As a developer, I have (for the most part) experienced my profession mostly in solitude. This isn’t to say that typing away at a keyboard can be a negative experience (though not to deny that possibility), and in actuality I have always found that aspect of the job description to be one I relish the most. I love the quiet, internalised thought processes that come with building complex systems, and the strong sense of satisfaction when it all comes together as a result. Yet there are times when I realise how such a mindset can stunt growth and opportunity, and it was during Tony Albrecht’s brilliant talk at Game Connect: Asia Pacific (GCAP) 2013 this year, “How Smart Programmers Write Dumb Code”, that I had one of these realisations.
Both during and after the talk, I found myself overwhelmed with so many interesting ideas, born not just out of the talk itself, but from the QA discussions afterwards. The notion of programming being the process of controlling entropy, or the constant and delicate balance between generic and hard-coded implementations. Even if many of these ideas are ones that I understood on some innate level, the simple act of talking/arguing about them made them all the more tangible; all the more relevant. It was simply invigorating. Even this many weeks after GCAP, I still find myself drawing upon my experiences/discussions/ideas from it for motivation/inspiration.
Sharing and collaboration are such easy concepts to convey, yet to truly understand their nature requires more than simple recollection or retelling. Events like GCAP are a prime example of how, in the end, the power/quality of our work relies heavily on our ability to communicate, share, and debate. To be given a space such as GCAP where all of these notions are not only encouraged, but nurtured, is a truly wonderful thing, and it’s clear that we would be a much weaker industry without it.
Author: Benjamin Wallis
Master of Computer Science Postgraduate at RMIT University, Melbourne and Freelance Mobile / Web Developer
It was around six months ago when I approached my tutor after class on a Friday afternoon asking a specific yet retrospectively unfair question: “How do I get into the video games industry?”
Having studied journalism for around two years at the time, one of the hardest and most daunting tasks I had encountered was finding that doorway into the field I have come to love in video games journalism. Feeling overwhelmed, I had no clear avenue to start, no clear beginning, and no easy way to continue writing about what I specifically enjoyed. That was quickly turned by one very simple characteristic I have found inherent in Melbourne’s video game industry culture, with almost no effort at all – the family environment.
“Being an indie here in Melbourne is kind of great because the community here is very active and very collegiate. We share all of our failures and successes and having that support network that, when you’re an indie who has no money, is incredibly valuable,” said Ben Britten Smith, Technical Director of Tin Man Games.
“I think Tin Man Games definitely would not be around if it wasn’t for the indie community here in Melbourne.” It is in the relationships and the trusting bonds formed that makes Melbourne a great place for aspiring game enthusiasts, he said.
Game Connect: Asia Pacific (GCAP) was held in Melbourne on 21-23 October 2013, and seeing all the game developers local to Melbourne all together was definitely true to Ben’s comments. The aura of the event applauded creative thought, innovation seen in many art cultures, amid a friendly sense of accessibility. Everyone there had the opportunity to talk and share their experiences of their profession in amongst varying and specialised skill sets, whilst the panels tackled problems and leant helpful advice in that friendly and accommodating twist true to the impression of the convention.
As a relative newcomer to the scene, I was almost certain that my place there would be distant, doing my job and moving out. However, seeing the people I had only met once before was surprising in the difference compared with most second encounters – we were all close friends.
It is in that light that I would like to extend the invitation to anyone in Melbourne or Australia. If you have any interest in the video games industry, whether it is writing or games programming, no matter who you are or what you do, the Melbourne video game scene ‘doorway’ is larger than you think.
‘We can all be indie developers as we all have a story to tell’
The Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) conference left an impression on me. I could feel the passion and love everyone felt for video games and play in general. Play is important to us as a species, culturally in the way humans interact with stories and socially in the way we interact with each other. We play when we communicate and as gregarious beings we identify with the world in which we live in through play. Play is a form of rationalising the world we live in and, of course, play is pure storytelling.
We read books and relish imaginative dilemmas. We watch films and observe the nuance of the director, but play is how we lose ourselves, to become part of the telling of the story. It is when we fuse our personas with the protagonists and our experiences to the fictional worlds. It is often said that music is the highest form of art, but since GCAP, I feel that video games share the pedestal with music as I believe it elevates us beyond many realms of possibilities, emotions and dreams
There were many speakers that intrigued me on both days of GCAP, but it was Mattie Brice and her keynote on Earnest Games: Why you Matter to Game Design that really fascinated me. Mattie frames play as something quite exploratory, as something that allows gamers to explore multitudes of stories written from perspectives of a variety of developers. She equated game design to us, the people, as each game is personal to both the game designer and the gamer. And I think there is something special to this idea that is highlighted especially well in the most personal of games – the indie title. With unparalleled personal freedom, the indie developer is an artist able to conjure illusions through design and code, musings from their vivid imaginations to tell us a story; a story that is personal to them and them alone. There is nothing else I’d rather play as a writer as I’m always interested in listening to the stories of others.
