GDC 2016: TAG visits San Francisco

critical hit, talks

GDC

Last week I attended my first ever Game Developer’s Conference alongside what occasionally felt like at least half of the Montreal games people I know. It is a strange and wonderful feeling to run into folks from your city in one that is completely new to you. During GDC, this seemed to happen all the time.

I went a little early and stayed a little late, so while I was in San Francisco I also got to see a sea lion giving birth, go to a mirror maze, visit the Musee Mecanique and try all of its fortune telling cabinets, and go to the lovely San Francisco botanical gardens where a squirrel climbed up my leg (given today’s weather, I’m especially missing how GREEN San Francisco was).

For most of my time in San Francisco, I stayed with veteran GDC goer Squinky (who will soon be starting their PhD at TAG — and we’re lucky to have them around the lab with us already). This was Squinky’s eighth GDC, and they were kind enough to both find me a place to stay with a friend of theirs and to help me through what would no doubt otherwise have been a completely different experience.

The talks were excellent – as Gina has already mentioned, the TAG twitter feed is full of live-tweetin’s and retweets from the panels that we attended. Some of my favourites were Renee Nejo’s talk called “Everyone’s Silent Enemy: Shame and Vulnerability” which candidly explored her experience as a First Nation’s woman who has often felt “not native enough” in the estimation of others. No summary can do this particular talk justice, so I’ll point you towards the talk information, and hopefully you’ll be able to check it out on the vault: http://schedule.gdconf.com/session/everyones-silent-enemy-shame-and-vulnerability

It was really heartening for me to be able to watch Rebecca Cohen-Palacios, Stephanie Fisher, Sagen Yee, Zoe Quinn and Gemma Thomson deliver “Ripple Effect: How Women-in-Games Initiatives Make a Difference” — the Pixelles program is the reason that I made my first solo game and how I discovered that making games of my own was a viable possibility. The program was life-changing for me! This talk explored how such programs can ripple out, starting from the Difference Engine Initiative, where many of the speakers made their first games.

Our own Ida Toft delivered what I (perhaps biasedly, as one of this summer’s co-directors) thought was an excellent talk about Critical Hit 2015 and our experiences trying to build a safer space within the program. After Ida spoke about their take on the issues that made this very challenging, Ida invited Gina and I up, and the three of us took questions for the remaining half hour. We also invited some of the Critical Hit participants from this past year who attended the talk to give us their input as well. I was reminded that Safer Space isn’t a perfect solution, but that we have to keep trying and working towards something.

Speaking of this year’s Critical Hit participants, quite a few of them made it to GDC this year. They’re sharing their work and doing well – last fall we also saw quite a few of them at IndieCade! We managed to meet up for dinner with Kailin, Amanda, Hope, Nicole and Owen. A few of them will also be at the upcoming Different Games, so if you’re headed there, you should say hi to them!

Attending my first ever Lost Levels was also an oasis in the desert — it had a very different feel than the rest of the bustling conference, and I was able to relax for the first time that afternoon since the beginning of the conference. I listened to people talk about AI, led by the amazing Kate Compton (creator of the Tracery library, which I’m about to learn), was serenaded by impromptu music, including a live Gameboy chiptunes performance, and listened to an indie rant or two. All the while, I also ran the first ever Lost Levels Nap Summit, discussing important nap-related issues — did you know, for example, that casual naps are still naps? The Mild Rumpus, a carpeted “quieter” space within GDC with bean bags, pillows, trees, and experimental indie games, wasn’t quite mild enough for such discussions, as it turns out.

Squinky’s talk on Friday, “Designing Discomfort,” was brilliant – suggesting that maybe the flow state isn’t always ideal because it limits the kinds of stories we can tell. We should break out and explore possibilities outside of it, including more mature subject matter and more kinds of stories.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, while I enjoyed many excellent talks, some of my most worthwhile interactions at GDC happened at the peripheries of the event, because of the fact that for this week, thousands of game developers are sharing the same location. It was during lunch and dinner meetups and coffee breaks, during accidental meetings in the city or in hallways. I met a lot of lovely people, many of whom were introduced to me by Squinky.

You should also check out Gina’s excellent summary of the microtalks, which I also attended and appreciated.

IN TUNE @ INDIECADE: A YEAR AND A MONTH OF MAKING A GAME

adventures in gaming, talks

E3promo

[Cross-posted here: tag.hexagram.ca/blog/]

Last week was IndieCade 2015, a festival celebrating indie games in all their forms, and, thanks to TAG and many other folks, I was there with In Tune as an official Night Games selection. It has been one year and one month between the creation of the first prototype of the game and showcasing it at IndieCade as an official selection. In between, there have been many adventures.

OUR HEROIC ORIGIN STORY

In Tune was created at last year’s mLab-hosted satelite location of boobjam 2014, which happened at the end of September. Boobjam is a game jam that encourages creators to think about breasts in ways that they aren’t normally considered in games – as something other than objects for the straight cis-male gaze. Inspired by the theme of the jam, In Tune came about as we thought about bodies and their interactions. It is fair to say that we were also inspired by the awkwardness of bodies. Most importantly, it is concerned with the navigation of consent – firstly around those bodies and the negotiation of physical contact, and then, using that physical negotiation to extend the thinking into other areas.

