GDC 2013 Notes: Tuesday

4 04 2013

Indie Dev Soapbox Session

Chris Hecker talked about hype.

His game SPORE is used as an example of a game that was over-hyped, but he sees it differently. He said that you cannot over-hype, merely under-deliver.

He referred to a reddit IAmA with creator of Fez – a game that took 5 years to actually ship after it was announced in 2007 – quoting him as saying that Indie game companies can lose hype by teasing their game too early.

Hecker disagreed with this idea, saying that it’s more a case of PR being a marathon rather than a sprint. He mentioned Effective Frequency from the world of advertising, and suggested Indie Devs learn from it. (although reading the wikipedia page, it sounds a little archaic – I’ll have to ask someone at work about it’s contemporary value!)

The idea of pacing your PR sits well with what my friend Laura Hall has been telling me about ‘digital strategy’.

Rami Ismail from Vlambeer

creators of Ridiculous Fishing and Super Crate Box, pondered “Why do I not see more of an overlap between developer conference audiences and public conference audience?”

His point being along a similar vein of finding the point where publicity and production rub up against each other.


PaxEast conference – a public games showcase put on by webcomic Penny Arcade

Humble Bundle – a unique and popular distribution method for indie games that lets the purchaser allocate who gets their money incl. a charitable cotribution.

Radical Fishing – a game about fishing with a shotgun

Rich Vreeland aka Disasterpeace creator of the music for Fez and other indie games.

Talked about how when music used to be exclusively a live performance; being present to hear it made it feel important because it was a unique experience.

However, music in games tend to be repetative loops. Mainly to save space, although also to give a guide of where you are in the game.

He wondered how to mimic the imperminence of a live performance, to not have the music repeated into meaninglessness.

He talked about instead of having set music playing on a loop, breaking the game music down into sound assets that can be played at the appropriate times in the game responding to the player’s actions. He has created a game/music tool called January that breaks the sound assets down into individual notes that play when the plater encounters them. You play as a man out for a walk in a snowstorm, catching snowflakes on your tongue.

This reminded me of a section in the game Sword and Sworcery where you play notes in an order to inspire the musician Jim Guthrie to play a secret song to you.

Jamming with Jim Guthrie


Kentucky Route Zero (game) A point and click adventure game that focusses on story and narrative.

Proteus (game) A procedually generated landscape that responds to the player’s presence through it’s sounscape. Proteus is the unwilling posterchild for the argument about ‘not-games’ and ‘art-games’. (game)

No Country for Old Men (film) mentioned for it’s powerful use of silence.

Tim Rogers

told a story that was so intersting that I couldn’t bring myself to split my focus by writing it down. Now I can’t remember anything except laughing and the quote from an old boss about bejewlled (or glitchtank?) being “more monetized than a liquor store.”
I *think* his story was about his game ZiGGURAt.


ZiGGURAt (game)

glitchtank (game)

bejewelled (game)

Emily Short, Creative Director at Linden Lab – creators of Second Life

She spoke of being a “text evangelist” in games, a fan on using words in games to evoke a deeper sense of place and stronger story than visuals alone.

Yes, using text is cheaper than graphics, but that’s not all!

This reminded me about the James Bond game w+k made with Hide and Seek for Sony  a few months ago (alas no longer with us).

She specifically called out a game called The Barrens which not only asked the player to think about not only what they wanted to do, but why. So if you type ‘kill wolf’ you have to justify it with ‘because it was in distress’ or ‘because it was looking at me funny’.


The House on the Cliff a versu title

Howling Dogs (Twine game) by Porpentine

The Barren (game)

David Rosen spoke about ‘trying to keep up with AAA companies’ and how indie companies really don’t have to worry about it, because ultimately they’re on different evolutionary paths. Indie developers can’t compete in the technological ‘arms race’ but that’s okay, not all games will benefit from a ‘dirty camera lens’ vignette effect.

David Rosen, Indie Soapbox GDC 2013

evolution of AAA games

He mapped out the evolutionary paths of different games onto a sort of star diagram, showing which games ‘thought outside the box’ as it were and managed to be popular *and* innovative.


Dice and cards are technology so are pens and pencils the same applies to all digital technologies – it’s not what you’ve got but how you use it.


Antichamber (game) mindfuck exploring game, closest we’ll ever get to comprehending 4D space

Wolfire Games (developers)

Proteus/Journey/Flower beautiful ‘art-games’

Amnesia (game) terrifying Lovecraftian survival horror

Blinky (? I can’t find this, I may have gotten it wrong)

There was also another guy who showed how he and his wife both managed to make and ship games even when they were travelling around the world having a smashing time and enjoying life. I personally was most excited by this talk because his wife, presumably Sarah Nothway, made one of my all time favourite strategy games Rebuild. It’s kinda nice to know that something you stayed up til dawn playing once, was pushed live from a beach in Honduras.

His points were:

• There is internet in the world beyond cities.

• You can get cheaper deals in a hotel if you book by the month.

• AirBnB rocks, make sure they have internet before you arrive.

• You can get over the language barrier quite easily when you want to give someone money.

• Travel cost to Europe for a year from America is cheaper than a year spent taking the BART to work.

So I promised you more about Tenya Wanya Teens, and here is another teaser. For the first time, game designer + game developer + controller engineer all got together in the same room to play test their creation.

Up until this point the whole design process had happened via email and dropbox. The designer Keita Takahashi lives in Canada (I think) and developer Ricky Haggett and engineer George Buckenham both live in/near London (I am certain).

A few playtests had the final scoring for being first to finish the race by going to sleep, drastically increased.

We also playtested using the controllers not quite how they were intended.

I’m pretty sure it’s a complete coincidence that the controller I was using broke when this happened. Anyway, I got to see inside the thing when it was all lit up, which was pretty cool.


Doug Wilson also got us all playing some ‘Folk Games’ (not to be confused with ‘Traditional Folk Games’) so that he could photograph them for his talk on Thursday.

We played Standoff, a game of pointing finger guns at each other, similar to Scissors, Paper, Stone.

Sneaky Lance, the game that inspired Doug’s game J S Joust. Two blindfolded players move in slow motion towards each other, trying to hit each other with a wooden spoon.


His talk also mentioned Lemon Jousting, the game of which I am custodian*. It’s a similar but unrelated game which was ‘created’ at a Coney Playday meet-up. Interestingly, Richard Lemarchand also told me of a colleague who described a similar game with it’s origins going back hundreds of years in Germany. All three games ‘invented’ seperately show a potential example of Convergent Evolution within Folk games. Even so, I was surprised to see how incredibly similar Lemon Jousting and Sneaky Lance appear.

*custodian because nobody else will admit to being present when it was made up.

I also played a boardgame called Crows, It’s designer Tyler Sigman also designed Age of Empire and Sonic: Rivals.

IMG_6250 IMG_6249

I liked how strongly the theming informed the gameplay mechanics, the players put down shiny objects that attract  little wooden crows to their tile on the board. The birds move in straight lines or ‘as the crow flies’ and when too many get together on one tile they scatter off, flying outwards in a spiral.

I got the feeling that after a few play throughs, players could learn the patterns well enough to become quite strategic.




One response

4 04 2013

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