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Brandon Sheffield

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indiecadesmall.jpgThe schedule handed out at the beginning of Indiecade was wrong. You had to go to the registration booth and look at a sign any time you wanted to know what talk was going on or when and where a special event was starting.

The main conference talks were often more of a conversational nature than an instructive one, and were scattered across three buildings and tents in three square blocks of downtown Culver City, with games shown in a fourth.

Ultimately the event wound up not being about the conference -- but everything surrounding the show was an affirmation of why indies do what they do, and why they continue to thrive.

The games showcased were great (by and large), and the show drew interest across a range of people -- from indies that were just starting out, to industry powerhouses like John Romero, Brenda Brathwaite, Richard Lemarchand, Jenova Chen, and Spacewar! creator Steve Russell.

But that's to be expected at a conference like this. What was really impressive was the diversity.

Walking around the show, playing the games, and networking with peers, it was striking how many people there were who didn't look just like me. There was a noticeably greater female presence than at many game shows, both as general attendees and on the game making side.

I watched a girl who "doesn't play games" dominate Super Space __ for 30 minutes, saying "it's not as intimidating as I thought!" I overheard indie dev Anna Anthropy say that never had she felt so safe around game fans. I saw my friend Erin Reynolds display her game Nevermind while her husband acted as booth babe. I saw people from all sorts of backgrounds playing and demonstrating games.

I don't think the traditional industry purposefully avoids diversity, but it doesn't especially encourage it either. It's difficult to do within a large organization, and you certainly can't hire people just because of how they look or what their background is.

Indie games by their very nature represent varied perspectives and viewpoints, and pride themselves by being different from the mainstream. The faces I saw at Indiecade showed me what those varied perspectives look like, and there was a real positive vibe to each interaction.

Cardboard kings and queens

A peripheral event also stuck out - the Imagine Foundation's global day of play, which coincided with the Saturday of Indiecade. The idea is based on Caine's Arcade, which is worth checking out if you haven't already. In short, it's the physical cardboard arcade creation of 9-year-old Caine Monroy, which became popular through a viral video.

Monroy embodies the spirit of play and creation, and at Indiecade this was shared with any kid who wandered by. The huge playspace began with some of Caine's arcade pieces, which kids could play to win tokens. These tokens were traded in to "buy" materials to make their own games out of cardboard, tape, PVC pipe, cups, whatever was around. Kids were making games, playing games, and feeling empowered, in an incredibly positive way. Seeing the joy on a 4-year-old boy's face when I successfully completed his ball maze game was kind of a revelation. Nearly everyone likes to create, if given the chance, and nearly everyone likes playing games.

At the cardboard arcade, a 9-year-old girl hustled Brenda Brathwaite and John Romero into playing her whack-a-mole variant. Brathwaite asked if the girl played video games. "Of course!" she said. "I play shooters.

"Oh, my husband John pretty much invented shooters," said Brathwaite. "Hmm," said the little girl. "But did he make Halo?" The more things change, the more they stay the same. But she was great at promoting herself, and her game - she believed in it, and she wanted anyone she could find to play the thing.

Across the event, the takeaway was the same. Anyone can make games, if given half the chance, and try to make their mark on the world. This is why we're seeing so many odd and interesting indie games, as tools like Unity and GameMaker lower the bar for entry to digital game creation. As social games and the triple-A studios cast around for direction, indies choose all directions, at the same time. I, personally, am all for it.

[Brandon Sheffield wrote this article, which originally appeared on Gamasutra.]

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qwopsmall.jpgBennett Foddy, creator of QWOP, GIRP, and CLOP among others, likes to play with his players, and he suggests that more of us should be doing the same.

At the top of his talk at IndieCade on Friday, he asserted, "I'm going to try to convince you to put more suffering in your games."

Learn a lesson from the Olympics, he says - it's all about the suffering. It's all about the pathos of second place.

"Nobody cries when they come second in a video game," he notes. "Nobody lays down and cries. Why not?"

In track and field video games, "The way that you run is to either hammer a button really fast, or waggle a joystick really fast," he says. "There's no joy in that, the joy is in the panic - in your friends watching you injure yourself as you hit the button."

"It's not just that games are easier - though they are," he says. "To me it's that games these days are more comfortable. There's less discomfort. My worry is not that games are getting too easy, because easy games can be wonderful. My worry is that games are getting too comfortable."

