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Florence Ion

Mobile gaming can be a finicky thing. Not only does any title have to account for varying screen resolutions and multiplayer play, but with such a saturated device market, being able to take a game cross-platform entices both the developer and the player. For example, switching back and forth between iOS and Android can be difficult for some mobile gamers, especially if there are in-app purchases and achievements worth hoarding. As mobile ecosystems grow so do the users’ needs.

Google apparently realizes this since the company is making big strides to ensure that game developers are on board with its mobile ecosystem. It’s introduced a suite of APIs that will enable cloud saves, leaderboards, multiplayer game play, and achievements—all things that will benefit mobile gamers. “The opportunity that exists here is phenomenal for both developers and players looking for interesting and entertaining games,” said Greg Hartell, product manager for Google Play game services. “What it’s really about is creating a cross-platform environment that allows you to build a community of players across different screens.”

At first glance, Google’s Play game services appear to be a response to Apple’s Game Center functionality. On iOS the Game Center is featured as a standalone application for players to check on achievements and hook up with friends to play a game. Game Center is also integrated into the games that support it. The Play game services work similarly: users log in with their Google Plus account on the titles that support it.

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IGF mwegner.jpg[This article was written by Leigh Alexander and appeared originally on Gamasutra.]

The Indie Soapbox session at GDC is theoretically a "rant session," but "rant" is generally a misleading prompt for some, says host Matthew Wegner (pictured). Instead, he asked 10 indies to share what's on their mind and what their anxieties are.

The result was a fast-paced but fascinating session of condensed ideas on what indies need -- as creators, innovators and as a community -- to transcend current limitations and address common problems. From 10 speakers came 10 pieces of passionate advice.

Innovate Better

Lazy 8's Rob Jagnow made Extrasolar, a game about land rovers -- and is fatigued of being asked about "how rovers kill each other." We've built up assumptions about games over years that tend to box us in, constrain our thoughts and limit our ideas, he says: "We made this box; it's ours. So if we want to, we can think outside this box, we can reshape this box, we can destroy this box. That is our option."

That's not to say there's no innovation going on in the game space: they just aren't quite in the right spots. Innovations occur in promotion, but it focuses on putting applications into top ten lists in a fashion where quality becomes irrelevant. Cloning what works is a rampant strategy, and companies pay to out-promote one another.

"You innovate and you get cloned; you fail to innovate and you get ignored," he says.

So what can indies do? They can innovate in form, in ways that will be protected by copyright and set the games apart from competitors. Aesthetic, story and characters aren't steal-able and make games stand out. Another solution is to take giant risks -- high risk design behaviors tend to set products far apart from the idea-stealers and static market leaders.

Constraint is one way to help engender innovation, Jagnow asserts; for example, in an era with more console buttons than ever, the idea that you can make a game with one button created a hit like Canabalt. Even the idea that there must be a screen is an assumption that, when discarded, results in fascinatingly innovative games, such as IGF nominee Johann Sebastian Joust.

Think Like A Web Developer

Eliss and Faraway creator Steph Thirion has only been in game development for about three years; his background is in web development. He shared the story of 37signals, developer of the Ruby on Rails language whose roots were in the goal not only of productivity, but "to be happy and to enjoy programming." In other words, the co-founders placed their professional future in an obscure language for the sake of their own happiness -- which might seem like a "suicidal" move, but now Ruby on Rails is used by thousands of companies.

"Small shops have the ability to redefine the tools of their industry, because they still have the flexibility to think outside of the box," says Thirion. Tools from small houses have ended up remaking the landscape of web development -- why is this not happening in game development? Dozens of games use the Flash game library Flixel, for example, but Thirion wonders. "who's working on making Flixel better?"

If the indie community got out of the mindset of "solving our short term problems as they come" and instead toward the goal of creating better abstractions in tools, a wider array of simpler toolsets and scripts for the long term. Thinking like web developers -- creating and improving toolsets and generating a more active and open-source community -- can actually reinvigorate and empower the indie community, he argues.

"We should have tools that make us more productive; that make us happier... that we have control on, that we improve, and no one else knows better what these tools should look like than us. A movement like that must come from us, the people in this room," he concluded.

Can The Ego

Although he admits he might be liked less for speaking up, Time Donkey and Blurst developer Ben Ruiz says evolution in the indie community may need to come from honest self-evaluations of some of its personalities. Stressing that he doesn't intend to identify particular individuals -- rather "the independent games community as a whole" -- he urged everyone to "quit being so fucking egocentric. It's completely out of control," says Ben Ruiz.

