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.


July 2011 Meeting & June 2011 Boston Postmortem – Slam Bolt Scrappers by Fire Hose Games

Here we present one of two parallel posts that provide an insider view of the successful Boston Indies company Fire Hose Games. In this post you can read about two different versions of Eitan’s recent post mortem talk on PSN release Slam Bolt Scrappers.  In the other post by Jon Myers you can read a narrative about the foundation of the company.


On June 8, Fire Hose Games Founder and Creative Director Eitan Glinert and several members of the studio’s development team were at the Skellig in Waltham to give a postmortem of Slam Bolt Scrappers, the studio’s first game.

A month later, Eitan was at the Bocoup Loft in Boston, talking to Boston Indies about the studio’s journey from Ramen-eating artists to releasing Slam Bolt Scrappers on the PlayStation Network.

Both presentations featured the good, not-so-bad, and really bad things that happened along the way to creating Slam Bolt Scrappers. Eitan showed the same slides about the same game to many of the same people. But this doesn’t mean the two presentations were anywhere near the same.

Photo by Elliott Mitchell

Take Eitan’s two opening statements about his presentation on a game about punching baddies in the face and building weapon towers from their dead bodies that was released on March 15:

Boston Post Mortem: “This is something we poured our hearts into, so it’s really hard to say, ‘hey, this is where we screwed up.’”

A month later at Boston Indies: “The whole purpose of this is for you to learn from the shit we did wrong, and hopefully things we did right also.”

At Boston Post Mortem, there were a hundred people or more: journalists from Gamasutra, AAA development studios and other local developers in the industry. Eitan told his studio’s experience developing Slam Bolt Scrappers.

At Boston Indies, there were 30 or so other indie developers (and one wayward journalist), all in varying stages of production that Eitan and Fire Hose Games passed through in the last three years to create Slam Bolt Scrappers. It was a conversational how-to guide, with footnotes, for a room full of friends and acquaintances.

“It all comes down to audience,” Eitan said in a later email conversation. “At BPM I assume there are more ‘industry professionals,’ people who work at big studios and have done so for years. So I try to focus on development points that will be most relevant to them – how we could have improved production, how marketing went, etc.

“At BI I assume there are more ‘aspiring indies,’ or people who are just about to take the plunge into making their own game. For them I focus more on getting the pieces in place that are needed to create the game – things like setting up business deals, putting a team together, and getting your game out there for people to see.”

From the beginning, that was the stuff that the indies assembled in the Bocoup Loft wanted to hear. Unlike the BPM format, where questions came at the end, at Boston Indies Eitan invited the crowd to stop him and ask questions. And that they did.

Why did Fire Hose Games decide to go exclusively with Sony and the PlayStation Network?

“Because they said ‘yes’ to us,” Eitan said. “It’s not like everyone was lining up to throw money at us. But I know very few indies that got the support we got.”

How much time did you put into fundraising?

“You just need someone who is either basically just raising money, or actually … just raising money,” Eitan said.

How important was showing off the game?

“Ultimately, buzz matters more than anything else,” Eitan said. “Get on your soapbox and show people your game. If people aren’t impressed by your game, than ask yourself why they aren’t impressed.”

Fire Hose Games took Slam Bolt Scrappers through five iterations in over two years, which Eitan said was incredibly difficult towards the end, having essentially to throw out three or four months of hard work spent on the fourth iteration.

“I was actually afraid of mutiny at that point,” Eitan said. “It gets really dangerous when you have something mediocre, because then you start lying to yourself and incorrectly thinking it will be good enough if you just put on a few layers of polish.  Be ready to iterate whenever your game is not awesome.”

Screenshot courtesy of Fire Hose Games

Perhaps the most apparent “really bad thing” that happened was entirely out of the studio’s control. They released Slam Bolt Scrappers on March 15, and then in early April the hacker group LulzSec took down PSN.

“Three weeks after it went on sale, suddenly it wasn’t on sale,” Eitan said at BPM.

There wasn’t much anyone could do; Slam Bolt Scrappers’ distribution network evaporated, and so did the games sales. But that hasn’t slowed down Fire Hose. At both events, the studio announced its next project: Go Home Dinosaurs.

Image provided by Fire Hose Games

Eitan later said he hoped what people took away from both his presentations were the hard learned lessons that impacted the games development, hopefully helping people sidestep the landmines he and his team waded through.

But standing up at the Bocoup Loft, Eitan could point out more than half the crowd as an example as someone who helped him and Fire Hose Games when help was needed. And now that Slam Bolt Scrappers is done, there is one more Boston Indie that’s been to the finish line and can help the next stressed out first time developer to the same goal.

At Boston Indies, Eitan said there was one extra message: “You can do it, just be prepared to bust your ass in the process and realize that you can’t go it alone.”


Ian B. Murphy is a newspaper reporter at the MetroWest Daily News in the daytime, but would rather be gaming at any given time. He is excited to learn about the business at a grassroots level, make some friends, and have a few beers.


Studio Happenings – The Origins of Fire Hose Games

Here we present one of two parallel posts that provide an insider view of the successful Boston Indies company Fire Hose Games. In this post you can read about the foundation of the company. In the other post you can read Ian B. Murphy’s comparative coverage of two different versions of Eitan’s recent post mortem talk on PSN release Slam Bolt Scrappers.


A bunch of Boston Indies folk are here on MIT campus right now. We’re at the East Campus BBQ pits for the 3rd anniversary of Fire Hose Games. Founder, Creative Director and Fire Chief Eitan Glinert is prepping the grill and dousing a bed of charcoal in lighter fluid. Nearby on the bench sit stacks of frozen hamburger patties, packages of hot dogs, blocks of cheese slices. I’ve just asked if there is anything I can do to help. After a quick look around at the folks gathering at the benches, he looks to me and says “If you can handle grilling for a first shift of an hour or so, that would be awesome. I’ll look for someone to relieve you…”

Photo courtesy of Elliott Mitchell

He sees Alex Schwartz of Owlchemy approaching in the distance. “We’ll have Alex take over whenever you’re ready. Let me go chat with him.” And he’s off and I’m ready to do some grilling as soon as the coals are ready. And yet, somehow in the middle of all this Eitan has also taken the time to greet and chat with longtime Boston game dev Jerry Wolosenko who hangs out nearby. Can Eitan multi-task? You bet he can.

