An all-star roster of indie developers will create games for this year's GameCity festival -- projects each geared around two gigantic attention-grabbing screens that'll dominate Nottingham's city center.
Phil Fish, Martin Hollis, Vlambeer, Richard Lemarchand, Keita Takahashi and other notables have all signed on for the interesting challenge of developing participatory festival games for the two outdoor screens, with a different game and a different screen configuration shown each day of the festival.
It's ambitious, but for a festival that's always aimed to share the creativity and excitement of games with an entire city in-person, it's a delightfully-visionary initiative. Now in its eighth year, Nottingham-based GameCity, a project of Nottingham Trent University, has always aimed to create a participatory home for games culture of all kinds in an inviting group setting.
It's expanded beyond its annual October event to regular monthly nighttime meetups, as well as an edition of the festival that tours England. Developed in conjunction with Nottingham Trent University, GameCity has also been collaborating since 2007 via the university with the National Media Museum on the collection and preservation of games and their ephemera.
"It's not really a prize, it's more of a provocation"
The festival also hands out an annual game prize, with a selection process somewhat different than is customary, in that it's evaluated and judged in large part by media-minded nongamers. The judging panel always offers an interesting outsider perspective on the slate of games on offer, making it an arguably-important alternative to the myriad other "game of the year" awards picked out by the enthusiast press and fans.
"It's not really a prize, it's more of a provocation," festival head Iain Simons said at the kickoff of GameCity Nights last week. "It's about starting conversations... the big thing we're about is getting video games, the people who play video games and the people who make them to have different kinds of conversations with different people. We're about really getting gamers to participate with the rest of the world."
Simons says the festival is an invitation to an entire city to come spend time exploring the world of games and their creative spirit in unexpected ways. In prior years, a giant white tent dominated Nottingham's city center full of indie game stations for all ages and other cultural quests -- last year, GameCity hosted what might just be (if it checks out with the Guinness Book) the highest number of people participating in a science experiment at once, while talks and panels from luminaries like Terry Cavanagh
were held alongside in the city's council building.
Down the street in a local bar, indie devs showed games and held dialogue sessions -- a highlight of last year included Thomas Was Alone
creator Mike Bithell holding public discussions
aimed at offering help and advice to indies, students and aspiring developers. Bithell will also be developing a game for this year's festival.
"The important question is, are games interesting?"
This year GameCity will tear down the big tent entirely, with the spectacle of a dual-screen indie game dominating the square to draw eyes and crowds. "We're giving people permission to be interested," Simons enthuses. "GameCity is an invitation for people to come and explore the playing of games and what they are."
"Video games aren't exciting because they're the fastest-growing creative medium in the world, they're not exciting because my new console can recognize my face," he continues. "They're exciting because games are every creative thing that you or I have ever loved, and they're coming together in a random, difficult awkward way to make something new. If you do it right, you can't produce a videogame culture event and not end up putting on an arts festival. Games are not niche; we're not interested in debating whether they're art or not, ever. The important question is, are they interesting?"
The recent GameCity Nights kickoff event featured student and indie games on show, and a Skype call from Candy Box
creator Aniwey, who showed us his game's sequel (there'll be an entire ASCII village, and it looks like the player will have a house)! There was also a group discussion about how to create a more diverse and welcoming festival -- diversity is a natural focus for GameCity this year, as it focuses on breaking down traditional barriers that have made games feel like they may not be for everyone. Welcoming new kinds of creators and participants will make for not only a healthier medium but a more joyous event, Simons believes.
"I don't want to be bored," he says simply. "I don't want to do boring things. We want to use a festival to lead audiences, and 'open' should mean you can really feel like you belong, that you inhabit it, that you can improve it."
"We don't just want to talk about inclusion, we want do demonstrate, it and the two big screens project is just one experiment in that. We're trying to make our festival invitation to everyone, and for us that means taking play and truly embedding it into the fabric of the City," he explains. "Tearing down the tent - literally taking down all the walls and replacing them with these two big screens, feels like a really inclusive way of playfully interrupting the City. Around 80-90,000 people pass through the square every day, and we're on for eight days. That's quite an invitation."
The initial roster of notable indies is just the start; GameCity is still taking proposals from indie developers who want to make crowd-focused games for two big screens.
GameCity Nights are held the last Friday of every upcoming month at Nottingham's Antenna bar, leading up to the main Festival October 19-26.
In a culture that often focuses on demanding proof of credibility -- praising hardcore fandoms and rewarding obedience to cultural norms -- GameCity is a pleasantly-refreshing alternative, where all levels and tastes among video game fans, as well as the merely curious, are welcomed. Official dates and participation information is available at the event's official site