night. You could stuff more people into them (to an extent) if you like sardines.
Your Stuff
Business cards, an elevator pitch about your studio, and a build of your game (“Give it a try?”) are all great ways to start conversations. At a recent conference, Raph Koster strapped Eitan into a chair and placed before him a game he’d written on the plane ride over. That was the beginning of a conversation on game design; and implicit to it was the new knowledge that Raph was an approachable dude. Similarly, why not bring your handcuffs? Do it. And once the con’s over, don’t forget to follow up with these people via e-mail, LinkedIn, or Facebook.
That’s all I have to say about that. Indie life’s getting harder; the sky’s falling; go meet everyone before it’s too late; yadda yadda.

April Game Developer Mega Month

The month of April has been unreal for game development events and news.   I’m here writing this article now and I still probably have a good week of things to do before I can truly say things are back to “normal”.  So lets get on with it!  ;)

“What would Molydeux?” Game Jam kicked off the month with an epic trailer we got to watch at the start of it…  Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab hosted the 48-hour game jam.  In that time eight games were produced in Boston alone, some 302 games were made over the course of the weekend across the globe!

MIT Business in gaming (BIG) was a one-day session full of panels and a “fireside chat” with Strauss Zelnick, which was really amazing.  I scored a last minute ticket thanks to the generous donation from MIT via the Boston Indies google group.  There were some great panels.  One of the earlier ones spawned this article about how steam has “devalued” video games.  They fed us, there was a post-event after party that we attended as well till it was time to run over to the NERD building and setup our booth.

I need to mention too that I had a complete stranger with me from London, ON, Canada.  He had good referrals from other Boston Indies who knew him personally so that was good enough for me.  Mike Kasperzak was in need of a place to stay coming down to PAX for the weekend so I offered our spare bedroom to crash for the weekend.  I was able to score him a ticket to BIG also, so it was great to have company, plus he was a gracious guest.  Was really cool to meet a stranger and part as friends.

Made In MA Pre-PAX Party happened that night, since MIT and NERD are pretty much neighbors it meant one long day out on the town.  The Made in MA party was a game industry-centric event with some 1200 tickets sold.  (Pro Tip, happens every year and there is a code to make the $50 event free, just him me up next year or any other Boston Indie for the code ;) I had a table there.

It was my first booth and it was amazing.  I did a drawing for a free iPod Touch for folks who submitted their business card for our email list (I still have to plug in the 100 or so cards I got to mail chimp).  I was also very fortunate to have several indie friends lend a hand and two great interns also help us man the booth because, man it was a whirlwind from 7pm-10pm.  I believe there was an after party there as well, but they all kind of blurred together over the course of the weekend.

PAX East this was amazing across the board.  There were so many industry events going on.  This is an amazing event that while is largely consumer driven, has a lot of panels and opportunities for game developers as well.  I found myself meeting a number of fellow indie developers over at the Indies Megabooth, which featured a number of local developers as well as out of towners showing off their wares.  There were also a number of other locals such as Hip Point and Lantana studios showing off their products as well.

I was also really happy to get the word out about www.bostonfig.com, which we are looking to do this summer.  It is a Festival of Indie Games where unlike IGF and others, will be a gamer-centric event where gamers will do the voting not developers.  We wanted to make something grassroots and transparent when it came to the judging process and allow developers to directly interact with the public.   So I handed out a bunch of these cards.

I was also really excited to meet with some of the folks demoing games, especially the guys from unknown worlds who were demoing their game “Natural Selection 2”.  The first game was (and still is) a free Half Life 1 mod.  It was one of those games that in its heyday a few years ago, I lost sleep playing.  I was very happy to see the new game really captured the core of what made the original great, but now they could make the game do things the original could do with the tech it was built with.

Tencent Boston and Greatestern Tech held a great pax party on Saturday, which showcased all of the art submissions from area game artists non-game development art.  There were prizes for the competition.  I was fortunate to be invited and really enjoyed seeing the works that were submitted which ranged from 3d stills to oil paintings.  It was a very diverse collection of work.