What's so good about suffering anyway? "When you're suffering in a game, it makes failure matter," he says. Counter-Strike uses boredom. If you fail, you have to just watch everyone else play, but frustration is more widely used.

"It makes success matter if there's suffering in the game," Foddy says. If you get to the end, you feel like this huge weight has been lifted. Thus, "this talk is a love letter to games that put you through Hell just for the sake of it," he says, "because we enjoy the suffering itself."

"Often when I start designing a game, I start by thinking about the aesthetics of the input," he says. Would the interaction be fun if there were no game? "Most sports pass that test," he says, noting that playing catch is fun even without rules.

One example is drumming your fingers on the keyboard - it's sort of inherently satisfying - and that became the inspiration for CLOP, which uses the H, J, K, and L keys.

"I'd like to have an anti-ergonomic game where it's physically challenging to play the game, and you could say to your friends 'I played for three hours, and I had to go to the hospital,'" he said.

Foddy has been researching pain, confusion, and nausea in games, to make games that give players those sorts of feelings.

Wolfenstein 3D makes people nauseous, but it doesn't make you feel good. "The reason I don't feel good about it is that it's not the point of the game," he says. "I think you could make a game where nausea is the point of the game, and people would enjoy it."

Motal Kombat gives you Fatalities, as an example of humiliation. "You might think that's for the pleasure of the winner, but I don't think that's right," he says. "The computer does it as well. I'm supposed to be enjoying it as a player, even on the losing end."

Ultimately it's all about playing with the player, as a developer. "The reason I'm cataloging these various dimensions of suffering, is why would frustration feel good? Why would confusion or humiliation be nice?" he posed. "I think one reason is it represents the developer playing with the player."

The idea among many developers is that confusion is an engineering failure. This means developer is teaching you how to stay interested in the game, rather than playing with you. "To me that's a warped way to look at the interaction between the developer and the player."

So in a single player game, the developer should be player 2. "Playing" is just an agreement that you won't kill each other - if you take it down to completely not hurting each other, it loses its teeth. "That's the flag football of video games," says Foddy. "I think you should make the real football of videogames."

If you do this, he says "you're playing with the player, rather than providing an environment for players to play with themselves."

Don't worry too much about frustration, and playtesting. "Maybe you shouldn't care so much about what people will think," he posed. "I wonder if Marcel Duchamp would've put a tutorial into his video games, if he made them? He wouldn't have focus tested his games."

"Don't water down your games. I think art should be difficult, I think it should be painful, it should be nauseating," he says. "It should be more difficult, more nauseating than music or other art because it's more complex," he concluded. "Don't make the easy listening of video games."

[Brandon Sheffield wrote this article, which originally appeared on Gamasutra.]

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molydeux gama.jpg[An offhand tweet from a Double Fine programmer snowballed into one of the largest global game jams ever. Jam co-organizer and Game Developer EIC Brandon Sheffield looks at how it all went down.]

Well, it happened. What began as an offhand tweet from Double Fine gameplay programmer Anna Kipnis has snowballed into one of the largest global game jams, and I can safely say it was a resounding success.

Not three weeks ago, Kipnis wondered publicly on Twitter why there hadn't been a game jam based on the tweets of Peter Molyneux (Fable, Populous, Black & White) parody account @petermolydeux. This came after Molyneux himself responded to one of Molydeux's tweets, causing a bit of an internet meta-explosion. The singularity was upon us!

But Kipnis took it a step further - if Molyneux can take this seriously, why shouldn't the rest of the world? Responding to Kipnis' original tweet were Patrick Klepek, Chris Remo and I. We four became the defacto organizers of this movement, which we imagined would happen in the Bay area, with a few close game developer friends.

I made a Google document to sign up potential developers, and we tweeted it out. Within an hour, we had over 70 responses, and realized at least 20 of those were from the U.K., and several were in the U.S., but outside the Bay area.

We realized quickly that a single spreadsheet couldn't contain this jam - it was bigger than us. We moved to an "organizers thread" on Facebook, and the rest is history. Over 900 developers signed up to take part in jams in almost 35 cities across the world, from the original U.S. site in California's Bay Area, to the U.K., to Israel, to Mexico, to Finland, to Australia, and beyond. More developers jammed on their own in solidarity from their homes.

