April 2, 2012 1:45 PM | jeriaska
Last month, we caught up with attendees of the 2012 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco to hear what they have gained from the experience. Scott Anderson, Marc ten Bosch, Rami Ismail, Doseone, Dajana Dimovska and Lau Korsgaard join us to share their thoughts on the GDC takeaway.
When I first started going to GDC, it was a networking thing. Since I've been going for so many years, worked in different places in the industry and met so many people, it's interesting to see all these people that I haven't seen in years and catch up with them. Now the main focus for me is as a social event. I can discuss with people what's new in games and where they should be headed.
In your talk on Shadow Physics, did you feel the need to balance politics with frankness?
I didn't want to be overly political, because it's already such a consumer-focused industry, with so many PR people blocking you from saying things. I was in the unique situation of being able to say how I really felt. The reason I didn't take that opportunity to burn bridges and throw people under the bus was that I feel that's not constructive. It was important to me to look critically: at myself, my team members, and the project. The feedback that I got on my talk was that people liked it, but felt it was very harsh, very real. That's what I was going for.
What do you feel has been the takeaway from your experience on Shadow Physics?
Making sure you work well with the people you work with is very important, especially on small indie teams. If you're not already sure of that, you can run into problems later on that you might not have expected. Also, managing scope and managing expectations on the project is important. Obviously we tried to do that, but I realize now its importance more than I did then.
What will you take away from GDC 2012?
Getting to know fellow indie devs better, deepening relationships and forming new ones with some really great people. I think the greatest value of GDC is being around our peers and discovering what comes from spending time with such a great group.
This time I enjoyed the "failure workshop," and feel that Pixeljam could have presented at that one. We've certainly started our fair share of games that never saw the light of day. Talking about problems helps to break the strange neurotic bubble that happens when things start going wrong on a project. You can tend to forget that this is not just a personal failing but a common part of development. It was nice to see that being discussed by all these studios that you think of as having got it together. You get to hear things like, "We had to stumble a lot, and at times it really hurt."
What are the objectives behind your planned Pixeljam woodland retreat?
This will be a couple hours outside of Ashville, North Carolina, somewhere in a cabin in the forest for a couple of nights. Miles Tilmann lives in North Carolina, while I'm in Eugene, Oregon and Mark DeNardo's in Brooklyn, New York. That can make working together difficult, especially because we all used to live in the same area in Chicago and had so much face time. We haven't had the opportunity to go out and do things together in a really long time. This seemed like a good idea for reconnecting as friends and seeing what happens creatively.
What's on the horizon for Pixeljam?
We're working on the iOS releases of Dino Run and Gamma Bros. Glorkian Warrior is still in the works. It's been awhile since the Kickstarter, but we don't want to rush it. There's a miniature project called Glorkbot's Mini Adventure, based on the pixel aspect of the game, that we want to get done first. The relationship with James Kochalka is really good, and I was a fan for eight years before Mark met him at a show and we got in touch with him that way. Also, Pixeljam is contributing to Queasy Games' Sound Shapes for the PS Vita. It's taken some time, but it's going really well, and it was fun to go to Toronto and meet with those guys.
Seeing what types of game are selected for the IGF and what wins is really interesting. Also, for one week it's a chance to see all of my friends in the indie community and hang out. Each year there seems to be a good indie party at some point where I can meet awesome people and show them my game. When you receive support from your peers, who are successful in their own right, that's ideal.
What benefits are there to you as an indie developer in attending GDC parties outside of the formal conference setting?
Games that require you to think are not a good fit for a trade show. People will not have the time or mental energy to spend on a game like Miegakure. They're tired or they've got to run to another talk. But at a party you have more time to explain to them things they might not understand and it's a much more personal interaction. There are opportunities for real connections, making friends, almost in the sense that you are using the game as a discussion topic.
Having spoken at IndieCade in Culver City, how would you compare the relative merits of the two festivals?
IndieCade is all indie, so there are many people who are passionate about what they do. There's little in the way of marketing speech. GDC has a lot of mainstream industry topics and concerns, which is interesting, but there's a nice warm, fuzzy feeling being just in that indie crowd.
During your talk at GDC on having had a game of yours cloned, what perspective on the issue did you wish to communicate to an audience of independent developers that might find themselves in similar circumstances?
