Gamercamp Day One Recap
Gamercamp LV2 wrapped up last weekend. The two-day conference/social/experience featured talks by local game designers, journalists and luminaries, demos of new and exciting projects being developed in the city, music, food and 8-bit nostalgia. The event seems poised to become a very important part of the game landscape in Canada; it’s something special. If you have a passion for playing, creating or talking about video games — and missed this year’s event — you owe it to yourself to be at Gamercamp LV3.
Before I talk in more detail about Gamercamp LV2, I’d like to preface our experience with a small preamble about the first Gamercamp. “Uh-oh! Did he say preamble?” No, I actually wrote preamble, but that’s beside the point. Have no fear, this will not be some 5000 word stream-of-consciousness intro in the style of Harry Knowles. I promise to make no references to my bowel movements preceding, during or after Gamercamp.
In early November of last year, I opened an email from a guy named Mark Rabo. I didn’t know Mark, but he wanted to tell me about an event that he and his colleague Jaime Woo were putting on called Gamercamp. It didn’t take much to sell me. When Rabo described Gamercamp as a celebration of “the creativity, art, and history of video games”, it sounded right up our alley. It also didn’t hurt that Gamercamp 2009 was to feature keynote presentations by notable local game developers like Raigan Burns & Mare Shepard of Metanet Software — creators of a former obsession of mine called N — and Nathan Vella of Capy Games, who we had met only days earlier for the Shelf’s first ever interview.
The first Gamercamp ended up being an enormous success: The Ossington Theatre was filled to capacity for the one-day event — ideas were exchanged, deals were struck and networks were built. At the time, Dork Shelf had only existed for maybe five or six months, Gamercamp was exactly the kind of introduction to the local game community we had hoped for. I cannot stress enough how important that first Gamercamp was for the site; we learned so much and met so many great people in just one day.
But on to the business at hand — Let’s talk day one of Gamercamp LV2!
The event kicked off on Saturday morning at the Toronto Underground Cinema. The venue was a perfect upgrade from last year, offering more seating, a massive screen and most importantly, popcorn. Where the first Gamercamp had an attendance of about 130 people, the LV2 edition boasted an attendance likely in excess of 400. After a quick intro and thanks by founders Mark Rabo and Jaime Woo the presentations and demos began.
First up was a behind-the-scenes look at the Sword & Sworcery EP — a collaboration between local studio Capy Games, filmmaker/illustrator Craig “Superbrothers” Adams and Juno nominated singer/songwriter Jim Guthrie. After talking a bit about the backgrounds of each collaborator, the audience was treated to a look at some of the early tests and animatics for the game.
I would describe Sword & Sworcery as an unlikely mix of Zelda and art house cinema. The game is equal parts Robert E. Howard, Shigeru Miyamoto, Tim Schaefer, with some David Lynch thrown in for good measure — but there is more to S&S than these inspirations. Adams’ distinct art style and Guthrie’s moody music are unlike anything you’ve ever seen or heard in a game before. The guys from Capy also shine, utilizing the tactile interface that Apple’s iPhone and iPad provide in a way that encourages and necessitates exploration by the player. In many case problems can be solved by literally feeling them out; poking and prodding the environment around you, listening for Guthrie’s sound cues or looking for subtle variations in the pixelated landscapes.
One of the sequences they showed off involved so-called “Sylvan Sprites” (or Space Babies as the developers affectionately nicknamed them) and I was completely enchanted as it played out. Enchanted is not a word I think I’ve ever used, but I cannot think of another verb to describe the experience. Having followed Sword & Sworcery since it was announced, I can safely say I have never looked forward to an iPhone game more. I can’t wait to have S&S in my pocket.
You can see more of Sword & Sworcery EP here.
Next up was a very cool 3-D demo by Jim and Emilie McGinley of Big Pants. The two are probably best known as co-founders and organizers of TOJam — the Toronto Independent Game Jam — a three-day marathon of game development bringing together amateurs, hobbyists and professionals.
The game that they were demonstrating required the audience to wear old school red/blue 3-D glasses. The aptly named The Depths to Which I Sink can be played by four players simultaneously, as they each control a small ball traversing the space between foreground and background. The object of the game is to smash through floating windows on various planes while avoiding solid blocks also floating on different levels. The couple showed off various prototypes and tests that they created while designing the game, illustrating the trial and error nature of game design.
Depths is a very interesting game because not only does it require a great deal of spatial awareness but it also requires the glasses. I had a chance to play an earlier iteration of the game and can assure you that this relatively simple looking game is much harder than it looks.
You can learn more about The Depths to Which I Sink here.
The guys from Form & Method then took the stage and showed off their game Zombiedots. You control a human or zombie dot, navigating the environment, evading or seeking out your opponents depending on which side you are on. The game’s aesthetic is a fantastic throw back to old school PC and table top games, complete with graphic text descriptions of the actions. The grid-based game also boasts a fantastically robust multiplayer element which will allow it to be played on almost any browser or mobile platform imaginable. You could be playing the game in Safari on your Mac laptop against a person using their Android phone.
Zombiedots is still very early in development, but looks to have a great deal of potential.
You can visit the Form & Method official site here.
