Full Indie Summit 2016

Oct 24, 2016

On Saturday I attended the Full Indie Summit in Vancouver BC. It was the first Full Indie event I’ve attended since the first summit back in 2013. It was great to get back into Vancouver to meet up with other like minded devs and discuss game making. Below are some of my impressions & thoughts about the speakers and their presentations:

Effective Audio in Game Design

Unfortunately I missed most of this talk by Kevin Regamy. Taking the ferry in from Gibsons ate up the morning. I did catch the tail end of it though and got all of the Q&A. As someone who has never really paid a whole lot of attention to audio production, even the basic tips were valuable. Panning audio slightly to the left or right channel based on the position of the player seemed like a subtle thing that any 2d game could do. I will definitely watch the rest of the lecture when it goes up on the full indie website.

Beyond the Zombie Shooter: Unexplored possibilities in VR

Kayla Kinnunen gave a great talk that served as both a primer for new VR devs and a look into some of the more cutting edge and experimental VR work that is currently being done. I think the VR space is something that is a little bewildering for a lot of developers; even those like myself who have tried it and understand why it’s such a big deal. Where to start, what to make, what works, what doesn’t; they are difficult questions and this talk helped point to the future and show us a bit of a roadmap. It was also a bit of a throwdown challenge; this is the time to do something new in VR. The window for radical experimentation is open right now, but it won’t be forever. I don’t know that I am going to go down that road myself, but I am excited to see what people make of it.

Firewatch: Design Constraints in Narrative Exploration Games

Nels Anderson's humorous and energetic talk focused on some of the design lessons he learned at Campo Santo while working on their narrative exploration title Firewatch. I wished I had played it before going to this talk as I feel some of the lessons might have been clearer to me if I was more familiar with the game. The simple advice of making sure to reward exploration was not lost on me though. I think I will have to play Firewatch and then come back and watch this talk again.

Smooth as the Titanic: What scuttled Brigador's Launch?

I had already read some of Hugh’s posts online about the launch of Brigador, but this talk was still great. I found it to be one of the most thought provoking, and it seemed in many ways to tie into a lot of the other talks throughout the day. For example he touched on the importance of the trailer and how it failed in various ways; I couldn’t help but here his comments later in the day as I watched to Kurt Gartner blow everyone’s minds with his crazy mixed reality VR trailers.

I think my biggest takeaway from this talk was that it is crucially important to convey exactly what your game is and what makes it special, especially if you are making something out of the ordinary. Brigador sounds like a great game (I will definitely be checking it out), but it doesn’t look like what it is, which sounds like it was a big problem.

Let's get physical — lessons from the real world

Books and talks on traditional/non-digital game design always seem to be illuminating in ways you could never expect. Zach Gage’s talk on his experiences building card, dice and billiard games was filled with ideas that are applicable to any game. His comments about dice games and their randomness really resonated. The idea that random games become fun based on their context and the story that evolves around them. He talked about how he knew two friends who had a long standing daily game of paper rock scissors and how they tracked their scores via a whiteboard over the course of a year. The game of paper rock scissors is usually a tool for decision making, but placed in the context of a yearly rivalry, it becomes something more.

Behind the Scenes: Making Mixed Reality Trailers

Kert Gartner wowed the crowd with some of his amazing work building mixed reality trailers. His talk was a whirlwind of shop talk and wizardry as he quickly took us through all of the tricks he and his crew used to transpose VR playing people INSIDE of the games they were playing to help convey the magic of VR. Until I sat through this talk, I didn’t even know what a mixed reality trailer was. Well, now I know and it is pretty impressive. These are the two trailers that he made. I would recommend watching both and then watching his talk whenever the Full Indie folks get it online.

Take a Walk(ing Sim) on the Weird Side: a guide to #altgames and you

This talk by Claris Cyarron was in many ways emblematic of the great, diverse selection of ideas that the summit represented. I didn't know what to expect going into it, and left it with a new appreciation for something I had no idea about. Hilarious, dark, creative, and beautiful creations filled the screen. Stick Shift by Robert Yang was probably the highlight but there was so much more there. If you are feel like games are boring, samey, or have no artistic value, watch this presentation or check out the #altgames tag on twitter. 

What's going on in the Hardware Game Scene

Robin Baumgarten outlined many of the techniques he used to build his 1D LED wall climbing RPG Line Wobbler. No that doesn’t make sense and yes, it was awesome. Embedded processors and 3d printing are breeding all kinds of neat things. I was particularly taken with how he started to use door stop springs as a game controller; I don’t know a single kid that doesn’t love springing those things. Genius!

The Sidestep or How to skip the things that don’t work

Steve Swink gave a thought provoking talk about deliberate practice, and how in a new field like game design, there is no handbook on how to train up to greatness. He talked about how he deconstructed puzzles from popular games to help improve his understanding of the puzzle making process.

As someone who is mostly self-taught, I found I could relate quite a bit. I usually try to look at the skills I am using and improve on them, but I have never thought about designing my own grueling practice regimen to drill the improvements into me. My process for improving my own skills usually involves getting a good book or two to set a foundation, and then practice by applying the skill on a real project. This talk made me think more about how I could approach self improvement, and what skills I rely on and need improvement with (drawing drawing drawing).

Making Games in Four Spatial Dimensions

I won’t pretend I understood much of Marc ten Bosch's bewildering talk on 4d game design, but it certainly made for fun discussion afterwards. I feel like I will definitely need to play his game Miegakure to fully grasp what it means to be able to move a character into the 4th dimension.

What Makes an Indie Hit? How to Choose the Right Design

What are your game's hooks? Can you describe them quickly and accurately? Ryan Clark’s talk focused on this practical process for analyzing ideas to see if they are a good fit for you and the marketplace (he also has an article here) This was a great talk to close out the day on. It contained a lot of down to earth, practical advice from a successful indie dev. A lot of the indie game scene is filled with lucky stories and hits that seem to come out of nowhere. Ryan’s process definitely grounded all of that into something more concrete.

Demo Night!

Afterwards there was a great demo night / networking event with free sushi and drinks from the generous folks at East Side Games. Justin and I demoed our game Viper League to a constantly rotating crew of other devs and got a lot of great feedback. If you came by and tried out our game, thanks! I think the most common suggestion was some sort of late match pressuring mechanic, like walls that close in. Matches seemed to drag on in a lot of cases. I think as developers we’ve become good at ending matches quickly by hunting each other down, but new players who don’t understand the game as well don’t know how to finish things as quickly. There were some other bugs in the game that surfaced as well, and I’ll get those patched and fixed up in the game soon.

Wrapping up

The summit was a ton of fun. Every talk managed to generate great discussion and get me thinking about game making in a new way. I definitely hope to make it out again next year.