Thursday, February 21, 2013

IndieCadeEast 2013–Games and Creativity

While I’ve played my share of video games growing up, I didn’t know much about independent games or game development before I attended IndieCadeEast 2013. Thanks to Diana, we made our way to the Museum of Moving Image in Queens this past weekend to the first IndieCade on the east coast. After two and a half days of intense convention activities, I learned a thing or two about games, crowd energy, creative design, and play testing. Warning: this entry has a lot of media. Proceed with caution.

fancy logo. Link to Indiecade East site

just a shot of the museum entrance.


Five Memorable Convention Moments (more details after the jump)

  1. Renga AI: "Your fourth harvester looks really useful now”
  2. Game Design Workshop: Post-It Pirates playtest sessions
  3. Hokra Play-by-Play Sports Commentary during Sports Friends Session
  4. Super Shove Shove Ending Screen during CAPY keynote by Kris.
  5. Three way tie for the three “Well-Played” sessions I attended. All the presenters gave engaging presentations and shed some light onto games that I had not otherwise known about.

1. Renga Rant
When D. and I first lined up on Sat. night for this game in the main theater (bigger of the two theaters), we didn’t know what to expect. The volunteer who was handing out the laser pointers instructed every row to pass down the laser pointers (1 per 3 people only). Since we sat on the aisle, I decided to skip it and let my neighbor participate while we observed. Later on in the show, he was nice enough to let us try as well.

Game premise: Team space shooter
The Execution: 100-players (total strangers) + laser pointers (aka annoying red things) = crowd ecstasy and/or complete chaos.
The Twist: We are all dependent on each other to build a ship, fight off enemies, and survive!
Side effect: Continuous blabbering about how cool this game is and seeing “quads” and “radial” shapes every where.

The context for the AI comment "Your fourth harvester looks really useful now” came after we opted to built yet another harvester despite being blown to bits by enemies. The ship can build different parts after each round of attacks. A “launch” engine is said to be the primary goal because the ship needs to build four launch engines in order to go home. Then there are “silo” ship units to hold supplies and “harvesters” which are little ships that can grab supplies to bring back to the silos. Harvesters have no offense so they get destroyed easily during attack.

Continued Renga Rant: I don’t know whether WallFour kept an inventory of their showings. I imagine each “ship” would look rather different depending on the crowd’s choice. How long does each team take to learn to work together? Do the same people always control the harvesters? (you probably have to interview people for this since videos won’t show it). Full-disclosure: I was one of the attack lasers, always on the look out for new enemies. In fact, during boss battle, I was attacking the incoming enemies instead of the boss ring until later. How often does each team “reinforce” their ship before the boss battle instead of fighting head on? Can a team “game-over” if they can’t cooperate? Why don’t people focus when they build the ship instead of randomly selecting spots that don’t make sense? Since all 100 lasers can be attack bullets or defense-less harvesters, it’s interesting that the team is able to figure out that balance during each attack.

To get an idea of how quickly my group improved, take a look at the “Before” and “After” videos. I took the first video and found the second one online. I didn’t edit the sound because I think it’s important to hear the crowd’s reaction (loud cheer after every enemy gets defeated). As I mentioned to D, this game is a very encouraging look at future of humanity. We may all be strangers, but we are still able to work together

Exhibit A – The Before:

Starting with the tutorial, notice how scattered the laser pointers are. We are still learning.

Exhibit B – The After:

I found this video of the final boss battle. After one hour’s time and practice, we have built a ship and 100 people who are on top of incoming enemies.

2. Game Design Workshop

D. wanted to check out the Game design workshop so I tagged along to see what kind of interesting tips the speakers would offer.  The presenter summarized the three fundamentals of game design:

  1. central mechanic of the game: is it rolling a set of dice? is it drawing? what is the action that the players will repeat over and over? is it fun? will people want to repeat this action?
  2. goal of the game/action: treasure? glory? team bragging rights? make sure it’s something the players enjoy
  3. problem: what is the central problem of the game? what is preventing the player from reaching the goal?

Then he used an example to illustration his point. For a popular game like Super Mario, the central mechanic is jump. The goal is to get to the flag at the end of the stage or the princess at the castle. The problem are the various obstacles and enemies (including Bowser).

After the presenter’s short talk, he split us up into various groups to get to work (learn by doing). Much to my surprise, I enjoyed being thrown into this type of group work. The short 45 min working group session made me appreciate the simplicity and creativity of the game design process.

My team of eight people started by doing a quick intro (not too many game developers, mostly players, actually) while one person went to gather three ingredients for our game.  Our stash consisted of post-it notes, 8 coins, and 4 dice. To break down the fundamentals for our game, the central mechanic is rolling dice and using combos of two dice at a time (a bit of simple adding). The goal is to reach 20 points (still under discussion). The problem is the other team can steal coins.

  • The Set up: Two Teams, each team has 11 post-it notes, with numbers 2-12 on them. These represent “Treasure Islands” or “Treasure Chests”. Each team gets half of the coins and hides them under the post-it notes. There is no limit on how many coins can be hidden under one island.
  • Round 1 Pirate Team A: Rolls dice to see which “treasure island” on the other team side to explore. So if four numbers 3, 6, 1, 2 come up in a turn, then the player may pick any combination of two sets, i.e. 1+2, 3+6 or 1+3, 2+6 or 1+6, 2+3 etc. Let’s say we go with 1+2 and 3+6. This means we will look at Island 3 and 9 on Team B’s side. If there are coins, Team A takes them.
  • Round 1 Pirate Team B: Rolls dice and explores two islands on Team A’s side.
  • End Round 1: Each team counts up their total coins (both the ones under post-it notes and any that they may have won) and that represents the score count. So if Team A had 4 coins and gained 1, then they score 5 points this round. After counting up scores, the team that may have gained a coin may place it under an island. Leave the other coins in the same place as before.
  • Game continues until first team to reach 20 points (or another predetermined number. or whoever has the most points after a certain number of rounds).

