A few days ago the announcement went out that the NEA is now offering art grants to video game developers. Fast Company asked me a few questions about what this might mean to independent game developers like myself. I answered honestly, although I’m sure other game devs have some differing opinions (also: “a bit of a hit” means “enough to keep me fed and working on new games” ).
Some of the folks I know who make artistic/independent games didn’t feel that the announcement made their work any more or less legitimate, which is why I described their reaction as “eye-rolly.” They weren’t waiting for an official notice from on high to tell them it was all right to do what they loved. They just went out and did it. If anything, this is a sign that the rest of the world is catching up, and not that games haven’t mattered this whole time.
It’s worth noting that governments have long recognized the power of games, and have been funding them for years. The difference is that those games were almost exclusively of the ‘educational’ or ‘training’ variety (the earliest I know of was in 1992). Some countries have been offering art grants for games for several years. I’m most familiar with Canada’s Telefilm, which has funded a few of my friends. The NEA endowment could be a godsend for devs in the US who are otherwise at a loss for how to fund their work.
Shortly after the Fast Company article went live, the NEA got in touch with me and asked if I would clarify their position:
We were thrilled that “one of the Most influential Women in Tech” had seen our announcement and I’m hoping that you can help us correct a misperception. Projects resulting from NEA funding CAN, in fact, be sold. Just like filmmaking organizations can charge for their DVDs or museums can charge for admission, games can be sold. The nonprofit organization producing the game must use the revenues to sustain the organization as well as make good on whatever arrangements they’ve made with creative/production personnel. But they are in no way restricted from sales. Can you help us spread the word?
And I’m happy to spread the word as much as I can. As with any publisher deal, it’s important for developers to know what they’re getting into. But I see this a step in the right direction, namely because it will help new game ideas get explored in a big way. What are your thoughts on the endowment? Would you go for it, knowing your game had to be ‘art’?
A few months ago I started consulting for the Morgridge Institute for Research in Madison, Wisconsin. They knew I meant business when I showed up to my job interview during something later referred to as “Snowpocalypse.” I can’t say much about the project yet, but I’m helping to design an educational game. And the subject matter is slightly more difficult than your average apocalyptic snowstorm.
Shortly after I got the gig in Wisconsin, the entrepreneur magazine Fast Company named me as one of the most influential women in technology. And good lord, they even made a stylish black and white portrait for the occasion. I must have stared at the article for 5 minutes without reading it. All I could hear was a little voice in my head going “srs biznes.”
One of technology’s most influential necks
On the same day of the Fast Company thing, my high school sweetheart messaged me to say that there he was, reading the Onion AV Club, when suddenly he saw this article about me and the Indie Game Sprint. And that’s when I decided to go for a little walk and think about the incredible connectedness of everything in our modern lives (just kidding, I bought a fro-yo).
I’m also putting my nights and weekends into something I’m quite excited about. I can’t say much about it right now, except that it involves this fox.
His name is Voy, if that helps (it doesn’t)
Don’t forget to follow me on the Twitter (@Livelyivy) for updates that happen daily instead of, um, semi-annually.
EDIT: You can now find Mac versions of the games here!
Earlier this year, Chicago’s Columbia College created an ambitious new course for their game design students. The students were to design and create an entire game in just eight days of class, five hours a day. They called it the Indie Game Sprint. And they put me in charge.
Poster by the awesome Angad Mathur, who makes school look cool. Or like…Tron.
Thanks to a lot of hard work and Unity’s excellent documentation, my students have made you four brand new games (they work best when played at a high resolution). Here they are:
It’s “Robot Unicorn Attack” meets your childhood imagination.
Trace your finger through the empty spaces on a window to collect pearls and avoid obstacles.
If you happen to play these, please don’t hesitate to leave feedback. If all goes well I’ll teach another section of this course someday, and I’d be happy to pass along any information to the kids. Some of whom are older than me.
A big ol’ thank you to the wonderful (and unpronounceable ) Fruzsina Eordogh for interviewing me on behalf of Chicago’s Gapers Block. It’s pretty rad to be getting some press near home. I just got an email from a high school friend who came across the interview when he was supposed to be studying for law school. Get back to work, Brian!
Anyway, I’m hard at work on a new proto-game project, which I occasionally post updates about on my Twitter: @Livelyivy. I check it all the time. Come say hi! It’s not like I have the kind of job you can get fired from. ;}
To my fellow PC Gamers, I have some most excellent news! Puzzle Bots will go up on Steam this Friday, DRM-free, for $4.99 / £3.49 / €4.49.
So this is unrelated, but remember that Psychonauts Christmas ornament I made 3 years ago? I just found out that it still goes up on the Double Fine Christmas tree every year. From Mr. Tim Schafer himself.
Check out Dude Icarus, a game made with 5 people in 2 weeks. Use the arrow keys to move and the spacebar to jump.
He’s just a dude named Icarus.