One of the developers of indie game Rabbit-Rush attended GCAP and I was lucky enough to play it whilst waiting for the initial keynote on day one. Rabbit-Rush is a very peculiar yet wonderful game that drew me in from the get go. It was retro, it was creepy and it was unique. It told me a story through play; the story of the developers. Of all the late nights they fed this game, of all the burgers and fries they ate themselves. The clichéd blood, sweat and tears was apparent; I was drawn and I was hooked.
The game reminded me that we can all be indie developers, in that we all have a story to tell, and can tell it in our way, whether it be through games or other forms of expression. For example, Mattie mentioned a program, called Twine. Twine is a lovely program that allows developers to make games with a focus on storytelling. A little complicated to learn and play with at first, but there are great tutorials out there! I’ve ‘played’ with it and if I can do it, anyone can. It’s just the story that matters; story and the chance to give others a way to experience your creation through play. And if you make something awesome, I’ll read it (contact me here – @DNN_Lewis) and I’m sure many other people will too. You will make a difference, indies always do.
To finish, as Mattie did: ‘we are game design and our flaws are game design too’. Indie games are great because of this “flaw” notion. Flaws, like story and play, are markers of being human. Write stories, create games. Fail, retry, and tell us your story; your special perspective on a specific situation. Your games are beautiful, your stories are interesting, please don’t stop and continue adding to the indie market! We need your voice; we all want play with your imagination.
Author: Dann Lewis
Creative Writing PhD student at Deakin University + Writer + Gamer + Cyberpunk
Nerdcore is a genre of music that predominately centres around themes of nerd culture discourse. And Damian Hess, better known as MC Frontalot, is a founding artist of the subgenre. Sitting on the balcony of a Docklands apartment belonging to a fan of Hess’, we spoke about the things he loves. Which works out to be mostly videogames.
“I don’t know that I ever chose to participate in videogame culture. Well, certainly it is a choice to participate day-to-day in videogame culture, but I don’t feel like I sought it out… it has always been there and has made my eyes light up.
“It doesn’t feel like a choice. More like an overwriting life compulsion. I like videogames.”
Hess’ life compulsion of videogames, and love for music, eventually drew him to the world of nerdcore, a term he himself coined in 2000. Regarded, oddly, as a subgenre of hip-hop, nerdcore is a place where Hess feels he can express his passions and views on videogame culture.
“Nerdcore gives me the freedom to discuss videogames and how I feel about videogames, which is not something you would necessarily be able to delve so deeply into in the various ‘cooler’ subgenres of hip-hop. I can discuss whatever thing I am obsessed with or would maybe be ashamed to rap about were I the kind of rapper who wears sunglasses.
“That’s the nice thing about nerdcore. You have already assumed that all the cool kids are going to think that you are dumb. I mean… you put nerd in front of your kind of music.”
The introduction of the ‘nerd’ prefix could be seen as a title used to fend off any attempt to scrutinize the topics that Hess and other participants of the genre explore – an act of protecting their expression of somewhat minority themes. Which leads to the ironic view that rapping about nerd themes is cool, in today’s society of sticking it to the mainstream. Hess disagrees.
“Making nerd stuff cool. Yeah… what a paradox. The press keeps trying to work that angle. ‘Is there a geek chic moment happening?’ Umm… no. I’m sorry. By definition geekery and nerdism will never be cool. Forget it.”
The issue as to where geek culture would ever be seen as cool was irrelevant when it came to PAX Australia. Thousands of people gathered at the Melbourne Showgrounds to partake in the first international PAX. Hess, a veteran of the Penny Arcade Expositions, has attended all 14 PAX’s to date (he has actually written Mike and Jerry’s theme song, which can be heard here). Melbourne’s iteration was a welcome occasion and a success in Hess’ eyes.
“It was kind of nice, actually, to be at a first PAX again. Everyone was bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Some of the veterans in Seattle (the home of PAX Prime) will adopt a somewhat jaded affect – ‘oh, I have seen it all before’ – but this initial, inaugural Melbourne PAX was absolutely enthusiastic from top to bottom.”
“It seems as though it’s a success here in Melbourne. And I think that is why they’re going to keep on doing it. So now it’s three a year, that’s how it works.”
