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    Let me preface this a bit. This is an article I wrote last year after E3 and Indie Game: The Movie just had come out. Another film I was following had set out to tell a story about the indie scene, so I interviewed some of the people that appear in it and the director. I also asked the indie devs about their thoughts on E3 and some other topics. Never got to publish it so I really hope you like it!

    With Indie Game: The Movie just out, it’s easy to forget about the other white meat.

    Us and the Game Industry, funded on Kickstarter back in March, followed a handful of independent game makers over the course of three years. Produced and directed by Stephanie Beth, it had a simple objective: tell their stories and be “in the moment” as they create.
    “I think that people are excited to be expressing themselves,” Beth told me over the phone, “and I think that people are having a great time using the internet to construct - and a game is a construction.”

    I asked her if she was a gamer. “I’m a mother of a computer gamer and a concept artist. Before my son established himself, he was working out of our back office at home. Around 2007/2008, after he had had success for a little thing he drew for a company on Kongregate, he started showing me how the DIY (Do It Yourself) explosion was occurring. I realized that I could get a handle on game development from the point of view of individuals as opposed to companies. [...] I’ve always approached this as a filmmaker, not as a fan.”

    Such a refreshing perspective might just be what we need. Coming in from the outside, I wonder if she had initial thoughts that got challenged as she made the movie. “I had preconceived notions that there would be a possible gap of perception between the science and the art, I was curious about that. How much does engineering carry the day and how much the aesthetic suddenly become generously foregrounded. I’d like to think that’s what a lot of my film is about.”

    Indie Game: The Movie showed a lot of the hardship and pressure that can result from the completion of a game. Would Us and the Game Industry also show that darker side of the creative process? “I haven’t got those types of dramatic highs in the lives of the people in the film. It’s a film really where people are working quite regularly, and quite secure you might say in their process. It’s informative. You get an insight into their world, in such a way that some people may wish to become game developers, because this is the big question: how many people do want to be? That’s often the question when you have a new film coming into the culture. [...] I do have some of those personal management discussions that sometimes come up to give insight into the enjoyment of the long working process over a project.”

    I inquired about a release date. “We’re still working on which festival to apply for based on when we get final cut.” She assured me it was a 2012 film and to look forward to it.

    The independent scene has been at the forefront of innovation and taking risks. It has evolved and grown tremendously over the past years, to become a movement that ironically isn’t underground but has a sense of its own identity. Indie studios are often at the forefront of innovative ideas and gameplay. They take risks, they don’t hesitate to be different, and many are rewarded for it. Platforms like Steam, Humble Bundle and Good Old Games have provided an audience for titles made with a smaller team and budget, skyrocketing some to financial and critical success. I decided to talk to some of the developers in the film.

    Jason Rohrer, creator of Passage and Inside a Star-filled Sky among other things, has been making games since 2005. “The market and the ability for creators to actually make a living by making independent games, that has changed dramatically over the past four years.” He has been a part of this ever changing landscape. “I think the audience has evolved to the point where it’s very comfortable buying an independent game.”

    Douglas Wilson is the maker of the non-video video game Johann Sebastian Joust, where players holding a Move controller must eliminate each other by touching the other’s device, while moving to the rhythm of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music. He came onto the scene in 2007 and wholeheartedly agrees with Jason. “I think the last few years have been particularly exciting. [...] What you’ve seen in a lot of cities is really local culture. Rather than more of an internet based scene, you see [...] lots of game collectives and groups organizing public meet ups, and game parties and exhibitions. You’ve also seen indies embrace multiplayer a little bit more than before, than they used to. No longer is it just single player platformer games. Now you’re getting all these kinds of crazy multiplayer games that bring people together. If I had done Joust a few years earlier, it would have been harder for me to gain traction showing it around, because that game really does best in public.”

    As E3 happened a few weeks ago, I asked Jason and Douglas what they thought of the biggest video game trade show in the world.

    “Right now, all of the most interesting work in the games that are worth playing are being made outside of the traditional triple-A studio system,” Jason Rohrer told me with confidence. “When I look at what was going on at E3 and the games that are being announced there, every single one is like a third or fourth sequel in a series. No new ideas, nothing. And even the few sort of new ideas that are there, that aren’t sequels, are very derivative in terms of other games that have been out before.”

