[Writer and Flower composer Vincent Diamante looks at Culver City's IndieCade event from the perspective of a game developer -- inspired by talks, but missing the inspiration found in frustrations.]
IndieCade was a hugely successful event. There were game developers from around the world showing off exciting and wonderful pieces of interaction to a receptive audience that showered them with praise for a long weekend. Fantastic, no?
As a game developer myself, I found myself hugely enthused by all of the panels and lectures: event after event featuring wide-eyed wonder and excitement for the development and evolution of games.
Media scholar Henry Jenkins came over from nearby University of Southern California to talk with game designer Eric Zimmerman about the expansion of gaming literacy into our daily lives. “We’re giving adults much more permission to play than ever before,” said Jenkins.
While much of the talk focused on education, Jenkins also spoke of the importance of games for art’s sake. “The moment we put a social value on it, we put it back in a box,” he said. “Art can take us places and free us to do things that nothing else can. Games have as much a right to do that as any other.”
Will Wright brought his own unique but familiar brand of entertainment to the indie game crowd by punctuating a look at his own history from game developer to corporate developer to independent with the story of the Russian Buran shuttle program.
His rapid-fire delivery of personal anecdotes and historical trivia wowed the audience, even as he delivered such blunt statements as “Embrace cannibalism!” (“Learn from your mistakes… figure out why your game blew up and reform your concepts at a high rate”) and “You’re not really indie unless you have some spectacular failures!”
Then there were the success stories of past IndieCade selections. And Yet It Moves and The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom both showed the trails they blazed from student-developed games to console downloadable titles. It was difficult not to get inspired by the success of these student teams.
Yet, there I was, wishing I wasn’t so inspired. In fact, I really wanted a downer.
One of the things that I love about larger events like Game Developers Conference is the fact that somewhere in all the raucous hubbub, I could easily find something to rally against. Maybe it was a person who spouted off high-concept ideas that weren’t just bad but WRONG (Procedurally? Morally? It’s up to you), or maybe it was a particular production technique that seemed to perpetuate a bad trend in best practices.
In any case, I would find myself rallying against it, sometimes finding supporters in the crowd, and from that point I would create something.
Game designer Ian Dallas (known for his IGF-finalist creation The Unfinished Swan), who held a panel on games as art with Richard Lemarchand (best known as lead designer on the Uncharted franchise), used that panel to rally against Lemarchand and some of the more typical perspectives held by the video game world at large.
Braid, for example, is lauded as great art and a fantastic video game by much of the industry, but Dallas feels that its creator Jonathan Blow was far more successful at being the public frontman for the game than the game was at being a work of art. When Lemarchand declared that the game made him cry, Dallas wondered if it was simply his gag reflex at work, thanks to the game’s wooden writing.
Portal was another game that didn’t escape Dallas’s criticism. While the ending was fantastic, he found the game to be “A slog… glossed over with incredible writing and voice direction.” Other video game industry darlings like Toshio Iwai’s Electroplankton and Team ICO’s Shadow of the Colossus found themselves the target of Dallas’s critique.
Lemarchand, who has been friends with Dallas for a few years now, complimented him, “Part of the reason he’s so tough on games is because he’s so tough on himself.” Dallas admitted, “I’ve not shipped a game yet, so take whatever I say with a huge grain of salt.”
Despite his being a rookie within the games industry, I found myself enjoying the frustration that Dallas released to the IndieCade audience. He didn’t simply drag down these critically acclaimed games to trample on them but to encourage the game developers in attendance to recognize their flaws and aspire for something beyond the heights that these past creations have attained.
While the criticism and frustration presented in that panel was unique to the IndieCade programming, it was also something that could be found in the spaces between: lunch at the local diner revealing an indie developer’s struggles; an off-color remark about one of the festival’s selections; shared sadness for a developer that wasn’t recognized between beers at happy hour.
As inspiring as IndieCade’s programming and the festival as a whole was, the thing that will really push me to create games in the future are those frustrations I found during IndieCade weekend. Frustrations of friends and colleagues; frustrations of game makers and game players; and my own frustrations shared with others’: pushing the work of individuals, pushing independent and corporate game developers, pushing this generation of video gaming into the next.