Innovation On Display At IndieCade 2016

The IndieCade Festival is the country’s biggest event dedicated to celebrating games made by independent developers (those not supported by game studios). Last weekend was the ninth Festival, and this year it was held at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, which is home to USC Games, the most prestigious educational program for game design in the country. I was only able to attend IndieCade on its last day, Sunday, but as always, I was impressed by the imagination and passion behind the games on display.

Gaming Is For Everyone

Diversity remains a hot topic in the game industry, and Intel supported this issue by sponsoring the Gaming Is For Everyone exhibit.  This was my first stop of the morning, and I could have easily spent the rest of my time in this one room.

Games for Change (G4C) is a non-profit organization promoting and facilitating the development of games for social impact, which includes learning, civics and health. G4C hosts public arcades, funds game design challenges, workshops, and produces the annual G4C Festival, which highlights games for good and brings together developers, social innovators and funders to further develop the field of impact games. Through G4C Lab, it consults with organizations on social impact game strategies and often pair game developers with cause-related organizations to executive produce games. . Among the more fascinating games at its table was We Are Chicagodeveloped by Culture Shock Games. In this first person narrative-driven adventure game using real stories,  you play a high school kid from Chicago who’s best friend has disappeared,  is threatened by gangsters at school, and finds the shootings on your block to be the only constant in your life.  As you explore your  relationships to uncover what really matters, you learn the important of friends and family sticking together to keep each other safe.   We Are Chicago has earned a number of honors and received IndieCade 2016’s Developer Choice Award.

I’ve long been an enthusiastic supporter of women in game development, and so I had to stop by the GirlsMakeGames table. Girls Make Games is a series of international summer camps, workshops and game jams designed to encourage girls to explore the world of video games and development.  The camps are run by LearnDistrict, an educational company based in San Jose, CA. We are committed to providing students with access to knowledge through our games and programs like Girls Make Games workshops. Their goal to teach 1 million girls around the world how to make games by 2020, and if anyone can do it, they can.

One gentleman I especially enjoyed talking to was Marcelo Viana Neto, an artist, educator, and game designer who also shares an interest in games and education.  While earning his Master’s Degree in Digital Arts and New Media at University of California, Santa Cruz, he developed a curriculum for an introductory course on video game game design and development for youth ages 12 and up, with little-to-no game-making experience.  The explicit nature of Radical Play is to expose students to a variety of design methodologies, diverse array of game development software, and novel game play experiences to encourage student self-expression through video game design.  His course also aims to develop students’ sense of autonomy, by using a variety of classroom management techniques, and allowing students to choose their game-making tools and creative path.

Innovative Input Devices

I decided to put one of the exhibits I visited at the Gaming Is For Everyone pavilion under a separate header for some of the innovative input devices I saw at the Festival. XTH Sense calls itself the world’s first biocreative instrument and next evolution in sensory expression. The XTH Sense harnesses the power of your body to let you interact with connected devices, musical and video software, games and virtual reality in a highly personalized and engaging way. Using multiple biophysical sensors, the XTH Sense captures various sounds from your body, such as muscles contracting, blood flowing, the heart beating, as well as your motion data and temperature. These sounds and data represent your expressive signature. With the XTH Software Suite you can use your expressive signature to control musical parameters, create digital drawings, interact with game mechanics and play in virtual reality (VR). It also makes for a cool wristband.

I was feeling a bit peckish when I game across the most delicious game to satisfy my IndieCade appetite. The Order of the Oven Mitt is a tabletop, completely edible game for all ages that will get you laughing and strategizing while you satisfy your sweet tooth.  Created by game designer Jenn Sandercock of Inquisment, this non-competitive game’s components, other than the Sacred Tome, are edible. This includes the main board and the edible-ink pens used to decorate and personalize your Knight. This design choice means the entire sacred space can be eaten, so that there is no evidence left of it.  This yummy game is designed foster friendship, curiosity and challenge, and as the cherry on top, it won IndieCade 2016’s Interaction Award.

