January 23, 2006

Hello from Slamdance

by Michael Mateas · , 6:13 pm

Slamdance bannerI’ve been here at Slamdance for the last couple of days exhibiting Façade. Andrew flies in later today. It’s a cool venue, though, echoing Ian’s post, we’re not getting as much foot traffic I’d like. Façade would be particularly suited for the non-gamer indy-movie-loving audience who descend on Park City for Sundance and Slamdance. In conversations in bars and restaurants, it’s fun introducing random festival goers to the concept of indy games. After describing Façade, a common reaction is to say “Oh, I’ll have to send my kids by the game lounge” – funny given the subject matter. I of course take great pains to explain that, as an art form, games can be aimed at adults as well as children, and that in fact Façade was not designed for children. (On a related note, Façade, which was supposed to be included on Moondance Games IGF compilation CD, was excluded at the last minute because having it in the compilation would have required ESRB “Strong Language” and “Alcohol Reference” descriptors which none of the other games required – not kid’s stuff indeed. Our next game will have to involve killing things so that we can get an E rating.).

The camaraderie among the independent gamemakers is great. There’s a real sense of an indy game movement that makes games purely for the love of pushing the boundaries of game design. The N team gave a nice, manifesto-like presentation on indy gaming, making the distinction between “minor league” vs. indy. The minor league are the folks who make independent games that are easily digestible in the context of commercial games (perhaps some incremental tweak on standard game mechanics), with the hope of moving to the major leagues and making standard, commercial fare. The “true indy” folk are making games as art, and are often engaged in radical innovation. In the ensuing discussion, however, the obvious question came up. Say you’ve had a successfully “true indy” game, and now you’d like making such games to become your day job; at what point does making commercially viable games make you loose your “true indy” status. This is the question of what constitutes selling out, and is a perennial question in every art form. One solution that was discussed was keeping your production costs way down, by making small, relatively minimal games, thus requiring only a small number of sales to make money.   
Folks playing Façade.
For Whom the Telling Changed has Nick’s book up next to the game.

6 Responses to “Hello from Slamdance”

  1. Patrick Dugan Says:

    I like the Nietzchean view of art, which when combined with his view of morality makes selling-out a moot point. Art isn’t something you make, its something you live. Whether you’ve got $500 in the bank or $5,000,000, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re continueing to live the art. It’d be nice if an artist with lots of cash would channel that cash into more innovation, I think thats part of hte integrity deal.

    Its a shame that most adults still have an entrenched view of games as children’s toys. The moment I heard a woman discussing the newly released Xbox 360 as “this toy” I realized that MS’s marketing strategy had failed to breach the mainstream. The sad truth is that even Facade has been slow to circulate, even amoung intelligent, open-minded adults who would be honestly interested.

    When I go to slamdance its going to be with a title that relates directly to issues young people can appreciate. Most of the ideas I have are most directly marketable to the 12-25 market, though I’d like to think they shred the gender boundary better than most commercial industry titles. Its possible that before games and interactive drama catches on as respectable in the Time magazine venue, someone (maybe me) is going to have to attack the youth market angle. I’ll try not to sell-out in the process.

    In the meantime, we really ought to do something about the ESRB. As you aptly point out, Micheal, the rating system is highly lop-sided, which is reflective of American culture and the nation’s history of violence and sexual repression. If I make a game which treats sexuality honestly, but has little to no violence, I’ll get a harsher rating than a game involving thousands of simulated deaths, but not a single nipple.

  2. josh g. Says:

    Congrats on the win! (Ha ha, posted a comment before it was even announced here!)

  3. nick Says:

    Woohoo! I’ll save posting privs for Michael or Andrew (if they’re able to post from there) or at least I’ll wait for the results to be announced on the official Slamdance site. Thanks for bringing the news, josh.

  4. Grand Text Auto » In Yo Façade: Slamdance Winner Announced Says:

    […] details, but Holy Toledo! Façade body-slammed the competition and took first place at the Slamdance Festival. Congrats to Michael and Andrew, and I look forward to the fo […]

  5. andrew Says:

    Hey Patrick, we just saw your thoughtful piece about Façade in this week’s Escapist — very nice! I’d like to comment on it in a top-level post in the next few days.

  6. Patrick Dugan Says:

    Aw shucks, I aim to please.

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