GDC 2009: Ranting, indie style

Independent Games Summit session gives small-time game makers opportunity to sound off on nonpornographic sex game development, game-industry auteurs, ethical game design, more.

by

SAN FRANCISCO--The indie gaming scene experienced a renaissance in popularity in 2008, thanks to the growing adoption of digital distribution platforms such as Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network, WiiWare, and Steam. The influx of high-quality titles also aided the surge, with downloadable games such as Jonathan Blow's Braid, The Behemoth's Castle Crashers, and Jonathan Mak's Everyday Shooter becoming critical darlings.

Be that as it may, there's always going to be something to rant about. And that's just what a host of indie game makers did today in an Independent Games Summit session, held as part of the 2009 Game Developers Conference. During the aptly titled "The Indie Game Maker Rant," speakers were given five minutes to sound off on any topic of their choosing. Selected highlights are as follow:

Heather Kelley, cofounder of experimental game collective Kokoromi, took exception to the fact that there are no nonpornographic games aimed at improving real-world sex for women, particularly as it pertains to autonomous self-gratification. As she put it, while men require no explanation in the realm of self-stimulation, it is a subject many grown women struggle with. As such, she crafted a hypothetical design document several years ago for a game titled Lapis for the DS. The game featured an adorable blue bunny, and players used the DS's stylus to "take [the blue bunny] to its happy place." Unfortunately, many challenges are associated with games of this type, she said, not the least of which are content restrictions enforced by platform creators.

Doomlaser's Mark Johns opined on the ongoing debate over whether games should be considered art. Johns, who began his rant by touting his claim to fame as the designer of "S*** Game," said the answer is, obviously, yes. As for those who disagree with his stance, Johns said, "It's just going to take time for people like [film critic, cancer survivor, and game skeptic Roger] Ebert to die off."

IGF organizer and Flashbang Studios designer Steve Swink championed the idea of ethical game design. According to Swink, in the US, people live in a time of unparalleled freedom yet have ended up being fat, lazy, and stupid, by and large. Making this point, Swink went on to say that with freedom of all sorts assured, the question for game designers has become what is worthwhile. Uncovering the answer to this question, though, can be problematic, with Swink saying that spatial reasoning skills honed during hours of playing Valve's Counter-Strike recently helped him avoid a car wreck.

Infinite Ammo's Chris Lobay, a film school graduate, advocated auteur theory, or the idea that a game (or movie) reflects the creative vision of its director. Lobay noted that the '80s gave rise to today's most celebrated game makers, including Will Wright, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Hideo Kojima, but the game director as an auteur now seems to manifest itself only in the indie gaming scene. Lobay said that large developers and publishers should support the auteur, much in the same way that film studios currently go to bat for fringe film makers.

Petri Purho capped off the indie game rant session. Purho, who gained fame as last year's Seumas McNally Grand Prize winner at the Independent Games Festival Awards for Crayon Physics Deluxe, said that he would use his five minutes to craft a game. Drawing from a bag of suggestions, Petri first discarded a suggestion to create PopCap's puzzler Peggle, and then discarded a suggestion of simply "ragdoll." Combining the two, however, he began to feverishly work on the game, with his workspace being projected on the conference room's screen.

"Copying and pasting helps a lot when making games in five minutes," he chirped, before his coding went into hyperspeed mode--literally--as it suddenly became evident that what was being shown on the screen was prerecorded footage. With time expiring, Petri compiled the code, and a primitive Ragdoll Peggle that played out much like a pachinko machine appeared onscreen.

Discussion

12 comments
Raven1504
Raven1504

@thepyrethatburn never saw comment being bigger than the article untill i saw yours, lol dont get angry is just so long,peace

Hedfix
Hedfix

There are two 'massage' games available on Xbox Live marketplace. We're already there people, it's just under another name.

Amnesiac23
Amnesiac23 moderator

@thepyrethatburn: Very nice post. Like it more than the article.

thepyrethatburn
thepyrethatburn

Geez, talk about a tl;dr post. My post was almost as long as the article.

