I’ll place this little item in the better late than never category. Although Gamercamp is a distant memory now and the early mornings and fun-filled days are now reduced to selective memories, it’s hard to be anything but excited by the whole experience still. My wrap up of day one highlighted a lot of my connection to the Gamercamp experience and how I felt returning after a year’s absence, but the second day is what really brought home the same excited feelings I used to have when I would go to events in the gaming community. It is hard not to be energized when you are surrounded at all sides by passionate people who love and love to hate what they do.
Oh, Those Guys Are Back
Ian Y and I returned bright and early Sunday morning to a less than refreshed Gamercamp staff. The Saturday Night Social the previous evening, hosted by Electric Playground’s Shaun Hatton, had obviously left those involved a little more than delicate. Ian and I — being the uncool and delicate flowers that we are — had not been able to attend so we thought it prudent to at least share energy in the form of Tim Hortons timbits. We delivered said care package to Festival Director Jaime Woo, who thanked us and spirited away to get ready for the start of the day.
The planned format for the day was largely the same with talks scheduled throughout the day. Workshops would be running concurrently and video games would be on display all day for those less keen on listening and more keen on playing. I had focused more on the talks in the previous day, so it was my goal to actually play games on day two, as much as it pained me to miss some of the talks. First up for the day was the keynote from Mary DeMarle, the Narrative Director for Eidos Montreal. While she is more recently recognized for her contributions to the acclaimed Deus Ex: Human Revolution she made sure to note her pedigree and experience in the industry.
DeMarle wanted to give us an idea of what it was like to construct worlds. Not just writing dialogue for a video game or setting a scene, but digging into the minutia of the world and making it feel like a lived in space with real history. She discussed the attention to detail paid in level design, like the placement of cover being consistent with the world itself rather than just a random placement of items to aid in your gameplay. How spaces were designed to look messy and unkempt when the character who occupied that space would have had it that way, but more refined and clean when it was called for. She also noted, rather apologetically, that the boss fights in Deus Ex did not necessarily match up with the pacing for the rest of the game. That was something I had noticed during my play through, so it was good to hear that it was a recognized issue that needed reviewing.
Ian Y and I spoke with DeMarle after her talk briefly — one of the best parts about the Gamercamp environment — about the game and creating consistent narratives. One of my pet-peeves in games is the lack of context for many of the actions that take place in the game. While we did not necessarily agree that Deus Ex executed on all of the points that she had mentioned, it was a breath of fresh air just to hear those concepts discussed so openly and in such detail. I can only hope to see that come to fruition in whatever project they have cooked up next.
The Show Must Go On!
After the first keynote we saw a familiar face grace the stage. Shawn McGrath of ][ games, creator of the recently released PSN title DYAD, braved what seemed like a terrible flu to come on stage and
infect us talk about... pretty much whatever people wanted to discuss. He spent a large portion of his time showing debug code for DYAD and demonstrating how everything in the game was procedurally generated. All code, not so much fixed artistic assets. It was fascinating to see him navigating through his code and making changes on the fly to demonstrate these concepts. I, of course, submitted a ridiculous question that involved wizards and beards, which pretty much derailed any serious discussion that may have been possible (sorry, Shawn).
His brave performance while fighting viruses was the last talk I was able to see that morning, as I then rushed off to the second building where both games and workshops were in full force. It was my first time outside of the main hall and I was very excited to attend an indie game developer roundtable with some excellent speakers. The panel was hosted by Michael Todd of the appropriately titled Michael Todd Games and featured Julian Spillane, Andy Smith (GetSetGames) and Nathan Vella (Capybara Games). All of these fine folks are part of the Toronto development community and were sat in a room letting anyone present ask any questions they had about life, the industry and whatever else came to mind.
Although my heart is not really in the creation of games, it was difficult not to walk away inspired by the discussions that took place. A lot of the questions were geared towards how to get into the industry, what kind of experience companies were looking for when hiring developers and what recommendations they had on school. One of the more controversial points that seemed to carry some consensus is that school does not make much of a difference when considering a candidate. While some were quick to stress that they thought that attending school’s geared towards the industry had some value and should not be abandoned en mass, it wasn’t the key to securing yourself a job. A story I had heard before was that Capy’s Nathan Vella had interviewed someone for their company who in passing mentioned they had made the mod Max Payne Kung Fu and that revelation is what inspired the hire. That person is Ken Yeung, the lead for Capy’s upcoming Super TIME Force which you can find in our featured image for this page.
