You know how you never see the tourist spots and landmarks in your own home town? Such was the case with me and the Scum and Villainy Cantina, a Star Wars themed bar located on Hollywood Blvd in the heart of Hollywood. Although I work only two blocks from this “friendly, neighborhood geek bar” where comic book fan and filmmaker Kevin Smith hosts the weekly podcast Fatman Beyond with his cohort Marc Bernardin, I never seemed to find the time and energy to stroll over to this otherworldly watering hole to check it out. Until last night, that is.
I came at the invitation of Redd Yoachum, the owner of the Los Angeles based music production company Redd Rock Music. I had met Redd the previous week when we were both on a game industry panel at the Art Institute of Hollywood. Redd is a passionate gamer, and coming from the music industry, he was enthusiastic about the idea of promoting indie game developers in the same way that indie bands were promoted. So, he started going to game development meet-ups around the Los Angeles area and invited them to show off their games at a monthly event, L.A. Game Night, that he holds on the last Sunday of the month at the Scum and Villainy Cantina, which is owned and operated by Redd’s long-time friend J.C. Reifenberg, a filmmaker who turned his love for Star Wars into a gathering spot for all fans of fantasy and science fiction.
The evening I attended was the fifth meeting of L.A. Game Night, and the venue did not disappoint. In one small step, I made the giant leap from modern-day Hollywood Blvd to a cantina from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. After passing by the droid detector, I found myself in the middle of a Mos Eisley cantina, where alien concoctions were bubbling behind the bar and I expected intergalactic smugglers and bounty hunters to be having secret discussions in the dark alcoves along the wall.
However, I was here for the games, and again, the event did not disappoint. Here is a rundown of some of the indie games I sampled.
LIttle Bug is bittersweet adventure platformer from Buddy Systems Games in which I coordinated two playable characters who share a physics based swinging mechanic in real-time. I played both as Nyah, a little girl who walking home from school when she’s suddenly cast into an uncanny world where dangerous spirits linger restlessly in bottomless canyons and moonlit desert, or her spirit light. While Nyah can walk on the ground and collect treasures, her light can fly in any direction — and I could them both in tandem at the same time. By forming a telekinetic beam between them, I created a powerful connection that can swing Nyah to new heights, destroy barriers, thwart spirits and light the way to secret locations. I especially enjoyed the foreboding, atmospheric landscape. You can find out more about this game on Little Bug on Steam.
Reiko’s Fragments is Pixel Canvas Studios’ fully immersive VR experience in which I donned a Vive headset to explore the harrowing hallways and daunting rooms of a creepy house inhabited with puzzles and clues while evading the terror of those who inhabit the house with you. I used the handheld controller to collect the fragments of your lost memory to discover the truth behind the identities and story of the doll, ghost, and your own self. I was impressed with the number of items with which I could interact and engrossed by the story about the tragedy of what happens when the pieces of a family become fragmented, of the freedom we have to make choices, and of the consequences we cannot be freed from. Some of the jump scares were especially… scary. Joey Lee, the game director and studio founder, told me afterwards that what I played was just a tiny vertical slice of the game. The full game, which uses the Unreal engine and is displayed at a rate of 120 fps, is a full two hours long. You can find out more at Rei-ko’s Fragments.
After such a harrowing experience, I needed some libations to calm my nerves. I sidled up to the bar and scanned the drink menu: Asteroid Field, The Mind Trick, Grabthar’s Hammer, as well as food items like the Falcon Burger. I couldn’t decide and so I asked the barkeep to name the most Star Warsy drink on the menu, and she recommended I try the “Wretched Blue Milk” a concoction made with rum, coco lopez, blue curacao, and pineapple juice, and served with a green glowstick. It tasted like a pina colada, which was 12 parsecs from wretched to my tastes.
When I finished downing my drink, I discovered that games were not the only interactive entertainment on display this evening. Tales From The Bloodstream is a web comic set in a gritty world of rivers, pirates, revolutionaries and gangsters, It follows the lives of its inhabitants and their struggles, the most common being just making it through the day alive. (Sounds like life outside on Hollywood Blvd.). It contains themes of politics, child abuse, conspiracy, religion and drugs but at its heart it is an adventure with a positive message about overcoming adversity and the search for family. Creator Kevin Hill told me that he worked as an artist at Activision during the same time I also worked at th game publishing company, but several years ago he began developing his own graphic digital novel, which at its heart it is an adventure with a positive message about overcoming adversity and the search for family. You can see the latest episode at Tales from the Bloodstream :: The Long Game 0022 | Tapas
Throughout the evening, Redd and his crew interviewed the indie developers for a video live stream (available at www.twitch.tv/la_gamenight) and that he films a live-streamed podcast at 5pm, one hour before the event itself, which runs from 6pm to 11pm. If you are someone who loves video games and wants to check out the latest on what indie game makers in the LA area are developing — or even if you just want to play a classic retro console games with someone cosplaying a Wookiee while you are sipping a “Bad Feeling About This”, come on down to this wretched hive of Scum and Villainy on the last Sunday of the month. You can find out more at LA Game Night | Patreon.
