Toronto / TCAF / Bit Bazaar

Went back to Toronto this past weekend. There were a few things going on: Toronto Comic Arts Festival, the Bit Bazaar, my 10-year high school reunion, and Mother’s day. It was a nice way to catch up with old friends, spend time with family, and check out some games all in one trip.

It was a very relaxing trip, and something I really needed. I love working on RELATIVITY, but it’s nice to be able to get away. I was originally scheduled to fly back to Chicago on Monday evening, but just as my flight was about to take off, the airport went into ground stop because of fog. My flight had to be rescheduled for next morning. I think in the past I would have been really annoyed, as I had spent an hour and a half getting to the airport, went through security and all that, but I wasn’t bothered at all. I just saw it as getting to spend more time with my family.

Anyway, here’s some pictures I took from my trip:

TCAF:

1 I grew up in Toronto and used to frequent the Reference Library quite a bit. Had never seen it with this many people before!2 Moon Hunters!

Bit Bazaar:3 Droqen teaching someone how to play Unavowed, which is a game that he’s making with FromSmiling4 PSHNGGG

5 Upstairs6Octodad!

Gamercamp Post-Mortem – Part 3

Day 3 – Pop-up Arcade

Sunday was the same as Saturday, with two sessions, the first from 10 AM to 2:30 PM, and the second from 3 PM to 7:30 PM.

I arrived around 9:30 AM to set up. The day before was a pretty long day – I was there from 9 AM to to Midnight, so I was feeling a little exhausted. But they had coffee and pastries, so that gave the day a good start.

I had a great showing. One of the highlights was that Jonathan Mak, the creator of Everyday Shooter and Sound Shapes, came by to play the game and gave me a lot of really good feedback.

Gamercamp_jon_mak

After the second session wrapped up and the booths were cleaned up, there was a small closing reception to celebrate. There was also an N++ tournament. I participated in it, but didn’t win (I’m really, really bad a platformers). My friend Diego won a t-shirt.

Hing

Afterwards, a group of around 10 of us exhibitors decided to go get some food. We ended up at a pub nearby.

This is where I was introduced to the wonderful game of ‘Hing’, which was actually invented by Nico Disseldorp of Push Me Pull You and Ian Snyderof The Floor Is Jelly. Apparently this was invented during the Sony party at IndieCade. Clearly I was sitting at the wrong table at that event.

Anyway, what is Hing and how do you play it?

Hing is a game that’s played by 3 people. You need three coins.

At the start, each person takes a coin, shakes it around, and then places it flat on their forehead, without knowing which side is facing forward.

So now each player sees which face of the coin is facing up for the other two players, but not him or herself.

How to win?

Let’s say Player 1 gets heads, Player 2 gets heads, and Player 3 gets tails.

Player 1 and 2 can win by shaking each other’s hands.

Player 3 wins by shaking hands with either Player 1 or 2.

If all three players have the same face, then if two people shake hands, they lose.

In any case, you have to try to figure out which face the coin on your forehead is facing, and who to shake hands with, while trying to not let the others win. It was a lot of fun.

I might actually have gotten the rules wrong here, but I think it’s a lot easier to explain in person and when you’re actually playing.  Beer!

Post-Gamercamp

The next day, after Gamercamp, I went over to the Capybara office, which was just across the street from Hotel Ocho, and hung out there for a few hours.

capybara

 

It was really cool to talk to some of the people working there, and very inspiring to see what a larger indie studio is like.

Conclusion

Gamercamp was definitely one of the coolest events I got to be a part of this year. Even though it was my first time there, I’m sad that it won’t be around next year, but also excited to see what the organizers do next, and what emerges from the Toronto game scene to fill its place.

I’m incredibly honored that Relativity was chosen to be a part of the last run. Gamercamp did a lot of things differently from other festivals and conventions, and some of those worked incredibly well. It definitely offered the best setting for actually playing games. It didn’t cram the space with games, so people were not overwhelmed with the selection, but could take their time to enjoy each game and still get to see everything.

The hotel room setup worked extremely well, and I’d love to see other festivals and conventions adopt similar arrangements.

Gamercamp Post-Mortem – Part 2

 Day 2 – Pop-up Arcade

Saturday was the second day of Gamercamp and the first day of the pop-up arcade, which was more like a festival, as opposed to a conference.

It opened to the public at 10 AM, so I arrived just a little before 9 AM to set up. Coffee and pastries were provided, which was really nice.

This is what my setup looked like: setup

I had three laptops running the game, one of which was hooked up to the large screen TV. The TV setup could only be played with an XBox controller, while the other two had both keyboard + mouse and XBox controllers. One issue that made the setup a bit awkward is that the UI for the game doesn’t support controller yet, so to restart the game on the TV, I would have to go behind the table to operate the laptop.

This is what the entire setup of the first floor looked like:

gamercamp_layout_floor1A

As you can see, Relativity is set up on the left hand side, on the large table across from the bar. I shared the table with “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes”, which was a festival favorite.