"We end up not being able to metabolize the essence of others that contrast with us... how fast can we grow when we behave like this?" He pointed out the tendency to speak in absolutes, as well as the virulent distaste for the mainstream game industry.

The low-hanging fruit, like popular complaints about Zynga's soullessness or EA's laziness, is destructive and short-sighted, to say nothing of the personality conflicts among indies. "Look at the discussions that happen every time IGF happen each year... over and over and over again just because there are contrasting viewpoints, and it's so silly."

Adds Ruiz: "It becomes so much personal when we're all in the same space with one another... it's almost like an affront on one's very being." Indies have philosophies and core values in common, and can benefit from the removal of "walls that don't need to be there."

The IGF Is Not Going To Make You

On a similar theme, Mikengreg's Mike Boxleiter spoke up about some of the "drama" circulating the IGF -- he disputes the common idea that the IGF "makes" stars, in the wake of the narrative arc presented by Indie Game: The Movie. The idea that the festival makes an indie's life perfect is a myth, he insists: "The only reason that Fez is anything is because the [people on that project]... didn't give up for five fucking years. That is what makes you a superstar. It's giving everything that you have, every day."

For Boxleiter, his previous IGF win with Solipskier was hardly a blip on the radar of his career. "I gave my pitch document to Shigeru Miyamoto in the hallway; he signed it and politely bowed and walked away," he joked.

"The IGF shouldn't be as big a deal as it is... it gets you a lot of press, and it's cool to have your announcement be with the IGF because it shows you've got some big balls," he asserts. "But it's just an award show. And a lot of people are saying we have to preserve how the IGF 'brings up' small indies, but it totally doesn't do that."

He thought Jon Blow's simple advice -- "just make a great game" -- was elitist and exclusive, but he now agrees with the Braid creator. "If you have something you want to show other people, you're just going to have to work your ass off," Boxleiter concludes.

Explain Games In A Way That Even An Asshole Can Understand

Gunpoint developer Tom Francis comes from a writing background, and advises that explaining games is very difficult to get right. "I've been explaining other people's games for eight years," he says. One can't assume the reader is a "reasonable, intelligent human being," he jokes. "In the worst case scenario, your reader might be me, and I'm an asshole."

Many creators mistakenly assume that their games speak for themselves, and simply release screenshots and trailers. Or they assume that the description of artistic intent is enough -- but those elements don't have anything to do with how to play the game or what makes it interesting. Explaining the plot won't do, either, and nor will hyperbolic adjectives. Developers that describe their games as "innovative" don't sound innovative -- "they think, 'oh wow, they sound like a tool,'" says Francis.

Start instead with the type of game -- "summarize drastically," and get to the coolest unique thing about it. Provide context of who the player is and what he or she is trying to do. Describe a moment the player can experience that's typical of the game. "Most of your readers aren't assholes... but reasonable people still respond better to writing that doesn't waste their time... to gratify the writer's pretensions," says Francis.

Don't Be Afraid To Stick Your Neck Out

Antichamber creator Alex Bruce shared the story of a random day in Shibuya where he suddenly decided to chase a stranger down and introduce himself. He had bailed on his university work to go and speak at TGS about his Unreal Tournament mod, and recognized then-IGF chairman Simon Carless in a crowd.

After some hesitance, Bruce ran up to Carless and introduced himself, discussed Sense of Wonder Night and mentioned working outside of Australia; Carless advised him to meet The Behemoth and Q Games' Dylan Cuthbert at the event. In the event program, he noticed Epic president Mike Capps was speaking, and despite missing half the session, he decided to take a risk and try to talk to the man.

"I knew that if I didn't at least try to talk to him, I would regret that decision," says Bruce. Expecting to be brushed off, he instead got to talk to Capps about the then-unannounced Unreal Development Kit, and Capps promised to put him in touch with sales VP Mark Rein. He realized at that moment that "everyone is just another person;" he went on to meet Steve Swink and a number of other colleagues that encouraged him to go independent.

"Despite people in Australia telling me that I was wasting my time, in Japan I'd met someone... who was telling me I was onto something," he says, deciding to attend GDC and subsequently - after winning Make Something Unreal - deciding to make the leap into an indie career.

"The desire to always make the most of whatever situation I'm in and not talk myself out of whatever opportunities before I've even tried... is the reason I'm here today," he says. His success wasn't about lucky enough to have been in Japan -- it was about seizing and chasing down minor moments, and being willing to take risks big and small.

Your Tech Is More Than A Tool

Tool users tend to take the path of least resistance, says Metanet's Raigan Burns. For example, one only had a marble and a chisel, one would never make a painting -- games are heavily bound aesthetically by the limitations of their technology.