    The recurring theme of E3 seemed to be the overt presence of violence. “Some of the things I saw, some of the trailers I watched shocked me in terms of how quickly they rolled out the extreme, disturbing violence. People’s throats being slit, and other kinds of person to person direct physical violence that’s meant to provoke and disturb you. The audience would cheer when that stuff would happen.” He paused. “It seemed very strange to me, made me feel sick.”

    Rohrer isn’t against all video game violence. Just as some films use violence to have an effect, he believes game violence can achieve something. But in this case he felt sick to the point of not wanting to play the games and his sentiment was echoed as publications criticized the hyper violence following E3.

    “Games have traditionally been a celebration of violence [...] but not realistic violence. Now it’s not violence at a distance where you shoot somebody from far away and they kind of crumple over and you run away and shoot somebody else. This is like somebody being surprised and all of a sudden having your throat slit.”

    I asked him what he thought of Nintendo’s showing. He admitted not having seen the Wii U and its line up, but suggested it was just the other extreme. “They get rid of the violence, but they also get rid of any sort of sophistication. The alternative to a Quentin Tarantino movie is not necessarily My Little Pony. We can have things that are interesting and sophisticated and not have disturbing violence.”

    Douglas Wilson, while also being exasperated by the violence, had a different take on the Electronic Entertainment Expo and the mainstream industry at large. “It is somewhat of a tipping point. [...] Mainstream media is starting to speak out finally, at least more than I’ve ever seen before. It’s in the water, just as a developer and a fan of games, I’m reading more about these issues. That’s encouraging. I do think that the media coverage shows that something is changing. I think the triple-A industry and the main three consoles are facing some challenges going forward.” He mentioned Steam, and the iOS platform as tough competition looking at the future. “It seems this exclusive focus on violent first person shooters is a little out of touch with where gaming is going.”

    “Someone made a nice point, I think it was in Kris Graft’s editorial [of Gamasutra] that some of these games aren’t even as violent as the marketing makes them out to be. Some of them use violence in kind of a nice way but the marketing hones on that and focuses only on that.”

    Did E3 feel relevant to him at all? The answer was a surprising yes. “As indies, it’s often nice to develop in reaction to a trend, to try and do something different. It is relevant, but there are other events that are more relevant to me as an indie, like Indiecade which is every October in Los Angeles. Even though that’s not really a commercial event, it’s more a showcase of these really great games independent creators are working on.”

    I asked him if the lack of hyper violence in indie games was a response to the very popular trend in mainstream development. “Indie developers tend to have the luxury of being a little bit more political and ideological about what they design. That said I think there are a few indies who make ultra violent games, almost as a satire, and I think that’s great. It’s not that violence in games is bad, it depends on how you frame the violence, why are you using the violence, to what end.”

    His stance isn’t categorically pro indie however. I mentioned how independent titles seem to have a better convergence of story and gameplay (citing Passage and Braid as examples), in a way that triple-A gets criticized for either not doing or rarely doing well.

    “I don’t agree that indie games are necessarily doing a better job. Games like Braid and Passage are one attempt, and that’s nice, but [...] in terms of traditional storytelling, I’d argue that indie games have not been exploring good writing. For a lot of practical reasons, indie games tend to be more mechanics focused. There’s this ideology that story and games should be somehow beautifully melded into one perfect whole, and that mechanics is what makes games unique so we should be exploring that. To me that’s all a bunch of bullshit. There are all this other beautiful art forms: writing, visuals, music. These are all part of games. Games aren’t just systems and rules, they’re these really complex multimedia things. I think sometimes indies have this ideology when you look at Passage and Braid, that’s the way that games should be made because that’s what the essence of games is. I think that’s really constraining. There is this reaction because people got bored of triple-A games that have a lot of in game cinematics. I think it’s problematic when indie games start claiming that that’s the right way to do it. To me it’s a diversity argument. I think triple-A sports games are one really compelling example, [...] how a lot of these sports games have a nicely built in player narrative.” He concluded with “It’s a different type of innovation.”

