Do you know what the internet needs more of? I mean, besides the important stuff. Games, that's what! And you may be sitting there thinking, "Yeah, those lazy ol' developers should start churning out even more games faster for my entitled butt," in which case, quiet you! But you might also be thinking, "You're right, and I want to add my own inestimable talents to the pool, but I'm scared and confused and I don't know how!" Shhh, baby, shhh. It's okay. Let me cradle you and coo gentle reassurances as you take in our videos from the 2012 Penny Arcade East Expo for inspiration, and let the wisdom of Extra Credits' James Portnow wash over you in our interview.
Mo' Like Indie MegaAWESOME This year if you were lucky enough to roam the halls at the Penny Arcade East Expo in Boston MA, you might have caught a glimpse of a familiar figure scuttling about in the background suspiciously. Fear not, for it was our own valiant Steve who ventured forth to accost the fine folks at the Indie Megabooth, and compile this video of the strapping young developers he spoke to detailing who they are, and what delicious gaming they're creating for us to funnel into our greedy gullets. A super special thank you to not only the developers who were kind enough to chat, but also our dear Steve, who dun good. Thanks, Steve. You can have an extra helping of gruel tonight before we put you back in your carrier.
Sissy's Magical Success Story You remember Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure, right? The game five-year-old Cassie made with her father Ryan of Untold Entertainment? Go play it now. We'll wait. And then when you've reformed from your mushy puddle of d'aaaaaaww, put your hooves together because the game has been om-nom-nominated twice at the Canadian Video Game Awards! Awwwwww, yeah! The game has been nominated for Best Social/Casual Game and Best New Character (Sissy) and is a finalist in both categories. That sounds pretty sweet to me! Congratulations, you guys! And may I say, you have excellent taste in colourful cartoon equines.
Still Dark, But Bigger If you like being sassed while you play, and games that cheat, then you'll definitely want to check out John Robertson's YouTube based escape game The Dark Room. And if you have sampled its sassy delights previously, you might want to do so again, since the game has since received a substantial update and is now a lot bigger than it was! Blending clever puzzles with comedic wit, it's a unique, surreal, and hilarious experience... provided you don't mind a little nonsense and some mockery, of course.
It's Like a Blog, But Felicia-y-er Felicia Day, she of the covetously shiny hair and professional nerd culture enrichment superheroine, was kind enough to include a link to us in her recent installment of her (nearly) brand new blog show over at Geek & Sundry, so it's only fair we return the favour with a link to her Flog. Geek & Sundry, as it happens, is a brand new channel packed with videos and weekly shows about the sort of things you love; video games, comics, books, and how Felicia gets her hair so shiny. (Is it powdered children's wishes? I bet it's powdered children's wishes. FELICIA.) Felicia's Flog airs every Monday and if you're a lovely person, you'll tune in to watch it and the rest of the shows at Geek & Sundry as well.
Continue reading for an interview with James Portnow of Extra Creditz!
Teacher, journalist, gamer, and facial hair world champion James Portnow is one third of the multi-talented hydra that makes up the smart and witty weekly video series Extra Credits, which discusses gaming from every possible angle beyond the console and developer wars most other media content themselves with. Together with Allison Theus, Daniel Floyd, and a host of formidable guest artists, James helps educate players, developers, and even reviewers on games and the culture that surrounds them. Our very own Steve was kind enough to track him down at Pax East 2012, and under no threat of vicious attack bears whatsoever, James was good enough to provide us with an interview. Watch the video, or read the transcript below! VERY special thanks to James for taking the time out to talk with us, answer our pesky questions, and unwittingly enter into a pact that will allow us to devour his power for our own. Muahahaha!
You guys have tackled a lot of topics on games, shedding light on everything from specific genres and concepts to the role of the player AND the reviewer to boot. Is there anything you personally would like to discuss in a future episode that hasn't been brought up yet by the audience, or something you've touched on in the past that you would point to as being particularly important or interesting?