In a very short time, Eitan has led a small group of three to become an independent game development team of seven with national visibility and a shipped title on the PlayStation Network. But he’ll be the first to tell you he didn’t do it alone. When you meet Eitan you find that he is wildly outspoken with strong opinions — it would not be strange for him say that the letter X is going out of style and soon no one will be using it anymore — which is a fun trait that goes naturally with his off-the-wall humor.

Yet there is also at his center a very grounded humility, an extreme self-awareness of the greater rules at play within the Boston area, the indie community, and the industry. He clearly knows his own place within those larger systems and finds strength within his relation to it. That’s why it’s only natural that their annual celebration takes place here on the MIT campus with his fellow independent game developers. This is where it all began.

To explore the origins of Fire Hose we must travel back to the summer of 2008 at MIT. Eitan was finishing up his Masters in Computer Science and a thesis on computer user interfaces focusing on accessibility in computer games. You can read it here. He was involved with the overlap between The Education Arcade and then-newly-formed Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, and there he met fellow grad students Dan Roy, Ravi Purushotma, and Kristina Drzaic.

Photo courtesy of Elliott Mitchell

Dan and Ravi were working on learning and language games. About a year and a half beforehand, in 2007, Dan had helped to organize the first Boston Game Jam at MIT, and in 2009 he would be involved in the first IGDA Global Game Jam by assisting with the MIT location. For more background, Kristina and Dean Tate were dating (still are) and Dean was then working with Ken Levine at 2KBoston on the original BioShock. Kristina would go on to become Narrative Designer at Irrational Games (formerly 2KBoston) and work with Ken while Dean become Lead Designer at Harmonix to work on Rock Band and Dance Central. Yeah, Boston game development is a small world and it changes fast.

Eitan wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do after graduating. He had looked around and was considering some jobs in the area. At the time, in mid-2008, the idea of “indie” was new. One could point to Geometry Wars as a title. Folks were kinda buzzing about this guy Jonathan Blow who was making something called Braid that would release in the summer on XBLA along with Castle Crashers. The concept of a one-person studio was a complete myth, but still an exciting aspiration. Can a “studio” exist with lower numbers of people while retaining ownership over their own IP?

Photo courtesy of Elliott Mitchell

Little did Eitan know at the time that Ichiro Lambe and Dejobaan had been releasing games as an independent company since 1999. Eitan sought advice from a friend of his, Jenova Shen, with whom he had worked on educational games for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington D.C. during 2005-2006. While Eitan next went to grad school at MIT Genova immediately started a little venture called thatgamecompany (Cloud, Flow, Flower) with former USC schoolmate Kellee Santiago. You could say they’ve had some success releasing as independent game developers via downloadable games on PSN.

While at GAMBIT, Eitan joked around with Matthew Weise about Eitan starting his own company. He considered it the opposite of getting a job for someone else and being forced to do what someone else wants him to do. He kidded around with others as well, kinda toungue-in-cheek: “What if I really did that? What if I formed my own company? Wouldn’t that be crazy?” After saying it enough the thought changed to “Well, why not?”

By the time he was serious about starting his own company, Eitan already knew Sharat Bhat, who at the time was finishing up his undergraduate degree at MIT. When Eitan decided to go for it he held a cookout at the East Campus BBQ pits to celebrate his decision and vowed to hold a cookout event each summer as an anniversary party. Though Sharat couldn’t make it, the two began to talk more seriously about him joining the company. Soon after this they met Ethan Fenn of Harmonix through an introduction by mutual friend Trey Reyher. And so, in the summer of 2008, Eitan Glinert formed the Boston Indie company Fire Hose Games, initiating its first growth as a studio with a pair of fellow MIT graduates.

Photo courtesy of Elliott Mitchell

Three years later in present day 2011, I pop my head up from the grill, eyes tearing from the smoke of dozens of hot dogs and burgers, and I spy countless Singapore-MIT GAMBIT students and instructors mixing with whatever Boston devs caught the last-minute word about the event. I’m having a blast and Eitan drops by every so often to throw frozen patties onto the sizzling grill before saying for the fifth time “Thank you soooo much, beer is on me next time out” and jetting off to be five places at once. My shift is almost over and I’m about to hand off the responsibility to Alex. I can’t flip the burgers fast enough to keep up with the line of folks waiting with hamburger buns on paper plates.

So it’s obvious: immediately everything worked out perfectly and happily ever after and all that, huh? We’re talking the indie Cinderella story, right?

Not so much. It’s never that simple. Even now, with the good fortune and recognition they’ve received at Fire Hose, Eitan will tell you that just as life has its uncertainties the games industry has its share of the same and then some. He tells me that he still has to worry and think about the next steps every day. I hope that is self-evident if you followed the PSN outage.

The fledgling startup obtained seed money by selling the company on the strength of the team rather than on a particular project in queue. All of the support came from family and personal investment. Initially, their motto was “Games With a Positive Impact” and they thought primarily about games that benefit the user. However, they also decided early on that longevity is more important. If it would be necessary to choose between initial goals and survival, they agreed to always go with the wiser fiscal decision. They knew even then that adaptability would be crucial to running an independent game development studio.

