The Akron Film Festival in Ohio has given a much needed boost to that city’s cultural well-being since 2002. This year, however, saw the festival expand and greet an entirely new crowd. This new addition, dubbed the Pixel Festival, included video-game presentations alongside the typical movie panels and screenings.
Clearly influenced by the recent increase in the topic’s rhetoric, the main lecture was titled “Games: The Next Popular Art Form?” and featured panelists discussing the merits of games as art and educational tools. Several Q&A sessions were also held after the main lecture, and special guests spoke about every aspect of the industry as relating to independent games.
During the main discussion, Sean Duncan of Miami University made an interesting point regarding immersion. When comparing the level of interactivity in games like Mass Effect 2 to the linear path of movies he noted, “I think it’s cool and interesting that you, as a player, could decide that death is your best option.”
Sara Gross is an illustrator and designer for David Galindo’s (Vertigo Games) The Oil Blue, and she mentioned the importance of networking during her Q&A. She lauded Internet communication, and simply put she enjoys full-time work as a designer and illustrator because of it. Through similar connections, she’s also been tapped to do all of the artwork for indie developer Chevy Ray Johnston's next game, Hallows Deep.
During his Q&A, Tom Bailey detailed the soundtrack work he’s done for Jason Rohrer’s Diamond Trust of London, due next year. He detailed his experience as well as some of the technical limitations of working on the Nintendo DS, such as having to make sure the entire dynamic soundtrack fit in only 256MB of space.
No self-respecting video game festival would be complete without playable titles, and attendees were treated to some absolute gems including iOS favorite Osmos, existential darling Everyday The Same Dream, and Chris Bell’s Way, which went on over the weekend to win the IndieCade Developer's Choice Award.
The aforementioned Nintendo DS title, Diamond Trust of London, was also playable. In its current state, it plays like a computer simulation game from the eighties: The player has to place agents and sell diamonds, endure threats, and choose whether or not to bribe officials.
Proun by Joost van Dongen was also at the Pixel Festival, and the fluid speed of the game was served well by the jump to a larger screen. Made in his spare time, Van Dongen’s passion project continues to garner exceedingly positive feedback from players and press alike.
Seemingly exemplifying the best of the indie mindset, Van Dongen also recently published his thoughts about Proun’s “Pay what you want” model. The article takes an interesting dive into the psychology of this sales choice, and while raising more questions than answers for some, it ultimately provides a refreshingly transparent look at the financial realities facing independent developers.
Overall, the Pixel Festival clearly went to great lengths to show how seamlessly the two art forms of film and game can coexist. The games were even presented on sizeable projection screens in the Akron Art Museum itself instead of in the corner of some rented hotel conference room.
Designating a portion of the festival solely for games was unquestionably a gamble — the art community is fervent, but small — but it looks like it paid off. The games each ignited their own fair share of discourse, and the Q&As were well-attended by individuals clearly interested in the topics. Perhaps next year, the festival will also be able to draw some developers who will be able to speak at length about their coding and game-making processes.
Hopefully, more cities will follow Akron’s lead and create their own versions of the Pixel Festival. Film festivals in general are designed for people with open minds who are actively seeking out new artistic experiences — a palette that well-crafted indie titles seem to be the perfect fit for.