April 2012 – Reflection on Boston Indies Game Developer Mega Month!

The month of April has been unreal for game development events and news.   I’m here writing this article now, and I still have a week of things to do before I can truly say things are back to “normal.”  So let’s get on with it!


The “What would Molydeux?” Game Jam kicked off the month with an epic trailer created by Peter Molydeux that participants got to watch at the start of the 48-hour game jam hosted by the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, setting the tone of the event.  In that 48-hour window, eight games were produced in Boston alone, and some 302 games were created over the course of the weekend across the globe!


Next, MIT Business in Gaming (BIG) took place on Thursday April 5, the day before PAX East, a three-day game festival, was to begin.  BIG was a one-day session full of panels and a “fireside chat” with Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick, which was really amazing.  I was lucky to have scored a last-minute ticket thanks to the generous donation by MIT via the Boston Indies Google group.  There were some great BIG panels.  One of the first panels spawned this article about how Steam, a PC/Mac-based video game distribution platform has “devalued” video games by selling games well below retail-standard pricing.  BIG even fed us, and I enjoyed the after-party as well until it came time to run over to the NERD building to set up my booth at the Made in MA Pre-PAX Party happening at 7pm that night.


I need to mention, too, that I had a complete stranger with me from London, ON, Canada, Mike Kasprzak.  Mike had positive referrals from other Boston Indies who knew him, so that was good enough for me.  He was coming down to PAX for the weekend and needed a place to stay, so I offered him our spare bedroom to crash for the weekend.  I was able to score us both free tickets to BIG thanks to being quick to respond to a post on the Boston Indies Google Group.  It was great to have company, and Mike was a gracious guest.  It was really cool to meet a stranger and to part as friends, all owed to our common passion for game development.


As I was saying, the Made in MA Pre-PAX Party took place the night of the MIT BIG day event, which was awesome because both events were only about a block apart.  MIT and NERD are pretty much neighbors, so these back-to-back events meant one long day out on the town.  As I mentioned in my last guest blog post, the Made in MA party is a game industry-centric event, this year with some 1200 tickets sold (Pro Tip:  this event happens every year, and there is always a code to make the $50 event free!  Ask me or any other Boston Indie next year for the code).  Luckily, I had a table there.


It was my first booth ever, and it was amazing.  I held a drawing for a free iPod Touch for the folks who submitted their business cards to get on the Part12 Studios email list (I still have to plug the 100 or so cards I got into mailchimp!).  I was also very fortunate to have had several Indies friends and two great interns there to lend a hand because it was a whirlwind from 7-10pm.  I believe there was an after-party for this event as well, but, to be honest, they all kind of blurred together over the course of such a busy weekend!


PAX East began the next day, Friday April 6, and was amazing across the board.  There were so many industry events going on in one place.  As I described in my previous post, PAX East is an awesome weekend-long event, and while it is largely consumer-driven, it also features a lot of panels and networking opportunities for game developers.  I found myself meeting a number of fellow indie developers over at the Indies Megabooth, which featured a number of local developers as well as out-of-towners showing off their wares.  There were a lot of other locals, such as Hip Point and Lantana Studios, showing off their awesome products as well.


I was really happy for the opportunity to get the word out there about the Boston Festival of Indie Games, an in-the-works event that the Boston Indies are organizing for this summer.  This event will be an indie game festival, but unlike IGF and others, it will be a gamer-centric event where gamers, not developers, will do the voting.  We wanted to host a grassroots event that would be transparent when it came to the judging process and would allow developers to directly interact with the public.  Thus, Boston FIG was born, and I was glad to get it some exposure at PAX East.


I was also really excited to meet with some of the folks demoing games, especially the guys from Unknown Worlds who were demoing their game “Natural Selection 2.”  The first game was, and still is, a free Half Life 1 mod.  It was one of those games that, in its heyday a few years ago, I lost sleep playing.  I was very happy to see that the new game really captures the core of what made the original great, only now UW can make NS2 feature much better graphics, awesome fire effects, and other elements gamers have come to expect in a quality first-person shooter game.  Also neat to acknowledge that these folks were Bostonians in their early days before migrating to California, which I thought was really awesome.


