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.