How the heck did this happen? Why was it so successful? What can we do better next time (as it seems certain there will be a next time)? To get at a chunk of it, I'll write an abridged postmortem of the event, followed by my thoughts about the jam I ran in Oakland; the first #Molyjam to get a location, and the last to present its demos.

What went right

1: Organized like a jam

Everything came together organically, just like in a game jam itself. A few people started out with no concrete idea of what the end result would be, and people stepped up when they needed to. Jake Rodkin of Telltale came up with great t-shirt designs, as well as the "What Would Molydeux" jam name. Zane Pickett stepped up and created our web site, and organized our game submission form. Justin Ignacio of Justin.tv came in to help with our livestreams. The list goes on. When something was needed, someone stepped up to help.

We also had a number of generous sponsors. Unity, Game Maker, Gamesalad, and Construct 2 offered temp licenses of their engines during the jam (coordinated by Kipnis, among others). Individual cities got sponsors for food, locations, and more. The event had to happen, no matter what - and people made it so.

One of the smarter things we did was set a date early on. Not only did April 1 fit with our Molydeux theme, it happened to fall on a Sunday, meaning we could have the entire weekend to make these games. From the start, we had a date to work toward, and it was a hard deadline. This helped us get everything ready, and I have to say, it went off surprisingly well considering the accelerated timeline.

Everyone's overwhelming goodwill was very much in keeping with the theme of the jam, and there was positivity throughout. Every organizer sacrificed their time and energy for the greater cause, and I think I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say it felt amazing to be involved in such a crackling ball of positive energy!

2: Molydeux/Molyneux

"Peter Molydeux" signed on to the project immediately, which lent the jam legitimacy. The jam was based on his tweets, so participants had an instant idea of what the theme was, and the ability to think about what they might like to do. Molydeux curated some of his best tweets for those who didn't want to sift through everything, and we also got a Google doc of every one of his original tweets.

We had a solid vision from start to finish, and this really helped get things set up. There was no confusion about goals, no back and forth about theme, and no dissent - the reason new cities joined up was because they had already bought in!

The day of the jam, Molydeux even made us an introductory video, with closing words from Molyneux himself. And amazingly, Molyneux showed up at the London jam, giving an opening speech, and participating in the first day.

Who could have predicted that this would come full circle? Molyneux showed up to a jam based on a Twitter account making fun of his grandiose ideas. Why would he do such a thing? Because he correctly recognized that while this was based on a joke account, the participants actually do care about emotion in games. They care about making silly projects that might make us think differently about games.

In essence, this game jam encapsulates everything Molyneux himself has actually tried to accomplish over the years. Perusing the livestreams, every event seemed in keeping with the spirit of whimsy and emotional game making.

3: Popularity

My goodness, we got a lot of press about this thing. People were astounded that it was happening at all, and our success in making it happen was a self-perpetuating hype machine. Almost every day the core team of organizers would get a new email from a new city somewhere in the world that wanted to join in.

We fielded dozens of press requests. Friends outside of the industry heard about it. The massive popularity of the jam showed what power individuals and indies have in this industry now. It truly feels as though we have the power to make the games we want. So many amazing games came out of this jam, that people would absolutely willingly pay for.

Molyjam was in the global spotlight, especially since almost every part of the world had a jam going, inspiring local press to get involved. This means our message of emotion (and silliness!) in games, was actually spreading throughout the world. We weren't toiling in isolation, patting each other on the back and only seeing our own games.

Over 250 games have been uploaded so far, with more to come. Our results are bare, here for all to play and see. It really feels like this jam could have a lasting impact. Teams and friendships were formed, and those who couldn't join could hear about the process, or play the results. That's success.

What went wrong

1: Organized like a jam

Not one of the original four organizers had ever organized a jam. None of us had even been to one (though Anna had participated in Double Fine's internal jams). So the fact that we were suddenly at the helm of an international event was a bit of a surprise. We did the best we could, but there was confusion at times. We fielded questions as best we could, but sometimes there simply were no answers.

That's when others stepped up to help, which was amazing - but we'll have a lot more experience doing this when we head into the next jam, and a lot more of the systems and processes should be in place.