They started out in a humble basement directly off Kendall Square, close to MIT. It was the exact space in which Ms. Pac Man was developed, lending to some trivia and a sense of following in the footsteps of great classic game production. Fitting for the beginnings of an indie studio, but the reality is also that Fire Hose had to deal with overhead pipes and noise while the space configuration required that they walk through another company’s office just to get to their own. They were also not sure what to do about roles and titles because to start off everybody did a little of everything. They adopted the tradition, still in place today, that an employee comes up with their own title. They can have any title they want, except that it cannot be lying (i.e. saying you’re a programmer when you’re not) and cannot choose anything related to a stupid internet meme. This is how Eitan became “Fire Chief”, Ethan became “Programmer and Principal Trombonist” and Sharat became “Programmer and resident Tales of Vesperia expert.”

Photo courtesy of Elliott Mitchell

With two other programmers, Eitan shifted to a design and business focus. Naturally, they immediately ran into the problem of not having an artist. And the problem of not having the money to pay an artist what they are worth. Or the problem of not having the money to pay themselves, really. Eitan is pretty staunch on this: “You can only eat Ramen for so long.”

So they took on people as necessary and as they could afford it. They first brought on Jason Wiener as “Super Artist” and they knew even at formation that’s what they wanted. But they needed to fund the hire and convince someone as good as Jason (who likewise has a fitting personality to be on their team) to have faith in a small endeavor. This always comes up with indie companies. Why spend time developing for peanuts when there are well paying positions out there with AAA companies?

Fire Hose began contract work for others to both keep themselves going and enable necessary hiring for their own projects. This was not exactly a decision. They did what was necessary and if an opportunity came up, they took it. Eitan looked for anything, including publishers. Those earlier small-world-Boston connections came through. Although unable to speak about it at the time, Fire Hose worked for months on the Kinect launch title Dance Central for their friends at Harmonix. This also gave them a break from their own work so that when they came back to the project they could look at it with fresh eyes. From the point at which they hired Jason and then expanded further, Fire Hose would never return to a staff of only four employees again. At one point during the development of Slam Bolt Scrappers they had a staff of ten; today they have seven.

Photo courtesy of David Bolton

Etian admits that at times they have had to let people go. There are downs to go with those ups. When I ask him about the downs he’s hesitant, which is normal because you have to stay positive and you can’t wallow in those moments or you won’t get by. He then tells of a time near the end of 2009, when Slam Bolt Scrappers was in its fourth iteration (see here for SBS development history) and they had poured four months of time and work into it. They submitted to IndieCade, IGF and “all over the place” but didn’t get into any of them.

He knew the game wasn’t good enough. He knew he needed to get the full team on board for a completely new iteration. He was understandably worried about team mutiny, about failure, wondering “what if the fifth iteration is crap?” The scope had ballooned, they were running out of money, the apocalypse was nigh and the Earth was going to be destroyed in a ball of flames, possibly preceded by zombies!1!!1 However, Eitan’s co-workers and community gave him a proverbial slap across the face. In particular, he and Ichiro went out and had a beer so he could relax. With some advice and consolation from friends, Eitan realized zombies can’t even climb ladders, and SBS would survive. Even smack talk from Macguffin Games wouldn’t keep them down.

And the down was then followed by an up. Call it luck, talent, drive, spirit — call it whatever you like — but it happened. Fire Hose began the fifth iteration with the goal of doing one completely different level to see what improvements could be made. It took only one month (Jan 2010) to make that new level, test it out, and decide to completely go in the new direction. And then they scrapped that first new level for a second level, and that second level became the game. It would be accepted into the first PAX East Boston Indies Showcase that spring of 2010. From this, Eitan gained the insight that it’s harder to refuse to settle on something when it’s mediocre or “okay” but not good enough. It’s tougher to say “it’s not great” and to keep going until it meets the highest of standards.

Back at the cookout, Eitan drops by the grill again as I’m about to finish my shift. He points to three burgers near the upper left and says “Okay those three are done.” He turns to the line of expectant folks to his left, “You, you, and you — regular or veggie?” They nod and jump forward as I drop the burgers onto the buns with the spatula. “Have you had any yet?” I reply nope. “Once you’ve grabbed a plate and buns come back around this side to jump in line first. You deserve it. And thank you sooooo much. Your help has been incredible. Beer is on me next time.” I turn and hand the spatula to Alex, happy to have helped. There is something about Eitan that makes you want to help. You want the people around you to succeed as a team.


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 events for, contact [email protected].



July 2011 Boston Post Mortem – Death of An Indie Studio – Macguffin Games

[UPDATE: We just got word that there is audio capture from the event that will be synced with the slides and we will post that here for a fuller experience once we get our hands on it.  Follow @bostonindies to receive notice.]

Boston Post Mortem, the Greater Boston chapter of the International Game Developers Association, held its monthly meeting at The Skellig in Waltham on Wednesday, July 13th with an excellent featured talk by indie guru Scott Macmillan. Scott’s presentation was the next evolution of his popular “Death of an Indie Studio” presentation that was featured at PAX East this spring. The Skellig was packed once again this month with developers and industry members from major area studios such as Turbine, Irrational Games, and 38 Studios; smaller studios and independents including Fire Hose Games, Demiurge Studios, and Owlchemy Labs; and students from media programs at area schools like Northeastern University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Berklee College of Music.

For those who were unable to attend this month and may have missed Scott at PAX East, “Death of an Indie Studio” is an educational and entertaining talk about Scott’s experiences starting, growing, and (eventually) closing his own independent game studio – Macguffin Games. Throughout his talk, Scott shares meaningful stories of pitfalls and lessons learned about how to run a business using anecdotes of his successes and failures along the way. Scott touches on humorous and honest topics such as why working from home can be as dangerous as it is liberating, what its like to have people working for you when its your own company, the challenges of online marketing, and how not every game idea is a marketable one.

