IndieCade 2009: Music and iPhone Games, Future Projects, Games as Art

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Editor's note: Evan summarizes a few of the panels from the last two days of IndieCade. I gotta get to this thing next year! – Demian

How does music affect gameplay? Are games art? How do I start my own game company? What does Will Wright have to say about new media? I may not have specific answers to these questions, but each issue was thoroughly discussed by accomplished game developers and enthusiasts during the last two days of IndieCade.

Art games panel at IndieCade 2009.

Art, Music, and Technology — An iPhone Showcase
The creators of iPhone games Ruben & LullabyRadio Flare, and Eliss came together in this panel to discuss the role of music in game design.

In Eliss, you build up and shrink down planets to fit them into "squeesars," so that they create supernovas. Although the gameplay revolves around simple shapes, the music in Eliss, which sounds like 8-bit renditions of Death Cab for Cutie songs, combines with fanciful sound effects to facilitate an intergalactic experience.

In Erik Loyer’s Ruben & Lullaby, you direct a couple through their first fight. Contemporary jazz is used to help express the mood you create between the characters. As you make a character angry or sad, the music splashes out with passionate color.



Radio Flare, featuring a mix of techno and electronica music, is a musical shooter in which your exploding enemies alter the game's soundtrack. Kind of like a 2D version of Rez.


A Conversation about Art and Innovation
One of my favorite panels was Ian Dallas's (on the right, and creator of Unfinished Swan) and Richard Lemarchand's (on the left, designer on Uncharted 2) presentation about games as art. Lemarchand argued the pro side, while Dallas took a more skeptical stance, suggesting that games are definitely art-like, but they do not make an honest attempt to express an artistic statement.

Of course, the usual arty slew of games were namechecked in this discussion, including Braid, Shadow of the Colossus, SimCity, Katamari Damacy, Electroplankton, and Portal.


On the topic of Braid, Lemarchand noted that creator Jonathan Blow put a large amount of personal and emotional investment into his game — Ian Dallas countered that, emotion aside, Braid is not really making a complex statement about the world we live in.

According to Dallas, the struggle for games to become art rests at a fundamental level — there are no "maybes" in programming.

Ultimately, both developers agreed that indie games are helping to push the industry towards more artistic and creative ideas. Near the end of the panel, Lemarchand passionately explained that, “Indie games are the vanguard of the avant-garde.”

Future Projects
The IndieCade finalists also participated in a panel in which they discussed their current and future projects. Some developers, such as Erin Robinson (Nanobots), and Team Radiolaris (Radio Flare) are diligently working on refined versions of their IndieCade entries, while others decided to embark on entirely new ventures.


Tracy Fullerton talks about a game based on the literary work of Henry David Thoreau.

I'm excited about these games, but they are early in development and subject to major change. Here's a quick rundown of what to keep an eye out for! (I'll add links to the developer blogs so if you're interested you can follow them.)

Tracy Brown (Deep Sleep Initiative) provided a demonstration of the potential for cell phone-based games to entertain those who are stuck in line at an amusement park or at a large event such as PAX. If you made it to PAX this year you might have experienced Get in Line Games first-hand.

The creators of Gray are working on a new 2D Metroidvania-style game that adds a twist with a new game mechanic.

The Peanut Gallery, which combines members from the development teams of Minor Battle and Spectre, showed some concept work for a colonization sim in which you populate and terraform another planet.

Lastly, Tracy Fullerton, an interactive media professor from USC, spoke about a current project which involves turning Henry David Thoreau’s Walden into a video game.


Will Wright
The last panel of day three: Will Wright’s keynote speech. The talk was extremely intelligent and highly motivational. Wright began by explaining the importance of understanding your purpose and your audience when generating new ideas. Near the end of his talk, Wright addressed the indie gaming community directly by stating that every great game developer needs a series of spectacular failures. Specifically, Wright said, “If you're not failing, you're not pushing the boundaries hard enough.” Check out my extended summary of Will Wright’s keynote here.

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