Full Indie Meetup Report – March 2014

This month’s Full Indie meetup was bigger than ever. The organizers managed to rent out the second floor of the pub where it’s hosted, making room for 275 indies. Conversely, the presentation part of the event was a little on the light side this go-round, seeing as everyone was hung over tired after GDC. There were only two talks, and they were less educational than inspirational, but with everyone coming down from a lecture-heavy conference, I’m sure the change of pace was a relief.

The first speaker, Andy Moore of Radial Games, might have had the most intense GDC experience of anyone in the room. He came to GDC with little to show but a movement prototype for a multiplayer game based on a .gif of a rocket that shoots missiles. The .gif’s creator reached out to him through twitter to ask if he wanted to make a game based on it. From such humble beginnings, you’d expect a modest success story, and you’d be wrong. People sat down and played that movement demo for hours on end, and it was just the beginning.

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On Wednesday morning, fighting off a killer hangover, Andy decided to code the game’s combat. You know, just the core mechanic, no big deal, easy enough to crank out in a Wednesday. He showed the game to Valve that evening and walked away with a steam release code. Sony hunted him down after that, and he showed it to them on Friday. On Friday he was also hung over. GDC is like that.

A week later a dev build was up on Steam, and Valve was hounding him to put it on early access. Andy believes this success didn’t come just because he was lucky, but because he went to GDC. Networking is immensely important for anyone in this industry, and GDC is one of the best places to get it done. Everyone there is a gamer, and if you show off something that looks fun, people will play. Whether or not luck plays into it, if you don’t go to GDC, you’re not even rolling the dice.

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The game is called ROCKETSROCKETSROCKETS, and Andy describes it as Towerfall mixed with figure skating in space. I found the movement to be a little reminiscent of Ring Runner. Neon colored, vector-based rockets zoom around leaving rainbow contrails in their wake, assaulting each other with a barrage of missiles, bombs, and different kinds of missles. Here, the only defense is skillful evasion and a shield that lasts a fraction of a second. The build I played had no win or lose states, just an endless tug of war for points, and it was a blast (if you’ll pardon the expression.) The game is fast, frenzied, and gorgeous even in these early stages. With a bit more polish, it could become as addictive as Towerfall and Nidhogg. It’ll be available on early access come May 1st.

The next speaker was Kayla Kinnunen, game director at Roadhouse Interactive, who came up to tell us that “Queer Games are Bullshit,” except not really. Her real aim was to talk about the impact (or lack thereof) that queer games are making, and what they can do to improve that. A very busy and energetic queer indie scene has emerged recently, creating games for and about the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, it’s a fringe scene that isn’t affecting the mass market. Kayla argued we need to see more market-friendly titles if we want the market to move toward that unconventional scene.

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She pointed to movies as an example, citing Vancouver’s popular queer film festival. The festival showcases a lot of great films, but it doesn’t really draw viewers outside the LGBTQ movement. It’s more about celebrating the lives of those already in that community. Contrast that with Brokeback Mountain, the 12th highest-grossing romantic drama of all time. The success of Brokeback Mountain stretched the mainstream market, and did a lot to advance queer acceptance.

That, in a nutshell, is the big problem with queer games. They’re not really bullshit, of course – they help to build a strong community, and tell personal stories from niche perspectives. However, that’s a very insular benefit. As they stand, they don’t tackle the much bigger issue of social acceptance. LGBTQ people suffer from persecution and ostracization today, and a change in culture can go a long way to fix that. Kayla ended her presentation by giving everyone present a bit of homework: make a market-relevant game with non-stereotypical, three-dimensional queer characters and help reshape the world. It’s a bit of a tall order, but nonetheless it earned a lot of applause.

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With the presentations over early, I had a bit more time to network and play demos. 10 extra minutes doesn’t make much of a difference compared to 125 new people, but I made the most of it. A lot of old friends from Vancouver Film School were there, including my affable Aussie instructor Rick Davidson. Rick’s a great guy and a font of good advice, and he recently started up a website where he coaches people looking to break into the game industry. If you’re at all interested in game development, it’s a hell of a resource to have.

The final highlight of the evening was a delightful little indie game called Sportsball, which plays like a mix of Joust and the soccer minigame from Rayman Legends. In the game, your color-coded team of ostrich jockeys scrambles to murder the other team violently, and then toss the ball dropped from their corpse into a goal at the center of the playfield (which is also the player spawn). The balls are scored for whoever touched them last, so you need to be extra wary of goaltenders as you try to cash in your points.

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Like Joust, Sportsball is a deceptively simple game. You kill other players by coming at them from above, and bounce off them instead if you collide with them at the same level. In addition to flapping your wings to fly, you can dive to pick up speed, but of course that makes you more vulnerable. Instead of carrying the balls, they bounce up into the air whenever you touch them. With a bit of finesse, you can keep a whole mess of balls aloft simultaneously and run them into the goal to score big. Getting a handle on the game’s floaty physics presents a fun challenge, and the unique scoring mechanics mean a big comeback is almost never out of the question. It’s one hell of a party game, and playing it was a great way to cap off one hell of a party.