My Gamercamp show neighbors:

IMG_7691

On the right, it was a dining area, with tables and chairs where people could sit down and eat. There were also a couple of games on display there.

The way pop-up arcade worked was there were two sessions. The first was from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm, and the second session went from 3:00 pm to 7:30 pm. In between, everyone who was not a developer or organizer had to leave Gamercamp. This gave developers a break, and also helped to manage crowd density.

Here’s a shot of a group of people playing Relativity: gamercamp_setup1

It was never too crowded during Gamercamp, and with the three laptop set up, it meant that people didn’t have to wait in line to play the game, and also there was almost always someone playing.

Here’s another shot of people playing: gamercamp_players

Some people even managed to finish the demo!gamercamp_players2

Second Floor
The second floor of the hotel was also an open lobby-type area. There wasn’t a bar or dining area, but there were many more games. All of these games were part of the offical Gamercamp selection.

gamercamp_floor2 gamercamp_floor2B

Third & Fourth Floor
The third and fourth floor had a really cool setup, as they were where the hotel rooms were. The third floor was XBox games while the fourth floor was PlayStation games. Inside each room, one or two games were being shown. Out of all the conferences and festivals I’ve been to, this was by far the best way to show a game.

Each game got the attention it deserved. The lighting was right, it was comfortable and intimate, and the sound didn’t travel between the rooms. So you could have people playing a local multiplayer game like Nidhogg in one room, and be shouting and screaming, then walk down the hallway and see someone playing Night In The Woods and just hear the sound in that game. I’d love to see more festivals adopt such a setup.

Here’s the Sunset Overdrive room:

gamercamp_room

And down the hallway, Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime:gamercamp_lovers

Night Arcade
After the day sessions ended, it was time for Night Arcade! This was a special session on Saturday night starting at 8 PM. It was for age 19 and older, so it felt much more like a party. The local multiplayer games were especially popular during this session.

Here are some people playing Nidhogg:

gamercamp_nidhogg

Gamercamp Post-Mortem – Part 1

gamercamp_logo

After IndieCade was over, I had only one day in Chicago before I had to travel again, this time to Toronto for Gamercamp.

So, what is Gamercamp?

Gamercamp is an annual festival celebrating games that takes place in Toronto. It was started six years ago, and sadly, this year was its very last run.

Application

There was an online application to submit a game to Gamercamp, with a due date on September 2nd. I submitted the game, and was informed via email on September 15th. I remember the exact moment I read the message, because I was at the airport in Toronto, standing in line to board my flight to Tokyo for the Tokyo Game Show, when I got the news.

It was really uplifting for me to hear that Relativity had been selected, as only 5 days prior, I had gotten my rejection to IndieCade (see, don’t give up! you have to keep submitting).

Location
Gamercamp takes place at Hotel Ocho, a four-story hotel located in downtown Toronto.

8XVarJR

Gamercamp actually rents out the entire hotel for the duration of the festival, as games are shown on every level.

Preparation / Sponsorship

Prior to Gamercamp started, the organizers sent out a manual to all the exhibitors. I was told that I would have a 4′ table to demo the game on, and large screen TV would be provided. From past shows, I know that having multiple computers works best for a game like Relativity. A lot of a local multiplayer games work best with a single TV, since you can have multiple people playing at the same time.

However, with a single player game, you can really only have one person playing at a time. On average, people seem to play the game for about 10 – 15 minutes at convention settings. I’ve  noticed that when people have others waiting in line behind them, to start to get self-conscious, and will constantly be asking other people if they want to have a go. This usually happens before they’ve gotten to the good parts, and they haven’t gotten the best impression of the game they could have.

To avoid this, I decided I would have multiple computers at Gamercamp. From having shown at Indie MEGABOOTH back at PAX East, I knew that companies like Dell and Intel were often quite interested in providing sponsorship to indie developers.

I reached out to Alienware to ask if they were interested in sponsoring the show in Gamercamp by providing me with laptops. They were more than happy to do so, and after a discussion on the phone, they sent me a loaner request form. I filled this out, requesting two 14″ Alienware laptops, and they mailed them out to me. I did this while I was in LA for IndieCade, and the laptops arrived just in time in Chicago for me to bring them with me to Toronto.

I also reached out to some Toronto-based friends, to see if any of them could lend me a laptop for the duration of Gamercamp. A friend who works at interaction design studio Glabacore responded, and told me that the studio was able to lend me two 17″ Alienware laptops (these things are pretty sweet, but weigh a ton. They’re pretty much portable desktops).

Day 1 – Interactive & Games Conference

The first day of Gamercamp was Friday, October 17th. This was a conference format, different from the pop-up arcade, which took place on Saturday and Sunday. There was a small section showing games, but most of the main selections were not shown. It was geared towards industry people, and the day consisted primarily of talks on game development topics.

I arrived at Gamercamp just a little bit before lunch, and was able to catch a talk from PlayStation about what it’s like to work with them.