ON THE ROAD

showcasesscreenshot

By now, In Tune has showed in many places, both locally and internationally. For each venue that we have shown it at, we have had to track down the safer space/inclusivity/anti-harassment or similar policy. We do not show the game in spaces which don’t have one, and always have a printed copy of the policy on-hand. This serves to raise awareness for the existence of such policies and makes sure that we are knowledgeable about available resources in case any concerns should arise when people play our game.

UNIQUE OR ALTERNATIVE INTERFACES AND SENSITIVE TOPICS

In Tune works with a Mac Computer (with an OS older than El Capitan), PlayStation Moves, a Makey-Makey, some wires, and handmade conductive sleeves that slip over the PlayStation moves. Our game has also been through many phases: first with tinfoil and PlayStation 3 Controllers, then with a variety of custom controllers (held together by solder, hot glue, and a prayer) and finally PlayStation Moves. This makes it a difficult game to judge for showcases like IndieCade. We have been lucky enough to have had judges that either heard about the game and believed in it based on the strength of the trailer and other documentation, or they got the chance to play it at other events (which the game was at because somebody either believed in it on the strengths of the trailer and surrounding documentation or got to play it at another event).

Due to changes in the way that bluetooth works on the latest releases of Mac OS (El Capitan), the API that we use to pair our PlayStation Moves to the computer no longer works, not to mention that getting PlayStation Moves to pair with PC has pretty much always been a difficult prospect (even the Copenhagen Game Collective wouldn’t touch it, in the end). So, we either have to keep a computer with an older OS (thus breaking many Apps on it) or continually be able to wipe a computer to bring it back to a version of the OS that works for us.

So, as you might be able to tell, the tech alone puts some restrictions on our ability to distribute In Tune as anything other than an installation piece, which is why it is so important for us that we get to take it around and show it. We are currently working on low-cost and low-time-cost ways to distribute the game. With the Makey-Makey Go coming out (hopefully this December), we think that we might be able to help people put together kits for under fifty or sixty dollars (used PS moves at 15USD per controller, the Makey-Makey Go for around 20USD, and then some conductive thread, wires and fabric).

However, even if it weren’t for the tech requirements of the game, this is a game with potentially sensitive content that has to be framed a certain way, and, perhaps most importantly, where the rules have to be carefully introduced. So, in considering how we share the game, we will potentially have to provide documentation and long-distance volunteer training in the future for the many people who have requested copies of the game for educational and workshop purposes. We trained a volunteer this weekend for the Green Mountain Game festival, and that went pretty well. Something to consider…

RECEPTION

You can read some of the articles that have been written about In Tune here: http://www.tweedcouchgames.com/what-theyre-saying/

It’s been getting quite a warm reception, and we have had a┬ádozen requests from people who would like to show the game for workshops and other educational contexts.

IN TUNE @ INDIECADE 2015

Taking In Tune to IndieCade was a fascinating experience, both during our actual game showcase and for me as a “young game maker and scholar.” I was surrounded by and got to discuss with people who I have been reading about (Celia Pearce, Brenda Laurel) or playing games by, and it really helped my studies come alive for me. Perhaps especially because in English Literature, my focus was on Middle English studies when it wasn’t on Creative Writing, which means that many of the writers I was engaging with have been dead for many hundreds of years. That makes being a part of a relatively young medium like games and games studies very interesting.

The /Gaming for Everyone/ pavilion was my favourite spot throughout the festival, because so many excellent games that might not fit the traditional mold of the festival, or were late entries for newly made games, were able to showcase there as well as community organizations that are responsible for helping to get new and different people making games. I was so happy to see “We Are Fine, We’ll Be Fine” (http://wearefine.ca/) there along with Nicole and Hope, and to see a few folks from Pixelles Montreal there as well, along with similar initiatives from around the continent, including Dames Making Games and Different Games.

I also got to spend time with the incomparable Dietrich Squinkifer (Squinky for short) who may be joining us again in Montreal soon and the transplanted Allison Cole (former mLab coordinator currently doing her thing at the NYU Game Center). Squinky is much more familiar with the folks from the IndieCade community and was kind enough to let me tag along as their entourage and introduced me to many cool people.

Another highlight of the festival for me was Pillowtalk: A Keynote Conversation, which featured discussions of intimacy and consent with designers who I am personally very interested in, including Naomi Clark (Consentacle — always great to see another game concerned with consent!), Nina Freeman (who just released Cibelle today), and Robert Yang (Hurt Me Plenty).

Overall, I think that I could have had a very different experience of IndieCade just depending on which events I chose to go to and which tents that I entered, but that I had the options that I did is a good thing, even as IndieCade grows larger and larger… I imagine that sustaining the event’s character with all of that growth is a challenge. I’ll be keeping an eye on how the IndieCade organizers handle it all.