GDC 2009 - Day 2.2 - The Indie Game Love-In

One man's triumphant return to form thanks to the understanding, nurturing and yes... even love during the final afternoon of the 'Indie Games Summit'. Starring all sorts of Indie nutbars.

Enjoy the mines Troglytes, I have joined the cloud people.

1. How Do You Manage Small Indie Teams - Kellee Santiago

Kellee had the unenviable task of bringing business reality to the indie world.
Unsure if it was appreciated.
Good presentation, quality content, and as fun as possible given topic.
Found it doubly interesting because it wasn't math or physics.
Believe artist beside me was bored.
Suspect this because he texted "I'm bored" to wife.
Also twittered "I'm bored".

thatgamecompany grew from 3 creative people in 2006 to 7 creative people in 2009.
During growth, communication / morale bad. very bad. very, very VERY bad. bad.
Knowing they had a problem, and having hit rock bottom,
hired Leadership Research Institute to help them.
Perhaps should have gone under instead... KIDDING!
LRI gave them tools and training to fix things.
Kellee passed on everything they learned.

What went wrong? Fear of Conflict resulted in people not being heard.
Lead to lack of committment, avoidance of responsibility,
and inattention to results from those people.
Culminated in an abscence of trust. Kellee basically described my marriage.

Fix with mission statement, a long term plan, defined roles, a RACI chart,
clear communication (root out buried disagreements, agree collectively, state desired results)
and ability to take criticism. You also need Kellee, which she failed to mention.
Work at this everyday.

Early on Kellee asked 15 questions.
Depending on answers, your company is THAT game company.

2. Indies: Beyond Single-Player - Jason Rohrer

Gino was handome, but no Jason Rohrer.
The height of a hockey player, the charm of Obama.
Jason has mad presentation skillz. How?
Expected dull Lloyd Robertson, received smart Anthony Robbins.

Presentation engaging and logical, but needed more content. Summary:
Multiplayer indie games are the only way we're going to create a timeless, enduring game.
"multiplayer is the fertile soil where planted mechanics can grow and flourish"
This was Jason's LAST point. Entire presentation spent proving it.
You don't need to prove anything to me, just show me where to plant my mechanics.
Bonus: Only games offer multiplayer! Eat that TV.

The Rohrer Multiplayer Proof:

- Timeless, enduring games (GO, Chess), have infinite replayability.
Never stop learning new strategies, constantly learning how to play.
History proves there are NO timeless, enduring 1-player games.
Solitaire? NAY.

- Art games are great, but have little replayability.
i.e. Passage doesn't prove Roger Ebert wrong.
Can't solve with single player.

- Single player games (including physical games) fall into 3 categories:
Long multistep challenge - Solitaire, Minesweeper
Risk/Luck - Casino slots
Reflex - Pac-man / Asteroids
Players can master these categories, hence single player games lack infinite replayability,
hence they're not timeless or enduring, hence they suck. Even mighty Tetris fails,
despite its brilliant combination of these 3 categories.

- Indie games tend to focus on single player - to their detriment.

Multiplayer doesn't have these problems. Done! Bye!

Question: "Where do I find that URL for that Ebert article?"
Jason handled this gracefully. I would have mentioned an obscure website named google,
then ripped his throat out.

+ mentioned German board games "Peurto Rico" & "Settlers of Catan".
- failed to mention "The Princes of Florence", which kicks their ass

3. Episodic Content and The Evolving Indie Landscape - Hothead Games

Tag team presentation by give-it-to-me-straight-i-can-take-it Vlad,
and a wise-yet-unsentimental Joel. Informative, no nonsense.
"Digital Distribution is the new VCR."
Unlike VCRs, gatekeepers exist that tightly control content (XBLA, PSN, WiiWare, Steam).
i.e. Developers can't set prices, release dates, or create porn which is beyond crippling
Won't have our "Jane Fonda's Workout" or "Blair Witch" success story until this changes.
Maybe need VCR gatekeepers instead.

Hothead grew from 10 people to 35 in 3 years,
yet didn't mention thatgamecompany's growing pains.
Ancient chinese secret, huh?

Co-development of Penny Arcade Adventures was great experience.
Working on them opened a lot of doors.
Even Penny Arcade audience NOT big enough
to justify amount spent on development.

People who purchased Penny Arcade 1 had to seperately purchase Penny Arcade 2
(matrix agents prevented bundling them together or pre-ordering #2).
Result? Significant dropoff in sales for #2.
Episodic gaming actually worked against them.
The other result? DeathSpank NOT episodic.
Considering creating episodic content? You need to be spanked - deathspanked.
See what I did there?

Vlad predicted that next generation of consoles would probably be digital distribution only.
Great since it means the end of used game sales.
Probably right. Not looking forward to buying same game everywhere I travel.

Artist beside me left.
Believe he was bored.
Suspect this since he had a full text conversation with wife.
Plus, drew awesome picture of guy named Bob.