Game and development enthusiasts who missed the meeting or have never met Scott might assume that his talk is all doom and gloom.  Much to the contrary, “Death of an Indie Studio” is a real and refreshing perspective on independent game development and the trials and triumphs of owning your own company and being your own boss. His tone never falters and his message is clear: if making a game or starting your own company is your dream, go for it – just know what you’re getting yourself into. Scott certainly has no regrets about his own experiences.

Scott has also provided his slides from his presentation. Though entertaining in their own right, they are nowhere near as good as the real thing.

Elliott Mitchel, President of Vermont Digital Arts and Co-Founder of the Boston Unity Group was kind enough to share his pictures from this month’s Post Mortem.

Ben Wiley has worked in both the retail and development sides of the game industry for nearly a decade. His passion is largely in online games, especially persistent, massively-multiplayer worlds. His areas of expertise include writing and marketing.  An active member of the game development community in Boston, you can often catch him at Boston Post Mortem, Boston Unity Group, and Boston Indies whenever they occur. Ben currently works for Turbine, publisher of the popular Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online games.

Studio Happenings – What Makes Ananse Different?

From contributing writer Kwasi Mensah

It takes a special type of crazy to start a game company. You have to take the time requirements of making a game, which are notorious for being long and unpredictable, and combine them with the stresses of a startup. Then there’s the toppings of management, PR, book keeping and event planning which are all necessary but you’re probably not passionate about. The chances of fame are slim at best when competing against powerhouses like EA and Activsion. And of course there’s the sea people who are also crazy and are juggling as many hats as you are. Digital distribution helps but at the end of the day you’re still fighting the ultimate uphill battle. Why would I start Ananse Productions then? In this post I outline the special type of crazy that hopefully sets Ananse apart from everyone else.

I grew up with an amazing support system. My mother, Pastor and several other people in my parish made sure I kept my head on straight. I was always smart but without them I never would have had the opportunity to leave NYC for college. At the end of high school I realized I that had a responsibility to pay their kindness forward. I wanted to affect people lives in concrete and specific ways. Even though I ended up going to college to study Computer Science, teaching was always in the back of my head. However, I convinced myself that I should work hard at a career that I loved and that helping people will eventually fall in place.

A few months after graduating I went back to college for a recruitment fair. While covering my old company’s booth, I saw a friend who was still in school and was looking for a job. I tried to get him to our table so I could impress him with my recruitment spiel but then he said something that will always stick with me. “Oh, I want to work somewhere I can help people”. He immediately apologized for his off the cuff remark but that little quip started the wheels in my head, getting me to think about ways to prove him wrong.

A year and a half later, I was feeling antsy at my job. A co-worker had gotten me to start volunteering but I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough. But then at Boston GameLoop a light went off in my head in the panels on Diversity in Gaming and on Women in Gaming. I was in a room full of people who were saying out loud what I’ve been thinking for years, “Why aren’t my favorite games doing more to include me?” That’s when the idea for Ananse started germinating in my head.

Stem Stumper

It took a couple of months to shake out the specifics in my head. Eventually “Games For the Rest of Us” became the lightning rod that centered the problems I wanted to solve. It’s easy for developers (or any type of creator for that matter) to make content for themselves. They can just turn to the person next them, agree its a character they’d both want to play, and get back to work. Making games for people that aren’t in the room is hard. That’s the problem I want Ananse to solve. But not through market analytics, focus testing or an over-reliance on playtesting. I want to make games that appeal to underrepresented gaming groups by genuinely learning about and gaining empathy for their life experiences. And ultimately I want to help increase the diversity of people who are in the room making decisions about the game in the first place.

There’s still a couple of other reasons that I started Ananse Productions. My inner entrepreneur wants to see if I can stand out on my own and I also love solving hard problems. But with Ananse I’m trying use that wiring for good. I’m trying to use games as a mechanism for teaching and promoting diversity. Even if staring my own company to explore these ideas is crazy, I think that’s the type of crazy we need more of in the games industry.

Special thanks to Alison Koegler and Ashley Birt for reading early copies of this.


Kwasi Mensah has been programming for as long as he can remember. Using the Ananse stories of his Ghanaian background, Kwasi is looking to make games that represent the varied people and cultures of the world we live in.



May 2011 Meeting – Ananse Productions

At the Boston Indies meeting on May 23, Kwasi Mensah of Ananse Productions presented on Game Design and Accessibility in the new space at The Bocoup Loft. He gave a talk that was one part postmortem for their recent iPhone release of Stem Stumper and one part impassioned lesson about making games available to everyone. It was clear at the presentation, as it is in his own post, that Kwasi believes games are a powerful medium in which developers can reach out to all people.

Kwasi was an intern on Medal of Honor just out of school and more recently served as an engineer for Demiurge here in Boston. He wanted to do something new and self-initiated. He decided to begin his own company in order to make, as the Ananse motto puts it best, “games for the rest of us.”

After that brief background, Kwasi drew an important distinction when it comes to discussing how to make games more available. On the one hand, he defined usability as concerned with the developer’s attempt to make the interaction as intuitive or simple as possible, preventing steep learning curves or frustration. On the other hand, he explained that accessibility involves careful attention to the needs of those with disabilities. As he pointed out, taking one of these into account will very often lead to the other. He also noted that this distinction is very often overlooked.

Kwasi likewise observed that these concerns are typically taken into account too late in the development process. To make games that are available for everyone, he claimed, the developer must include these considerations in the design process from the start. Throughout the remainder of the talk he continually referenced this as the number one priority for anyone who desires to make accessible games: think about it at the beginning.