In the middle of August, Indie City Games held its first game jam. The theme was “Things that Fly.” We split into haphazard groups and started designing games right away. A few scribble-filled hours later, we promised to regroup in 2 weeks to show off our finished projects.
Two weeks later, our usual attendance of ~20 had swelled to nearly 50. Not only did all of the game jam games get done, but two more appeared out of nowhere (read: the internet). I had a hard time containing my joy, which was fine, since I’m usually the emcee.
The variety and sheer weirdness of the games was a thing to behold. Rain of Terror was a game about a raincloud wreaking havoc upon a society of sponge-people. Circle of Life was a 2-player game where one player ties balloons to animals to hurl them into space, and the other player hurls animals at the balloons to pop them. None of these games are available online as far as I know, although you can view some sweet concept art for the latter here.
There’s also a gameplay video here to give you a taste of our meetings:
Special thanks to “Mark the Intern” from Screwattack.com.
The two mysterio internet games were Zip! and Acid Couch. Zip! is about a guy who likes to fly around on a jetpack with his fly open, but in the interest of common decency, must zip up if he sees another person approaching. You control the zipper by alternately hitting ALT and F4, with woeful consequences if you hit both at the same time. The screenshots are a must-see.
The only other game from the jam that’s available to play is Acid Couch. In it, you are confronted by a friend who says simply, “I have done acid. Will you babysit me, please? I cannot get off the couch.”
The takeaway of this event, at least for my team, was that a short timeline means game decisions get made quickly. I think this is a good thing. It’s far too easy to become paralyzed by choices when you’re starting a new project. But when you only have 6 days left and your game has no platform art, considerations like “art style” go out the window. And the game gets shipped, warts and all.
The beauty of this is that we now have a working prototype. The game takes about 10-20 minutes to play through, and we’re starting to gather feedback.
Dude Icarus was made thanks to the coding action of Bredon Clay (with help from Jake Elliot), zen music by Jake, and animations by Scott Roberts and Nicole Lenard. I did the level design and drew all the platforms. Making platform puzzles for a radial world was trickier than I expected. My solution was to design the level as though it was flat, so I was working with something like a bar graph.
All 5 of us would like to keep working on this idea. If there’s anything you liked or didn’t like about the game, now’s your chance to let us know. For instance, a few people have mentioned that the clouds seemed to move too slowly, or came by too infrequently. Any other thoughts?
Releasing a game is pretty exhausting, especially one that you’ve put a lot of yourself into. So I made the unusual decision (for me, anyway) to take some time off from creating things. I’ve had time to reflect on the game, be thankful for the many glowing reviews, and write a mini postmortem for the IGDA newsletter.
And now, I’m ready to start looking ahead again. As it turns out, I’ve got lots to look forward to in the coming weeks. :}
First, there was the glorious news that Puzzle Bots was selected for the PAX 10, out of more than 100 entrants. I honestly thought we were a long shot, but I hoped the punchline-based dialog would click with the Penny Arcade judges. Whatever happened, we now get our own booth at the amazing PAX conference, and I get to go to Seattle for the first time. Man…I’m so glad I took that chance with Dave’s entrance fee.
Secondly, with the help of Scott Roberts of DePaul University, we’ve started poking at the embers of the Chicago indie games scene. So far we’ve had two meetings of “Indie City Games” (I knew we’d find a great pun, I just knew). Next month we’re hosting our first game jam, and I see good and pixelated things in the future.
Third up, there’s the 3G Summit, where I was invited to be one of 5 panelists (the others are industry notables Mary Flanagan, Tracy Fullerton, Jennifer Jenson, and Susana Ruiz). The premise won me over: I get to spend a day working with 10 high school girls to design a video game. The other panelists all do the same, which means 50 girls get to participate. The winning design of the 5 gets made into a real game by a group of Columbia College students (it’s their final project).
As far as I’m concerned, it’s high-stakes game design boot camp, which sounds like entirely too much fun. Plus, I’ll have the chance to tell these young women personally that if they want to pursue a career in games, they “totes” can.
And maybe if they’re lucky I’ll tell them some long, rambling stories about my marching band days.
Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to NYC to relax, go to the Puzzle Bots release party, and hang out with some of my favourite games people.
And also Anthony, from Bytejacker.
Believe it or not, this hug took three takes.
I only kid, Anthony is a wonderful person. But he figured out a long time ago that it sure is a lot funnier if he pretends to be an idiot on camera. And so, I practically subpoena you to check out this week’s Bytejacker. I talk a bit about the game, but mostly put up with with Anthony’s hijinx. See if you can spot the parts where I’m not acting.
The episode will hook you up with a wicked-sweet coupon code that knocks the price of the game down by $5. There’s never been a better time to buy the game. Just sayin’!
Head on over to the Wadjet Eye Games website to check out some new screenshots, a plot synopsis, and even our free demo. There are also some rather aww-inspiring press quotes that are coming in daily.
I couldn’t be happier with the reception the game is getting. I’ll have more to say on this soon, but for now, I’m going to take a much-needed vacation. Thanks to everyone for your support and mad robot love. :}