We actually had the basic idea down and started playtest our game a few times in order to adjust the rules. The above represents the final set of rules before we gave our group presentation. I was fascinated by how we came up with this fun game so quickly and with only three materials. Think of all the possibilities with your friends next time you host a party! You can make a game in just 45 minutes! After the team presentations ended, the moderator wrapped up the session noting that we are now all certified game designers for life. An important skill to have and keeps your creativity going.

3. Hokra

The SportsFriends session started out almost like an academic discussion but quickly turned out to be good natured fun and a strong argument for making good 4-player games (even if they may not be financially sound at first). When asked how the creators found people to playtest these games (easier to playtest a single player game), one person quipped, just host a pot luck and everyone will come and play. Hokra is actually the only game (out of the Sports Friends suite) that I played prior to hearing this session. It’s a cross between capture the flag and air hockey combined with team play. The directions couldn’t be simpler, you just aim your player and press A to pass/stunt/sprint. Carry the ball into your corner to score points. After the talk, there was a show down between the creators of Hokra and the world’s best Hokra team, with commentary by the best video game commentator ever. If you like sports personalities during basketball / baseball games, this was no different. The excitement of a comeback, a successful pass, and an interception are all led off by the energy of the commentator. The crowd responded enthusiastically. And this is how you make a game fun for players and spectators. At any given time on the exhibition space, you will see tons of people crowding around Hokra. Not only because it requires four people, but it’s also really fun to watch and listen (some time a volunteer also gave commentary).

4. CAPY keynote

Kris told us the humble beginning of Capy and mobile games which existed at a time when I barely had a phone with any gaming capability. Had I known Super Shove Shove existed, I would have switched my phone to that brand. I wonder if they will re-release it for kicks in the near future? The segment dedicated to the original and alternate ending sequence caused quite a bit of crowd reaction during the talk. Maybe they will release the presentation one of these days.

One can apply the ups and downs of his experience to any creative initiative. At the end of the day, while he may not be happy the American Idol mobile game, he and his team kept pursuing their original ideas and eventually set off to do their own projects entirely. It’s also more important than ever to find a creative and collaborative atmosphere. 

5. Well-Played Sessions

30 Flights of Loving – super detailed immersive game where you have to piece together what happened to the hero and his crew. While the play-through commentary given by Drew may have had some “spoilers”, the music and mood of the place still makes me want to try it out for myself. and I really started to love the block headed characters. An example of attention to detail see creator’s research blog entry here. Incredible, isn’t it?

Cart Life – As the presenter Nick admitted, he doesn’t love this game but appreciates the direction that this game is taking. As far as emotional connection with the characters and people around them, this seems as real as it gets. After all, the heart-wrenching story isn’t the one about saving the world, but about the relationship between people.

Unmanned – the day and life of a drone pilot. political commentary and wonderful storytelling. The presenter Naomi drew this one chart which organized themes of the different actions/dialogues. I also want to check out the creators previous works.

Museum Exhibits

Unrelated to the convention, the museum was showing an SpaceWar exhibit dedicated to various space/shooter type games (last day is March 3). We got some tokens with the convention badge. I liked how Asteroids had a nice shiny flicker every time the ship advanced. (I found this Asteroids online game which is also pretty fun but not quite the same.)
The lines in Star Wars’ vectors looked incredibly advanced. I didn’t try Space Invaders since it was so popular and there was always a line. They also had some newer games like Halo, Super Mario Galaxy, and Child of Eden. On the big screen, Child of Eden was a real treat for the spectator. Here’s a clip I took while being absolutely mesmerized by the colors and music.

So beautiful!

Some other cool exhibits around the museum are Rise of Guardians artwork / concept art (also until March 3) and a music section featuring your favorite soundtrack album covers and a listening station.



For the foodies out there, I have to say we kept it simple for the meals. Breakfasts were eggs/bread/peanut butter/milk. When we looked at the schedule of events, Lunch/Dinner was somehow combined into a food break between 4-5ish. It worked in the end, no lines or crowds during off-peak times. I’m not going to review Panera and Applebees (both nearby the museum, as well as Starbucks and Five Napkins Burger), but wanted to make a note of the Cuban Restaurant on Steinway we visited (just around the corner from museum, next to a tanning salon). Just watch out for portions though.

  • goat stew – yum. will order this again next time.
  • shredded beef – comes with onions and peppers. a bit stringy than what I’m used to. but then again, I’m used to shredded beef from Chinese Restaurants?
  • Jupiña pineapple soda – why don’t we have this in regular stores/restaurants? tastes just like pineapple. maybe I can find it on amazon (update: yup, it’s on amazon).
  • sides: I ate most of the black beans from D’s plate since they are pretty good. I ordered sweet plantains as somewhat of dessert. Next time I’m getting white or black rice.

And Everything Else

Flipping through my notes from the weekend, there are still more I didn’t get to write about in detail. Tengami, Botanicula, Sifeo Cubes, Bloop, Dyad, Joust.

You can also check out Diana’s more detailed IndieCade impressions here.

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