Later that night there was an awesome PAX party hosted by a number of indie studios such as TheTapLab, Viximo, Brass Monkey and more.  It was kinda funny because after about 10pm they had some kind of dress code.. which many of us didn’t fit so they moved us down into the basement which was awesome.  I got a chance to get to know a couple of other Londoners who Mike knew well known as Halfbot who besides just being two cool guys all around, they shared some really great stories like the time their game got completely cloned and released by another developer forcing apple to change their developer policies later that week.  Not every day you meet someone who does that.

Also PAX (who just renewed their commitment to Boston for PAX East for another 10 years) was kind enough to donate space to the commonwealth to have a lounge to promote the game development scene in the state of Massachusetts.  Each day had a 3pm roundtable session to discuss topics related to the state of the industry, the future and other topics revolving around game development.  It was really great to participate.

MassDiGI Game Challenge finished on Sunday afternoon.  It was a three-day event where various established and aspiring game developers got the opportunity to pitch their games to industry folks for feedback and the opportunity to win some prizes.  I got some awesome feedback on several games I was considering proposing and opted to pitch a unique spin on the tower defense genre and won a runner-up award for best design so that was great, but more importantly was the chance to connect with some really great people.  I had a blast and learned a lot.

3D Stimulus Day 2012 is an annual thing that just happened to unfortunately land on the same weekend as the Game Challenge so I couldn’t attend it.  Fortunately both events were at the NERD building so we ended up joining forces for lunch sharing the same space and getting to catch up with developers where were there that I knew where were just there for the one day stimulus event.

BIG Expo (Brown University) Although I didn’t attend this I definitely felt it disserves mentioning.  Props to Nathan and his crew for pulling together their 2nd annual event.  It was a tough call to choose to speak at BIG or participate at the Game Challenge, but regardless, Ichiro and others attended so I know a good time was had by all.

Indie Game: The Movie was showing at a local theater for one night with two showings.  Needless to say they were both sold out.  It was an interesting movie watching these indie developers struggle with all too familiar problems many of us face.

Boston Indies Demo Night was one of the biggest turnouts I’ve seen in some time.  A lot of great games were being demoed.  I showed off a couple of recently launched titles and got some great feedback and know what things I may need to include in upcoming updates.

Boston FIG Planning is also in full swing at this point.  We’re working to get the web page fully setup as needed for the event thanks to Caroline, Dan, and Justin’s collaboration with others.  We are reaching out to any / all media contacts we have as well as potential sponsors to help us make this event classy from start to finish.

 

Whew what a month…

Indie Showcase Coming to PAX: Their Thoughts

PAEast, coming to Boston this April, is arguably the biggest gaming convention on the East Coast, and, every year, they honor local indie developers with their Boston Indie Showcase. The six games showcased this year each have interesting production histories, and their developers have high hopes for how the showcase will impact their games and companies.

The origin of many of these games comes from contests and game jams that turned out right. David Sushil of Bad Pilcrow (Not Without You) and Zach Gage of stfj (Spell Tower) both created the cores of their games under a time crunch.

Not Without You began as a Ludum Dare forty-eight hour development exercise back in August of 2011.” According to David Sushi, “Out of 500 entries, it placed in the top ten percent in terms of fun, so I decided to continue exploring it.

I like to work fast and reasonably blind. SpellTower was put together in 2 weeks,” said its creator, Zach Gage. “So those two weeks were filled with playing other word games, learning as much as I could, and rapid rapid iteration and testing.”

Once a rough concept is established, the process of turning it into a game can be a harrowing task.  Rami  Ismail  of Vlambeer (Super Crate Box) says “The [game] industry is a rough place that really requires an absurd amount of emotional investment and energy to flourish in.”

Persistence is often at the core of game production.

“The process for developing Lawnmower Challenge,” according to Peter Choi, its creator and founder of Lunar Enigma, “has, from day one, been an iteration of design, implementation, and testing. We set up and aimed for several milestones…and hit each one on time.

