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.

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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.

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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.

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