Category Archives: Game Industry

Falling In Love With Game Development Again At IndieCade 2017

Last weekend IndieCade – or more formally, the International Festival of Independent Games – celebrated its tenth anniversary at a new venue: the Japanese American National Museum, the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. IndieCade CEO Stephanie Barish and Co-chair for IndieCade West GameU Chris DeLeon were kind enough to invite my Los Angeles Film School Game Production students to join other game student groups for free admission to the event on Friday.

After distributing the admission wristbands to my students and allowing them to enjoy the festival independently, I was drawn to a session called “Fall In Love With Game Development Again,” presented by Brett Taylor, founder (and lone game developer) of My Dog Zorro.  The focus of his talk was to give attendees a toolbox of enjoyable, low-commitment strategies to try out at home to increase their happiness and productivity; and empower them to define their happiness goals with intention and take more control of their lives.

Here are some of the actionable strategies and practices Brett shared with us:

  • Have a weekly kick-off of what you plan to accomplish, and a week-end reflection on what you actually did accomplish, to keep yourself aligned.
  • Write down something for which you are grateful, every hour. It doesn’t have to be anything profound; it can be as simple as, “I’m grateful for the two sandwiches I packed for lunch.
  • Filter your vocabulary to eliminate negative thoughts like, “I should have…”, “It was hard,” “I am poor”.
  • Take a mandatory 30 second dance three times during the day to rejuvenate your body and spirit.
  • If you find yourself getting too stressed about your work, go home and relax.
  • Schedule loving reminder alerts to yourself on your phone or computer: “Do it anyway,” “Finish that task”, “Tell someone you love them,” and most importantly, “Write more loving reminders to yourself.”

Finding easy-to-implement techniques for maintaining a positive attitude can be very important in the stressful and often lonely life of a indie game developer, but what makes me fall in love with game development again is looking at the innovative games that these developers are making. IndieCade is an opportunity to see more than two hundred of the latest innovative indie games of all types and from around the world.

Having developed games for close to four decades, I’ve seen the same ideas recycled over and over again, so the more unusual a game is, the more I like it.  Here are some of my favorites.

Feast

Maybe it was because I was famished, but the first game I gravitated toward was Feast, a storytelling/role-playing game for five players about power and memory, that’s played during a communal meal and uses eating and tasting as game mechanics. Players take on the role of entities (ghosts, aliens, parasitic fungi, whatever they wish) possessing and eating the personalities of ordinary people. Prior to the game, players each prepare one food item with one dominant taste (sweet, umami, salty, sour or bitter), to be shared among the others. Each round, players eat a morsel of food and describe a memory or thought that they consume from their host. The specific memory they eat is determined both by the dominant taste of the food they eat, and the round in the game. When all the food has been eaten, the players have subsumed their hosts’ personalities and the game is over.

You can find out more about this game, developed by Sharang Biswas and Sweta Mohapatra at Feast.

Keyboard Sports

In this puzzle game developed by Triband, you play as the young apprentice to Master QWERTY who takes you on a wild adventure across oceans, through temples and into dreams in the search for your inner key using the entire keyboard as your controller.  Now, a keyboard may not be the coolest interface there is, but as someone who learned touch typing in high school, I appreciated a game that had me racing around the keyboard, often using the keys in very punny ways.

You can learn more about this game at Keyboard Sports.

Santiago

This multi-sensory virtual reality (VR) installation developed by Team Santiago that explores the idea of escapism through psychedelic visuals and music. The experience revolves around a physical sculpture of Santiago, an ancient fish god, that transforms into a living, breathing musical instrument that can be played through touch. The music created by the player affects objects and visualizations in the virtual environment, giving each player the agency to shape his or her experience. The piece is built for the HTC Vive and uses Leap Motion technology, allowing users to move freely around the sculpture and physically interact with Santiago.

You can learn more about this game at Santiago VR Experience.