Feeling Isolated As A Lone Developer? Find Creativity, Community and Connection By Joining A Coworking Space!
When you are starting a game development studio, you are essentially starting a new business. Most businesses start small — often with just a single person — and one of the biggest challenges in getting your new business going is staying focused when it is just you. Many of us are more productive when we are surrounded by others, but it can be difficult to get the initial funding to hire a group of people to work with and benefit from their individual expertise. So rather than working out of their home or renting a large office space and hiring a lot of people on Day One, many entrepreneurs set up shop in a coworking space.
Coworking is a style of work that involves a shared working environment but independent activity. Unlike in a typical office environment, those coworking are not employed by the same organization but rather are pursuing their own business ventures. Coworking offers a solution to the problem of isolation that many freelancers experience while working at home, while at the same time letting them escape the distractions of home.
I first became acquainted with coworking through a start-up business who had contracted me to help make their website and mobile application more engaging. It was a self-funded business that began in a coworking facility, where they met an angel investment firm that invited them to work in their own coworking space that had access to potential investors. What I found intriguing about this set-up was not just the reduced expenses from sharing the facilities with other start-ups, but the ability to share knowledge with another entrepreneurs in another office or even another table next to you. It made me wish that coworking spaces were a thing when I tried starting my own game studio many years ago.
So, I was very excited when I learned that my friend Tania Mulry had opened up a new coworking space in Santa Clarita, the community in which we both live. I first met Tania several years ago when our children were in a Boy Scout troop together. Tania owns a marketing consulting services and training company called Digital Detox and is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California, where she teaches courses in Digital Marketing and Interactive Design for Mobile Devices. Tania brings her passion for teaching to her coworking facility, the Steamwork Center, by scheduling talks from experts in business development.
I hadn’t been able to attend any of the Steamwork Center events until last week, when I went to its “Tech or Treat” Halloween party,featuring video games and electronic party equipment supplied by Steamwork member GlowHouse Gaming. Before I unleashed my inner gamer on the games and Halloween goodies, Tania and her associates took me on a tour of the 4,000-square-foot space that she acquired last July. The two-story facility features eight spacious, modern offices for growing businesses, as well as shared meeting rooms and kitchen facilities.
More important than the physical facilities are the fellow Steamwork members with whom to share ideas and work as teams to achieve common goals. Sure, you can be a digital nomad working on your laptop at the local Starbucks, but research found that people who use coworking spaces see their work as meaningful, feel they have more job control, and consider themselves to be part of a community. “Technology has made working remotely easy, but remote working brings with it isolation,” Tania explained. “There can come a sense of complacency when you’re not meeting people and you have an over-reliance on technology to connect with other people. It’s not good for the soul or the heart, and people can become depressed. People don’t just come here to work, they come here to transform their businesses and improve their lives.”
However, before accepting a new member, Tania makes sure that they are indeed a good fit for the community. “I interview them first to find out if they have what it takes to be successful, and that they have knowledge or skills to bring to the other members. We want to plant the seeds for dynamic leaders who build companies with healthy corporate cultures.” Currently Tania’s members include entrepreneurs working in public relations, office services, construction, and insurance — as well as two companies involved in something near and dear to my heart, gaming.
GameGen conducts on site and online classes teaching aspiring game developers how to build a game portfolio. Both children and adults learn how about the programming, art, and audio skills needed to make and publisher their own games. The company has eight studios in the Los Angeles greater metropolitan area, including the one with a classroom at the Steamwork Center.
Class was not in session that night, but I did get a chance to meet one of the other members, Marcell Gordon, founder of Glowhouse Gaming, a startup gaming and entertainment company that partners with video game and eports organizations to develop pop-up events for both inside and outside venues. The party itself was one of GlowHouse’s glow-in-the-dark entertainment experiences that was set up in Steamwork’s 1,800-square-foot double height space and featured gaming consoles, high-end gaming PCs, s live DJ, party headphones, and a staff of friendly assistants. I particularly enjoyed playing Z-tag, a form of laser tag with electronic badges instead of guns and pitting human players against zombie players. Glowhouse Gaming also features branded LAN party events, webcasting leagues, tournaments, workshops, school field trips and girl-gamers’ camps.
While Steamwork’s office space is nearly full, Tania is looking to expand its training programming, so that others can find the success that some of the other members have found. Tania’s goals are high. She wants to help people developer business skills, partnerships and peer relationships that nurture economic growth and will create new jobs in high growth fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Now, why wasn’t there something like this available when I started my own game company back in the day?