thepyrethatburn
thepyrethatburn

@: Heather Kelley: .....What?...... Look, there's this thing called the internet. You can find all sorts of information including nonpornographic ways for a woman to stimulate herself. I'm not going to go into how you use the stylus to stimulate the blue bunny but, if you really want a game that goes into "Vibrators 101", then perhaps you should go ahead and make it......and then watch the game's sales tank when you find out that most women found out about self-stimulation the first time that the shower hit that special spot. Mark Johns: As has already been said, the "are games art?" argument is old. Some games are art. Some games are just pretentious crap that would like to be labeled art. Most game developers don't care. Steve Swink: The problem with ethical game design is that ethics, much like art, is subjective. Is it ethical to shove a shotgun into an in-game enemy's mouth and pull the trigger? What if the in-game enemy is another player? As for being fat, lazy, and stupid..... 1) A lot of people have become fat due to a combination of a scare tactic media that makes parents afraid of every little thing that could happen to their child, both parents working and not being able to shoo their little hellspawn out the door, and video games. Yes, I said video games. (and here's where the thumbs down votes start piling up) In the real world, not everyone can be good at football or baseball or any other sport you can name. Sometimes, geographical location hinders things (winter sports are hard to practice if you live in the Middle East) but mostly it is a case of physical ability and willpower. Just today, I saw a professional game player (handle was Legit. Specialty game was Halo 3) talk about all the willpower that he used to keep playing Halo 3 to prepare for one of those gamer tournaments. As usual, I inwardly snickered at that because, to me, that isn't really willpower. Sure, you may get bored of Halo 3 but that is hardly a test of willpower. Willpower is what keeps you going when you are getting beaten down in a Martial Arts Tournament so badly that you can barely stand but you force yourself back on your feet time after time. Willpower is what keeps you getting up before the sun on a daily basis to put in hours of skating practice. Willpower is what allows you to keep trying when everyone laughes at you for fumbling the ball or missing the hole. Willpower is what you have left when, physically, you have nothing left. Most kids find it easier to win the Super Bowl on Madden than it would be to go outside and actually play football. Frankly, given that the video game industry (with some Wii games and DDR as exceptions) is geared towards keeping our ass glued to the couch, a game developer complaining about us getting fat is like McDonalds complaining about our weight problem. Being a prime contributor to the problem kinda renders your criticism moot. 2) Being lazy is also a result of our digital age. I have two friends who met their wives over the internet rather than the traditional way of going out and meeting people. People are increasingly more interested in meeting people online rather than going out and joining a sport/club/social activity. Video games are, once again, just facilitating this. Instead of going to someone else's house to play a game together, I can just do it over Live. 9 times out of 10, people will choose the path of least resistance with what they do. 3) Stupid..... This is coming from a member of an industry that continually rehashes old ideas and sequels. Once again, video games do not escape culpability although they aren't as responsible for this as for the first two. (For those of you clicking the "thumbs down", I realize that video games are not solely responsible here. There are many other factors. However, especially with the first two, I would say that games are a prime contributing factor.) Chris Lobay: First off, a lot of it is because a lot of independent games are crap. Many either just recycle mainstream game stories and concepts with worse quality or are just pretentious crap that the "auteur" thinks is brilliant. (Zero Punctuation had a great segment on these types of developers.) Second, you saw more creators in the 80s get their vision realized because there was FAR more risk involved. To do the first Mortal Kombat, Ed Boon gambled everything he owned. If Mortal Kombat had failed, he would have been living in a cardboard box. The gaming industry, by comparison, is far safer to get into than it was in the 80s but, with that safety, has come far less opportunity to get your "vision" out as you intended. EA isn't interested in your vision. Neither is Capcom, Konami, or anyone else. Despite that we (as gamers) tend to romanticize the business a lot, successful businesses are in this for the bottom line. Film studios support indie filmmakers because they believe it will be profitable to do so, not because they are motivated by a love of the art. (Some have said that this has led to a general decline in the indie film department but that is another topic.) If your vision of, say, stimulating a blue bunny with a DS stylus isn't getting the backing of a major publisher, that is because the major publisher doesn't want to lose money on your vision. If you really want to be true to your vision and you really feel that your vision is a vision that the world should see, then you should be willing to shoulder the risk of bringing that vision to light. If you aren't willing to shoulder the risk, maybe that says more about your vision than it does about the industry.

onequarter
onequarter

Note to independent game designers. Focus on making better games, and less on being independent. Otherwise, you are just bring the world of crap known as "perfomance art" to a place we'd rather not see it in.

OmegaAK47
OmegaAK47

I think independent game makers should have the right and chance to get their ideas out to the people.

Mikethechimp
Mikethechimp

Will Wright has gone insane. Just listen to this quote: "We were very focused, if anything, on making a game for more casual players. Spore has more depth than, let’s say, The Sims did. But we looked at the Metacritic scores for Sims 2, which was around ninety, and something like Half-Life, which was ninety-seven, and we decided - quite a while back - that we would rather have the Metacritic and sales of Sims 2 than the Metacritic and sales of Half-Life." He's nuts, I tell you!

thk123
thk123

Gamespot covers GDC...?

Kravyn81
Kravyn81

Addressing the first two developers up there: Heather Kelly - Really? Women need that sort of guidance. So much for women being smarter than men. And Mark Johns: Who cares? Really. Games as art is getting so old already and it's starting to become annoying. This is primarily a subjective topic anyway, and I don't think there will ever be a clear-cut consensus that they are or aren't. So enjoy the games as you see fit and shut up already.

davros878
davros878

Alternative video games blow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

gnbfd
gnbfd

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]