David (Not Without You) made a point to talk about how the process is subtractive; game play and features are evaluated and streamlined as necessary, in many ways an effort of trial and error.

“[In the end] There’s nothing that doesn’t belong, and the result is a tight, solid, and highly re-playable piece of entertainment.”

With PAX just around the corner, all of the developers are excited about their coming debut at PAX East. Nearly 70,000 people attended the event last year, filling The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The opportunities for these designers will be numerous.

“Having a booth at PAX will be a great way to observe first impressions of GLR.” Said Ziba Scott of Popcannibal. The studio is bringing the puzzle game Girls like Robots to the showcase.

“Most people will have never heard of the game or heard very little, so we can try to gauge what effect our visual and verbal presentation has on a gamer.”

Ziba Scott has brought Girls like Robots to many Boston Indies demo nights; blind play-testing has given his game a lot of polish. Rousing grass root support and visibility will be very important for these games. Peter Choi reiterated,

“As a first time indie developer, the most important thing for me is gaining supporters. Although our Kickstarter campaign was unsuccessful in a sense of not being fully funded, we were successful in gaining supporters who have an interest in seeing the game to completion. This is exactly what we’re hoping to gain at PAX as well.”

With such an attention to quality, these games seem likely to garner a lot of support. The passion that these developers show for their games and gaming is admirable and ought to be echoed throughout the industry. With more people realizing their abilities to create games, it is fantastic to see small developers rise up with good polished products. We’re especially glad to see it happening here in Boston. These developers deserve the best of luck on the production process between now and PAX; be on the lookout for them at the expo and beyond.

GameLoop Boston 2011

The Big Board, Photo by Michael Carriere

The Big Board, Photo by Michael Carriere

On August 13, 2011, Boston saw its third annual GameLoop un-conference.  An un-conference, for those unfamiliar, is when the topics and speakers for the different discussions or panels going on throughout the day are not decided ahead of time, but are instead generated and voted on by the community all within the first hour of the conference.

BI members Scott Macmillan and Darius Kazemi have organized GameLoop for the past three years, and this year’s conference was no exception to the extremely high quality of both topics and attendees from all over Boston and beyond.  The topics ranged from analysis of a board game to Narrative Design to Social Responsibility!  Rob Zacny and J.P. Grant from Gamers With Jobs attended this year and you can read more about their impressions here.

BI media contributor Michael Carriere took some fantastic photos, now up on our flickr page.  Even better, on our Boston Indies Chat list, we had an impromptu photoshop contest, the results of which are hilarious.

Here are the GameLoop Photos.

And here are the results of the ‘shop contest‘ (your favorites welcome in comments!)

Personally, my favorite session of the talk was the “Uncomfortable Games” session that J.P. ran.  I had a good time telling my fellow gamers about a particularly uncomfortable D&D session involving voyeuristic druids, and listening to others share stories about games where they had to poke themselves in the eyes, etc.  All in all, the conference was fantastic as usual, and I had a great time.

After the conference, attendees flocked to a local pub to continue the conversations and share a pint or two.  GameSpy generously sponsored the conference, and was rumored to be buying beer towers for thirsty devs.

A Look Back at GameLoop Philly 2011


From contributing writer Darius Kazemi.

GameLoop Philly, the first offshoot of game development “unconference” GameLoop, was held in Philadelphia on May 21. GameLoop was founded here in Boston in 2008 by Boston Indies founder Scott Macmillan and myself. We were super excited when a crew of GameLoop attendees from Philly approached us last year to ask if they could run one in their home town. Of course our answer was an emphatic yes — for my part, I wanted to attend a GameLoop for once, rather than host it.

Photo courtesy of GameLoop Philly

GLP opened with a bit of a surprise to me: a new way of organizing sessions. Instead of the chaotic rush to put sessions the board, sessions were pitched by attendees, written on the wall, and then attendees were given stickers to place next to sessions they liked. I was humbled: this method was far superior to what we’d been using in Boston the last two years, and we’re going to be using it at the original GameLoop this coming weekend.