Melbourne’s integration of a large team of indie developers, international development companies and the fervent hordes of videogame enthusiasts established a great home for another one of the Penny Arcade’s shows, Hess explained.
“This does seem like a good place to launch the international franchise. It’s clearly got a strong gaming culture, a lot of smart kids and kids who are looking for that community, and seem to be very happy to have found it.
“I was surprised that they (The Penny Arcade team) decided to go to Melbourne for their first international, because it is as far away from the previously existing PAXs as you can get, which makes it seem more difficult! But I guess the city shows that there is a space to have a gaming show here.”
A dominant tradition of DIY habits lies in the nerdcore subgenre where artists self-produce and self-publish their content. The tradition extends to most indie videogame development, notwithstanding the majority of Melbourne videogame developers. Hess believes that conventions such as PAX provide an invaluable opportunity for artists of the industry to break out of the studio and meet potential audiences.
“Anytime you are really trying to get stuff done creatively it really helps to have people that you are face-to-face with. It allows you to have voices that you can hear and encouragement that you can get not only on the chat-room but also over the pint.
“It has been wonderful to meet the folks that I have spoken with on the internet over the years who appear because PAX is a beacon and a thing worth traveling to. And something worth me travelling to, thank goodness!”
Over the course of his career, Hess has seen nerdcore develop from a “silly term” that he had made up “to make fun” of himself from rapping at all to a whole genre in which hundreds of people participate in each day. The opportunity for him to become a notable artist and professional in this regard is a reality he still struggles to comprehend. The subgenre he helped create is thriving and he is proud of every moment.
“Hundreds of kids participate in nerdcore. Many of them are do-it-yourself, making songs at home and some of them become professionals and tour the country and the world. I love that the younger generations of nerdcore rappers keep appearing and that talent keeps popping out of that pool.”
Hess sees himself still making music in the foreseeable future as new technologies allow for easy production and collaboration within the field. However, touring may be something that he will leave to the new talent he plans to support, as he will like to begin furthering his role as a producer and help the “nerdcore kids who are still trying to get out on the road”.
Hello everyone, my name is Dann and I am addicted to Dime Studios’ Tasty Fish!
You might recently have encountered their stall at PAXAus 2013, shelling out badges of their various exotic fishies and showcasing this wonderfully addictive little game. But I felt that Tasty Fish deserved something more, an entire article dedicated to it, hopefully I can do a decent job in trying to highlight the awesomeness of this game!
I think I hear some of you saying, “what is Tasty Fish?”. Well, Tasty Fish originally started out life as a final project for then Swinburne University students, Josh Wilson, Nial Bruce, Dan Clayton (now of Dime Studios) and three others. The game they had originally submitted was used as their prototype and after many months of tweaking and improving the quality, it was finally released on iOS in September 2012, and Android June of this year.
Tasty Fish is a rather simple game to play. All you have to do is guide a school of cute little fishies while collecting bubbles, avoiding fishing nets, hungry sharks and evil looking crabs! Certain bubbles contain extra fish that will be able to join your school and coins that you can use to buy upgrades and special, exotic fish.
It may sound easy at first, but it gets hairy (or seaweedy to keep the ocean theme going!) really quickly. Sharks start to appear thick and fast, as do crabs, nets and other obstacles. You may want the largest school ever, but you’ll soon realise that after a few mistaps, your awesomely, large school will become fish sticks in a matter of seconds! But no matter how many times I find myself becoming a nice sharky meal, I continue to play on and on and on and on; wanting to claim the title of grand fish-master as there can be only one! (Did I really use a lame Highlander reference?)
This game also worms its way into my heart because Dime Studios is set up in Melbourne, and I’m all-in for supporting Melbourne’s indie scene. Josh speaks fondly of all the home-grown developers he has encountered along his developing ways, and is especially appreciative of their honesty and integrity as developers. One of his most favourite things about the Melbournian indie scene is the fact that everyone is so open, and it’s comforting and inspiring to hear other people’s trials and tribulations.
PAXAus 2013 was a wonderfully amazing experience for the small developing team. They were unanimously praised for Tasty Fish from a diverse range of people – Josh even recalls a surreal experience when he presented Tasty Fish to Jerry Holkins. I cannot even imagine what it must have felt like, especially as the crew have always been such huge fans of Penny Arcade.
Dime Studios has an exciting future ahead of it as not only are they working on a sequel for Tasty Fish, but another, far more secretive project that I am told involves a similarly cute aesthetic and very, very adorable sheep! I cannot wait to finally see and play both games, especially as I know they’ll both be fun, rewarding and challenging, not to mention that by purchasing them, I will be supporting the future of excellent Melbournian developers.
