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Gamercamp Lv3: Day 1/3

November 25, 2011

This weekend is Gamercamp, a “festival celebrating the artistry, innovation and power of play.” In particular, it features lots of talks from game developers and there’s a wide variety of game-related activities (and not just video games: board games will be popping up, thanks to Snakes & Lattes, and there’s some sort of adult-aged recess thing going on tomorrow). Today there were talks in the morning followed by an afternoon of hanging out, playing games, and watching 12 developers try to write a game in 3 hours. It was a fun day. Let’s start from the beginning.

Morning Talks

Seth Cooper

The first talk was from Seth Cooper, one of the creators of Foldit, the interactive scientific game that has players from all over the world folding proteins (which is a tricky business for computers). The game made headlines recently when a problem that went unsolved by biologists for more than 10 years was solved by Foldit players in 3 weeks.

His talk covered some of these highlights, but was more broadly about the potential role of games in solving real world problems. Of particular note is PhotoCity in which players compete to take pictures of buildings. It sounds unexciting, I suppose–that is, until you see the results. The motivation behind the project is to generate 3D models (initially point clouds) of the buildings from these photos. Like Foldit, it harnesses the power of games to try to draw people into helping out with some science. I think it’s a spectacular idea (and the results are great), but I doubt I’d participate: knowing its motivation kind of takes the value of the rewards away. After all, they’re not really worth anything (though I suppose that could be said for any game achievement…).

Cory Schmitz

Next came Cory Schmitz, a young graphic designer. You may have heard of the Zelda Zine, which was made as a part of GamerCity6 in Nottingham this year (Cory also did a bunch of the designs for the festival itself). I had heard mention of it, but didn’t know much. In any case, Cory helped out with it, and had a few spreads to show us from the first issue (of a planned three). He went over his own story of how he got to where he was, and showed some samples of his work along the way. His portfolio’s available here. I really like his work. I’m not familiar enough with design to know what his style would be called, but I see a lot of it around these days, and I find it to be really appealing. I like his Uncharted and Zelda designs, but he also has two magazines that he created (EXP and The Controller, respectively), both of which I’d like to have a closer look at. Unfortunately they’re fairly expensive right now, though he told me when I spoke with him after the talk that he’s hoping to get some printed cheaper (right now they’re printed on demand) soon.

Zelda design

A snazzy Zelda design from Cory Schmitz

One final thing to note is that he brought up the problem of box art with games, namely their cluttered nature and sameness. He expressed how he’d like to see more thought put into the design of the box art, like the sort of thought that is–er…can be–put into film posters. I agree completely. I’d love to see a more cohesive design put into more games: some aesthetic that spans the whole product, from box art to menus to music to the game itself. There are certainly games that do this (Limbo and Bastion, for instance), but I’d welcome more.

A beautiful Killer 7 design. Don't think the shirts are for sale, though. Too bad.

I look forward to seeing more from Cory.

Jim McGinley

Then up came Jim McGinley with an exhibition of the wonderful games of the TRS-80, a Radioshack computer from 1977. I had a lot of fun with this talk: there’s something about really old games that really intrigues me. I can’t speak to how everyone else in the crowd took in the display of games, but I loved them unironically. I think I’m just awed by the kinds of things that were created on such fickle machines.

Jim told us how he’d like to see a few of the elements from some of these games brought to the modern game world, and I think that some of that is feasible. In speaking with him later that afternoon, though, he made it clear that not all games are worth recovering: he was exposed to these one as a child, so he knew how to weed out the dreadful ones, of which there were many.

My favourite was Dancing Demon. Check it out.

Dance, demon, dance.

Emerging Artists Showcase

At the end of the morning session were some quick five-minute presentations from up-and-coming game developers. I liked some of what I saw, but there were also some fairly uninteresting games. I don’t want to be too harsh, though. After all, they’re just starting out. But there was one developer (I forget his name, unfortunately), who had some intriguing details in his games. He had one game called Something (which is extremely hard to Google) that had the player running around collecting coins to bring home to the wife to buy her things. The time away from her visibly destroys the relationship…but that time away is spent trying to collect things to help restore it. Anyway, it was cool, and if you can find it, check it out. He plans to remake it, I think, so maybe you’ll see it elsewhere one day.

And The Rest…

The rest of the day was held at the CSI Annex on Bathurst. I played games from some of the developers, chatted with several people, and generally took in the atmosphere of Gamercamp. Throughout the afternoon was the IronChef MakerU competition, which was a 3-hour game-making event with the requirement that every game feature a common element, which was in this case chattering teeth. Many contestants finished their games, which varied from broken to actually mildly interesting. And that’s not a shot at the developers: 3 hours is a short time, and they spent it well.

Anyway, there are two days left, and I need some rest if I’m going to get through them. ‘Til tomorrow…

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