The way the talks were set up was there were two sessions simultaneously. One on the first floor and one on the second floor. The acoustics of the space weren’t so great for talks, as it was quite open, so the sounds between the two talks mixed a bit. However, it wasn’t too bad, and you could still hear the speaker.

Lunch was buffet-style and was provided as part of the event. :)

After lunch, I went to a talk by Kan Gao, the creator of To The Moon. I was quite excited about this because I had played To The Moon one afternoon several months ago. I had picked it up at some point via a bundle, and it sat in my Steam library untouched. I probably would not have played it, had it not been for recommendations from a few sources. Normally, I’m not a big fan of narrative-driven games, but a lot of the people played To The Moon found it incredibly moving, so I decided to give it a go.

Playing To The Moon gave me a lot to think about. Relativity is heavily mechanics driven, and most of the games I play are centered around a set of core mechanics. As a designer, I sort of subscribe to Jonathan Blow’s philosophy of games as an exploration of “truth” through the mechanic. However, To The Moon made me look at narrative-driven games in a new way. I won’t go into too much detail about it here, but I’ll just say that I really appreciated what the game did.

Anyway, Kan’s talk was titled “Making Use Of Advantages In Indie Game Creation”.

One part that really struck me was this quote Kan used in his talk:

“We do not choose between experiences; we choose between memories of experiences. 

We do not think of our future[...]as experiences; we think the future as anticipated memories.”
- Daniel Kahneman

Gamercamp_KanGao

Unless you have photographic memory, you can’t remember an entire game from start to finish. It’s important when designing to think about what are the moments that leave an impression on people, because those are the moments that will stay with people, and those are the stuff that people will talk about when talking about your game. What kind of memories do I want Relativity to leave players with?

Kan’s talk ended a little earlier ahead of schedule, so I made my way upstairs, where Brie Code, the lead programmer on Child of Light at Ubisoft was speaking. Unfortunately I only got to catch the tail end of the Q&A session:

gamercamp_briecode

Later on, I went to a talk by Lyndsey Gallant of XMG Studio, titled “Simple Guidelines for Making Awesome Game Art”. It was a lot about creating visual hierarchy and how use colors, shapes, and contrast to guide the players.

This was a really funny slide about how content can be a way to attract player attention:

gamercamp_lyndsey

The conference ended at 5 PM. I went to dinner with a bunch of game developers who were at the conference. Afterwards, we returned to Gamercamp for the opening party, which started at 8 PM.

Gamercamp Opening Party

As it was the final Gamercamp this year, there was a surprise element at the opening party to honor Jamie Woo, one of the co-founders.

Here’s Jim McGinley, one of the founders of T.O. Jam (Toronto Game Jam) talking about the impact of Gamercamp on the Toronto game scene. gamercamp_day1

Jaime himself also gave a brief speech, thanking everyone for being a part of Gamercamp.gamercamp_day1B

It was definitely a very emotional moment for everyone in the room. Even though it was only my first time at Gamercamp, it had been around for six years. For some people, it was around for as long as they were involved with indie games in Toronto, so it felt very much like a pillar in the community.

gamercamp_day1C

It was a pretty amazing experience for me to be a part of.

Oh, and there was cake! :D gamercamp_cake

Happiness Project: Gallery Dates & Hours

The Happiness Project was a hit during Nuit Blanche. An estimated 2,000 people visited the gallery over the course of the evening, and the exhibit was very well received.

For those of you who couldn’t make it on Saturday night, the exhibit will be open until October 15th. The exact dates and hours are:

Oct 5:   2pm – 7pm
Oct 6:   2pm – 7pm
Oct 7:   2pm – 7pm
Oct 8:   12pm – 5pm
Oct 9:   12pm – 5pm
Oct 12:   2pm – 7pm
Oct 14:   2pm – 7pm
Oct 15:   2pm – 5pm

The address of the gallery is:

Oz Studios
134 Ossington Avenue, Toronto ON
October 1, 2011  7 PM   – October 2, 2011 7 AM

The Happiness Project

In collaboration with Artist Bloc, I will be showcasing a new piece in the Happiness Project exhibit, as part of Toronto’s Nuit Blanche. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Nuit Blanche, it’s an all night art festival that takes place in Toronto’s downtown core, starting at 6:59 pm on Saturday October 1st, and continuing until 7 am the next day.

The exhibit is based on the concept album of the same name by Charles Spearin (Broken Social Scene, Do Make Say Think), and will showcase the work of a number of Toronto artists. Each artwork is inspired by one of the songs of the album, and as visitors wander through the gallery space, they will be able to interact with the various installations while listening to the accompanying soundtrack. The song my piece is is based on is Ondine. 

Needless to say, I’m very excited to be a part of this project. If you’re around the area during Nuit Blanche, please stop by and say hi! For more information and a list of all participating artists, you can check out the project’s website or visit the official Nuit Blanche listing.

——

The Happiness Project

Oz Studios
134 Ossington Avenue, Toronto ON
October 1, 2011  7 PM   – October 2, 2011 7 AM