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In-house game jams help Frontier find its indie spirit

When Mike Rose met up with Frontier's David Braben at GDC this week, he was intrigued to hear about some of the more outlandish stuff coming from his studio via its in-house game jam.
Frontier's Elite: Dangerous is exciting and all, but when I met up with David Braben at GDC this week, I was equally intrigued to hear about some of the more outlandish stuff coming from his studio via its in-house game jam. Much in the same way that Double Fine runs its Amnesia Fortnights, Frontier has an in-house competition called "Game of the Week," in which designers at the company submit game concepts in the hope of seeing them fleshed out into fully-fledged games. Take LostWinds, for example -- that was originally a Game of the Week concept way back in 2008, which eventually ended up as a much-lauded downloadable Nintendo Wii game. And most recently, Frontier announced that it has signed two new development contracts valued at a total of £3.75 million ($6.25 million), with both games coming from the in-house jam. "It really reinforces an indie spirit within the company," Braben says of the initiative. "We've got literally hundreds of these things, with lovely designs that people have put forward." Ideas range from single sentence concepts, to sprawling 60 page design documents. One such concept involved monkey with detachable limbs -- a game that Braben says didn't make it through, but was definitely in the spirit of what the competition is about.
"It really reinforces an indie spirit within the company. We've got literally hundreds of these things, with lovely designs that people have put forward."
"Within the company we're terribly critical, and most of them just get shouted down," he notes. "But quite often, some of them are like, 'This bit of it is rubbish, but the idea is nice.' Then it starts to get some traction." "They're charming and ineresting, and I think that's the point," he continues. "With LostWinds, the first game that came through the process, that was a game where it was a bit more fully formed. A lot of people just loved it. There was an obvious love for the game, and I think that's what's important." The fact is that if you're going to have a team working on a game for six months, a year, or even longer, it's extremely important that they actually love and care about the concept. "Game of the Week is a really good filter for making sure people do want to work on the things they care about, and things they can be very proud of," he adds. With such success for this sort of initiative within Frontier and Double Fine, is this an angle that other AAA studios should be considering? Braben believes that's definitely the case. "I love this industry so much because it changes so quickly," he notes, "and hopefully we've always been leading and ahead of it as the change happens."

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