"There's a tendency to consider the computer to be a generic tool," he says. But thinking differently about it -- like a musical instrument -- helps tech become an integral part of the entire creative work. There are more ways to represent shapes than most developers use. "What if every musician only played guitar... ultimately you're all in the same parameter space," Burns says.

Seek Inspirational Visuals

Maquette's Hanford Lemoore says there isn't much in video games that looks like his favorite works of art. We avoid the uncanny valley in games, for example, but the Royal De Luxe theater company's eerie-eyed puppet dolls are beautiful and fascinating art objects because they embrace it. And games focus on rational architecture, but absurd, textured places are extremely compelling.

"I'm not just talking about visual inspiration for your art style... there's all sorts of things in real life that can do that for you," he says. Lemoore saves all kinds of Images that he finds creatively stimulating, but they only help if you find a way to proactively expose yourself to things that inspire you.

This is fairly simple to do, he says, explaining how he made a primitive screen saver tool that kept the images visible and fresh, and a dropbox account that could house all of his inspirations. Instead of using sketchbooks and tucking them away, he pins notecards and pictures to his wall so that they're always in his view.

It influences not only him, but his friends and coworkers, and has the effect of encouraging him to seek out further inspiration and things he can keep from his environment. Proactively seeking out inspirational visuals is a simple but potent creative tool.

Game Development Is For Everyone

Mike Meyer is the organizer of the all-inclusive IGF Pirate Kart talked about GloriousTrainwreck.com, founded in the philosophy of old-school train wrecks orchestrated simply so they could be compelling spaces to people. There are communities of people who make games, and it's important to continue including others. That was what Meyer most wanted to enforce -- that while many indies might seem like "unapproachable nerds... we'd love to have you."

Indies should do more to encourage new voices, he suggests. The "Pirate Rant" -- the manifesto of the Kart's contributors -- plead for everyone to stop fearing fun, to finish their games, and remove anything that's in the way of their development, among other nuggets of advice. "Don't just fucking sit there -- help or encourage someone to make a game," he concluded.

Think In Endless Dimensions

Fez developer Phil Fish recently had a conversation with comic book artist James Harvey, from which he took away a particularly interesting idea about comics: that they allow the viewer to see across time all at once -- what Harvey meant by that, says Fish, was that by breaking down a series of moments across a page, the viewer gets an almost godlike view of the action.

"I thought that was really interesting," he says, inspired to think about how this metaphysical take on comics applied to games.

Video games, by logic, is a 3D media object with many possible outcomes depending on inputs. "In games, engaging with the medium changes the medium -- different things happen in different times," Fish says. "You project yourself in time... you consider many different outcomes all at once."

"The media itself... becomes this fractal, and you consider all these different versions of that same piece of media," says Fish. "It's like a giant cloud of possibilities, of which you can only ever materialize a small slice."

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demruth IGF.jpg[In the latest in our "Road to the IGF" series of interviews with 2012 IGF finalists, Gamasutra speaks with Alexander Bruce about his 2012 IGF Technical Excellence Award nominee Antichamber.]

Alexander "Demruth" Bruce's Antichamber is a game about discovery, set inside a vibrant, minimal, Escher-like world, where geometry and space follow unfamiliar rules, and obstacles are a matter of perception.

The game was a finalist for the Nuovo Award at the 2011 Independent Games Festival, back when it was still called Hazard: The Journey of Life and "only a couple of months away from release."

Twelve months later and with some work still to be done, Bruce's game is back in the competition, with a new name and new recognition as a finalist in the Technical Excellence category.

What background do you have making games?

Does this work like a resume, where if over a certain amount of time has passed since some of the work that you did, you don't have to list it anymore? I sure would like to forget about those cancelled titles that I mentioned in my Road To the IGF from last year!

On a more serious note, I started making games when I was 20, went through a university degree and worked in the industry for a year. Throughout that entire time, I felt like I didn't have enough experience at anything that I was doing, because I was always surrounded by people who had been doing this stuff for years. So in 2009 I came to the conclusion that if I was going to stand out at all, I'd have to do things differently.

I think I've succeeded at that, because G4TV tried to describe the game at PAX by saying "it's like an Escher painting meets Bastion, then someone did some heroin and threw paint on a wall." That's both one of the best descriptions and one of the most ridiculous descriptions I've ever heard.

This mindset of continuously pushing things to be different was something I addressed when I spoke at the Nuovo Sessions at GDC 2010. I'm sure that a lot of what I said at the time probably sounded naive and idealistic, but that mindset drove me through two years of hell trying to make everything work cohesively. It's also why the game has done a pretty decent job of standing out the further it has progressed. When people responded to earlier versions with "oh this is like Portal. You should make these things like this though, because in Portal...", I didn't want to embrace that. I wanted to get the hell away from that, because Portal already exists and is fantastic.