Photo courtesy of GameLoop Philly

The session topics ended up being a diverse mix, including sessions on misconceptions in programming languages, story development, procedural narrative, prototype development, 2D in unity, game difficulty tuning, and producer perception at game studios, among a total of 20 sessions across 5 time slots in 4 rooms.

Photo courtesy of GameLoop Philly

The first session I attended was “Misconceptions on Programming Languages,” by Tim Ambrogi of Final Form Games (Jamestown). This presentation was a traditional lecture format, complete with slides (unusual for a GameLoop) but went over extremely well. Tim spoke of prejudices that programmers hold against languages that are not their “native” language, using his own favorite language, Lua, as a case study. Things really got going when he asked programmers in the room to talk about misconceptions people have about some of their favorite languages.

After that, I attended “The State of Games in Philly.” I’ve been hosting a similar, Boston-centric session at GameLoop for the last three years, so I wanted to catch this one and see what the Philly scene is all about. One thing that struck me is that while the game development community in Philadelphia is growing, it’s not quite big enough to sustain multiple large, regular events. As a result, game developers tend to participate more often in general software industry events. It’s food for thought, as there are enough game dev events in Boston that one could never leave their comfortable cocoon yet still be busy attending events all the time.

Lunch was an eat-out affair, and fortunately GLP was situated in the middle of the Arts district, near Center City. There were tons of great restaurants to choose from. As noted on the GameLoop Philly Twitter account, much as it pains me to admit, they’ve got us beat on food.

After lunch I sat in on an Android platform session, which ended up being a “how do I begin?” type session, and then quickly moved to “how do I make money?” One memorable comment was that you’d make more money consulting as an Android developer for other companies than you would creating your own apps. Not sure if I buy that, but it got me thinking.

At 3:30 I caught Tim Ambrogi’s talk on prototypes, which was a deep dive into the prototypes used to prove concepts for Jamestown. And at the end of the day, I led a roundtable on HTML5 game development, of which I can remember nothing as I was very, very tired.

All in all, GameLoop Philly was a huge success, bringing 80 game developers from as far as DC and Boston together to eat cheese steaks and talk about development. It was a fantastic time, and I cannot wait for next year’s — I highly recommend attending events over hosting them!


 

 Darius Kazemi lives in Cambridge, MA and he’s glad you’re here. Darius develops HTML5 games and game technology at Bocoup.
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Video Games 101 – Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab

Fire Hose Games' Lead Animator Nico Corrao faces off in Slam Bolt Scrappers with a student at Video Games 101, part of the the Cambridge Science Festival, May 5, 2011. Credit: GAMBIT flickr.

On May 5, 2011, the MIT Museum brought together an amazing group of local game developers to show young students what life is like at a video game company.  The event, called Video Games 101, was a part of the Cambridge Science Festival, and consisted of demonstrations of games developed by Owlchemy Labs, Fire Hose Games, Gradient Studios, SCVNGR, Zynga Boston, the MIT Media Lab, and the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.

Boston Indies community members were there to show off their awesome games and teach people the ropes!  Each of us received a nametag “Professor”, which to my great amusement caused more than one person to mistake me for an actual MIT Professor.  (“You’re a professor? Wow, you seem awfully young…”)

Alex Schwartz and Yilmaz Kiymaz from Owlchemy were there to show off Smuggle Truck/Snuggle Truck.  The game garnered more than a little love from both kids and grown-ups alike!  The Snuggle Truck version of the game is now available on the iTunes App Store, and the Smuggle Truck version is available for download on PC/Mac from their website.

Fire Hose Games represented Boston Indie dev studios as well.  I attended as a representative for Fire Hose, along with our animator extraordinaire, Nico Corrao.  We played our latest release, Slam Bolt Scrappers, against students and other festival-goers. We spent much of our time answering questions, talking to people about what life is like at a startup video game company, and enjoying the talks!