Vignettes

As someone who usually develops story-based games, I really appreciated Vignettes as being the opposite of what I normally play.  Developed by Skeleton Business, Vignettes is a casual and whimsical exploration game without text or characters, where objects shapeshift as you spin them around in a kaleidoscope of different moods and orientations.  Your only hints about what to do are in the form of icons that suggest how to manipulate the object.  Vignettes is a game of surprise and discovery, in which players wander through a silent but colorful narrative.

You can learn more about this game at Vignettes.

Emotional Fugitive Detector

This is a two-player cooperative game which uses the human face as both its primary controller and screen. One player is instructed to give an expression of emotion — anger, happiness, sadness — and the second player must guess what that emotion is being conveyed.  But here’s the trick: the firs player’s face is also scanned for emotions by the installation robot’s face tracking technology, and if the robot detects emotion, the two player’s lose. Players must find a difficult middle ground in this emotional Turing test: expressive enough for a human, too subtle for a computer.

I asked the developers– Sam Von Ehren, Alexander King, and Noca Wu — how they came up with this idea behind Emotional Fugitive Detector.  They told me that initially they tried to come up with a facial expression input interface for a fighting game, but when they couldn’t get it to work properly, they turned decided to lemons into lemonade by changing directions and developing a game that took advantage of the technical problem. They also said that while showing the game at IndieCade, they received feedback that this game might be good for helping autistic children to learn to interpret emotion.

Turning a flaw into a feature and possibly benefiting society at the same time — now that’s a story to make me fall in love with game development again!

 

 

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Indie Game Developers Need To Think Globally

One evening last week, representatives from the United States Department of Commerce met with myself and other Los Angeles chapter board members of the International Game Developers Association to discuss policies to promotes economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development of the game industry. I kicked off the conversation by saying that the big game publishers already have a voice in Washington through the Entertainment Software Association, but who really needs a voice are the indie developers, and what they most need is funding for doing development.  We talked a bit about different sources of funding, but what seemed to really perk their interest was funding from other countries.

As it so happens, two days later I met with a representative from a Shanghai-based game publisher who told me that there is indeed a lot of money in Shanghai for funding game development.  What they lack are creative ideas for games, and they are looking to the United States for development teams with proposals and even individual American game designers to lead teams.

Now, both these conversations are just in their infancy stages, and I will share more when and if anything develops, but what last week confirmed for me is that indie developers need to look beyond their own borders. There is a whole world out there that has an interest in games, and here are some things you can do right now to take advantage of a world-wide audience.

One decision impacting your ability to reach a worldwide audience is your selection of a publisher, assuming you are not publishing the game yourself.  While there are many advantages of going with a worldwide publisher like Activision or Electronic Arts, ironically, they may not have distribution in some territories.

One alternative to consider is to use smaller publishers that each focus on one of the counties in which you want to distribute your game.  You may find that these smaller publishers may give more individual focus to your game than the big publishers do, and you can probably negotiate a higher royalty rate too.  However, the big publishers dominate the U.S. and U.K. markets, and it may be difficult to get physical distribution in these countries if you take the country-by-country route for distribution.

You selection of which countries in which to distribute your game will require you to do a little homework on each country.  Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is there an emerging game market in that country?  If there is a growing interest in games that isn’t already saturated with product, your game could be one to satisfy the country’s desire for interactive entertainment.
  • Does the country have any prohibitions on marketing or data collection?  If you can’t promote your game or use metrics for measuring the effectiveness of your marketing campaign, you’re going to have a hard time getting potential customers in that country to find out about your game.
  • Does the country have access to digital stores?  If you plan to distribute your game digitally instead of physically, you’ll need to be sure there’s a way for the country’s citizens to actually download your game.

However, if you can jump over some of these hurdles, you may be able to tap into markets that are not as crowded as the U.S. market currently is.  Of course, you have to develop your game first, and that requires money.  Hopefully, in the coming months, I’ll have some information to share about obtaining foreign funding.