post

Our Community

Boston Indies has proven time and time again that we’re not you’re average game development group.

What we do differently:

  • Meaningful feedback – The community cares about making great games, and we push each other to improve.
  • Openness – Boston Indies is a safe place to learn and grow. Whether it’s sharing mistakes or financials, we know how to keep private things private and are able to learn from one another because of that.
  • Gumption – Our community members make things happen and aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in. This results in awesome content and great dialogue.
  • Welcoming – I’m consistently impressed by how fast new members are brought into the community and made to feel a part of something great.

We hope you’ll join us and make amazing games.

post

The February 2013 meetup writeup: Games As Art

Anthony Montuori, our February 2013 Boston Indies speaker, approached an infamous question – you know, the one involving “games” and “art,” dreaded by all who lack ert-fon diagrams – and, in an enlightening talk, took stabs at this question with the intent to kill. Anthony is an artist who makes video games, and as an employee of Boston’s ICA who studied painting and performance art in graduate school, he brings a valuable frame of reference to the questions: are games art? And so what if they are(n’t)?

Art and entertainment are indistinguishable, Anthony argued. Whether or not games are art is moot – the more important point is that in any expressive medium, the vast majority of art is crap. Yet since the judgment of quality is bound up in issues more thorny than we’d like to handle – taste and education, for example – a more useful metric is whether a cultural artifact (a game, an oil painting, or Fifty Shades of Grey) has entered, or can enter, a critical discourse so that its value as a work of art can be assessed.

To demonstrate his ideas, Anthony showed the games he created for his master’s thesis exhibition. Under the guise of a fictitious company called One Line® Games, Anthony created these five games in Processing and installed them in arcade cabinets for the exhibition:

The Adventures of Sisyphus – the player must push a boulder up a hill, forever
Ragz – dress up your avatar (or leave him naked) and navigate a mostly empty platformer world. Coins (the artist’s funds!) are either beyond reach or require you to jump to your death.
Into the Void with Yves Klein – Jump into the void, and stay there as long as possible
Debtris – a Tetris clone in which you pay off the artist’s student loan debt
Peer Pressure – battle your aspiring artist friends for precious gallery space

With each game came a short explanation of the intent of the piece and the critical discourse it enters – Debtris, for example, speaks to the endless struggle to rid ourselves of existential and material burdens, and Peer Pressure satirizes an uncomfortable reality that Anthony has surely come up against. To my mind, spamming the spacebar to cause the boulder to roll up the hill resembles the lever-pressing in a Skinner Box, as others have observed – a Sisyphean existence if there ever was one.

Anthony gave a brief outline of modern art history, starting with Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain (championing the idea that anything can be art as long as it’s put forward by an artist in that context and analyzed in critical discourse), and traced through minimalism, performance art (in which the artwork is a phenomenological experience, rather than an object – with obvious connections to video games), and conceptual art.

This outline of modern art’s history serves to show the artistic environment video games enter – one in which artworks are, rather than objects, schemes for experience devised by an artist, actualized only when consumed by the audience. Game designers work within this paradigm, obviously, and their medium also has the trait of interactivity, inseparable in a way that’s unique to the medium – something Anthony tried to demonstrate with his five-game project.

To those keeping score, that means that yes, video games are art, and yes, let’s please move on. Anthony has little patience for the debate – he prefers to talk about how the bar to entry has been lowered, although it was unclear to this listener whether the “lowered bar” refers to the flattening of the high-culture-low-culture distinction (and thus the “bar” on which the game of prestige hinges is revealed as illusory), or literal obstacles to artistic creation, or both. In any case, the latter is an important point – Anthony talked about how the artform flourishes as the technology needed to create it becomes more accessible, as indie developers are empowered today. Thus Anthony’s pessimistic assessment of most art — as “crap,” that is – brightens.

Anthony ended his talk with a list of games he thinks have successfully entered a critical discourse and lived to tell the tale – successful works of art, in other words, with reasons for each.

Metroid – sparked a discussion about the game designers revealing, contrary to the norm, that the leading character was a strong female, non-sexualized.
Katamari – overabundance of material things can be put to use to create something beautiful.
Braid – about relationships; countered criticisms that video games can’t speak to serious subjects.
Minecraft – gets people to think about the world and how to interact with it and create.
Portal – the player simultaneously authors the game experience and is embedded in the narrative.
Dear Esther – questions what a game is.
Gravity Bone, Thirty Flights of Loving
Passage – captures what it is to be human.
Every day the same dream – captures mundane life.
Run, Jesus, Run
Shadow of the Colossus – visually stunning; asks player to consider her/his motivations; questions the medium – nothing but boss fights.
Superbrothers Sword & Sorcery – compelled me to act despicably and then question why I did so.
Proteus – another “non-game.”
Home – even if not the greatest story, encourages player to go online and discuss with community afterwards.

Some questions arose after the talk that I feel deserve more debate:

  • Can we leverage games being acknowledged as art to constructive ends?
  • What are the alternatives to Anthony’s position that come out on the same side of the debate? And what reasonable positions come out on another side?
  • Can efforts such as the Smithsonian’s “Art of Video Games” exhibition and MoMA’s addition of video games to its permanent collection (although as “design objects” and not art objects) be counterproductive?
  • Why haven’t you read Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives yet?

Sound out in the comments section if you’d like to discuss these topics here.


See Anthony Montuori’s work and contact information on his website: http://www.onelinergames.com/


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.

post

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.