Full disclosure: I volunteered to shoot video at this event and am editing it for IndieCade's own promotional purposes. I will not receive compensation for this. UPDATE: see it here.
As I drove down to USC this past weekend to check out IndieCade's 3D Mobile Game Jam, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. I understood the basic concept of it — phone-maker LG sponsored an event to let independent game designers tinker with its upcoming device — but so far I had yet to be sold.
The idea of 3D and mobile games, let alone the synthesis of the two, sounded gimmicky to me. I don't own a smart phone, "mobile" is synonymous with "casual" in my mind, and 3D games have yet to blow me away. But then I took into consideration that IndieCade, an organization that puts on a yearly, international independent-games festival, was hosting the jam, so thankfully, I decided to leave my apprehensions at the door.
The event was fairly straightforward: Students and indie game makers — either solo or in small teams — had two days to think up and develop a playable demo that could run on LG's new 3D-enabled mobile device. Using the Unity Platform, the contestants hammered — err, programmed away…stopping only for meals, to relieve themselves, or to munch on some of the donated Gamer Grub (which one fellow fittingly described as pizza-flavored trail mix).
By the end of the second day, each group presented its work to half a dozen judges who would determine which teams would continue developing their titles for a special showcase at the 2011 IndieCade festival this October.
I found most of what the guys (and a couple of gals) came up with in such a short period to be quite impressive. Building-abducting UFOs compete to devour a city, a cute little boy digs through the layers of a labyrinth-esque backyard to find his cherished action figure that the dog buried, and a puzzle-filled box for players to unravel the secrets of were just some of the prototypes I saw. Not every demo was a hit but not always for reasons you'd expect.
The judges passed on a couple of the flashier games based on familiar concepts in favor of some of the more abstract, original ideas that took better advantage of the 3D graphics and portable platform. How about a first-person "shooter" that takes place inside the player's mind and involves firing constructed sentences of self-worth at negative-thought balls?
OK, so it might not be Call of Duty 3D, but that's whole point. LG could have easily asked EA, Activision, and Ubisoft to port over some AAA franchises with 3D graphics slapped on to show off what their new toy could do, but they didn't. Instead, they wanted to see what indie developers, the kind that aren't pressured to recreate the success of Angry Birds or make annual installments of Need for Speed, could come up with using this new technology. And for that, I commend them. They've managed to catch my attention.
I'm not saying that I want buy their phone — I still enjoy my non-smart Juke, thank you — nor am I convinced that mobile games and devices are the future of handheld gaming. But for now, I'm definitely interested in keeping an eye on where indie developers, like those who I saw over the weekend, can continue to lead the emerging world of 3D mobile games.
If you're interested in seeing the further-developed versions of the 3D Mobile Game Jam's finalists, check out the 2011 IndieCade festival in Culver City, CA this October.