IndieCade 2016 was my first time attending a video game convention and it did not disappoint. As you might tell from the picture above, the team was having a blast even before we stepped through the doors. That excitement didn’t die down the whole day, and while my fellow interns explored the amazing games (read their articles!), I took it upon myself to attend as many events as I could from 1-6 PM straight. I attended four events in total: two keynotes and two GameU sessions, and I learned something from all four of them that I’d like to share with all of you.
Don’t have consequences for all your choices
GameU’s “Microtalks: What I Wish I’d Known about ____” was the first event I attended, which comprised of various IndieCade developers giving ten-minute, one slide talks about one thing they learned while working on their games. I listened to six speakers within my hour of attending and while they all had different experiences, two in particular stuck out to me with a similar theme: the benefits of meaningless choices.
Connor Fallon of the branching Shakespearean narrative game Elsinore titled his segment “What I wish I’d known about narrative sandbox design” and showed us a chart detailing the schedules of the various NPCs in the game. Many of the NPCs didn’t have a lot to do throughout the day, and Fallon said that actually made the design better for the game, instead of intuitively thinking all NPCs should have constant activity in their schedules like people do in real life. He cited the reason for this as “players needing a chance to breathe and explore the world”, as constant NPC activity would only overwhelm them in a game that shouldn’t be overwhelming.
The second speaker who expanded on this point was Navid Khonsari, the lead developer on 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, who titled his segment “What I wish I’d known about choices”. His slide showcased a Telltale style choice from his game regarding the use of a camera as a weapon against the backdrop of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. While the game provides many choices that affect the narrative, Khonsari cited about thirty percent of the choices in his game to be completely meaningless in terms of the narrative, strictly existent for player immersion and demonstrations of humanity in the characters.
Presentation DJs are the new Powerpoint
My next event was a keynote speech by Flint Dille about the future of games, titled “The Future Leads Everywhere: How to Pick Your Path”. It was about how we, the audience, could create fresh sounding ideas for a game through providing limitations in the game’s medium, genre, plot, and interactivity. What impressed me the most, though, were the people behind the presentation itself.
While the presentation started off with Dille’s Powerpoint slides, his team switched it to live Google Image searching when Dille complained about the limits of Powerpoint slides. He referred to the person searching Google Images live during the keynote as a “DJ” who changes the image search as the conversation topics change, making the background images infinitely more interesting to watch than an unchanging Powerpoint slide.
This form of “DJing” was most useful when I didn’t know what the speaker was talking about. Someone in the audience brought up something called “Punchdrunk” as an example of a completely original concept. While Dille knew what “Punchdrunk” was and could converse with the audience member, the presentation DJ searched the term and clicked on images related to it. Right then, I learned it was a form of interactive theater. Had it not been for the DJ, I probably would’ve tuned out and wallowed in ignorance until the next question.
“Imperialist Design” is the norm in video game narratives but it doesn’t have to be
The next event was another GameU sponsored one led by Arielle Grimes, a developer of independent studio Slimekat. She titled her animated presentation “Narrative Through Level Design Storytelling”. Grimes led her presentation with a conversation about intimacy in video games and how her definition of intimacy was defined by “knowing exactly which way to jiggle the door to get it to open”. She claimed intimacy was basically established by routine and most effectively demonstrated in games like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario 64, and Super Metroid. Because those games enforced routine in a nonlinear world, they laid the foundation for player intimacy and nostalgia.
Grimes then went on to say that the current trend of AAA games takes a more “imperialist design” approach to nonlinear worlds with less emphasis on exploration and routine in favor of more focus on “conquering” an area before moving on to the next objective. The game she referenced the most as an example of this was Assassin’s Creed.
By drawing those distinctions between AAA games then and now, Grimes asserted that because there is little to no intimacy in current AAA games, the players do not attach themselves to worlds because the routine is conquering rather than freely exploring or listening to NPCs. When someone in the audience brought up Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, Grimes acknowledged the quality of the game but posed a challenge to play the game without any waypoints or tangible objectives. The “intimate” way to play the game and progress would require active listening to NPCs and physically writing down directions, for example.
Women should have more positive reception in esports
Garrido’s and Romine’s keynote delved into how they are actively trying to make esports communities more welcoming and positive for men and women. Their emphasis was on women though, as many women are judged by the community just based on their gender while men are judged by their performance in a sport that does not prevent accessibility based on sexual dimorphism. This discrimination is so inherent that while around thirty percent of esports consumers are women, there are barely any women in the professional esports arena.
While esports bring enormous pressure to all professional players, women have that pressure along with the stigma of negativity surrounding their gender. Both Garrido and Romine are actively trying to change the community to be more supportive by positively representing professional female teams and providing lots of support groups.
IndieCade was an amazing first video game convention for me and I encourage everyone who likes video games to attend next year. Whether you take part in the games or go to a lot of different events like I did, I can almost guarantee you’ll have a good time and learn something about an aspect of gaming you either never knew about or never thoroughly explored. I know the practices I learned from IndieCade will definitely stick with me for my future endeavors!