A Winter World of Love
Posted at 20:04 on 29th January 2011 - permalink

Yesterday, the second ‘World of Love‘ indie games development conference was held at Conway Hall in Bloomsbury.

The day was packed with interesting talks from developers with disparate approaches and levels of experience. Participants brought practical advice and anecdotes, inspiring calls to action, and willy jokes. Here’s a run-down of the day’s events:

Ricky Haggett and Richard Hogg of Honeyslug talked about the process of developing their forthcoming game Hohokum. The game was probably already familiar to most of the crowd (having been previously shown at the Indie Games Arcade at the Eurogamer Expo last year), but this presentation gave a run through of the various forms the game has taken over the past three years or so (shooter, platformer, golf game, etc.), and to the process by which the duo have decided which ideas to explore and which to cut.

One fact-nugget that seemed to resonate was the idea that ‘playful’ messing around in a game is only fun if there’s a ‘proper’ task the player is wilfully ignoring by choosing to muck about. No release date for Hohokum was mentioned but it can’t be far off now, surely.

Next up was Tak Fung of Supermono, developer of MiniSquadron and Epic Win for iPhone. Tak seems to have taken a similar path to other ex-major studio employees like Cliff Harris and the Hello Games team, but pointed out that by gradually weaning himself off dependence on contract work he was able to make the transition to full-time indie while managing the level of risk. It’s impressive that a team of two guys (Fung and artist Dave Ferner) have managed to release two successful games in just over two years.

Third on stage were Ella Romanos and Martin Darby of Remode Studios, best known for their casual downloadable game Mole Control. They discussed how to go about setting up a studio / digital agency from a purely pragmatic business perspective. Useful fact: it’s apparently very easy to get R&D tax credits.

After a break for coffee, there were a trio of talks hosted by Nick Lovell of Games Brief.

Alice Taylor (ex-Channel Four commissioning editor for education) talked about 3D printers and collectible dolls, which would have fit in well at a Dorkbot or Make event (which I honestly don’t mean as a backhanded compliment) but had little to do with games.

Sam Redfern (Dark Wind) talked about developing and running and indie MMO in his spare time. In relative obscurity, he’s built a turn-based post-apocalyptic vehicular combat MMO which apparently makes money and has an active community. This talk was all the more impactful for the lack of hype around the game, and shows (along with things like Eskil Steenberg’s work and Dwarf Fortress) that the received wisdom that games have to fit into tidy, mainstream genre pigeon holes is often overplayed.

Closing out the morning session was Phil Stuart of Preloaded, who gave a talk based on this blog post. This was a very good primer on distributing free to play browser games (albeit from the perspective of a work-for-hire developer/publisher rather than a developer seeking sponsorship), although it was slightly odd that Stuart kept referring to sites hosting their (viral by design) games without a formal license as “pirates”.

Most of the afternoon was given over to the more wild and woolly (or ‘cutting edge’ if you like) end of the indie spectrum. David Hayward (Mudlark) attempted to interview Space Phallus and Scoregasm developer Charlie Knight, which was a bit shambolic but entertaining enough. Paul (or was it Ian?) from Mode 7 gave a little demonstration of how generative content was used to build mission maps in Frozen Synapse.

Robert Fearon gave an acceptably sweary talk urging developers to make their discarded assets and projects available for others to use, praising the (notorious plagiarist) Limbo of the Lost developers for at least finishing their game, and revealing that there were “only about 100 lines of code” in his early efforts. (He also took the piss out of Jane McGonigal, which should have gotten a bigger laugh, dammit.)

Sophie Houlden then gave a talk on the use of surprise in game design, which was probably the most theory-based talk of the day, and made the point that while surprises were ‘used up’ very quickly in playing a game, they can end up being the most memorable parts. I can definitely think of some examples in recent games (Bioshock, obviously, and Batman Arkham Asylum’s climactic Scarecrow sequence) that bear this out.

The final scheduled event was a “Genital-Themed Panel” chaired by Rock Paper Shotgun‘s John Walker, with Charlie Knight, Rob Fearon and Zombie Cow‘s Dan Marshall. (“Genital-Themed” as each developer has made a game with private bits in the title – Space Phallus, War Twat and Privates respectively.)

Topics covered included the impact of Rock Paper Shotgun on raising awareness for indie games (the consensus, unsurprisingly, being that it has had a massive impact), and DRM (which was of course roundly condemned). Dan Marshall’s incredibly curt responses to any attempt at an interview question were particularly hilarious.

There were a few bonus speakers at the end. There was a semi-successful attempt to conduct a Skype interview with Skulls of the Shogun developer Borut Pfiefer. James Wallis gave a brief but enthusiastic talk about how Facebook is not the enemy, likening the rise and perceived threat of social games to the emergence of CCGs in the 1990s. Richard Perrin argued a defence of trying to put meaningful narrative into games, pointing out that every artistic medium is reliant on more than just purely skilful technical execution.

I’d like to think that everyone came away from the conference having learned something and perhaps being inspired to view their own work from a new direction. My main regrets for the day were not getting to talk to Caspian Prince (Droid Assault remains one of the best PC-native action games I’ve ever played), and not being able to stick around longer in the pub afterward.

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