The Culver City-based independent game festival IndieCade was a very successful event, even glorious when seen on a high level. Like the games it featured, though, there were sometimes places where some roughness could be seen.
The featured developers of IndieCade sometimes had to resort to makeshift self-organization. In the case of a discussion of all three IndieCade iPhone game selections, what was supposed to be a moderated panel ended up sans moderator.
Then Eliss creator Steph Thirion announced, “This is the speaking sock!” and held up his now iPhone-less knit sock. I couldn’t help but think of Piggy’s demise in Lord of the Flies. I wasn’t afraid of the devolution of the panel into a riot, but whenever there is talk of art in games and games as art, isn’t there always the risk of emotions escalating wildly out of control?
It was a good thing that the speaking sock was put out there. The adults heading the panel -- Radio Flare’s Fares Kayali and Martin Pichlmair, Eliss’s Steph Thirion, and Ruben & Lullaby’s Erik Loyer were far removed from the unruly schoolboys of William Golding’s novel, but needed a bit of coaxing to get the emotions to flow out.
All of these iPhone developers recognized the power and influence of Steve Jobs and his first iPhone presentations; the promise of a quick buck also figured well into Steph Thirion’s reasons for targeting the iPhone app store.
“It’s really sad that I only realized the opportunity when I saw that someone could make millions,” Thirion said. Once the thrill of the money passed, the fact that he was developing on a device with multi-touch, an accelerometer, and gps continued to excite him more than any of the Flash work he did for advertising clients.
Studio Radiolaris started off with a more high-minded approach, both in their reasons for developing and the actual game content. “How can you make music accessible for the player?” and “How can they interactively create music?” were the driving forces behind Radio Flare since the beginning.
The trance-based shooter didn’t start out life as a shooter, however. “Actually, we set out to make an RTS (real-time strategy game),” said Pichlmair, “which absolutely doesn’t work, so I recommend to you not to try it!”
Erik Loyer’s Ruben & Lullaby can trace its development roots back to the Wii remote, where he first played around with using tilt to drive a story. Tilting the remote back and forth, he got his applications to barrel through the lyrics of a song or open up subsequent comic panels.
While the iPhone didn’t always figure into his development plans, from the beginning, he wanted to combine concepts of interactive narrative and interactive music. “Drama doesn’t have to be about plot all the time,” he said, comparing his game to a musical number in a stage presentation as well as an instrument.
As the sock was passed around, the developers opened up more on their experiences on the App Store. Thirion remarked on looking at his stats as he worked sale prices into his offering, “Whoa, people are cheap!” The panel provided lots of conjecture as to how prices of all sorts could be more viable to a developer but there were no real answers to be seen.
More concrete and palpable was the continued excitement the developers have for the platform. “Touch screens are still new, and we’re inventing the best practices. Art and experimentation is really important for that,” Thirion said.
Loyer agreed, adding that the iPhone is still “The most exciting out of the box augmented reality device we can get.” That excitement remained unfettered even by Pilchmair’s recognition that 85% of the top 100 selling iPhone games are clones or ports.
That situation, though, had the potential to be changed by Apple’s recently released Genius feature. Kayali exclaimed, “A real genius feature should always recommend us!” Apple might not be able to do anything about this, but they should probably listen.
After all, he had the speaking sock.