A rather relaxing Friday morning and the anticipation of the weekend started with a light discussion by Gamasutra journalist Leigh Alexander and Venus Patrols Brandon Boyer. We pondered thoughts about how we experience video games in popular culture today. Leigh says that her experience of games as a child was playing text adventures and then running around in the playground at school pretending that she was a character from her game. I can relate to this, I spent many a Sunday afternoon in the woods with my friends pretending we were the characters from our Dungeons & Dragons game and getting chased by the evil orcs whilst trying to find a way through the meandering maze ahead of us. I would spend hours writing stories about our imaginary characters and having a very clear vision in my mind about what they looked like. Leigh suggests that the hi-fidelity of today’s video games has taken some of that magic away, but Brandon disagrees and states that they just offer us a different kind of value.
Sadly I’m not a child of today so if I tried to say what that value was I’d probably be wrong. But I do have a ten year old daughter and so I put my discussion to her. She explained to me that she doesn’t really interact with other children the way that we used to, instead she prefers meeting up online with her friends in games such as Minecraft. So maybe Leigh was right, maybe the magic that we had isn’t there for children of today but instead the creation of online worlds has given children those woods that I used to play in a child, but in a defined environment. It isn’t to say this is a bad thing, I’m not sure that I would want my daughter running around the woods with her friends; mainly due to safety, but I’m happy as a parent that I can let her go online and socialise knowing it will be a safe environment that I can check up on regularly.
Alreet, duckeh? Whatcha doing?
The discussion moves on and Leigh discusses the accessibility of games recalling a time when her dad would receive old shareware discs in the mail that had 99 playable games on them. The people that made these games being like a secret sect of people who were so underground that no-one would ever know their games no matter how good they were. She recalls wishing her dad would write about them in his columns to give them some publicity, but this was in a time where the little guys didn’t make big publicity in games. It’s nice to reflect on and see how times have changed. This secret sect of game designers are now indie developers and have various platforms to launch their games from. For example the hit game Angry Birds, back in the 80’s how do we think it would fare? Perhaps it would be demo disc stuck to a magazine in a doctor’s surgery reception never to see the light of day again, or get thrown in the back of someone’s junk draw when the disc refused to load anymore. This just highlights how technology and society have changed. Companies like Apple who have given us the iOs platform have made their millions but also opened the door for hundreds of game designers to get their games out to the world. Brandon says this change is about people stepping out of the status quo and bringing us something new. He states “It’s not just about giving people what they want; it’s about giving them what they didn’t know they wanted”. Take the Wii Console, it had large criticism over its poor graphics capabilities initially, but once the penny dropped people realised that the interactive experience it offered was worth far more than photo realistic images. So don’t be afraid to break the mould, if what you are offering is fun it doesn’t have to be the same as what the rest of the world is doing. We can’t evolve if we are too scared to change.
Anyway, with the reminiscence over I was set up quite nicely for a talk by Adam Saltsman on his game The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire at the Council House.
Girl on Fire was designed as a retro styled teaser game for the anticipated The Hunger Games movie and is available on iOs. As an indie developer Adam discusses how he found his experience working for a large movie company. His other projects have been very much of his own choosing and he admits that he enjoys that flexibility; however he had rather enjoyed the books so was happy to give it a go.
Despite the rigid design of this game Adam told us how he managed to get in on the art for Girl on Fire. Usually he would be responsible for the design aspects of the game but he had been learning pixel art from a friend and wanted to try it for this project. This goes back to what I’d mentioned earlier in the week about indie developers being multi-skilled. I decided to ask Adam more about this after his talk.
Hunger Games: Girl on Fire
So Adam, it is clear that you are heavily involved in the design of gameplay within your projects but what other aspects do you contribute to when developing a game?
Oh, pretty much everything. Writing, production, customer service, publicity, coding and art. Everything except audio, I leave that to the competent people!
So how did you get into the industry, what is your specialisation?
Programming, I did that at university. I’m not a brilliant but I’m fast; my code is really messy though. Kind of like a bridge of marshmallows pinned together with toothpicks. It works enough but you wouldn’t want to stand on it.
What would you say to people that are afraid of it?
I hear so many people say “Oh, I can’t do anything as good as X so I won’t bother at all. I’ve spent the last ten years being bad at stuff, so what - I’ll never be good if I don’t try. My friend is a radio producer and he was the worst radio producer ever and got a lot of stick, but he stuck at it, and you know what – seven years later he is now the best radio producer ever. He’s done really well.
So what do you think would be better for someone hoping to get into the game industry, big developer experience or indie?
If you want to specialise then go for the big developers, but you don’t get the freedom like you do in indie. I love my freedom, I like working for myself. Its means I learn a lot too, you have to. Also I’d get fired if I worked for someone else.
So Adam gave me the big sell and I must admit that I’m falling in love with indie game development. GameCity has certainly opened my eyes to a whole world of games that I probably daren’t tread without this kind of advice. The big thing that I have taken from today is that the iOs platform is awesome for people wanting to get games out there. They don’t have to be brilliant, and I can probably hold it together with toothpicks if I had to, but the key thing being that it would be my game, my concept, my idea and my time. Adam has inspired me to jump head first into the unknown and pick up on those skills I’ve been terrified of going near. With the internet as my best friend im going to give it a go, wish me luck!