4. Making Web Games: The Indie Experience - Pixeljam Games

Pixel-making-dreamer Rich Grillotti paired with
more-than-meets-the-eye Miles Tilmann. If you had to fight one, pick Miles.
Great content, subtle underlying message, and custom pixel art just for presentation.

Fresh outta school they created overambitious pixel kitchen sink failure.
It planted a seed, and produced the characters and style still used today.

Created several smaller Flash games en route to the famous Gamma Bros.
Kitchen sink debacle ensured they avoided several larger, ambitious ideas.
Spent a year building "Dino Run", and months afterward marketing it.

Game development is their full time job ("we're paid to learn game dev").
How do they make money? Ads (in game, on site, licensing game to sites, revenue share)
Works since Dino Run played a bajillion times.
Thanks to Dino Hat technology, generate 10% of revenue from donations.
Can your game do this? No.

Threaded throughout presentation were ideas of integrity.
Pixeljam trying to create Flash games that rise above the Flash crap.
Very serious about this, although they were careful not "to project their values on anyone"
Project I say, Project. Kept my integrity by ensuring people don't play my games.

Choice quotes from Miles (paraphrased somewhat):
"Your games integrity will be diminished by ads."
"Be aware of your intention when you're making your game.
If your intention is to just make money, more power to you."
"If we built those ambitious ideas now,
we would lose the essence of what we wanted to impart on them."
"Give the players a reason to care about your game, and about what you're doing."
Miles may be COO, but he's got the heart of an artist.

5. Making LOVE in Your Bedroom - Eskil Steenberg

Most controversial speaker so far.
Eskil will burn Rome, then attack King Xerxes.
Would like to see cage match against Phil Fish.

Art needs exponentially increasing, eventually teams won't be able to keep up.
Better tools are the answer. Tools, not engines should be your investment.
Pixar's biggest asset is their in-house Renderman tool.
I thought it was that lamp.

"it's not in the interest of Maya or Max to make better tools,
since they want to sell more software.
they like the fact teams will grow larger $$$"
Eskil's tools are free (that sly fox).

Eskil demoed amazing 3D editor he created.
Stores data on a central server using custom protocol.
Server immediately syncs assets with all developers and THE LIVE GAME (apparently in RAM).
i.e. changing tree in editor immediately changes trees in game
Eskil's level editor doubles as a live document with meta data showing wants/needs.

"fire your designer. he wants more stuff while everyone else is trying to get stuff done"

Entire LOVE world is procedurally generated.
Aside from structures, it allows Eskil to handle art problems
i.e. Smoothing corners of every structure via clever corner textures
i.e. Transforming 5 base trees into thousands of unique ones

"Hitman is about figuring out how the designers wanted me to solve this."
Humans can't create the content for all gameplay possiblities,
but procedural generation can.

LOVE looked great. Great and procedurally generated.
Introversion Subversion mentioned - looked great. Great and procedurally generated.
Far Cry 2 ignored. Eskil received overwhelming applause, including hoots and hollers.
When Eskil's company grows to 2 people, suspect he will call Kellee.

6. How to Finish a Game Project You ... Hate? - Alec Holowka & Tommy Refenes

Started with greatest slide ever:
Giant Wilford Brimley with caption "Suck it up and be a Man"

- Alec Holowka -
Good ol' Winnipeg boy.

"Son, there's a game programming class"
"YAY! That's so cool!"
"They cancelled it. You were the only one that signed up."

First game was "Ending World" - ironically never finished.
Next game "Underwater Game" for girlfriend - finished, but awful.
Needed something inbetween - enter Aquaria. 1 year, no problem.
Actually 4 years, too many all nighters, no vacation,
frequent depression and damaged relationships.

Was it worth it?
IGF Seamas McNally Grand Prize 2007 worth it baby.

- Tommy Refenes -
Hardcore programmer. Bleeds binary.

made lotsa moola building websites. was miserable.
note: all web programmers without children are miserable.
sold everything. moved to amsterdam. built great screenshot.
was abused, neglected and gained experience.

May 2006 teamed up with designer to create Goo!
(not successful World-Of-Goo, just Goo!).
Spent 1 year. Jerked around by MS (aren't we all?), then Sony.
Designer left. Tommy stayed course. Changed design.
2008 IGF Technical Excellence nomination. Second wind.
Redesigned engine for Intel superthread contest. Won.
Designer wanted back. Not so fast.
Sony called back, then hung up.
No IGF 2009 nomination.
No publisher.
No money.

Was it worth it?
Super Meat Boy worth it baby.
(Tommy just happened to have an awesome, refined engine Edmund needed).
... then Bill Pullman delivered an inspirational speech.

Moral: Rather than finish game, redesign it after 1 year, then rewrite engine.

Steve Swink invites EVERYONE at the Indie Games Summit out for FREE DRINKS at the Cellar!
I think he's planning on springing some complex math on us.

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