And it's the morning after Day Three. Day Three was a period of deep introspective questions. I have been spending most of my last several days in the same room with anywhere from five to fifty-five people. I have done LAN parties of such length before, but this has been a strangely trying gauntlet of creativity for me.
There is certainly pressure to create something, but more-so, being surrounded by a group of creative types all accepting of feedback and willing to give their own, one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the hours spent thinking hard about everything game related. Yesterday was hump day, and it was a particularly humbling experience.
I had set my sights on a simple game. A simple world where you walk around and talk to others, and they tell you how they are feeling, based on the events around them and their outlook on life. This I actually got working yesterday, and then I started to think of how they should be acting based on their feelings. And so now I think I am supposed to create AI. I did not think of what I was doing as AI. Yesterday I came to terms with that being my goal. I struggled with what I wanted to actually happen in my game.
I spent yesterday thinking about the boundaries of my project. Now, in the morning of the last day, I have a good sense of how far I want the project to reach, but this is not a day's work. So some of my stress was relieved as I realized I could not complete my goal, so now I am just working on the halfway point. But enough about my little project.
Yesterday was entertaining, it was the day that everyone let themselves out. We were comfortable with each other if we had not been before. And we enjoyed ourselves. The highlights happened as the night progressed.
In the middle of the evening there were a series of interesting short talks from a variety of angles. There was Derek Yu, with his pal Andy Hull, talking about the stress of working on a project, Spelunky, that has taken over their lives for the last couple of years. This weekend, for them, was a time to step back and enjoy the company of friends and see how the project is actually perceived from eyes other than their own. They also talked about the importance of fostering and maintaining friendships, having themselves met as young teens trying to make games.
Scott Anderson talked about how we are making the same, similar games. How many of us, he asked, were making "traditional platformers"? (There were many raised hands.) We need diversity in games, not in the people making them, but in what we are creating. But we do need new people, too. Indie game development is threatening to become a scene, he argued. We are slowly seeing the castes of the "in-crowd" and the "out-crowd", and our role as a community is to always foster new indie-folk, because we need that freshness.
Brendan Mauro talked about his struggle with the relevance games have beyond our gamer-world. It was a simple talk, but revealed how much people within our industry understand that what we do can and should mean something beyond our secluded desks in our apartments and homes and dorm rooms.
Timothy Fitz talked about being aware of why the big guys are making so much money. The indie developer seems to predominantly make games that could be on Super NES. Perhaps it is the scale of the project. But why, he asks, aren't we employing modern tools of social media and game mechanics? Farmville, he boasted sarcastically, was better than us. And we can do better.
Marc Ten Bosch outlined his efforts in creating a single level in Miegakure. His point, inspired by Jon Blow (which I heard referenced many times yesterday), was to try and make the simplest puzzle he could that meant something. Game mechanics, the need for player revelations, and player comprehension would add the complexity.
And at the end Matthew Wegner even gave us a quick, honest answer to the downfall of Blurst, Flashbang's experiment of every two months releasing a free online game. Simply put, he said, as beautiful as it was to live life the indie life 9-5, one cannot make a living off a product that is free.
After the talks I played and looked at a couple more games.
I playtested one of Carnegie Mellon's thought-provoking student projects about communicating without speech or text. The team watched as myself and another tried to make our way through a platformer with invisible obstacles that only the other could see. We were entirely reliant on that other player, as they attempted to use their silent character to communicate with hand signals. A well-executed mechanic of waving one or both hands, players could make their character point to important or invisible obstacles. It was clever and an interesting experiment that has been pretty successful and I look forward to the finishing touches.
And then I witnessed the progress on a game about eating cheeseburgers to get fat and roll over people. A unique game, indeed. (Though it was a platformer, like so many other games here.)
Then as the night progressed and focus waned in and out, people mingled, relaxed, focused, and at 1am a Madhouse tournament ensued. I did not accomplish anything from 1-3am as I watched most everyone in the room take each other on in five minute 1-on-1 chaotic deathmatches. Balance was fairly askew, but laughter was present for all two hours as the creator and various other folk commentated on the proceedings.
And then at 3am I attempted to focus. I somewhat succeeded, but the day had taken its toll, and I just allowed myself to do some painting for the next hour rather than scripting. Around 4am the last of the jammers remaining started grabbing couches and the lone futon. I drifted off around 4:30am listening to hazy philosophical discussions of life and our existence. A few others were still playing and making games, but I was done for the night.
Now the final day and it is again already past noon. But that is okay, I am going to enjoy these hours working, but not stressing.