    Even the most innovative games need funding however and it seems like, for the past few months, Kickstarter has been a nexus for independent developers and studios, with budget records being broken regularly.

    Jenova Chen co founder of thatgamecompany, the team behind FlOw, Flower and the critically acclaimed Journey, had a very blunt opinion about the crowdfunding platform. “David Jaffe was saying it’s a dick measuring contest, who has the bigger dick basically.” Chen agreed with Chaffe’s take. “You’re probably not going to raise as much money as Tim Schafer. And then Wasteland 2 happened.”

    Brian Fargo’s kickstarter for Wasteland 2 raised $2,933,252 while Tim Schafer’s project got $3,336,371. “Every game we make, at the beginning we don’t even know what the game is going to be, because we try to push the envelope, we try to make something new. If we don’t even know what that game is, how can we describe it to the audience. And we have the funding to make it, so it’s not a really good story for Kickstarter.” (Our phone interview took place in March, well before thatgamecompany announced a $5.5M fund from Benchmark Capital to make their next titles.)

    Kickstarter and online distribution seem to go hand in hand these days, with many of these projects promising a release on Steam. EA’s platform Origin had just announced it would be waiving distribution fees of crowd funded games for 90 days, in a clear attempt to boost its indie catalog, and declared Wasteland 2 would be on it. Jason Rohrer admitted he had heard of Origin some time ago but had no clue the service was up and running. “It’s clearly not making any kinds of ripples in my world.”

    “[Steam] is a force to be reckoned with in terms of anybody who’s trying to get onto the PC. There are all these other portals out there, and if you put your game on any of those portals, you will literally not sell any substantial amount of games. You might sell five. I’ve had my games on a couple of other portals and sold almost nothing. I’ve talked to other people, even well known established games, and they say it’s not even worth doing. They just don’t have any audience. Nobody’s spending money there.”

    “Really?” I said surprised. He mentioned Direct2Drive and GamersGate as examples, where people got talked into putting their games on those platforms, his included, and never got much out of them.

    “Steam has been the only one who’s ever been worth doing at all. All those portals have a minimum: you have to get your balance up to a certain level before they’ll send you a check. In any of the portals I’m in, I’ve never gotten up to that minimum. Except Steam. I’ve sold a few copies here and there, but never enough to make any money out of it.

    Does it end up being detrimental to his games? “No, it doesn’t really matter. It taught me that I shouldn’t waste time. It does take time and effort and energy to get your game ready and bundled and ready to go and tested on portal. [...] Over time I’ve learned to just say no to all of them because it’s just not worth the time.”

    Steam has clearly been a resounding success with gamers and game makers. “A lot of these platforms are much less discriminating in terms of what games they allow on their platform. I had another game a year and a half ago that Steam would just not accept. A year ago I had a game that they finally would accept, and it took a lot of energy and effort on my part to get them and convince them to put my game on Steam and allow it to be there.”

    He’s talking about Inside a Star-filled Sky. “Because of that, they only have one or two games coming out each day. And when your game comes out on Steam, it’s at the top of the list for a whole day and everybody sees it. Everybody gets the chance to see the game, hear about it and so on. [...] They schedule your release date so that none of the other games are released that day. You have to negotiate a release date with them and they’ll say ‘No no, this big game is coming out on Monday you can’t release that day. We have this big sale on Tuesday so you can’t release that day. Oh maybe we can squeeze you in on Thursday.’ They really try to find the time for your game where you’re going to have a little bit of a spotlight. [...] I wouldn’t release on the iOS platform either, it’s just as much as a crap chute. You’re pretty much guaranteed not to make nothing if you release on Steam.”

    You could argue that Joust isn’t really a video game or thatgamecompany isn’t really indie. The movie tries to figure out what it means to not rely on the big publishers and make games as an individual.

    “The film expresses some of those inherent tensions between the independent and the idea of the industry, because it is a conflict that every individual needs to work out, in order to work and be a happy person.” Beth told me at the end of our interview. “If you choose a profession you have to figure out how to sustain yourself.”

    It seems like there’s never been a better time to explore that than ever before.

    PS: Wanna see some crazy Japanese games? Check out my favorites of Comiket 83!