Also, we all had our own jobs to do, on top of organizing this event. Anna Kipnis in particular put in long hours, and at one point became ill. As the event exploded, I was driving to Phoenix, and could only communicate via smartphone. Since we couldn't anticipate the event's popularity, we couldn't plan for it, and had to scramble to put things together. San Francisco didn't have a venue until three days before the event, for instance. Next time around we'll have it planned for scale from the start. We learned a lot through this process.

2: Fragmented information

We started out asking folks on Twitter. We graduated to a Google doc, but that grew unwieldy. We moved the event to Facebook, which worked for the most part, but not everyone has a Facebook account, so we also had an Eventbright signup.

In San Francisco, since they needed names in advance for security, Eventbright became the only signup that mattered. Also due to the crazy size of the event, San Francisco and East Bay had to split up. Oakland was originally the home of the whole jam, as we had gotten The MADE to agree to host us, but they can only reasonably hold 50 people.

Once signups ballooned to 225, San Francisco had to get its own event - but since this happened late in the game, it was hard to let everyone know about the shift, and many folks from the East Bay went to San Francisco, and many folks from San Francisco had to come to the East Bay due to the Eventbright scenario.

Again, in the future we'll be able to streamline this process, and get our venues set up far in advance. Under three weeks it was a pretty tough sell to begin with, but we also needed projectors, good internet, public transportation access, and late-night access. That we got venues at all is amazing.

3: Upload system

This one we're still working on. We haven't quite solved the problem of how to get so many games out to the public. As I mentioned before, hundreds of games are already available, but some were simply too large for our uploader, and the thing broke very early on in the process.

On top of that, it was getting flooded with requests, since people wanted to play the games. Popularity is a great problem to have, but it killed our web volunteers. As we figure out how to package up all the larger games, we'll be tweeting out how folks can find them, but it's unfortunate that not all games could be uploaded at the same time, to ride the wave of popularity. Again, this is something to fix for next time.

A word from San Francisco

San Francisco had the largest Molyjam jam in the world, with around 150 developers participating. So many games came out of the jam that the closing presentation lasted three hours. "We had a guy that came by and made a game during the presentation, that's how long the presentation was," Anna Kipnis told me.

The major success in San Francisco was the livestream. There were lots of antics, as Kipnis says, but the teams also did walkthroughs in the space, updating the stream about various developers' progress, and keeping the audience engaged, which is somewhat unusual for a jam. That caught on to other locations, which started doing similar things. "The internet was very supportive of the game developers as they were working," said Kipnis. "That I did not expect at all."

The team panned the camera a lot, and folks started to notice a guy with an orange hat. His name was Bill Kiley, and he was a musician - once the San Francisco jam showed some of his music, he became a mini-celebrity, with folks sharing his soundcloud in the chat. The team also interviewed some of the more famous folks in the crowd, and really created a sense of community.

The sunny side of the Bay

I was the organizer of the Oakland/East Bay jam, and I felt like we had a somewhat unique event. We had around 40 people across the whole weekend, though some folks filtered in and out. We managed to produce around 10 games, and everyone finished something, including one participant who made a fantastic game entirely on the last day, after showing up at 3 p.m.

What was really striking about the Oakland jam though, was the diversity. We had straight folks and gay folks. We had Black people, White people, Asian people, and Hispanic people. We had a very healthy distribution of men and women, including transgendered folks. The ages ranged from under 20 to over 40.

It may sound odd to point all this out so specifically, but I'll remind you that this was all happening within a group of 40. The diversity of the crowd was astounding to me, and if the Oakland jam were a microcosm of the industry, discussions of gender, race, and orientation in games discussions would be far fewer and further between.

What was it about this event that brought so many people together? Oakland is a very diverse place, which could explain some of it. But more than that, we all cared about making games, and we all cared about the content of these games. The ideas in these tweets were silly, but laden with good ideas and the potential for real emotional involvement.

And that appeals to people across all walks of life. To look at our jam, the problems of diversity in game development would appear to be solved. I can only hope to one day walk into any given game development studio and have it look like Oakland.

Thanks to every organizer and participant across the globe. This has been an amazing experience for all of us. We love you all, and I know we'll see you again.

Individual city organizers are welcome to add their local impressions in the comments below!

[This article was written by Brandon Sheffield on sister site Gamasutra.]