In addition to the games, students enjoyed a series of talks by Damian Isla of Moonshot Games, Dean Tate of Harmonix, Adam Carriuolo of Harmonix, and Ahmed Abdel-Meguid of 38 Studios.  Damian wowed students with a look at artificial intelligence in video games; you can check out his slides at the end of this article.  Dean talked about the many benefits and difficulties of collaboration in game design.  Adam spoke about designing an unusual user interface as Harmonix did for Dance Central. Ahmed talked about the psychology behind sounds as a means to evoke emotion.

You can watch the full presentation linup below, thanks to Generoso Fierro for the video!

MIT Tech TV

Huge thanks go out to Marleigh Norton, who coordinated this amazing effort! You can find more pictures of the event on the GAMBIT flickr.

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Brown University Independent Game Developers Expo 2011 – Overview

On Saturday, April 16 a handful of Boston Indies community members traveled to Providence, RI to visit Brown University campus and participate in the 2011 Brown Independent Games Expo (BIGexpo).  This began with a post to the group by K. Adam White, a community member and Brown alum.  He passed on a press release and call for speakers from Brown student Nathan Partlan that included the following:

BIGexpo is a Brown University/RISD game development conference that provides aspiring game designers/developers an opportunity to showcase their work and learn from industry experts […]
The goals of BIGexpo are to:

1. Showcase the cool stuff people are doing with game development at Brown and RISD.
2. Give interested students a chance to seek advice and build their interest in helping with independent gaming.
3. Provide students a chance to learn from companies or professional game developers, and give those companies a chance to show off their products and connect with students.

Several indies quickly responded to Nathan, providing a good portion of the lineup for the event. Presenters spoke throughout the day while Demiurge (Shoot Many Robots) and Reactive Games (Perchance to Dream) ran demos of their projects.  Brown students presented on their own work and likewise demoed their progress in the Watson Center for Information Technology’s iLab: the co-op platformer RAPT, zero-gravity shooter Leges Motus, and the RPG COGS.  Boston Indies community members K. Adam White and Caleb Garner were also in attendance.  Here is a schedule handout.  Below that, you’ll find personal accounts of the talks and a couple embedded slideshows.


Free Tools for Narrative and Dialogue Games
Jonathon Myers (Reactive Games)
10:00 – 11:00 am

This presentation was organized from a store of information that I had accumulated while tool searching over the past year or so as I became more and more involved in interactive narrative. I began the talk with a simple overview of my personal journey into game development and provided some simple historical context before setting out some tools that are narrative focused and mostly writer-friendly.  And free.  Free is indie-licious.

[EDIT: Since preparing and presenting in April I have come across this nifty CYOA and web-based authoring tool, Undum. Had I seen it before I certainly would have included it in the presentation and slides.  Thanks to Andrew Plotkin, whose short game The Matter of the Monster demonstrates the great fun to be had.]


Boston Game Jams
Darren Torpey
11:00 am – 12:00 pm

I gave a presentation introducing the concept of game jams to the attendees. I talked about why we do game jams, what we get out of them, and why they’re great opportunities for students to cut their teeth on game development and a rare chance to meet, interact with, and learn from professional developers.

I also highlighted a few Boston Game Jams projects that have spawned further ventures, including Perchance to Dream and Smuggle Truck.


Software Engineering in Games
Lincoln Quirk (Demiurge)
1:00 – 1:30 pm

I overviewed Demiurge’s in-house game engine (codenamed Seoul) which is used for Shoot Many Robots and some other games in the works. The engine was developed as part of SMR‘s development, but we were careful to keep the general-purpose code separate from the gameplay-specific code.

I talked about some stuff that pretty much all game engines have in common, like the game loop, input, physics, graphics, and a world. Then I talked about some of the abstractions the Seoul engine provides to the developers to make these easy. For instance, Seoul doesn’t have a level editor of its own, but we realized that many artists and designers already know 3ds Max, so we just made exporters for Max that provide the data that the Seoul engine can read.