    I posted this on Japanator but since it's about games, might as well post it here too.

    Comiket is the world's largest self-published comic book fair, held twice a year in Tokyo, Japan. It's not just about books though, but also music and dojin soft: fan made games either derivative of existing franchises or sometimes completely new.

    Comiket 83 just happened and boy are some of the games this year awesome. It's the first year where I'm really paying attention to the music and the games that came out of it, and I'm loving what I'm seeing. Lots of Touhou games as usual, but some original content came out too! Here are some of my favorites.

    It's about to get confusing, crazy, and totally Japanese. Brace yourself. And if anything, the last trailer is awesome.

    Phantasmal Summoners

    It's a Next Saga clone with a Pokemon like twist and Touhou characters. You explore dungeons and battle monsters. Sometimes you'll capture the monsters that you can then summon in battle with you. You also find cards in chests to boost your party's stats. I can't tell you what's happening storywise since I can't read Japanese, but the gameplay is a lot of fun to discover and the visuals are nice.


    Magical Battle Festa

    I haven't tried that one yet and I'm not even a fan of magical girl anime, but a quick look at the screens had me hooked. It looks like a crazy amount of fun and they seemed to have pulled off the feel of epic magical fights in the air! It's running on the same engine as Touhou Sky Arena which I liked a lot. I hope it has an online component.



    This one I've played and man oh man it's so awesome. It's a highly stylized schmup in 3D, it looks beautiful and a must for any action fan, whether mech or otherwise. What is really amazing about this game is that the perspective keeps changing. It's not just top down, it switches from time to time and you're never bored. Only the demo's out for now. I can't wait for this one!



    A racing game if it had been touched by an anime angel. I'm not crazy excited about this one but I am very curious. It's the expansion to a game to a sequel to a game released at Comiket in 2004 by fans of the original. Japanese fans really are the most passionate huh?

    Trailer (it's not Youtube so I can't embed it):

    Touhou 13.5 Hopeless Masquerade Demo

    The new Touhou fighter from Tasofro (Twilight Frontier). This time, the characters constantly fly. The 2D animations are gorgeous and the music kind of catchy. Three characters are available in the demo: Reimu, Marisa, and Ichirin, along with two stages. I'm not a big fan of fighters but I had a lot of fun playing this one.




    No comment. Except to say that I want it.

    WARNING: Post that has nothing to do with video games and shameless promotion incoming :P

    Hello awesome Dtoid community peeps!

    I wrote a short book not long ago called The Llama Space Tale and it's free right now on Amazon so, like, go get it! I figured it was okay to post about it since it's free. It's available as an ebook but it's not very long, so reading it on your computer screen won't be overkill if you don't have a Kindle or tablet, or don't like reading on your phone.

    It's about a llama named Hero. He lived a happy life on Sunny Sunshine Shoe when his girlfriend Plan was kidnapped by The Comet, a pony disguised as a horse. He then launches into space after them, to rescue his lover.

    I've been told it's kind of crazy, but I'll let you be the judge of that. Hope you like it! NOW GO GET IT.

    PS: Condors and a tiger are also involved.

    Each time I have to make a choice, I freeze. I start thinking about all the repercussions it will have, but also what would happen if I had picked a different option. We are shaped by our choices, and I'll be damned if I end up being defined by wrong ones. A small part of me believes in destiny, not in the sense that all I do was meant to happen, no. I do believe in freedom of choice, still I like to think that in the greater scheme of things, our choices lead us to our destiny. It may sound contradictory, but it makes sense in my mind.

    Each time I have to make a choice nowadays, I flip a coin or roll a dice. Why? Because I create universes. In one of those alternate worlds, I chose the other option, I walked on a different path, I went the other way. By rolling a dice or flipping a coin, I essentially guarantee to choose everything while experiencing one thing. So what I failed in this version of myself? Out there exists another me, or multiple other mes, and one of them at least succeeded. Even if it was not me, it was still me. I may not have seen it, but it happened somewhere.

    The concept of choice creating new worlds is something I find very interesting. More than that, the concept of exploring multiple retelling of the same story through multiple eyes, or living the same story with one different choice that engages us in a different narrative, are both things I wish we would see more of in video games. It's more than an a choice in Mass Effect that comes back two games later. That's not enough for me. I want a choice that changes the game.