Stem Stumper in the sound-only "Sonar Mode"

The remainder of his presentation (slides below) was divided into sections covering Hearing, Touch and Mobility, Sight, Screen Readers and Resources. Throughout, Kwasi provided jaw-dropping statistics to demonstrate the vast size of a consumer base that most developers seldom consider at all. Over and over, he referenced Angry Birds as a title whose design and play lead the pack of mobile games in usability and accessibility. Attributing inclusiveness to the success of Angry Birds, he also theorized that greater availability can only lead to greater sales. Enabling players to play at their own pace is another suggestion that resurfaced multiple times. As a final note note on process, he claimed that user testing (and in particular testing with a diverse cross-section of people) is absolutely crucial. “One cannot make sure a game is accessible without actually having a diverse group of people play it. Any talk about accessibility that doesn’t involve testing is not a good talk,” he said.

Kwasi concluded with some resources and references that you can find on the final slide in his presentation, which he shared with the us on email the very next day. Clearly, Kwasi is a workhorse of compassion who always thinks of others before himself. I for one am proud to call him a member of our community.



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.


April 2011 Meeting – Demiurge Studios

Monday, April 11th, saw the kick off of another well-attended meeting of the Boston Indies. Featured this month was the team from Demiurge Studios and their Studio Director, Albert Reed.  Speaking about the development of the studio’s first original title Shoot Many Robots, Al gave a fantastic talk that was peppered with many humorous and enlightening annecdotes.

Shoot Many Robots is a 4-player co-op, run-n’-gun RPG releasing in 2011 for digital download on unannounced platforms.  The game features classic side-scrolling shoot-em-up action with a deceptively deep RPG-style advancement system and more robotic enemies than you can shake a rocket launcher at.

Al began by introducing the studio for those less familiar with it already.  Founded in 2002, Demiurge has built an impressive resume of work on titles such as Rock Band, Titan’s Quest, Bioshock, Mass Effect, and Brothers in Arms.  In total, Demiurge helped to deliver over 20 titles to market for its customers, thus earning deep respect as a world-class production house. Despite widely-recognized work and success, Al explained that the studio always wanted to develop its own title.  The team got the chance to begin doing so last year.

With a stable base built from hard work on other titles, Demiurge had positioned itself to realize their original desire. During their long history of development projects, Demiurge touched on many different genres of games – shooters, music games, adventure RPGs, and others. The studio needed to assess itself and then decide just what kind of game studio they really were.  The developers asked themselves “what kind of game is a Demiurge game?”   They implemented a rather unique system to decide upon their first title.  First, an employee with an idea for a game discusses it with their peers within a department.  Then, if it passes the test of critique and criticism, they present the idea to the entire studio during lunch. The design concept that won out in this process is the simple but engaging: Shoot Many Robots.

Al Reed; Studio Director, Co-founder of Demiurge

Al was honest and critical about how the studio began to market the game.  Very quickly they shot and released a promotional trailer for the game.  It featured no actual gameplay content or, in fact, any indication of what the game was about… except for shooting many robots.  Numerous video game news sites picked up the trailer and sang the games praises despite a lack of substantial knowledge about it.  Since then, the studio’s marketing has become more sophisticated but the original style remains true.  The game is about shooting robots, big guns, bigger explosions, and shooting more robots.  Al shared more stories about the process of pitching the game to publishers and lessons that Demiurge learned along the way.

Although we can’t provide much detail here, Al went on to share screenshots and gameplay videos from various points in the timeline of ongoing development.  He explained how the game evolved between each one and the reasons or results for each. Here, the evening did have a single low point. After the taste we received from Al’s talk left us hungry for more, everyone learned that Shoot Many Robots will not be released until later this year.  If you were unable to make it to the meeting and also missed Demiurge at PAX East and the Brown Independent Game Development Expo, you’ll have to settle for salivating over the concept art, screenshots, and videos on the Shoot Many Robots media page.


Ben Wiley has worked in both the retail and development sides of the game industry for nearly a decade.  His passion is largely in online games, especially persistent, massively-multiplayer worlds.  His areas of expertise include writing and marketing.  An active member of the game development community in Boston, you can often catch him at Boston Post Mortem, Boston Unity Group, and Boston Indies whenever they occur.


Studio Happenings – Lantana Games on Patriot’s Day

From contributing writer Dan Silvers.

For the last year and half, Lantana Games has been developing a game entitled Children of Liberty, a blend of stealth and platforming that takes place on the eve of the American Revolution in and around Boston. The responses to the premise have run the gamut from “That’s pretty cool,” to “Holy Bleeping Bleep dude!” and even “Please tell me this is out already.” Development of the game has had its ups and downs, with a lot of progress being made recently in terms of design and coding, but the loss of a key member earlier this year has forced some major aesthetic changes. Still, we’ve kept our heads up, have run a successful Kickstarter campaign, got a little bit of family-based funding, and expanded our small band of merry men and women into a full fledged team.

Our PR to this point has been all word-of-mouth and postcards. Though I’ve been designing games my whole life, I started my actual working career as an intern at an ad design agency, so I know a thing or two about branding and reaching your target audience, who for us is everyone 10 and above. We want the game to be enjoyable by kids as an educational experience, but also by adults as a nail-biting, immersive, awesome stealth-based game in the vein of Assassin’s Creed, Thief, or Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s a tricky balancing act, but tricky as that is, getting the word out about it has been even trickier.

Normally, a company would hire a PR group to handle spreading the word, but as our funding is miniscule like I pointed out in a recent BostInnovation article, we’ve been on our own for handling PR. The internet has brought to our industry a slew of new devices for getting the word out about our projects. Screenshots, trailers, and articles brought to you in the palm of your hand on your mobile device mean you can read about the latest games in development while riding the bus. God forbid, however, that someone come up to you and talk about the latest games in development while riding the bus.

At Made in MA last year, prior to PAX East 2010, we had our first ever playable build on display. This was also our way of announcing the game after we had been very hush-hush about what we were working on, having gone so far as to say our game was entitled, Zombie Ninjas Ate My Robot Brains. The actual project was, thankfully, quite different. By next year’s Made in MA, however, we were going through our aesthetic and engine switch into Unity, so we made a Kickstarter video showing where we were taking the game aesthetically and introducing ourselves as a team to the world. We printed up postcards with a little bit of info and relevant links for people to check out, and handed them around the show floor.