When creating levels, often objects want to have different, overlapping behaviors, like physics, synchronization, animations, and so on. In Seoul we came up with a component system, where each object has many components which are “pluggable” and give the objects the behaviors you want.

Lastly, another problem game developers often run into is keeping track of objects over time, where those objects could disappear unexpectedly — like players disconnecting, or projectiles exploding. In Seoul, the way we solve this is with a system called handles, which are like pointers but you can check if they’re still valid.


Scrum/Agile Development
Kevin Teich (Demiurge)
1:30 – 2:00 pm

I presented a quick overview of our Scrum development process, including a quick summary of Agile development. I broke out some sticky notes and did a demo of how we plan a sprint and run our daily scrum meetings, explained what works and doesn’t work for us, and suggested some ways in which Scrum could be used in small teams for Jams or academic projects. It was a fun talk for me, and it was great (and pleasantly surprising) to see people interested in production methods. I’m hoping they can do the Expo again next year.


 

Jonathon Myers is a writer but he can barely keep his portfolio website up to date alongside his creative writing and Reactive Games. If you are interested in covering Boston Indies events, contact [email protected] with samples.
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3D Stimulus 2011

Several members of the Boston Indies community were in attendance to participate and present at the 2011 3D Stimulus Day, an all day conference and demo event on 3D game development hosted by Great Eastern Technology. The third annual took place at Mt. Ida, Newton, MA  on April 9, 2011 from 9:00 am- 5:00 pm. Great Eastern has provided a detailed recap, with resources and photos. Information and media related to Boston Indies community members and their participation is provided below.  The full line up this year included:

  • Chad Moore of Turbine and Rigging Dojo, with Job Hunting Tips for 3D Artists
  • Alex Schwartz and Yilmaz Kiymaz of Owlchemy Labs, presenting Mixing 2D and 3D in Unity
  • A Tech Art Discussionwith panelists from local game companies, mediated by Chad Moore
    • Ryan Griffin, Senior Character TD, Turbine
    • Elliott Mitchell, Vermont Digital Arts
    • Brandon Bateman, Senior Tech Artist, Turbine
    • Farley Chery, Instructor, ITT Institute and Bunker Hill Community College
    • Justin Woodard, Technical Artist, Turbine
  • Willem Van Der Schyf, Tencent Boston, presenting his Pipeline for Modeling Normal Mapped Characters
  • Afternoon networking session upstairs with demos from various individuals including 3d Camera Technology, Mocap with Kinect and Motion Builder, Brass Monkey, Vermont Digital Arts, Owlchemy Labs, Defective Studios and more.

Boston Indies community members Aaron ArtessaRichard BrownCaleb GarnerK Adam White and Dan Salsberg were in attendance to learn and support the participating companies.  Check the end of this post for a photo montage.

3D Stimulation in Progress

Tech Art Panel with Elliott Mitchell of Vermont Digital Arts and Turbine

 


Owlchemy Labs: Mixing 2D and 3D in Unity

Alex and Yilmaz have drawn particular attention for their presentation on the nuts and bolts of 2D and GUI use in Unity and they have since posted their set of slides on the Owlchemy Labs website, also embedded below. They plan to present an updated version of this talk on Tuesday, May 3 at Boston Unity Group (BUG) May Maddness, the upcoming fifth meeting of that growing organization.

Caleb Garner of Part12 Studios captured the presentation:

You can find the rest of the presentation here:

And another set of videos of the same presentation, captured by Richard Brown:

 


Tech Art Panel Discussion

The Tech Art panelists were all Boston-based developers and included Boston Indies community member Elliott Mitchell of Vermont Digital Arts alongside developers from Turbine. Richard also captured this panel:

 


Demo Area

 

 

 

Thanks to Elliott Mitchell, we have some video of Chris demonstrating the Brass Monkey Controller to an attendee:

[3D Stimulus Day 2011. A woman having a blast with Chris Allen of Brass Monkey / Infrared 5 demoing Owlchemy Labs’ Smuggle Truck on the big screen while being controlled by the Brass Monkey controller on an iPhone. 3D Stimulus Day was sponsored by Great Eastern Technology and Mt Ida College.]