    Imagine this: you are part of a group of people sent on a planet to uncover an alien artifact. Pretty standard stuff. You find it, and realize it controls time and space. Everyone on your team has baggage, has a dark past that they wish they could change, so you use the artifact to go back in time and change one thing per team mate's life that they wish they could change, and explore the consequences. Or you could decide to go back to before you got the mission and try to learn why they sent you to get this. You could also go to the future and see how things changed after you brought it back. The catch is you can only make one choice per playthrough. A new playthrough would mean a new choice, and each team mate's life could be a very different genre too. The badass soldier's could be an FPS, the weird scientist's could be a puzzle game, the young assistant's could be an RPG, the main character's could be a horror game, and the old cook's could be a racing game from his past glory days. So many possibilities.

    There are so many ways that one could use the concept of destiny, time travel and choice to produce brand new experiences. All we need are developers ready to do it, and publishers willing to take risks. That or Kickstarter.

    There are few games that push all my buttons. I have a long list of video games I absolutely love but if contrasted with the number of video games I have played in my life, I think it would paint a very interesting picture of my habits.

    I sometimes ask myself why I love some of the games I do, because they aren't always exactly popular with everyone else. Some are, some are not. Here's a quick run down of a few of them:

    Final Fantasy VIII

    It was one of my first Playstation games. It was my first serious game, my first RPG too: Those could be the reasons why I was blown away by it, but even today I can still play it all and love every second. I don't even think the game has aged badly.
    Another reason is I could relate to Squall. He kept to himself, he wasn't exactly the stereotypical character that just jumps into battle sword in hand. He felt real to me.

    Mirror's Edge

    This is a game I had in my head for so long. I remember the day I saw a teaser for it online and my heart started racing: someone somewhere had scanned my brain and made it! I was so excited. It's the only game I bought three times, and one of my favorite just because it has one thing central to it: you run. You start the game and you run. You jump, you slide, you escape bullets, some platforming, but the main goal is to run. To keep running forward. And that's all you wanna do sometimes: run from everything and everyone until you stop, breathless, and smile.


    This is an odd one to many because it's not exactly deep or innovative or beautiful. It had one thing though: it made me feel free. I have never felt so free in a video game before. Running on the side of a building, jumping from the top and feeling the air go through your hair and clothes as you fall to the ground? It did that. And that's all I wanted:

    Dead Space

    That game terrified me. I would play it alone in my room in the dark at night, and it scared me so much I had to pause sometimes just to breath! When the music started ramping up for no reason I had to mute it sometimes. I would take breaks and watch something silly and happy on Disney Channel before going back into it. I love horror games and this is one of my favorites. Sure I played Silent Hill 2 and liked it too, but it did not scare me as much as Dead Space. Just a personal thing I guess.

    The Saboteur

    The artstyle blew me away. The soundtrack was amazing. The gameplay was solid. The city and its surroundings had a great atmosphere to them. The only game I nearly Platinum-ed on the PS3. We just clicked for some reason.

    Just Cause 2

    Just cause. Again, the sensation of freedom in this game even surpassed Prototype. Probably the game I played the most. If you have it on the PC, definitely try the Superman Mod: the game just got even crazier:

    Rayman Origins

    I'm not going to lie and say something like my life is hard, or I have it rough. Because objectively speaking I don't, I shouldn't have to complain. It doesn't take way from the fact that sometimes I feel sad, I feel down, I wanna be alone. This game? It's pure happiness. It's concentrated joy. Everything from the soundtrack to the gameplay, the incredible hand drawn art, the level design, the noises. If a game was ever the representation of a smile, this one would be it. In a market crowded with violence, and so many violent games are on this list, this game is refreshing.

    Final note

    My tastes in games are slowly shifting towards ones with a lower body count. It may not look that way with this list, but I'm starting to get sick of killing, destroying, and other variations of the mechanic. Whether it's Mario or Call of Duty, a big part of the gameplay is ending something or someone. "Well what would you do for fun" is something you could be asking.