When the panel wrapped up and the necessary nourishment was acquired, we made our way back to the main hall to catch a few more talks before I went back into the fray to play video games. Festival co-founder Mark Rabo graced the stage to discuss Gamercamp Jr., an event geared towards teaching kids the art of creation in video games and how he would be heading that festival in 2013. Woo then took the stage once again and announced another new Gamercamp platform; Gamercamp Music.
Music has always been a big part of video games and continues to be a focal point for the Gamercamp experience. The aforementioned social is full of great composers and creators who are most comfortable in that space and the rise of the chiptune has been continually surprising and exciting. This event, set for July of 2013, will be a one day celebration of all things music in video games. There is not a lot of information available just yet, but you can bet that we will be keeping on eye on anything they have cooked up for us next year.
No Quarter No Problem
The set of talks that we were sat down to see at this point were headed up by Charles Pratt, the curator for the No Quarter exhibition in New York’s NYU. This initiative was geared towards commissioning game creators to make experiences that were meant to be played in public spaces. It did not have to be a single player game, but it had to be compelling for an audience and allow inclusion rather than isolating the player. It, along with spaces like Babycastles (which just opened a new exhibit today), have been a boon for the New York indie game scene and have created unique and successful experiences. Pratt talked about No Quarter and what it had accomplished along with the great people involved. He believed that having a museum space that commissioned artists was something that would continue to help the community grow and attract new talent. Some of the people involved in the exhibits up to this point come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have contributed in innovative ways.
Pratt was followed by alumni of No Quarter Ramiro Corbetta, creator of Hokra which is featured in a package of other No Quarter games that is currently on Kickstarter called SPORTSFRIENDS. His talk was centered around the term and genre of eSports, games that were meant to played and enjoyed in the same way that sports are. Competitive, engaging for both the player and the audience, but simple enough that it approachable by amateurs. Though admittedly he did not like the term eSports (and I agree with that sentiment) he understood why it worked for the genre he had aimed for. The SPORTSFRIENDS package is actually a great representation of what that genre means, and although it was announced post-Gamercamp it does tie in with what he had discussed. Other games like Johann Sebastian Joust and BariBariBall were designed with that same play style in mind.
This set of talks, and the last I would see for the day, were wrapped up by Matt Parker. Parker is a former comedian and present artist and game design, who has created some unique experiences that include a framework for a video game that is displayed using a projector and yarn. It’s ideas like these that step outside the normal boundaries of what we would consider a game that all capture the point of Pratt’s original talk which was ‘Keep Games Weird’.
That was the last of the talks I would get an opportunity to see, with Ian Y wrapping the rest of the time in the Isabel Bader theatre up while I ventured off to play and discuss more video games. A lot of which I’ve already mentioned and some I’ll be talking about in the future. The main sticking point to me of that afternoon was just how many great developers are in the Toronto area and how many cool products are going to be coming in 2013. Gamercamp is a magnifying glass on the development community and those who are passionate about games. It zooms in more on the independent content, but allows producers and designers from some of the largest success stories in the country to talk about their ideas and what making video games means to them.
This year’s event was another reminder of how much I missed writing about games and interacting with the community at large in this city. Festival Director Jaime Woo and his whole team should be very proud of what they have accomplished. It is one of the premier events in the city and something I will continue to look forward to every year. For enthusiasts and developers alike it is an amazing space to explore what you love about video games and have an opportunity to discuss it with people who are in the trenches of the industry every day. And as big as the audience is, it still feels personable enough that you can approach just about anyone there with a question or compliment and you’re likely to spark up a conversation. It’s a leveling of the playing field where we are all fans and love (and also hate a lot about) video games and want to discuss and dissect the whole experience.
Again, my thanks go out to Jaime Woo for continuing to provide the LeftStickRight team with accommodations and to Emily Claire Afan who was always available to answer my very silly questions. Please also check out DorkShelf’s coverage of Gamercamp, including a Day One and Day Two wrap up, as well as continuing coverage and interviews as time goes on.