They say you reap what you sew, and this was never truer than it is with Threadsteading, a two-player game for a modified quilting machine. The quilting machine is a computer-controlled longarm quilting machine, which moves a sewing head around a 12′ x 2.5′ area to stitch 2D paths. Players act as competing commanders of a team of royal scouts tasked with exploring a hex-gridded domain of varying terrain difficulty.  Gameplay is turn-based and designed around the unique constraints of the platform. Because the output is essentially a single “pen” position over time, each turn must pick up where the previous turn left off; because the final artifact is a quilt, the rules should encourage an even spread of lines across the surface—ideally, a quilt has neither large unsewn portions nor multiple stitched lines on top of each other.  This truly unique game, created by Disney Research Pittsburgh, deservedly won IndieCade 2016’s Technology Award.

However, the most, um, intimate input device I’ve ever used in a game came courtesy of Infinite-0: Dreams of Space.  The video game is a conceptual portrait on the life & influence of three generations of women artists: Eugenia Butler, Eugenia P. Butler, and the game’s designer, Corazon Del Sol. The central character is a pair of three legs that the player uses a controller in the shape of a vagina to navigate a series of planetary vignettes, with theme elements that oscillate between absurd dreaminess and narrative vehicles that explore the archetypes of woman-hood. The player scampers through the territory of a creative self, attaining material signifiers that raise her stature in the world, but she also holds power to destroy what she’s created for herself. Dreams, which seeks to embrace the absolute freedom to succeed creatively in respective cultural paradigms, won IndieCade 2016’s Visual Design Award.

Tabletop and Live-Action Roleplaying Games

I spend so much of my time involved with video games that when I go to events like this, I am attracted to the non-video games.  Here are a few that caught my eye.

Fracture is a competitive tabletop game where each player strives for diversity.  The game is played using a set of smart hexagonal tiles called AutomaTiles by its inventor, Jonathan Bobrow, that communicate with one another to determine the board state. The tiles simulate a population of different colors that simply “want” to be around colors different from themselves. Each player is assigned a color and is given the goal to keep the population together, but make their own color touch only other colors. Players quickly realize they need to manage their ability to prevent others from winning while moving themselves forward. I learned this a bit to late when, just as I was about to make my winning move, I lost to another player.

Keeping the Candle Lit is is a live-action freeform game inspired by blackbox theater techniques and abstract play.  Designed by Shoshanna Kessack, who drew her inspiration from being raised as a Conservative Jew, the game immerses players in a story about three generations of women in one family fighting as partisans during the war. Having escaped the grasp of the Nazis, they have taken to the woods of Europe to fight back in armed resistance. The women are from a traditional Jewish background and have spent their lives steeped in their culture and religion. Confronted with this wide-open world fraught with danger, they must decide what part of their past traditions they wish to preserve, and what legacy they will carry with them to be passed down to future generations.  A session runs for four hours, requires three players and two facilitators who will also play supplemental roles.

Bad News is an installation-based game that combines procedural generation, deep simulation, and live performance. Set in the summer of 1979, gameplay takes place in a procedurally generated American small town with over a century of simulated history. When an unidentified body is discovered in the town, a mortician’s assistant—the player—is tasked with tracking down a next of kin to inform him or her of the death. To do this, the player explores the town and converses with its residents to discover the identities of both the deceased and next of kin, as well as the current location of the latter. Whenever the player encounters a town resident, an improvisational actor reveals himself to perform the character live, adhering to the character’s generated personality, life history, and knowledge. Created by a team of PhD students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Bad News is designed to showcase the humor, drama, and tragedy of everyday life,  and the game won IndieCade 2016’s Audience Choice Award.

Luck: When Planning Meets Opportunity

IndieCade is not just about the games developed by independent game developers, but the indie game spirit.  And no one embodied that more at IndieCade than two of my Los Angeles Film School students, Robert Rose and Josh Weston.  Although the game they had submitted, Nightmare, was not selected by IndieCade, the two received free passes for their efforts.  By accident they walked into a meeting room where a representative from Oculus Rift was being pitched game ideas.  Instead of backing out of the room, they decided to pitch the game they had developed in class and were rewarded with the promise of a follow-up discussion.  I was thrilled to see their indie spirit paying off.