    Journey is an example of a game that I personally found fun and that did not involve destruction. I think of upcoming games like I Am Alive and I get excited. I remember Deus Ex Human Revolution, a game you could play entirely without killing someone (which I did and it was great) and still enjoy yourself. Think of Rythm Heaven or Animal Crossing. I've heard from a couple of people that you don't have to participate in combat in the latest Silent Hill game (Downpour). You do not have to kill or destroy to have fun. Games can be much more than that, just like movies and books are not limited to one type of story.

    All I could think about when playing Uncharted 3 was how many people I had killed throughout the adventure. It doesn't have to always be about that, and I sure hope we see more titles that do something else while having strong stories and gameplay mechanics.

    If you have made it through, I'd like to ask you two questions. One: can you share a name of a game you love, that's not necessarily viewed by others as especially great, and why. Two: what game that does not involve killing, destroying, have you played and enjoyed?

    Microsoft announced today that Phil Harrison would be joining the company, taking the role of Head of Microsoft Games Studios Europe, overseeing studios like Lionhead Studios and Rare, and effectively replacing Peter Molyneux (Microsoft officially denies it, saying Molyneux's position is still vacant). Phil Spencer, corporate vice president at Microsoft Studios, said "[Harrison] is one of video gaming's true visionaries, and his experience overseeing global studios and deep industry relationships make him the ideal person to lead our European efforts. Under his leadership, we look forward to continuing cultivating the best talent and growing our business in the region"ť. You are probably thinking it's just PR talk. Not really. This is actually a big deal.

    Let's back up a little though, in case you don't know who Phil Harrison is. Remember the Rubber Ducks video from E3 2005, showcasing the amazing things the PS3 could do? He was the guy on stage who introduced it. He was a game designer and graphic artist in the UK in his early career, then moved on to be the head of development for Mindscape International in the early nineties. In 1992 he joined Sony and has been a part of the launch of the PlayStation and its successors. "When we launched PlayStation we really had no idea we'd be talking about an industry that would more than triple in size and reach a 3rd of US homes so quickly."Harrison said in a Q&A on Slashdot.

    In 2005 he became President of the Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios, where he was responsible for game studios across the globe, including Polyphony, Naughty Dog, Media Molecule etc, with a team of 2,500 people and fourteen studios. "This is the man who championed SingStar into existence. And EyeToy. And Killzone. And took a bet on LittleBigPlanet when it was just sketches on paper." develop's Editor In Chief Michael French says in his post about the move. Calling him the Steve Jobs of gaming might be pushing it, but he is up there with the forward thinkers of the gaming industry.

    He left Sony in 2008 and had leadership positions at Infogrames, Atari, and Gaikai the cloud-based gaming service in 2010. It has been a while since he has managed gaming studios, which gives interesting prospects to the future of Microsoft. He was obviously hired for his vision, but it remains to be seen if they will influence the company's future projects or if the corporation will change him. I honestly doubt it but you never know: Sony and Microsoft have two very different environments.

    Harrison showing off Home at GDC 2007

    He always expressed interesting views however, on how social games, mobile platforms and internet browsers will be at the core of how we play in the future, or how the next generation could be disc less.
    “There is no doubt in my mind that there is a generation of kids already alive that will never buy physical media." he says speaking to Develop ). "[...]The games industry has to wake up to that or it will watch its current business model dwindle and die."
    "The games industry is addicted to retail revenues. They feed the entire machine and it makes the whole product planning process revolve around delivering a disc in a box in Q4. And then repeat. We have to step off that treadmill. Every boardroom in the industry is struggling with this."

    He is a man who gets it, and Microsoft needs someone like him to have a shot at being the leader of the next generation. With the Kinect, a clear stab at the casual market the Wii dominates, and the last update to the Xbox pushing content straight to the console, it clearly wants the 360 to be the main entertainment device of your home. It feels like Harrison was brought on to give a "Sony" edge to the multi faceted company, and effectively turning it into the powerhouse of the next generation. Success in achieving that goal remains to be seen, but on thing is for sure: hiring Phil Harrison paints a very interesting picture of Microsoft's future.

    The battle for tomorrow? It started yesterday.

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