All of that is a very long winded way of saying that I think the important insights into my background are a relentless desire to explore in new directions, and being completely driven in trying to make what I'm doing work. The trailer for an upcoming documentary titled Ctrl+Alt+Compete had an amazing quote in it related to that kind of determination mindset, where someone said "If I didn't get paid to do this, I'd probably figure out how to get paid to do this. I want to be an entrepreneur."

How long has your team been working on the game?

For a whole year longer than the couple of months I said I had remaining last year! Making games sure is hard.

Since last IGF, I ended up practically redoing half the game, implemented the entire soundscape, changed the name, and was exploring concrete plans regarding distribution. In my mind, polish is the process of refining or removing all of the reasons that someone who is within your audience would have reason to stop playing, and when you view things that way, even small changes can have a huge difference for the feel of the game. I'd say that things are paying off, looking at the honorable mention I got for the Grand Prize.

At the end of the day, I'm not trying to make a good game. I'm trying to make an exceptional game, because this has my name on it. With that said, though, the risk of changing anything else too radically anymore is outweighing the potential benefits, and I'm reaching that point where I just have to stop and release it into the world. I said at PAX last year that I wanted the finished game at PAX East, and I'm still aiming to do that. Maybe not the release candidate, but it'll be close.

Antichamber's development been extremely iterative, and it has gone through a number of substantial changes (at one point it was even an arena combat game!). How can you afford to change the design so rapidly?

Nothing that led to here has happened rapidly, make no mistake about that. I've been messing around with the ideas that spawned it since 2006. All of the changes that happened were very calculated, and I'd probably been thinking about them in the back of my mind for months before I finally decided to actually execute upon them.

I think the difference between how I work versus how Stephen Lavelle or Terry Cavanagh work, is that I keep all of my focus centered around a single thing. We're all going through the process of throwing ideas at a wall, but I'm just more interested in working out why one particular thing didn't stick before I move onto the next one.

This is the second time that Antichamber has been nominated in the IGF. How do you feel about previous finalists that re-entered their games?

This will be the last time that this is ever an issue, given that the rules are disallowing it next year onwards. But I actually don't think that games that re-enter after being nominated previously have any advantage at all over games that are new to the IGF. If something is good, and it's new, I think it's way easier to respond positively to that than it is to something that is great, but that you've seen before.

None of the games that were renominated (I know of Gish, Miegakure, Fez, Faraway and Antichamber) were nominated in the same categories, which means that they had to stand out even more without relying on what they'd been selected for previously. I'm actually really happy that Fez was nominated again this year, despite the fact that I'm competing directly against it!

I know that there are a lot of people who are vocal about what the IGF is or should be, and I know that Brandon [Boyer, IGF chairman] gives a lot of thought to this issue, but at the same time there are other competitions that exist as well. Sure, they don't all have the reptutation that the IGF has, but if your reasoning for entering the IGF is to try to get your big break and have the world know about your game, I really don't see why you wouldn't take other competitions seriously as well. If you can get through a couple of those, who knows, maybe you'll also work out all of the things that need to be fixed in order to improve your chances of getting into the IGF. That's what I did.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?

I've played several, though I think the ones that stuck with me the most were when I played At a Distance and Way at IndieCade with Chris Hecker.

When we were playing At a Distance, we were constantly speaking back and forth about what we were doing and where the other player had to go, and conquering the game was really easy because of that. When we were playing Way, though, our inability to communicate directly like this left us pretty screwed on a particular puzzle.

Way is all about puppetry, and if you're really expressive with your character, you can say quite a lot just by waving your arms around, shaking your head, etc. But I don't think Chris or I solve problems socially like that. When something didn't work, both of us would just sit back and stare off into the distance and think "what is the other person not understanding about what I'm doing, and what is the most effective way that I can purposefully animate my character to express that?" As a result, a lot of the time our characters just stood around on screen doing nothing. Other people found it hilarious and pretty painful to watch.

Chris Bell (the designer) ended up taking over Hecker's computer and started waiving his characters arms all around the place, shaking his characters head furiously whenever I did anything wrong, etc. and I could instantly understand what he wanted to say. Within about 30 seconds, the level was solved, and I felt incredibly stupid. But... that's the beauty of a good puzzle!

This is a game that seems to demand more from the player than most. What should an Antichamber player gain from playing the game?