 


Photo Montage

Thanks to all the Boston Indies community members at the event for providing these photos.


 

Jonathon Myers is a writer but he can barely keep his portfolio website up to date alongside his creative writing and Reactive Games. If you are interested in covering Boston Indies events, contact [email protected] with samples.
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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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PAX East 2011 – IF Indies on the Fringe

From guest writer Andrew Plotkin.

I knew, going into PAX East, that we’d have to make it better than last year. I also knew this would be impossible.

Impossible, you understand, on the face of it. We’re a handful of interactive fiction enthusiasts at the biggest game-industry event on the East Coast. We are not in charge. Sixty thousand gamers walk into PAX and walk out having never noticed our existence. Microsoft, Sony, Valve, Blizzard, and you-can-name-them other companies have allocated millions of dollars to flash, blink, and blind the attendees into a state of unassailable mesmerization. Interactive fiction has rented a couple of hotel rooms and put out M&Ms. From PAX’s point of view, we don’t exist.

That’s not what I meant by impossible.

Last year, you understand, we made PAX awesome. We did. On the edges, yes; unofficially; with a very small splash. But for the interactive fiction fans and game designers who converged on PAX East 2010, it was the get-together, the biggest English-language IF event of our time. For the older generation of designers, the ones who rode the IF wave of the 1980s, it was a chance to catch up and find the newer authors. For everybody interested in the topic, it was the premiere of Jason Scott’s IF documentary Get Lamp. We had an IF panel on the PAX schedule. We ran some mini-panels and discussions in our hotel room. We talked nonstop about game theory, game practice, and Chinese food. PAX became… something happening off to the side of the first IF Summit. We did that.

That’s what we had to live up to this year, this March, 2011.

(By “we”, I should explain, I mean the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction. Which is Boston’s IF meetup, discussion, and writing group. We overlap the Boston Indies quite a bit, of course — not just me; Jason McIntosh helped out and ran a quick Inform 7 talk. And if you’d hung around, you’d have run into Clara and Matt, Jon Myers, Darius and Courtney — the regular crowd.)

In some senses, the 2011 IF Summit wasn’t as enormous as last year’s. The IF world didn’t premiere a movie this year. We didn’t get many of the famous Infocom people. (I think Brian Moriarty dropped by, but I missed him.)

On the up side, we had a bigger room. Two rooms, in fact. We were closer to the convention center and easier to find. We had a full schedule of discussions, demos, and presentations. We had better candy than last year (thank you, Juhana and his Finnish licorice). All true. But these things are not what awesome is about.

Awesome is: three days of talking with the sharpest, most experimental game designers in or out of Boston. I do not brag. These are the people who are interested in IF. Awesome is people coming downtown to visit the IF room, and eventually saying “Yeah, I suppose I’ll go look at PAX at some point. Or not.” Awesome is random game enthusiasts from PAX wandering in and staying to write for an IF jam.

Awesome, not to be shy about it, is Emily Short organizing a Demo Fair for IF experiments, story-game ideas, and pure radical art concepts. Plus a magical typewriter. All of which she set up in six weeks (and packing a nasty case of the GDC plague towards the end).

The awesome — you understand — is a roomful of people walking around the Demo Fair, trying the more-than-twenty entries, and discussing them. PAX had a roomful of game advertisements; we had a place for game designers to happen.

This, I’m convinced, is what the IF scene is for. And the indie game-design scene, and the electronic-literature and new-media-art scenes. We bring the awesome. The game industry is invited to our party.


 

Andrew Plotkin is a recent Boston immigre, long-time game designer, and since-age-eight interactive fiction fanatic. Come to think of it, he’s been designing games since then too.