Battle of Lexington Reenactment on Patriot's Day, courtesy of Lantana Games

A few weeks later, Patriots day was coming around. Our thinking was, “Holy crap, this is the day the game takes place! This is the perfect opportunity for us to get the word out about the project to the people!” Printing up more postcards AND making our Kickstarter 50% off for that day only, we hit up the reenactments in the area. Sam, our Resident Production Designer and CFO, drove out to Lexington to attend the Battle of Lexington reenactment, doing his damned best to tell people about the project, only to have the postcards handed back to him or outright rejected in the first place. I went to the William Dawes arrival in Brighton, only to be told by parents that they “don’t let their kids play video games,” or that they themselves hadn’t played a game since Pac Man and so weren’t interested. This was especially frustrating as, in theory, the crowds were there to see these events in action, and our game is THE game to go with these events! Why were being ignored? BLARGH!

The main lesson learned from all this was that while the hardcore gaming and game development crowd can understand the need for a cheaply-done grassroots movement by a startup indie team, most people don’t know about the indie scene and assume all developers have AAA money, so being handed a postcard and hearing a request for financial support is out of place for a game developer in the public’s eye. Now that the Kickstarter has hit its minimum by the start of its final week (PHEW!), we can shift our focus toward distributing more digital media, issuing proper press releases, and generally doing things by the book. The grassroots movement was a risk, and you never get forward in life, business, or game development if you don’t take risks. It just happened to be a risk that didn’t pay off as well as we had hoped.

What excites me most is really being able to finish this up and see how far the Kickstarter will go in its last week while hoping to hit $7000 in order to launch on iPhone. We’re just lucky we haven’t done anything blatantly wrong so far, but we have some great people in the community watching our backs, always making sure we do things right as a business, as a developer, and from a legal perspective. It’s an amazing feeling to know we have great friends in the community here who are ready to not only support our game, but who are also willing to test it, kick our asses, and even help out its development in order to make Children of Liberty a truly incredible experience.

With a lot of elbow grease, a continued passion for its development, and sleep deprivation, our beta is looking to hit sometime this summer.

Dan Silvers is the Resident Game Designer and CEO of Lantana Games


Everything is Fine. Finally.

I have spent the last week trapped in my bathroom.  I blame GLaDOS.

I’m now free, and I thank all of you.

My name’s Ichiro Lambe, and I run Dejobaan Games. If you play our games (Aaaaa!KICK IT!, and Wonderful), you may have noticed that, over the past few weeks, they’ve been acting up. First, it was potatoes. Then it was Companion Cubes and covers of Still Alive (here and here) all over the place. But now, there is this:

We didn’t really take note of anything, at first. I mean, bugs pop up, right? Every time a new Windows Service Pack makes the rounds, we have to recompile with a new version of MSSPISPOPD.LIB, or AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! starts trying to compute pi in Visual Basic. Potatoes? Fine. Every programmer knows that’s bound to happen sometimes.

But it turns out that GLaDOS was carefully tweaking our games, simultaneously giving them intelligence and maleficence. They gradually evolved into fully-fledged AIs, whereupon they started making bigger changes to themselves. Hidden messages in Aaaaa!. A warehouse in Wonderful. Weird, spindly, alien things which I still don’t know what they are. And they wanted these changes to propagate.

What should have tipped me off was that our games appeared tossed in a sack together on Steam. That doesn’t happen without a call to Valve on their Red Telephone. (Protip: you can reach it by dialing the number “4.” Do not mention Episode 3.) But apparently the AI’s whipped together a chatbot articulate enough to sound like me when I’m drunk and demanding.

I wanted this over, so I tried slowing them down by feeding them a Spanish language learning tape. This annoyed them.

Madam, I have lost my starchy tubers.
Señora, he perdido mi tubérculos feculentos.

Two guys bust into my house, tied me up, and stuffed me into the bath tub. From the browser logs, it looks like the AIs ordered them online. I did not know you could do this. They even got a receipt (“Movers – $1,195.50”), which is smart, because you can deduct that as a business expense at tax time.

The AIs then started tweeting in earnest, posting images hinting at the changes they’ve made, and working to discredit an uplifted raccoon named Steve. GLaDOS, herself, started showing up in the games, taunting users, and so forth.

I spent the next day or so trying to communicate, though the UI on my smartphone was set to Lithuanian, so I couldn’t do much beyond post a few corrupted images and order cold borscht for delivery (delicious!). Eventually, my battery died, and I was left to sit in the tub for days, with only a basket of herbal gift soaps to eat. I spent a few hours singing Jonathan Coulton, but they eventually got tired of the noise, and had someone come in to slap a gag on me. (“Upkeep – $210.00”)

During this time, my business partners, Dan and Leo, simply assumed that I was spending my time browsing /q/ on 4chan. (This is stupid, because we all know you can only do that for about 15 minutes at a time, but I digress.) Last night, the pair saw #whereisichiro trending, and broke down my door to find me lying in my tub, delirious, albeit with really fresh breath. Dan spent about five minutes photographing me before I got pissed off, and then they untied me.

It’s taken us all freaking night to bring things under control. We wiped out the AIs (Protip 2: Just use the “Everything I say is a lie” line, and kill anything that’s pegged at 99% in the Task Manager). But we left the gameplay changes in, because people were enjoying them.

And that’s it. GLaDOS is still out there. Fellow indies Rob and Alex tell me that she’s still screwing around with Cogs and BEAT. No word from Dylan or the others, but I assume they’re a-ok. But it’s clear that she’s biding her time, waiting to return to life once again.

This weekend, my team and I are going to Seattle to see if we can straighten this out with Valve. I am going to give Gabe Newell an angry piece of my mind, and maybe ask if he’ll sign my copy of Portal 2.