Tencent Boston and Greateastern Tech held a great PAX party on Saturday, April 7, which showcased art submissions by area game artists of their non-game development art and awarded prizes for the competition.  I was fortunate to be invited and really enjoyed seeing the works that were submitted, which ranged from 3D stills to oil paintings.  It was a very diverse collection.


Later that night, there was an awesome PAX party hosted by a number of indie studios, including TheTapLab, Viximo, Brass Monkey and more.  After about 10pm, there was some kind of dress code, and many of us didn’t meet the requirements, so we were moved into the basement, which was even better!  I got a chance to get to know a couple of other Londoners whom Mike knew well, Melvin Samuel and Derek Laufman, two industry veterans who founded the Canadian start-up game development company known as Halfbot.  Besides being cool guys all around, they had some great stories to tell, like the time their game got completely cloned and released by another developer, forcing Apple to change their developer policies later that week.  It’s not every day you meet people who have had that kind of industry influence!


Every day at PAX East, there was a 3pm roundtable session in the Massachusetts Commonwealth lounge on level 1 in the back corner at the Boston Convention and Exhibit Center (where PAX East was held) to discuss topics related to game development, such as the state of the industry and what the future holds.  It was great to participate in these sessions.  PAX, which just renewed their commitment to Boston for another 10 years of PAX East, agreed to donate  space to the Commonwealth in order to promote the game development scene in the state of Massachusetts.  This should be a reoccurring thing for all future PAX events.


On Thursday of the following week, Indie Game: The Movie was showing at a local theater for one night with two showings.  Needless to say, both showings sold out.  It was interesting to watch the film’s protagonists – indie game developers – struggle with all-too-familiar problems that many of us face.


MassDiGI Game Challenge came up quickly that weekend, the weekend after PAX East.  It was a three-day event where various game developers, from established to aspiring, got the opportunity to pitch their games to industry folks for feedback and the opportunity to win some prizes.  I got some great feedback on several games I was considering proposing to the event’s panel of judges by talking with the mentors at the event.  The mentors were there to listen to ideas, offer feedback and ask questions to help insure that our pitches included the right information.  I opted to pitch a game with a unique spin on the tower defense genre and won a runner-up award for best design!  Yes, that was great, but more importantly, I appreciated the chance to connect with some really talented and friendly people.  I had a blast, and I learned a lot.


3D Stimulus Day is an annual event that just happened to land on the same weekend as the MassDiGI Game Challenge this year, so unfortunately I couldn’t attend.  Happily, both events were in the NERD building, so attendees of each event ended up joining forces for lunch.  Sharing the same space, we got to catch up with our fellow developers.


Brown University’s BIG Expo took place that same weekend as well, so there was some game dev action in Rhode Island, too!  Although I didn’t attend this event, I definitely feel it deserves mentioning.  BIG is an annual student driven event at Brown University where game industry professionals are invited to speak to students and game developer enthusiasts to learn and network together.  Its also a showcase for current and upcoming games by professionals and students alike. Kudos to Nathan and his crew for successfully pulling off their 2nd annual event!  I had an opportunity to speak at BIG, and it was a tough call choosing between speaking there or participating in that weekend’s Game Challenge in Mass.  I know  Ichiro from Dejobaan Games and professionals attended, and a good time was had by all.


After all of these events, April’s Boston Indies Demo Night was one of the biggest turnouts I’ve seen in some time.  A lot of great games were demoed.  I showed off a couple of recently launched titles and got some great feedback.  Now I know what features I may need to include in my upcoming updates!


So yes . . . a truly amazing month packed with game dev events (thank you to my loving and supportive wife Beth who made it possible for me to attend all of these events by watching our two boys).  Boston and the surrounding area is truly a national gaming hub, and it is only going to get better.  There are many events to get involved in, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a seasoned developer or if you’re brand new to the scene.  All are welcome, and as a fairly new transplant to the area myself, I can tell you it is a welcoming community, and a rewarding scene to be a part of.

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About Caleb

Game Producer at Part12 Studios here in greater Boston area. Caleb loves game design and the execution of game development. He is also a semi-serious old school skater and a married father of two wonderful boys.