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The Social Power of Videogames – Our Experience At Games Without Frontiers

ideafest2013

On March 9, 2013,  JTM Games was proud to be a part of UVIC’s Ideafest 2013 – Games Without Frontiers, a rare event where professors, grad students, undergraduates, high-school students, local game designers/studios and curious citizens of Victoria gathered to  explore, discuss, and marvel at the power of video-game technology in bringing people together to improve the world. To be more specific, Games Without Frontiers infromed citizens of the positive effects the industry has to bring to health research, education, and social change.

A great number of Victoria, BC-based game studios and tech companies like Dactyl Applications, KANO/APPS, InLight Entertainment showed up to Games Without Frontiers to demonstrate their newest and latest creations. And even Oregon-based 2 Player Productions screened their popular documentary “Minecraft: The Story of Mojang” to the UVIC community.

JTM Games (Lee Guille and myself) were at Games Without Frontiers to host the Mini-Indie Game festival to inform non-gamers of the most innovative, experimental games of the last few years. In addition, we hosted two Q&A sessions; one with Papo & Yo Creator Vander Caballero and the other with the up-and-coming Matt Cohen, the developer of the indie hit Paranormal. (We’ll be posting both interviews on the site soon!)

Check out a detailed recap of our experience (including trials and learning experiences) during Games Without Frontiers after the break.

the-unfinished-swan

9:30 AM – Being that the “early bird gets the worm,” Lee and I went to UVIC at 9:30 AM to set up and test our equipment. Thankfully, setup went with little trouble (except for minor audio issues) and we were able to begin our screenings on time. (Many thanks to the great volunteers at the event who helped us solve some of the tech issues that popped up during the course of the event.)

11:00 AM – The first few guests arrived around 11:00 AM and were witness to our demonstration of Giant Sparrow’s PSN-exclusive The Unfinished Swan for PlayStation 3.

Some background info on The Unfinished Swan:

The Unfinished Swan is a rare, storybook-like experience that explored our child-like curiosity and sense of wonder by leaving us in a white space; it’s up to us to explore the world by using paint splatter to reveal the world and find our way towards the swan.

Ian Dallas, the Creative Director at Giant Sparrow actually had the paint splatter idea as a student project. It wasn’t until the company was formed that they created the final game prototype around the project. The Unfinished Swan was successful because it was unlike anything people have played before, but at the same time had ideas and gameplay that were throwbacks to the old-school; people were left to explore the world and learn its intricacies with little guidance or hand-holding.

Quico's volatile relationship with the Monster

Minority Media Inc’s Vander Caballero on Papo & Yo.

12:00 PM – After The Unfinished Swan screening, we hosted our first Q&A session of the day with special guest Vander Caballero, the Creative Director at Minority Media and creator of Papo & Yo for the PlayStation 3. In our discussion, we talked about the the story, game’s design, development history, metaphors, and fan/critical reception. (We’ll post the full interview on the site in a few days so stay tuned!)

A few questions that Vander answered at the Q&A: 

  • How his vision of Papo & Yo began, and how he pitched the game to Sony.
  • The process in which Minority Media Inc. received funding from the Sony Pub Fund and Canada Media Fund.
  • Character and game design choices and puzzle balancing
  • Going against established game design convetions
  • Fan/critical recetption and feedback
The game looks like a living painting, with every moment inspiring awe.

Journey looks like a living painting, with every moment inspiring awe.

1:00 PM – We were joined by special guest presenter Marta Ligocki (Volunteer Coordinator at GWOF, Uber Journey fan, and budding game designer) to do a full playthrough/discussion of ThatGameCompany’s award-winning Journey for PlayStation 3. Marta and I gave background information on the game’s development as well as informed non-gamers of the game’s non-violent approach and organic approach to cooperative gaming. It also helped that Journey is perhaps one of the most visually stimulating games to demonstrate to the public. There were times when I literally had goosebumps watching our audience’s reaction to Journey’s breathtaking visuals and gameplay.

2:30 PM – Lee and I demoed the groundbreaking Flash game One Chance (created by Awkward Silence) and had the crowd deciding on each of the character’s key choices that led to a unique ending. It was an interesting game to cover for two reasons; one being that the game is undoubtedly a depressing game that deals with mature themes and moral issues. Second, it was a powerful story with a very minimalist presentation, a hard sell to a crowd that just witnessed Journey for the first time.

I had taken it up as a challenge to myself to grab the audiences attention and get them to join in the gameplay. I was taken aback at the audience’s engagement with the game. Not only did they decide on each of the protagonist’s next moves, they even asked us to replay the game in order to make different decisions to achieve a different ending.

paranormal-game-logo

Paranormal, an Indie horror hit for the PC and Mac.

3:00 PM – Right after screening One Chance, we had our second Q&A session of the day with independent developer Matt Cohen (aka MattDementous) the developer of the indie horror hit Paranormal. In our Q&A session we learned about Matt’s background, behind-the-scenes info on Paranormal’s development, and new details about its expansion. (We’ll post the full interview on the site in a few days so stay tuned!)

4:00 PM – Of course, it wouldn’t be an indie event without a full-on screening of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead Episode 1: A New Day. This one was a great closing for our set as I had wanted our screening’s overall theme of creativity, storytelling, and emotion to come full circle, and what other game encapsulates these? None other than The Walking Dead. Here was a roomful of people, many of whom have never played videogames before and have an aversion to violent videogames with their eyes to the screen and backsides placed firmly on the edge of their seats with every tension-filled moment, decision, and situations that Lee Everett and Clementine face.

My favourite part of the Walking Dead screening is when more than one person asked which platforms they could get the game for.

5:30 PM – Game screenings end.If I had a choice, I would’ve kept it going all night; however, we had to end at that time in order for people to go to the Game Jam and award presentations.

All in all it was a great event and an amazing learning opportunity for us here at JTM Games. Not only were we able to inform non-gamers about the innovative, experimental, and creative industry, we were able to educate people that videogames aren’t just violence, degenerate behaviour, and nudity; it’s an industry full of creative, passionate individuals who create games that push the medium to a new level, creators who tell powerful stories that carry emotion and deal with social issues, and people like you and me who just want to share their passion of  storytelling with a medium other than TV, film, or books.

Thanks to everyone who made Games Without Frontiers a successful event and an even bigger thank you to the citizens who came to learn more about the videogame industry and about the passionate people in it.

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About janhutchings

Canadian Game Industry Blogger / Contributor for @Sonyrumors & @ShogunGamer / Communications and PR Professional. Voice of Canadian and Indie Gaming. http://jtmgames.com/

Posted on March 14, 2013, in Event Coverage and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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