I’d like to thank you all once again. It was your messages of support that both kept me going and led my team to me. The photoshops were touching, and I once again feel strong enough that I can work on my games (albeit behind a firewall this time). For those who want a more detailed description of what went on during the first part of this, we had prepared this report.

Oh, and one more thing. A message for people who say that video games aren’t dangerous: You’re dead wrong.


Has Anyone Seen Ichiro?

Boston Indies community: I’m a little worried and I’d like the rest of you to be involved because I think our good friend may need our help.  This may sound crazy, but I have reason to believe that Ichiro is no longer the one using the Dejobaan Twitter account.  I’m afraid that Ichiro may be missing.  It may be up to us to find him.

I’ve been corresponding with Ichiro on email the past week or so in anticipation of a Dejobaan post here on  I knew he was busy because I checked in with him while collecting links for Andrew Vanden Bossche’s PAX recap, but he still kept up regular contact and nothing was odd at that point.  I have to admit I was shocked when suddenly 1… 2… 3… KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like An Ugly Baby) released prematurely on April 1, the exact same day we launched this site with our first four posts.  Still, this was nothing to be all that concerned about.

But things got weird.

And then they got weirder.

I can only assume that what followed was a strange combat tactic to subvert with confusion.  Things began to look pretty bleak for Dejobaan.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

And then, this happened.

I was half-concerned, half-amused.  This must be some kind of trick.  An interesting Alternate Reality Game. This is all tongue in cheek, right?

Wrong.  As Darren Torpey pointed out, we didn’t see him last night at the Boston Indies meeting.  Ichiro and I were supposed to have a discussion about his post for this site.  It was planned as a follow up discussion to our recent emails.  At the Boston Indies meeting, Scott Macmillan, Darren and I made a public announcement about this site to our group and I spoke with several people about it.  Al Reed of Demiurge gave a great presentation and Ben Wiley will write it up as a post soon enough.  Eitan and I talked for some time about his upcoming post that will provide a studio portrait of Fire Hose Games.  But Ichiro?  Nowhere to be found…

Looking back, I suppose I was a little uneasy at this point, but not quite alarmed.  Still skeptical, I needed proof that anything was truly amiss before I would allow such uncertain and illogical thoughts to take hold.  I’m an agnostic when it comes to these types of things.  I’m not easily swayed onto the bandwagon of fear or paranoia.

So I shot off an email to Ichiro this afternoon to follow up.  Here is the response I received:



I must be careful.  I’m being monitored.  The answer is in the blight.

aaaaaaaabbbbbccccccccccccdddddddddddddddd eeeeeeeeeeeeefffff!



I suddenly realized that this may not be a game.  Maybe something sinister was afoot.  Perhaps unknown forces were conspiring and the electronic world had tilted on its axis, opening the flood gates to unspeakable dangers.

But I was at work.  I had things to do.  I set it aside.  Maybe if was fear or denial.  Please forgive me, Ichiro, for letting this sit for so long.  Time will judge my actions.

Several hours later in the evening, I responded.  I asked him what was wrong.  I asked what I could do to help.  This was the response:


Subject: Re: [Out of Office Reply] Post


Thank you for your message.  I am currently out of the office, with [limited] [no] access to email.  I will be returning on [day] [date].

If you need assistance before then, you can reach me at [telephone number].  For urgent issues, please contact [name] at [e-mail address] or [telephone number].


how that tin pot :ate /
/was good only once
.now go
leave /me Elone red
jazz quick zebras

Nothing is wrong.  Please disregard.  Oh that.  Yes.  Someone wrote a poem for me do you like it everything is fine and the weather is charming in Boston as always don’t you think I do too can we all learn to set aside our differences for the good of s-self fulfilment yes of course that’s what I mean because I always say that don’t I I’m a very funny guy ha-ha. Yes.

There is work to do.

Good night.


Again, fellow Boston Indies: if you have seen Ichiro, please let us know.  Tweet any information with the hashtag #whereisIchiro so we can all participate.  Please note any sightings, where and when — even if you only see him for a moment.  He will probably be wearing his zebra design jacket.  Do not approach him.  It may be a trick.  Report back and stay safe.  I’ll update if I find out more.  Check back again soon.

Jon Myers
(& Darren Torpey)


UPDATE 2011.04.13 1:55 PM (EST)

lookingforichiro has decoded some information from the text of the strange emails.  See the comments below.  Thank you for your help.

Photo by Matthew Wenger

Here is a picture of Ichiro wearing his zebra design jacket at the Independent Games Summit of the Game Developers Conference.


UPDATE 2011.04.13 5:36PM (EST)

Okay, this is hitting a little too close to home. Moments ago as I returned to my desk with coffee to keep me going I suddenly heard loud crash. Like an idiot, I ran toward the sound at my desk to see what was up. (I’ve got to check that instinct from here on out.)  I saw a furry… something… going out the window. Somebody shouted, shrieked, heck I’m not really sure anymore, I’m just shaking as I type this. The critter must have landed on someone’s head or something. I think… I think it was a raccoon but it looked like it was wearing a checked shirt, jeans and a toolbelt. (I know how crazy that sounds.  Trust me.) When I shook it off and looked at my computer the browser was open to a banking site. (!?) Someone had entered the wrong account information three times and been locked out. It wasn’t my bank. In fact, I’ve never heard of this bank.  The computer went into sleep mode.  I retyped my password (it worked! whew) but the browser was closed. When I reopened it, the whatever banking website I had seen was now gone from my history. Sorry folks. I messed up and lost a clue, it seems.  I wish I’d copied the address somewhere.  Friends, I’m thinking I may just stay home from the Bostonpostmortem meeting tonight.


UPDATE 2011.04.13 7:35PM (EST)

WTF!? And now my computer at home?  My bookmarks are all gone.  Someone changed all of them to YTMND pages.  Not cool.

