Over the last weekend I had the pleasure of experiencing the 2016 version of the event now known as GDEX. This is the 4th year running although it was previously known as OGDE (The Ohio Game Development Expo). Last year was 70 or so people showing off their games and this year was around 100. It took place over the weekend before Halloween at COSI in Columbus, Ohio
Friday kickoff party
The weekend started out for me Friday night. The kick-off party was at Land Grant – a brewery across the street from the Columbus Idea Foundry. I bought tickets expecting food, possibly drink, and hoping to meet up with some friends from COGG (the Central Ohio Gamedev Group) here in Columbus and some friends from the Cleveland Game Developers group.
I brought Sarah along because some of the people I was expecting to be there are graphic designers and I wanted them to meet up. We got there a few minutes early and they were really just getting set up. We happily found out once we registered that part of the cost of admission was food in the form of the Challah Food Truck which has some amazing sandwiches. After we ordered our food, we sat down at a table. We started talking to the other guys at the table and found out they too were just getting started on the journey of developing games.
My friend Stephanie showed up with a few of her friends from Cleveland not too long after that and we got to catch up a bit with what they’d been up to in the last few months. It didn’t take long for things to get too crowded for us to feel comfortable. The seating there looked like it was geared to handle about 100 people and the GDEX organizers said they had 170 people buy tickets. We ended up leaving after less than two hours there.
The day started out with a bang. Volition gave a talk about how they develop the look and feel of the game and how to know if you nailed it. They used their upcoming game Agents of Mayhem as a case study. It reminds me of Overwatch but you would not want to play it with your kids around due to language. Everything is big, explosive, and the “good guys” are probably best described as “Chaotic Good.” If you’re not familiar with Agents of Mayhem, you may be familiar with their other mega-hit games – Saints Row. My main take away from the talk was to figure out what feel you want the game to have and make sure the whole team knows it before you start making the game. If you haven’t figured that out yet, then your first order of business should be figuring that out.
I jumped from this to a talked called “Building a Local Game Community With Cultural Allies” featuring some organizers from the Cleveland Game Developers group as well as a guy who is running a game dev group in DC. This panel also included my friend Jarryd – more on him later. The focus of the talk was how to build your community by welcoming new members by doing things like Game Jams and informal social gatherings. It also included tips on working with cultural institutions like museums, libraries, and universities. The idea is to bring some people who would normally not be interested in games into contact with games and let them know it’s not all Pac Man and first person shooters.
After this was lunch and time to hit the show floor to check out the games. Some highlights:
- Finally getting to try Night Air – Stephanie and Jarrod’s game. I thought it was supposed to be a Metroid type game but found out it’s closer to Contra but set fighting aliens in a partially demolished Cleveland cityscape. I’ve seen them post several screenshots. Getting to try it out was a real treat.
- Bombfest – Zac Fierce’s game that reminds me a lot of Bombsquad, but more wood blocks than claymation. Lots of fun with the interesting twist that characters roll around instead of jumping to dodge quickly.
- Dehoarder 2 – Smiling Cats game about the struggle of living with hoarding and getting help to get out. It feels a bit like Katamari in that you need to clean up small things to get motivation to clean up larger items.
- Cleveland Game Developers group – lots of game jam games including Hummingbird in a Hailstorm.
- Never Not Shooting – Hand Cannon Games crazy fast 4 player co-op game where you defend the sun against invading aliens trying to make it go super nova.
- Collapsus – “Tetris meets Rubiks cube” puzzler by Wraith Games.
- Extra Life – an awesome charity that does a 24 hour gaming marathon as a way to raise money for children’s hospitals. This includes Nationwide Children’s which explains why they haven’t partnered up with Child’s Play.
The next talk I went to was “The Life of a Game Programmer” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on this one. My wife was expecting a talk on work/life balance and I was expecting something more technical. He talked a lot about using Unity and different technologies and splitting up the front and back end. He didn’t do a deep dive on the technical stuff. So I got bored because it wasn’t technical enough and my wife got bored because it was too technical. I think the work/life balance talk would be more interesting because less developers, especially game developers, are talking about that part of the industry.
The day finished up with a keynote by IGN’s Daemon Hatfield. He’s got a podcast reviewing games for IGN and has been working there ten years and reading them for most of their 20 year history. I haven’t really been a huge IGN reader but seeing this amount of game industry history presented by someone who has been in the trenches this long (10 years!) was pretty amazing. It made me want to become a regular reader and maybe listen to his podcast.
The first talk was Evan Todd talking about 13 years of bad code. He pulled out examples of bad code where they all had one thing in common: take a “good” design principal and overuse it, you’ll end up with a mess. For example “Don’t use globals” and end up with having to pass everything around to all objects that need it. He mentioned his first game was something he created when he was 13. Evan has one game he’s well-known for – Lemma which is a first-person parkour game that looks amazing in VR. He was also showing off his new game called The Yearning which is a player vs. player game involving spider robots that can climb up walls and ceilings as well as jump.
Next up was “Perspective Shift: Up Your Game By Making Games” which talked about all the valuable life skills you learn by making games. Grit, determination, tenacity, creativity and making what the users what instead of what you want. The speaker used Steve Jobs and Apple compared to Hewlett Packard as a case in point. Much of Steve Jobs’ thinking and caring about making products people enjoy came from working on games for a few years at Atari before he worked with Steve Wozniak to create Apple.
Last but not least was Jarryd Huntley talking about how indie game developers can learn from indie musicians. This including touring, leveraging your network, working on projects together – now known as “jamming” in both industries. He threw out some wild ideas like having musicians and game developers going on tour together especially if the musicians wrote the soundtrack to a game. He also made the point that it’s a well-established practice in the music industry to hold a day job to earn money to pay for tours and other expenses involved with creating and promoting your music. Why do some other people think you’re a failure if you don’t get to the point that you can quit your job and work on your craft (gaming or music or art) full-time with the release of your first project? It will likely take years and several projects before you can make a living solely off your creations. In fact, Jarryd pointed out an article where a web developer making games mentioned that making games drained his creative energy and web development actually served as a productive way to recharge that energy.
The weekend gave me a ton to think about as well as meeting some awesome new folks and seeing what some friends of mine have created over the last year. I have no excuse not to jump in and just make something. I think I can best sum it up with the quote from the “Perspective Shift” talk “Sucking at something is the first step to being kinda good at something.”