Some time ago, it came to my attention that there’s this little event called Gamelab, which has been going for quite some time as it seems. It’s basically a game dev meet, where industry veterans come to share their experience and knowledge, and indies com to share their work. And it’s open to the public, which is nice. They also have had guys from Tim Schafer to Hironobu Sakaguchi attend these events and make presentations.
And because of the experience it was, I thought I’d share it with the community!
While the prospect of networking is invaluable for someone who’s just entered the industry and Barcelona tends to be considerably hyped up as a “must-go” kind of place, my real reason for coming was finding out that a certain gentleman would have a panel. I may have written about him once or twice.
While I wouldn’t have a problem coming alone, I told my brother about it since he’s also a fan. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to make it due to college exams, but there was this announcement that someone else would be appearing to receive an award and have his own interview panel.
Because of this and my brother’s grades, it was time to take a little trip to Barcelona. My mother and stepfather also ended up coming with us because they were thinking of going there for quite some time, so this situation turned those thoughts into actions. A 12-hour road trip was arranged - I was originally going by plane, which would take hour and a half, but my wallet would also get considerably lighter than it already was – and we were raring to go.
It was actually a pretty fun trip, and arriving in Barcelona is an experience in and of itself. Besides being a huge, huge city, we arrived at night, on the eve of a national holiday (not that I cared much for all the party going on in the streets, but there was some absurd amount of noise, and about that I did care).
I stayed at the hotel where the conference was held, and it was crazy huge and futuristic looking. My first comment was “where are we, a freaking space station?!”, which came before knowing that it was indeed arranged to look like a freaking space station, drawing inspiration from movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey.
After an exhausting day, I went to sleep and mentally prepare myself for seeing some of my game industry idols in real life! How should I approach them? Will they be nice dudes or total assholes? Should I ask for a photo, an autograph, a handshake, a hug, or the full package?”. I’m not one to And then, the next day after eating breakfast, my brother and I just casually walked past Shinji Mikami.
Well, that was unexpected. While I got a shiver down my spine, my brother was going slightly more bananas, which is understandable. After this unforeseen passing-by, we we’re on to our first day of panels! The first thing we went to was a room where indie games were being showcased; mainly Spanish teams and individuals, but also some international ones. My brother got to experience some that seemed interesting to him, but the ones I wanted to try were either full of people (a game called Twin Souls, which is a ninja-stealth game that looked pretty impressive) or weren’t ready yet, like a game called Cain, which had a Sin City-style look but it was for promotional material, as the game won’t end up looking like that. I was able to try it, though, and for what they had it looked very nice, very rough, and an interesting idea.
There were tons of super inventive games being showcase, among them being the curiously looking Freedom Poopie, where you play as poop on its way to freedom, in a platforming game. Their t-shirts had the titular character with a halo above it and the text “Holy Shit” plastered in there. They know what’s up.
The first panel was a discussion with the creators of 4 indie games – Steamworld Dig, Teslagrad, the Next Penelope and Crossy Road. They all shared their thoughts on design and on their concepts, and it was a really enjoyable time that made me look forward to playing Teslagrad (which I don’t know how, but I was completely unaware of everything related to it besides the name). And I noticed this “trend” of people trying to put “shit” and “fucking” into what they were saying, which doesn’t bother me but was somewhat noticeable. Didn’t take from the panel, which is what matters most.
Then I went to the room for a break until the next panel, and a wild Suda 51 passed me by coming up the stairs.
*Now* I was the one going “ohmygodohmygodohmygod”. Of course I just went on like nothing had happened, but inside I was going nuts! It’s important to note that I’m not one to get “mesmerized” by famous people just because of their fame, but here I was, in the same space as my favorite game creator who came from Japan. In this kind of situations, my M.O. goes like this: first day – getting embarrassed and flustered, while ignoring the target’s existence; second day – time to strike. But would I actually be able to do it, or would I miss this opportunity?
This was still the time for embarrassment, so what followed was Jordan Mechner’s panel, the guy who created Prince of Persia. And let me tell you, I don’t know what I was expecting from this conference, but it wasn’t what I got. What he did was he talked about Personas and Shadows (the Jungian concept, not the game, even though one is based on the other), about his own feelings and shared with all of us stuff that was really emotional to him, as you could see from his tone of voice, his body posture. He talked about his time creating Karateka and the original Prince of Persia, which was really fascinating considering his age and how he went about doing it; like in the original Prince of Persia, where the character’s movements where all from stuff he captured his brother doing so that he could give more “weight” to the character.
He also took a moment to talk about a good friend of his, who contributed to his games and sadly died 5 years ago. A well-earned round of applause ensued, and I was in tears by the end.
After this intense panel, Chris Crawford made his presentation. For those of you who, like me unfortunately, don’t know this gentleman, he founded both the Journal of Computer Game Design and the GDC, the Game Developers Conference, besides all the games he made. And he was there to talk about innovation. The beginning was very interesting, where he talked about the importance of play, how games should take after art as well as science, the need for “revolutions” in games, and showed some of his zaniness for the delight of the audience.
But then things took a turn I wasn’t a particular fan of. He talked about the 5 great components of human development: motor, visual-spatial, cause and effect, language and social intelligence; and it was then, when he began to talk about why “video games are in a rut”, that I realized where this was possibly going. He proceeded to say that games don’t contribute to the development of the language and social intelligence areas, with him focusing on the latter. “Do you actually mean to say that no games at all do that?”, I thought. “In I don’t know how many years, no games have been able to successfully approach and develop these areas”, I paraphrase.
He talked about how every other media, like movies for example, show stories about characters and their relations with each other, and games don’t do that. Why? Because it’s all about shooting people in the face now. He said that the search for realism in graphics has made us overlook importance of emotion and expression. Why? Because there are no stylized characters in games, it’s all realistic. As such, interactive storytelling has not been possible and that has been his focus for the last 20 years, in which he has been developing technology capable of doing just that, which will be the focus of his new game which is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign.
Now, I don’t disagree with many things that were said, but I do have a huge issue with how they were said and what they implied. First problem: resorting to extremes tends to not work very well to make a decent argument, because you have to ignore all the things that are indeed making progress toward what you’re saying. MMOs are practically based on social intelligence, and games do have stories about characters who relate to each other now, and not all of them are just about shooting and realistic graphics. It was pretty ironic when he used the analogy it being like he had entered a cave 20 years ago and he was now ready to come out.
His intentions of helping the industry move forward, and developing tools which he intends to share with other people for that purpose is admirable. But I really was having trouble with many things he said, because he was ironically saying he need to look up instead of looking down, while ignoring what has been achieved.
After this I had dinner and prepared for the next day, where Suda, Mikami and the creator of Pac-Man, Professor Toru Iwatami, would all be having panels. Would my hopes and dreams come true, or would they come crashing down?
I’ll only tell you this for now: I wore my No More Heroes t-shirt during that day.
Have a nice [insert time of day you're in when reading this] and enjoy life. Yours, preferably.