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Bad habits are a part of every day life and are developed subconsciously as a result of routine actions. One day I sought out to understand the types of bad habits that are specific to game design. Enlisting the help of my peers this is what I arrived at.

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In this feature interview reprinted from the December issue of Game Developer magazine, editor-in-chief Brandon Sheffield speaks to Bungie senior graphics engineer Hao Chen about how Halo creator Bungie plans to solve problems for its new IP and the next generation.

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In this article, originally published in the October 2011 issue of Game Developer magazine, we take a look at some of the recent concepts, games, companies, and services that are changing the game industry, for better or for worse.

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Freeeedooooo...no.
And in the game! Ahaha! Ah. My little joke about Determinism there. What this is really about is how I feel after playing Rage, which is a feeling not uncommon to gaming throughout the ages: the feeling that the options a game presents are actually an illusion. Read on for ramblings…
(more…)

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“I started developing Monaco in October [2009], and in 15 plus weeks, it won IGF,” began Andy Schatz of Pocketwatch Games during an Independent Games Summit talk at GDC 2011. Though the game is not yet released, working on Monaco got him out of a depressive rut, and wound up being his saving grace – and it only took him 15 weeks to make the build that won the grand prize at the IGF in 2010.

“I was depressed,” he admitted. “Not clinically depressed … but I was in a huge rut.” He’d been independent for a few years, he had an employee, and he was making a game called Venture: Dinosauria, “and it sucked,” he said. He had to fire the employee, and he ran out of money.

“If I’m not there now, I may as well give up,” he thought, after 5 years being an indie. So he took a break to do other fun things. “I started working on board games. I think board game design is a really fantastic way to get up your designer juices,” he said.

The first board game he made was with African animals. “Finally I got to the point where I’d been working for 5 years on animal games,” he said, with kids as main audience. “But there was this one game I’d had in the back of my mind for years and years, but it was about stealing shit. So I’d lose my entire audience immediately.” But he went for it, and made a Monaco board game.

“I’m gonna make that heist game in XNA,” he thought, and started working on it for fun. He started out by trying to use Torque, “which I think was a mistake,” he admitted “If you prototype in an engine which enforces a certain type of look, you’ll wind up making that game.” He made it just in XNA which kept him out of that rut.

“A couple days later, I’m having a great time working on it,” he said. “Another problem with Dinosauria was that the scale was too big. I was trying to make the game, the game of my life. … I think that was invariably a mistake. It’s very good to have ambitions, but it’s bad to set too many expectations for yourself at the beginning of a project.”

Monaco, which was initially his diversion, became a much better presence in his life. “I made sure to work on one cool thing every day,” he said. “One thing that made it happy, one thing that was awesome, and made the game better. I made sure I worked on one cool thing per day, and I made sure the game was better every day after I was done.”

“I got much further because I was enjoying myself,” he says. In terms of making the game better, one of the best things you can do is to “have people playing your game from like day two,” says Schatz.

“There’s two types of people you should have play your games, first is your advisors, and you can’t have too many of those because you’ll get conflicting information. For me very early on Dan Paladin from The Behemoth helped out,” he said. “He kept the game from being more cerebral, which is what I tend to do, and made it more arcade and snappier.”

“The other kind you want is people who don’t know shit about games,” he joked. “You don’t want their advice necessarily, but what you do want is their impressions. Their experience with the game, and their impressions are always right.” Schatz asks them three questions: “What did you like, what did you not like, and what confused you.” Those things are always right every time, he says.

Schatz had $150k in the bank when he went indie, and through the next five years, he had gotten down to $40k. “At 31 years old when you’re about to get married, and you’re thinking you might have kids in a few years, having $40k in the bank starts to look pretty scary,” he said. He had to do some contract work to build up his finances again, which he says “makes you rich, but is not fun. “

“If you work on a game that’s really cool, you’ll either get recognition or you’ll make money,” says Schatz. But if you make a game to just make money, you’ll either fail, or you’ll make money. “So the way I see it is that if you make a game just to make money, that’s actually riskier.”

At the end, Monaco made him less depressed, “The big reason is that I focused on enjoying my job every day. Every day I built something I thought was cool. Then 15 weeks later I won the IGF.”

When he got into a rut even with Monaco, he told himself, “You should not be not enjoying your job right now! Fuck it! Do something awesome. I made my first game when I was 7, and I’ll make my last game when I die.”

 

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