I wouldn't say that Antichamber is more demanding than other games. Often times the puzzles require you to do a lot less than puzzles in other games. They're just a very different kind of puzzle than what people are used to. People who are naturally really good at thinking outside the box end up blasting through the game relatively quickly, while people who are used to games that more directly tell them how everything works and expect them to just execute upon that knowledge are the ones that end up finding it more difficult. In any case, it's introducing some new concepts into games, and forcing players to think differently.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

I don't think there's much point in labeling everything as "the indie scene". Personally, I just have the work that I do, a group of friends who all make stuff that I find interesting, and then a whole lot of other people that I'd really like to meet.

[This article was originally posted on Gamasutra, written by Frank Cifaldi.]

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There are a lot of ways to make games out there. In this post I discuss what game design methods are out there and what I prefer to use. Specifically I discuss mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics, iterative design, player empathy, target market, and testing.

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Chris Wright, formerly THQ Australia's marketing director, has launched a new marketing agency to support independent game developers.

Surprise Attack is up and running with campaigns for developers The Voxel Agents, Bane Games, Pixel Elephant and Small Green Hill, with no cost until January 2012.

"As someone about to enter their fourth decade of gaming, I'm incredibly inspired by the current surge of independent development," commented Wright. "With this new breed of developers, comes the need for a new breed of support services.


Read more...

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igfchina1.jpgThe Independent Games Festival China
has announced the Main Competition and Student finalists for its third
annual awards ceremony celebrating the most innovative indie and student
games from throughout the Pan-Pacific area.

This year, the finalists offer an extremely broad range of game types and genres, from action brawlers like Pixel May Cry to mobile arcade titles like Super Sheep Tap, with developers hailing from throughout China and its surrounding regions.

Drawing from a prize pool totaling 45,000 RMB (roughly $7,000), IGF
China's Main Competition will give away five distinguished awards,
covering Excellence in Audio, Technology, and Visual Arts, as well as
the Best Mobile Game and Best Game awards. In addition to the prestige
and prizes, winners will also receive two All-Access Passes for the upcoming GDC 2012 in San Francisco.

Alongside IGF China's Main Competition, the ceremony will also host
the Student Competition, which honors six of the top regional student
games, with teams hailing from DigiPen Singapore, the China Central
Academy of Fine Arts, and more.

This part of the competition includes two awards -- for Best Student
Game and Excellent Student Winners -- and offers roughly 13,000 RMB
(roughly $2,000) in cash prizes.

Winners in both competitions will be chosen by a panel of expert jurors including Kevin Li (CEO, TipCat Interactive), Monte Singman (CEO, Radiance Digital Entertainment), Xubo Yang (director of digital art lab and assistant professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University's School of Software), Haipeng Yu (producer, Tencent Shanghai), and jury chairman Simon Carless, IGF Chairman Emeritus and EVP of the GDC shows and Gamasutra.

This year's IGF China will take place on November 12, 2011 alongside
GDC China, which will be held at the Shanghai Convention Center in
Shanghai, China.

Here are the finalists for this year's IGF China:

Main Competition

Billy Makin Kid!, by SLAB Games, Indonesia [Website, Video]

Clay's Reverie, by SuperGlueStudio, China [Video]

FTL (Faster than Light), by Matthew Davis & Justin Ma, China [Website]

One Tap Hero, by Coconut Island Studio, China [Video]

Pixel May Cry, by Feng Li, China [Video]

Pocket Warriors, by WitOne Games, China [Website, Video]

Super Sheep Tap, by aBit Games, China [Website, Video]

The Line HD, by Ant Hive Games, China [Website, Video]

Student Competition

Nanobytes, by Singapore Polytechnic School of Design Splat Studios, Singapore [Video]

Pixi, by DigiPen Institute of Technology, Singapore [Website, Video]

Robotany, by Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, Singapore [Website]

Shadow Fight, by China Central Academy of Fine Arts, China [Video]

Terra: the Legend of the Geochine, by DigiPen Institute of Technology, Singapore [Website, Video]

Void, by DigiPen Institute of Technology, Singapore [Website, Video]

In addition to the awards ceremony, GDC China will also host its own dedicated Independent Games Summit, which offers a host of lectures
covering some of the most pertinent issues in independent development,
featuring speakers such as thatgamecompany's Jenova Chen, Supergiant
Games' Amir Rao, and more.

To attend either the IGF China awards ceremony or the Independent
Games Summit, interested parties can register for a GDC China pass on the event's official website -- see site for more details on deadlines and restrictions.

For more information on GDC China as the event takes shape, please visit the official GDC China website, or subscribe to updates from the new GDC Online-specific news page via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS. GDC China is owned and operated by UBM TechWeb.

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