Walking the Walk: Report from Game Developers Conference 2009 (Part Two of Two)

Here’s the second part of Eitan Glinert’s regular update of the Game Developers Conference. What I love about Eitan is his enthusiasm for alternative gaming — whether serious games, games for the visually impaired, or indie games. He’s one of those people who wants to continue to expand what the games sector looks like so that games achieve their full potential as a medium. Full disclosure requires that I acknowledge that I am on the board of advisors for his new game company, Fire Hose Games, and am really excited about some of the directions they are going.

Walking the Walk

by Eitan Glinert

Welcome back to part 2 of the series on GDC 2009. While the last post covered some of the more interesting sessions from the Game Developer’s Conference., today’s post will focus on some of the more interesting people I had the pleasure of meeting. While you may not recognize all of their names (at least not yet), these are the guys and girls and who are doing new and exciting things in games. Perhaps unsurprisingly they are all independent developers and academics who are truly trailblazing new areas in gaming.

Alex Austin, Cryptic Sea

There are a large number of us who try very hard to make serious games that teach users real life skills in a fun way. Then there’s Alex, who just does it on a regular basis. He’s the brilliant mind behind Bridge Building Game (which eventually turned into Bridge Construction Set), a fantastically fun game in which you have to build suspension, draw, and railroad bridges over rivers and pits using real world physics. Alex isn’t stopping there though, and is currently hard at work on a new game… set on the moon. The premise is pretty simple, you’re an astronaut in a lunar lander, and you’re trying to take off from the moon and rendevous with the lunar orbiter so you can return to Earth. The catch? Limited fuel, a moving target, and a nasty case of gravity. It’s not enough to simply aim at the orbiter and go, you need to estimate where it will be, shoot ahead of it, and hope that you can meet up. The game sounds like a lot of fun, and will be available on Steam (hopefully soon!). The best part is that the game is just going to be part of a six pack of small, bite sized offerings, though I personally hope they all involve space, rockets, or bridges.

Jane McGonigal, Institute for the Future

All games require user input to be played, otherwise they wouldn’t be especially interactive. But what about games that require users for content? That’s where Jane comes in. She’s one of the leading Alternate Reality Game (ARG) developers out there, having helped on projects like World Without Oil, a fascinating game in which users collaborate to discuss what a hypothetical world in the midst of an oil crisis might be like, in an effort to help solve some of our oil usage problems with collective knowledge. Jane is at it again, helping Rachel Lyle and Jason Tester with a new ARG called Ruby’s Bequest. Set in the present to near future, this ARG invites participants into the world of Deepwell, where a mysterious woman (Ruby) has recently passed away and has willed a large sum of money to the city provided the residents can start “caring” more. The game is one part mystery and one part collaboration, as users are asked to contribute and raise the “caring index”. If it sounds weird, it’s because it is – but that’s how all innovative games seem at first. I strongly recommend checking out the website and poking around, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Matthew Wegner and Steve Swink, Flashbang Studios and Blurst

I wanted to talk about Matthew and Steve not because of a new game they have coming out, but rather because of their studio and what they’ve done (past tense). Flashbang is a small indie studio that’s been around for 6 years making small PC games. Blurst is their new offshoot studio that does more advanced 3D browser based games, and has just been started up recently. What is really amazing about these guys is that they’ve been at this for so long and they’ve managed to maintain independence so they can keep making whatever they want, which is especially impressive when you consider that many of their more popular titles are free and have no ads! The games they make are fun as hell too, and way out there. With crazy titles like Off-road Velociraptor Safari, Minotaur China Shop, Jetpack Brontosaurs, and Blush, Matthew and Steve are certainly experts at creating memorable experiences. The games are all free, so I would definitely take a look!

Rob Jagnow, Lazy 8 Studios

Rob a smart ex-MIT guy who likes gears. A lot. So much so that he made a new

puzzle game all about them called Cogs. The game has the user moving around puzzle tiles to line up gears and make things… go. So you’ll make flying things go, like rockets and balloons. You’ll make music things go, like bells and chimes. The game seems incredibly addictive, and it’s a good mental workout to figure out how all the gears line up. But perhaps most impressive in my opinion is how many variations Rob manages to get out of such a simple theme. I’m excited to grab it off Steam when it comes out soon, it should be a lot of fun!

That wraps up this year’s GDC highlights! If you liked what you saw, please stop by our website on a regular basis to get more updates on interesting news in the video game world. You’ll also be able to read about our game and the development process behind it. Hopefully it’ll be a good read!