I urge all of you to give Tasty Fish a go! It’s available on both the iOS and Android markets. Let Dime Studios know that you love and support them and that they’ll always have fans like us to back ‘em up!
Please comment if you have played or own Tasty Fish! What do you love and who is your favourite exotic fishie? I love Hoover and Darwin … they both just rock!
Author: Dann Lewis
Creative Writing PhD student at Deakin University + Writer + Gamer + Cyberpunk
There is no denying that the Australian games industry suffered as a result of the Global Financial Crisis, although initially buffered from its effects we saw a worrisome string of studio closures, but the inverse has also been obvious and there has been an intense period of renewal. Many new collectives, startups, partnerships, independent companies and fledgling ‘indies’ have emerged to make great games, with an obvious center in Melbourne. The sheer number of games being produced and the growing sense of optimism is remarkable, the celebration of indie games at the inaugural PAX Australia was a well-earned recognition of the importance of ‘indies’ to a growing national industry. Unlike an event like E3, which to this outsider is all about the newest technology and biggest marketing budgets, PAX is as much a celebration of all forms of gamer culture as it is a chance for developers to show off their wares. Although competing directly along the louder exhibitors like League of Legends and World of Tanks, the waves of interested attendees (should that be PAXians?) got to enjoy some of the finest, absorbing, beautiful and entertaining games on offer from Australian developers.
This new iteration, or phase of the national games industry has a very different relationship to its consumers, who can no longer be accurately categorised simply as ‘casual’ or ‘hardcore’ (even the term ‘indie’ is still up for debate). While brand recognition and advertising was once key to success, developers themselves are now among the primary interfaces for generating interest in their games, and maintaining connections to the active cultures of gamers. Social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, have become crucial locations for communication and collegiality between games developers and their globalised games audiences. Social networks support direct connections to a growing local games media industry and enable developers to construct their own public identities, which are essential to establishing not just sales, but also successfully committed and participatory games communities. The developer team and their identities online, or ‘personas’, enable players to ‘follow’, ‘like’, ‘retweet’ and otherwise interact directly and indirectly with the people behind their games and this assists in generating and sustaining interest and personal investment. Social media also helps foster stronger connections between developers and they form important bridges between gamers, games related media (from traditional print journalists to critical bloggers), the growing number of live ‘streamers’ via Twitch TV and the rapidly expanding e-sports networks.
To take stock of the social media coverage of PAXAustralia, I first turned to Twitter, archiving around 30,000 tweets in the month previous and two weeks following the event (using Tweetarchivist.com). My collection focused on the ‘PAXAus’ hashtag, which produced the modest (for Twitter) but significant total, one that can hold it’s head up to the 51,000 tweets captured mentioning the ‘E3′ hashtag over a similar duration. The analysis is ongoing but an initial look reveals some interesting trends.
A high number of the tweets mentioned the long lines and queues. As someone tweeting from these lines, I had suspected this to be the case. There was massive interest in the local and international industry from the attendees that wanted to hear what developers had to say and they were prepared to wait in the cold, grey, wet Melbourne weather for it. Despite the grumbles the tone was overwhelmingly positive, and Twitter was also a useful way to monitor the wait times by following @PaxAus_lines.
The official @PAXAus account was naturally at the top of the most active users mentioning #PAXAus, followed by @Ausretrogramer, whose contribution to the ‘Classic Consoles Freeplay’ exhibit was a real highlight of the event. The link to the Plantronics ACL Melbourne League of Legends Twitch stream was the most tweeted URL alongside the PAXAus schedule. Links to the coverage of current debates about gender representation in games and gender equality issues facing the national industry were highly retweeted, which goes towards indicating Twitter as a healthy and robust medium for public discussion of important social issues that the industry must address in the near future.
Twitter for iPhone dominated the mobile Tweet sources (25.7%) with Android making up 17.4 % of the total. The most number of Tweets per day hit just under 5540 on the 19th of July and the most common hashtag was #doublecosplay followed by #cosplay, #retrogaming, and #xboxone. I’m still yet to get an official ruling on what ‘doublecosplay’ is but the image of the Ironman Link cosplay mashup was the most retweeted for the weekend, so I’m guessing that’s it.
Initial results indicate that the tweets from users mentioning both PAX and the #melbourne hashtag doubled over the three days of the event. In the next post I will take a look at how the tweets reveal an international interest in Australia’s first PAX and in the near future we examine a selection of visualisations or ‘maps’ of PAX indie developer showcase Twitter users and the shapes of their social networks.