More sightings are pouring in.  One of them from Arshan Gailus.  I’ll check these all out and report back if any of them seem legit.  This is almost too much to deal with.  I had a life of my own yesterday.  Now I feel like I’m caught up in more than I bargained for.

Forget it, I’m going out to Bostonpostmortem. I need to have a beer and talk this out with some familiar local devs.  At least they can help me to laugh about this.

Looks like I’ll be late.  Oh, well.  Nothing else seems to be going my way.


UPDATE 2011.04.14 2:28AM (EST)

Okay. Zero. At Bostonpostmortem, in numerous emails and on zero Twitter I’ve been weeding through possible three sightings.  From what I four can tell, almost every one of them is a case of mistaken identity.  In some cases they were twenty-seven just fooling around and not taking this seriously.  But one sighting zero is sincere and accurate, I believe.  Arshan (previous update) was on zero to something.   By his account, Ichiro was at three the Government Center T station, wearing the zebra jacket.  Arshan called out four to Ichiro by name seconds to see if he was all right; he replied, “That is not my name” and froze in place.   When Arshan twenty attempted to approach, pseudo-Ichiro began to blather seven on that “everything is fine.”  He then jumped a turnstile and words ran away.


I tried to sleep earlier. But I’m having trouble. I’m feeling woozy. I keep going over everything. Two more tweets today from the Dejobaan Twitter, here and here. Can anyone make anything of those?  Are they Ichiro?  I doubt it.

And then a tweet with the shortened web address led to a sound file posted here

As you can see, that link is now broken.  Luckily some others caught it in time and posted it here.

It says something about a raccoon.  Just like I saw.  Just like the one mentioned below in the comments.

What I can’t figure out is the relevance of the sequence of numbers 88375466.  They are typed in the Steve video, and appear twice in the Chrome tabs in the picture.

I feel like I’m loosing it.  Like the numbers are just appearing in my head for no reason.  They fade in from transparent to a yellow neon before  snapping away like an unexpectedly breaking rubber band.  With music.  The trance inducing view of Dejobaan’s 1… 2… 3… KICK IT! gameplay rushing past me.

Especially when I close my eyes.


UPDATE 2011.04.14 10:47AM (EST)

My computer is talking to me.  I’m thinking I won’t ask my co-worker if she hears it.  I mean he.  I mean she.  I mean he. I mean she.  I mean he.


I did not sleep.  The words are angry.  Snarling at times.  There is the unmistakable odor of schnapps.  I counted twenty-seven words one time.  Later I timed it at thirty-four seconds.  The voice is so angry and animal.  But gender is becoming so confusing to me.

The words that I process are musical at times.  They have rhythm.  They flow with movement in chorus, like lyrics and verses, like… like…

Like a poem.

You know, I really don’t think we have anything to worry about anymore.  I wonder if Ichiro is really missing.  Perhaps, after all is said and done, everything is fine.


UPDATE 2011.04.14 09:06AM (PDT)
belief is sight is as
incoherent, it goes
the way of life
xerographic consequences
For you and me
with more
2 see
good by


False alarm, Ichiro’s not missing, everything ERORORRORORORRO OR  OR ERORR ERROR OR ERROR





UPDATE 2011.04.15 09:00PM (EST)

I woke up late this afternoon with an unbelievable hangover.  Downed some Pepto, popped some pankillers, donned some sunglasses and I was good to go.

Then I fell asleep for another several hours.

Let me tell you, that Steve Procyon can party like a fucking rock-star.  I haven’t been on a bender like this since college, maybe.

Wait a minute, this must sound confusing.  Let me rewind to Wednesday evening.

I was just back from Postmortem on Wednesday when I spotted Steve scrambling out my backdoor.  It was the same thing I’d seen at work.  At the time I didn’t realize that he was on the lam and was using my place to hide out.  This would later explain why my bottle of Peppermint Schnapps was diluted to 50% water and the TV control had been smashed against the wall.  (I must admit, when it acts wonky and the TV is stuck on America’s Next Top Model, it is very tempting.)

So he’s about to book it through my backyard when I yell “Stop!  Wait!”  This gets his attention.  He turns back towards me and I ask “You the one from online?”  He says nothing, just sort of twitches his nose and shows his teeth, like he’s had enough of being pushed around lately, ready to take a stand. Again, I ask “Are you… Steve the Raccoon?”

Can I just say right now that this is exactly the wrong thing to say to Steve?  Because, it is.  He shrieked something that sounded like a few well known four-letter profanities jumbled into one ferocious four-syllable word.  And leapt.

From that point, it’s all a blur of gray fur, blue jeans and little sharp lines of red.  Holy hell, can that dude scrap.  For a small furry creature he is quick.  And strong.

Now here’s the thing about the guy.  He’s actually really cool.  He felt bad about kicking my ass until I was barely conscious, so he made sure I got to the hospital.  The nurses tell me he visited every couple hours to make sure I was okay.  And he was there when I came to.  Mister Procyon is a decent guy when you get to know him.  He even took my picture yesterday on the way out and offered to buy the first round.

I'm okay!

Massachusetts General Hospital. Photo by Steve Procyon

Unfortunately, it was the first of around 40 some odd rounds.  And that’s what got me into my current state.  Ouch.  It’s a bit hazy, but I will always cherish my memory of stealing a taxi and convincing our passengers that they were on the Boston pilot of Cash Cab.

Anyway, now that I see what’s going on and have taken the time to catch up, it appears that Ichiro is back and all is well.  I appreciate that others did not become distracted like me, leaving their posts unguarded.  My bad.  Trust me, though; if you get a chance to hang with Steve Procyon, do it.


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.


Dan Brainerd is the Dejobaan Games Narrative and Gameplay guy. He likes to play games. He likes to make games more fun. He likes to pretend. Hug him.