Boston Game Loop Unconference Recap

September 2nd, 2010 by Chris Allen

This past weekend I attended Boston Game Loop, and I was really glad I did. Boston Game Loop is an independently run conference conference organized by Darius Kazemi and Scott Macmillan. The format of the event was unique and quite a refreshing break from the standard session format of most conferences.

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The morning started off with breakfast and then a large gathering of the whole group to pick the topics for the day’s sessions. I unfortunately didn’t make it down there for this phase of the conference, but when I arrived I was pleased that my fellow attendees had picked many interesting sessions that I wanted to attend.

I got there just as the second sessions were starting, and I decided to check out the demos to see what other game developers were creating. I also put my name on the list to present Brass Monkey to the group, which I was able to do at the very end. We saw quite a variety of games during the meeting ranging from RPGs to, Flash based side scrollers and puzzle games. One of the big standouts for me was Elude, a side scroller game that was intended to make the player understand the effects of depression. The mechanics of the game were pretty standard, allowing the character to run, jump on to platforms (trees in this case), and had some other little mini games like seeing how high the character could jump (think, the mini cloud jumping game in the iPhone hit Pocket Gods). Although the game was rather conventional in many respects the key part that made this an interesting game was that the powers of the player character were directly tied to how happy or depressed he was. When the character become horribly depressed he couldn’t jump, or move too quickly, and the environment changed to be very dark and foreboding and eventually he falls into a literal pit of despair and the game is over. While I don’t suffer from depression, I’ve definitely had days were I was in a pretty bad funk, and this game really did get you to relate to how severe depression would make you feel.

At lunch I sat down with Scott Payne of Amherst College and had a really exciting discussion on MMOs, Unity 3D and the role of education in gaming. Scott is a really great guy, and extremely knowledgeable into the techniques of learning and how it applies to games.

As I’ve been really interested in game design lately, I decided to attend the session on Narrative Design next. The moderators did an excellent job on moving the discussions forward and on topic. The group discussed the role of the narrative and story telling in games. Most of what was talked about was very insightful, but focused mostly on large scale console based first person shooters in the apocalyptic style, think Bio Shock and Massive Effect.  This made sense as many of the people in the room either designed one of the games, or had been mostly focused in this space. With that, I still did find the talk very useful, and loved hearing these people talk about the role of choice to affect a narrative, and how the use of cut scenes aren’t necessarily the way to create the story in a game. I’m personally not a huge fan of the cut scene myself. Another interesting aspect discussed was how changing the perspective from 1st person to 3rd or even 4th gives the player a different feeling and changes the narrative for the user. If you are immersed in a first person perspective game for example, you can allow yourself to really imagine yourself in the game; when you put the perspective in a more top down style, then it gives the player a more controlling god like feel.

Next I was going to go to Scott MacMillan’s session on marketing social games, but I got side tracked and jumped in the middle of an interview that Dave Bolton from Bostinnovation was conducting with Yilmaz Kiymaz and Elliott Mitchel about the Boston gaming community. We ended up having a great conversation and came up with a little game concept of our own called the Dog House. The Dog House is a game where your goal is to stay in your significant-other’s good graces by answering questions that this AI driven character would ask.  Conferences like Game Loop are really great for networking, and one of the biggest values to me is that it allows for game developers to get together and have impromptu brain-storming sessions like this.

For the next session I went to the one on side projects run by Darren Torpey. The discussion went into how to make a side project a success, and there was lots of talk about how to pick good collaborators, how to keep up momentum and how to maintain positive morale when folks aren’t necessarily getting paid for the work they are doing. We also covered how to run a project with people in different locations and busy schedules. I got to talk about how we made Red5 a success and ultimately launched Infrared5. It was cool to reflect on how our company was essentially founded based on a successful side project. Of course our latest side project to turn into a real project is Brass Monkey, and while most of the conversations focused on individuals running side projects, it was great to be able to talk about how a company can fit in a side project and make it a success as well. Overall this session was insightful, and hopefully I helped inspire some of the other game developers that were there too.

For the last session of the day I attended Predicting the Future that was led by Ben Sayer. This was essentially a round table discussion on what we would bet would happen in the games industry within one year. I was pleased to find that one of the things that was brought up and unanimously agreed would happen is that connecting mobile devices as controllers for games would be a big thing by next year. Someone else in the audience actually brought up Brass Monkey as the catalyst of this movement. I sure hope they are right, as this spells a sure success for our product. Other predictions included Zynga would go public or be acquired within a year, Nintendo’s 3DS product would be a huge success, 3D TVs will be a flop, 38 Studios wouldn’t actually move to Rhode Island and more than likely wouldn’t launch a game by next year, HTML5 would be used to a lot more games by next year and a whole lot more. I look forward to seeing which predictions come true at next year’s Game Loop.

After the sessions ended the majority of the group went over to the Cambridge Brewing Company for drinks and dinner.

Overall I thought Game Loop 2010 was a great success. I know there’s been a lot of talk about it being too big this year, and it was a bit too unorganized with so many folks involved. I do think there’s an element to truth in that, but the end result for me was still a valuable experience. One suggestion I would make to the organizers is to have the planning session for the event the night before. This way for people that are fine with attending the sessions that others have picked, they could skip this step and just show up the next day. The people that really want to set the agenda can attend the planning part. The planning session could then end and turn into a night of socializing and getting to know the other attendees. Then everyone comes back fresh and ready to attend all the sessions they planned for the conference in the morning. Another suggestion is to group the sessions on the board by topic, so that people can more easily focus on the areas they are interested in.

Did you attend Game Loop this year? What did you think, and how could it be improved for next year? I would love to hear your feedback!

One Response to “Boston Game Loop Unconference Recap”

  1. Macguffin Says:

    Huh. That’s a really interesting idea. Thanks, Chris – both for the writeup and for coming!

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