One of the big topics we're going to be addressing shortly is this question of harassment in games culture. Unfortunately it's probably one of the worst parts of our medium. And it comes up a lot, and unfortunately a lot of discussions are based on how horrible it is. Which is true. Which is something we need to deal with. But very few conversations so far have been dealing with, how do we solve this? What solutions are out there? And it's been highlighted by some recent events. The fighting tournament that... one of the most tragic things I've seen happen for us as a culture. So that's something that we'd really like to highlight and talk about.
You've done a lot of work in the industry and provide a lot of insight for developers (aspiring and established) with your work and your lectures. If you could distill everything you've learned over your career down into a few key points to pass on to developers to keep in mind as they work, something that would fit on a series of nerdy motivational posters, what would they be?
I can do it in two words: Fail Faster.
You guys have been putting out Extra Credits for years now, and there has GOT to be a lot of work put into that from every angle when you add in everything from scripting and research and Allison's fantastic artwork (and representative monsters!). What keeps you coming back every week and motivated to put out all that work for free consumption by greedy schlubs live ourselves?
It's really the fact that when we started Extra Credits, and part of it's a selfish thing. I realized I would never get to make better games until the consumer demanded better games. And if we can really spark that dialogue, if we can help a little bit, at this point, I'm probably never going to be able to make those, but some of the kids I teach, a lot of the fans who I see say, Oh, I want to be in the games industry. They are going to be able to make those games. And we are a medium. a mass medium. More people spend time playing games than watching tv, reading books, going to the movies. And as such, we have a responsibility to think about it a little bit more. What keeps us coming back is just seeing some of the discussion that comes up. Seeing that dialogue is an incredible thing. And if it costs me a few hours of sleep every night, I'm completely okay with that.
While a lot of indie developers are more willing, and even eager, to tackle issues like race, sexuality, and even religion in their titles, those games usually wind up being labelled as "art" games that lack in real playability beyond getting their message across. Do you have any advice for developers who want to tackle these topics about keeping their message intact but also remembering to keep them engaging as games as well?
Actually, I think the last words that you said is a key part of this. Very often in games for the first 20 years of game development, we only thought about fun, we didn't think about engagement. And in lots of ways you're engaging in the media beyond fun. If you look back at survival horror games, those games aren't actually fun, they're terrifying, and they're engaging for that reason. And to me, remember that there are other ways to engage, and when exploring these issues, what's actually engaging about these issues and how we convey that through our media. Because usually we miss that in the drive to explore, the drive to say something, we forget about all the things that really grip us.
Everyone has aspects of game design that they consider to be personally "the most important", whether it's graphics or story or the Konami Code. What do you feel is the most UNDERlooked aspect of games that you wish developers paid more attention to when creating?
This is a weird thing of mine, but while there are things that are more important, the most underrated thing is mechanic as metaphor. Using your mechanic in a way that encapsulates a larger idea that allows there to be space to explore and come to realizations yourself. One of the advantages of our medium as compared to more traditional media, like film, or a novel, is that you as an audience are there receiving a message from an author. For us, we lay out a space of possibilities, and let you explore it. But without thinking through what our actions actually mean, what does action represent in the things that we do, we curtail a lot of exploration. So this idea of thinking through the meaning inherent within is an element I'd like to see further investigated.
You talked recently, in an offhand way, about the sea change that is the casual and mobile games revolution. Can you elaborate?
For the first time since the 80s, one person, in their garage with a little time on their hands, can make a game and get it out to millions of people. That changes everything, because we can really explore new territory when you don't have to put fifty million dollars on the line to do that. And honestly, not to flatter you guys, I feel like sites like you guys are a great part of that. Whole sections of the media are surrounding this new upswelling of artistic games. And yes a lot of these will miss. And yes a lot of these will be art games that find that piece of missing engagement, but through that we can finally sift through and find more to do with our media. It's been stagnant for five years, maybe even more. But I feel like with all these distribution methods, ways to get things out there for a small creative team, it's going to allow us to find the true potential of video games.