GDC: Indie Innovators Talk Ideas, Philosophies
During 'The Nuovo Sessions' microlectures at GDC Friday, indie game developers who are known for pushing the boundaries of innovation shared ideas and development philosophies.
And despite the fact that they share the label "indie," their views -- as espoused in this last-minute replacement for Experimental Gameplay Workshop centered around the IGF's Nuovo prize for new and different games -- vary.
Alexander Bruce, the developer behind the Unreal Engine 3-based "art game" Hazard: A Journey of Life, said that he hated art games, but somehow ended up making one himself. He offered his personal development philosophy, which is more conducive to innovation and experimentation rather than commercial viability:
1. "If it's what everyone is doing don't do it."
2. "If it's an established design rule, don't do it." (i.e. HUDs, menus, death)
3. "If it's something people understand, don't do it." Players should, however, understand what you're doing by the end of the game -- the point is, the player should learn something new.
He admitted that his way of doing things is risky, but without the will to experiment, we wouldn't have the TV, phone or rockets, he said.
Tyler Glaiel and Jon Schubbe, who worked on the Independent Games Festival finalist and Nuovo award nominee Closure, take a different approach to their puzzle platforming game. "I think this game really bridges abstract ideas with established gameplay mechanics," Schubbe said.
Introducing completely new ideas should be handled carefully, he said, otherwise you can limit your audience. "You have to judge what to keep the same, and what's worth changing, Schubbe said.
Ian Bogost, creator of the Atari game A Slow Year, another Nuovo finalist, ties his games very closely to the Atari hardware itself. "If creativity comes from constraints, there must be infinite creativity on an Atari," he said.
A Slow Year revolves around very slow-placed scenarios, such as watching a thunderstorm, sipping coffee and even napping. "This is not an easy game to demo during a five minute talk," he said laughing. "It's really slow."
Bogost said working on the Atari isn't much different than writing a sonnet or blowing glass. Like the scenarios in his game, making A Slow Year was a slow, deliberate and meticulous process. "I wanted to make the Atari seem beautiful," he said.
Other developers showed brief presentations of the making of their games. Terry Cavanagh, developer behind the gravity-flipping platformer VVVVVV (previously called VVVVVVVV, Cavanagh said) showed gameplay elements that didn't quite make the cut.
In addition, Chaim Gingold, who designed EA's Spore Creature Creator before going independent, showed progress on a highly-customizable game he's currently calling Pocket Kingdom, which contains a robust and fun-looking array of editors.
Ian Dallas, creator of last year's IGF student finalist Unfinished Swan said he landed a deal with an undisclosed publisher, adding that he believes in games about curiosity and discovery, it's important to introduce new stuff "every 30 to 60 seconds."
Farbs, creator of Captain Forever, creates games and also offers development tools on his website, and is a proponent of getting people to create, share and collaborate. But he says games like LittleBigPlanet miss the mark. "What I thought was missing [from LittleBigPlanet] was [the game] tying everybody's efforts together," he said.
Farbs later worked on a game called Little Shit Planet, inspired by Mark Johns' Shit Game, but Farbs considered his game a "failure" that missed the point itself. Shit Game, he said, was interesting because it showed "you can just shit ideas out," but there will still be some interesting ideas mixed in.
A demo of Justin Smith's intentionally ugly Nuovo finalist Enviro-Bear 2000 drew laughs from the crowd. Smith contemplated why people find the game so funny. "It's the same reason Half-Life is funny. Gordon Freeman is just this nerdy guy, so it's a miracle he gets anything done." In other words, it's funny because bears don't drive cars, and apparently, nerds don't save the world with crow bars.
Finally, IGF 2010 Nuovo award winner Jonatan Soderstrom, a.k.a. Cactus, offered a short explanation of his game Tuning: "It's a really simple game that is weird."