Game Design Paper Prototyping Workshop 2016 Results

On September 28, I was on a panel with International Game Developers Association Los Angeles Chapter President Brandii Grace and New York Film Academy Los Angeles Campus Instructor Scott Walker that judged game prototypes developed by attendees of our Game Design Paper Prototyping Workshop.  Participants were given a supply of materials — paper, marking pens, dice, tokens, meebles, and so on — and about two hours to create a game prototype.  The teams then presented their games to us, and we chose a winner.

Here are the prototypes they presented.

Ark by Eric and Friends

This is a single-player resource gathering game. The player is commander on a space station orbiting Earth, and you are directing eight cities to collect resources for building a spaceship. Each city produces a specific resource: green is for minerals, yellow is for fuel, and blue is for research. In each orbit (round), the player would select which resource a city would produce by placing a coin on a card whose color represented the resource to be produced by that city. After each round, the resources produced would be calculated, and the objective would be to collect 20 points of each resource to build the Space Ark. However, a random dice roll will determine after each round which city gets destroyed by being eaten by frogs, and so you have fewer and fewer cities for building resources as the game progresses. You also lose coins for producing resources after each round – first five, then four, three, two and one — and so the player needs to be more and more careful about which resources to collect during each orbit.

The judges thought this game had a good balance between simplicity and depth — and really liked the city-eating frogs — but were concerned that the gameplay wasn’t made sufficiently clear by the game’s layout.

Car Chase by The Insurgents

The objective is to collect as many points as possible. There are two ways to score points. One is to keep them on your persona when you collect them. The other way is to store them in a bank, where the points would be worth only half as much. Players have eight turns to collect coins, deciding which to keep on them and which to deposit when you land in any one of the banks in the four corners of the game board. There are also four monsters moving around the board, and they are assigned according to a dice roll, moving the number indicated on the dice clockwise around the board. If a monster collides with you while you are moving, you lose any coins you are holding but not coins in the bank. During each turn, players first commit to a direction in which to move but then must move the monsters before moving their car.

The judges like the strategy aspect of this game but thought it needed a better system of keeping track of which coins where in the car and which were in the bank.

Rat Race by The Fabulous Flaming Flamingos

In this two-player game, the goal is to collect as many coins as you can and bring them back to your storage. Each player has control of their own car and the opponent’s monster that is chasing them. Players take turns shuffling their respective deck and drawing three cards from it. Players choose two cards, using one to indicate the number of moves for the car and another for the number of moves for the monster. Players first move their car the number of indicated moves on the board along the blue lines, which were divided into stopping points indicating the number of movement points required to go to the next point, and then the same with the monster along the green lines. Your car can only hold up to two coins per run, and if it is intercepted by a monster, it loses a coin. The game is over when a player collects 4 coins, runs into the monster three time, or have the most coins after two full reshuffles.

The judges recognized this as a board game version of Pac-Man and thought it was a cool concept; however, they found the layout of the paths confusing, particularly since the car had one path and the monster had another path. Other problems were that the monsters didn’t move sufficiently to be a real threat to the cars and that the coins placed on the board covered the number indicating the movement points required to get past each stopping point.

Halloween Candy Swipe by Team Fresh

This is a collect-and-chase game in which the neighborhood bully is stealing candy from trick-or-treaters. A six-sided dice determines the players’ moves as they travel to the houses to get candy and then try to bring it back home, where it is safe. However, if the bully rolls the exact number to hit a player, the bully beats up the player and takes their candy away. If the player doesn’t have any candy on them, they still get beat up and have to go back to the start. Players can cooperate together to block the bully, and hedges in the middle of the board act as boundaries to restrict movement. Players are also permitted to share a space to prevent the bully from beating up one of them.

The judges declared this game to be the winner because of its appealing theme and engaging gameplay.

Overall, it was a very successful event and it is always fascinating to see the inventive games designers can create with such limited resources.