The next presentation was a real treat for any fan of the Capcom oeuvre. Jim Zubkavich project manager at UDON Entertainment — an unassuming Toronto-based collective of artists — discussed some of the work his studio has done over the past ten years.
UDON is best known for their books, comics, and anime-style promotional artwork based on the works of Capcom, most notably the Street Fighter franchise. The company also produced all of the art work for Capcom’s Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix PSN and XBLA title. UDON has done work for Marvel Comics and are now producing their own original material.
Zubkavich gave a very entertaining presentation, I’m sure he opened a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that UDON is based here in Toronto.
You can learn more about UDON Entertainment here.
Next was a demo of the iPhone game CityState by the gents from Normative Labs. The game puts you in the role of a corporate agent vying for control of territory in a city – your city, to be exact. The game uses the iPhone’s GPS to determine your location and that of your opponents and allies. It feature capture & hold style gameplay on a city wide scale with hundreds of players playing simultaneously.
Think of CityState as city wide capture-the-flag but with a story.The game is early in development, in fact it’s basically still a tech demo called Red Rover. However, if Normative Labs can pull it off, the game could be a blast.
If you’re interested in the CityState Beta Test you can learn more here.
The next presentation was a bit of a mixed bag. Stéphane Boutin is a talented illustrator and animator from Montreal who worked on the downloadable title Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game. As Boutin showed off some of the amazing art and backgrounds he created, he relayed his apparently awful experience working on the game. Boutin recounted the impossible deadlines, the cancellation and “uncancellation” of the game, being sent to a studio in China and then being promptly laid off upon the game’s completion.
The audience seemed impressed by what Boutin had to show, but were clearly disappointed to hear about his apparent experience working on the Scott Pilgrim game. Sadly, Boutin was also quite nervous for most of the presentation, which I suppose is only natural for someone addressing a large crowd in a language other than their own.
You can visit Stéphane Boutin’s blog to see samples of his art here.
After Boutin finished up his presentation, Shawn McGrath of Right Square Bracket Left Square Bracket Games took the stage to give a demo of his new project Dyad. The game is a beautiful hybrid racing/shooter/puzzle game designed to induce a flow state while you play. The game is scheduled for release on the PC, but speculation about a possible console release for Dyad may have been humourously confirmed by the Playstation 3 developer kit files on McGrath’s desktop.
McGrath discussed the underlying philosphy behind Dyad —a biology term for two individuals or units regarded as a pair— and about the meta game-with-in-a-game concept. Strangely, McGrath declined to explain the game’s mechanics in detail because they were “too complicated”. It seemed a tad patronizing given that the audience was made up of fellow developers, journalists and enthusiasts who were there to see his game.
I had a chance to play an earlier build of Dyad prior to Gamercamp and was completely sucked in. I couldn’t put the controller down; despite the frantic pace of the tunnel shooter, Dyad has an almost hypnotic quality to it.
Finally came the keynote address of day one: Mathew Kumar’s scathing and scatological speech about the state of video game journalism, aptly titled “We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death.” Kumar is a freelance games journalist based in Toronto, known for his work with Edge Magazine, Gamasutra and his self-published zine exp. (which you should all check out because it’s awesome). As someone who has worked in the industry for some time, he did not have many kind things to say about the current state of affairs.
Kumar began by decrying the abundance of the non-content populating a certain well known game blog *coughkotakucough*, breaking down the posts on a given day and revealing that the net content was nearly zero. The reasons for this format are almost entirely economic, but Kumar believes that there must be a better way forward. He then described how negativity has come to so dominate games journalism (particularly on the internet) and how pandering to the lowest common denominator is killing his industry. A vicious cycle of rude and vulgar comments and articles designed to illicit those crass comments.
Kumar then whisked the audience away to a beautiful suburban neighbourhood, where a pristine house stood proudly at the top of a driveway; A lovely metaphor for video game journalism. This beautiful house would not remain so for long. Before we knew it so-called journalists began defaecating on the house, followed by bloggers (*looks guilty*) dropping trou and doing their business on this once fine domicile. Soon a shit-hose was brought out and everyone began having a grand old time spraying the house with offal. The once noble home was now utterly covered with crap. Kumar, for his part, could be seen at the back of the house, slowly but surely working to clean one small corner of the house with a comedically tiny sponge. He needs more help and he surely needs a bigger sponge.
He closed out his speech by begging for positivity in game journalism. Of course this was slightly ironic given the rather graphic picture he had just painted, but Kumar knew his audience. We have after all been reading articles by self-styled game journalists for years now, clearly we love poop jokes.
You can download PDF of the latest issue of Kumar’s exp. Magazine here.
After some closing remarks the attendees left the Toronto Underground Cinema, only to reunite later that evening for the 1UP Bash at Wrongbar, a night of chiptunes courtesy of Starscream and Anamanaguchi and too much beer.
Stay tuned for our write-up on Day Two of Gamercamp LV2.
We are extremely happy to have been a very small part of this year’s festivities, co-presenting a screening of two game-themed film classics with Gamercamp: The Wizard & The Last Starfighter. A huge thank you to everyone who made it out! It was a wonderful end to an extremely fun weekend.