We did a talk on cloning because of the Ninja Fishing thing. GDC is, of course, the best venue to reach developers, and your talk becomes archived in the GDC Vault. We tried to be objective and explain to people that cloning is a risk for a creative industry.
Prior to being cloned, we never knew there was already a discussion going on about cloning. Then we were suddenly dropped into the middle of this discussion, having a fresh view on it, and discovered that none of the arguments made any sense. They were unrelated, unimportant or just plain false. Our point was that developers should not be defending cloning as an "acceptable part of our industry" or "the only alternative to software patterns." We should be promoting original games and trying to make clones irrelevant.
What purpose does an evening event like the Venus Patrol party serve for you?
GDC can be seen as a bunch of lectures, the expo hall and all of that, but in the end the real important stuff happens in the walkways and at the parties. They're more relaxed places to talk, and that allows you to discuss things that you wouldn't bring up at the conference. Chatting to a random developer who has run into the same kinds of problems you've had can only be done properly outside of the official events.
What the Venus Patrol party did really well was capture the culture around indie games in a playful manner. They had Hokra, a four-player tournament game by Ramiro Corbetta. They had Johann Sebastian Joust. Also that amazing game with the pedal, [Uprok]. There was great music by Phil Fish, Richard Lamarchan and Baiyon. I actually saw a few game developers kind of trying to dance... that's hilarious, man. You don't get to see that anywhere else.
Lau Korsgaard and Dajana Dimovska
DD: As a small studio in Copenhagen, doing things that are not super commercially oriented, we can come to GDC and say, "Hey I come from KnapNok Games and we published B.U.T.T.O.N.." Lately there's been interest from publishers to go to these GDC parties to hear who's doing what, and they find out about our games.
LK: We are making games that are really fit for parties, so it's important to show them in that context. Right now we're prototyping on a Kinect project called Slowmo Showdown. It's a slow-motion, split-screen dueling game. We want to make a game about that fighting scene from the Matrix between Neo and Smith. It's two people standing in front of each other and dueling in slow motion. You look ridiculous, but it also feels really awesome. People complain that Kinect can feel imprecise or laggy, but when you move in slow-motion, lag doesn't matter. That's the philosophy behind it.
How do you see KnapNok's place in the industry in terms of developing a unique identity as game creators?
LK: Four years ago we formed the Copenhagen Game Collective, focusing on creating a network of interesting people. We wanted to make a scene, rather than just sitting at home in a basement making a game. Building relationships with other people is important because it helps you get noticed. And being from Denmark, luckily there's governmental support for creative businesses.
DD: That's something that encourages you to form a business. When they offer you the grant, they don't own your project, but they do push you to have a vision: Who's going to play it? How many people will actually experience it? A lot of people have played our games, though not necessarily bought them. They've been showcased a lot of places, so now more people know about Danish game developers, and are open to hearing about the culture, where we come from.
How did you find performing music and sharing the stage with Baiyon at the Venus Patrol party?
It was a wonderful experience. There was a radius of smiles around Joust, around Girp and Proteus. Even the people that weren't playing were enjoying it... and I don't think it was the bourbon doing that. You think of games as being an alternative to some form of nightlife. Like, "Nah, I'll sit at home and eat pizza, and play this game alone." But the party was a perfect exhibition of the opposite being true.
I've known Baiyon for almost a decade now. I met him when he was an art student when he brought me out to do a show in Japan. I had not seen him in six years.
Music in the videogame world is often viewed as a last layer. But it adds a great amount of detail and reality to your world, whether you're making something real or unreal. It's nice that GDC allows the musicians to bump into each other, when some of us are in Japan and others in Oakland.
What would be your ideal game audio project to embark upon in the future?
Making music can be addictive. You can begin a song, go to work, and you think about that song in the middle of the day, wanting to add more to it. I think allowing something like that to be in people's lives would be really interesting.
Whatever comes next, I'm enjoying how shapeless it is now. Games like Joust allow me to take a step back and think about sound in games again.
For further images from the 2012 Game Developers Conference, see our flickr photo set. Connect with Scott Anderson, Marc ten Bosch, Rami Ismail, Doseone, Dajana Dimovska and Lau Korsgaard online. See our previous GDC post, GDC 2012: What Brings You Here, for interviews with Robin Arnott, Simon Flesser, Ichiro Lambe, Jaime Woo and Mattias Häggström Gerdt. Photos by Jeriaska.