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Posts Tagged ‘Eve Penford-Dennis’

Life After Freeplay

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

The delicate bouquet of Eau-de-Nerd still lingers in the air of the State Library of Victoria as the custodial staff quietly sweep away the scattered remains of litter, lanyards, and feedback forms. Paul Callaghan and Eve Penford-Dennis fall into a heap for a well-earned rest, as game designers walk away with a motivating force to get their idea out of their heads and into the ether. For this was the weekend that was. This weekend saw this year’s installment of the Freeplay Independent Games Festival. Over 60 speakers from far and wide came to discuss every element to games making, from programming and art to design and gaming culture, under the theme “Play Is Everywhere”. A conscious effort was often made to avoid the discussions (outside the workshops) getting too technical or centered on just video games but to try and focus on the broader notion of “Play”. By understanding our fundamental need for play and where that comes from we can get a better appreciation of what it is about games that strikes a chord. Knowing precisely where your “fun button” is (you disgust me) means you can hit it more frequently and with greater ease, leading to more a more fulfilled, happy life.

During the sessions I attended I had a few “Neo moments” that took me by surprise. I went along thinking I was there to learn more about video game development (specifically writing). How someone takes an idea and sculpts it into something living and interactive. It fast became evident that the focus was on the user, the experience presented to the person playing – and how ‘play’ is such a fundamental part of existence. Adam Saltsman explored the notion of play as being completely independent of species, something not exclusive to humanity. Puppies play tug-of-war and wrestle with an inherent set of rules by which to abide. Cats jump into boxes, and hide around corners to give their siblings a fright. This innate desire to play and learn through play is found everywhere. Javier Candeira was fascinating with his contention that play is more than just a leisure activity, play can be even used to dictate societal behaviour. Whoa. Play as crime prevention? Whaaaat?! Play as a way to nudge citizens to do the right thing? Mind… blown… He cited a sequence of speed bumps in Japan that when travelled over at the right speed resonate a certain melody, where play is used to make people obey the speed limit by means more interesting and engaging than being lectured at. Looking at our water use targets and aiming for a “score” turns water saving into a game, spurring our competitive urges. Play can make the world a better place. I couldn’t get enough.

‘Neoteny’ is the retention of juvenile characteristics in the adult, most of the time looked down upon as unrefined or immature. Adult gamers are frequently branded as stunted or immature for this reason, because our need to play (something normally associated with children) is still intact. Being in a concentration of other people that find themselves fueled by the demand to play and seeing the fruits of their labour first hand was inspiring, invigorating, and left me with a sense of family and belonging. Hell, I’m not even a game developer and I left inspired to make something out of nothing! I felt like this theme was saying “Embrace your lust for play, and do something with it”. I always say that games are a massive part of my life, but really I should be saying that play is a massive part of my life. Whatever form it takes, I crave play. Whether it’s through a structured medium such as a video or board game, or making sure I don’t step on the cracks on the pavement. I frolic through the world looking for ways to be playful, and I hope I never ever grow out of it. I went in trying to learn about the making of games and found myself unexpectedly thrust into a zen state pondering the bigger picture. Thank you Freeplay for further exploring the notion of play, your uplifting and electrifying speakers, and for underscoring the heart-warming sense of community and common ground we all have under the umbrella of “Play-er”. I look forward to next year and hope the theme is equally satisfying brain food.

Freeplay Independent Games Festival

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Indie games have a soft spot in my heart much like handmade clothes bought at markets or home made conserves tenderly made by Mrs. Perkins. They’re made purely for the sake of making them, not necessarily aiming to be a cash cow or blockbuster. A lot of the time independent developers have the freedom to really ensure their vision stays on track and doesn’t get derailed by having too many cooks in the kitchen. I’m not the only one that loves to get their indie on, and being from Melbourne where there is a festival for something every weekend, it was only a matter of time before we got us an indie game festival, and this year’s looks to be the best yet. August 14th and 15th the State Library of Victoria will see this year’s edition of “Freeplay” the independent games festival, run in conjunction with the State Library of Victoria and the Victorian Government, lovingly crafted by Paul Callaghan and Eve Penford-Dennis. The 2 day festival will see talks, lectures and workshops for everything from “What does it take to develop a game?” and “101 things I learned in Game Design school” to the Inaugural Freeplay Awards.

Recently Paul kindly sat down to answer a few questions about the event and indie games in general.

What and why is Freeplay?
First the what…
Freeplay is Australia’s only independent games festival and it takes a look at the creative and artistic side of games and digital culture.
It was started in 2004 by Next Wave, and in its first year took place in a converted karate dojo on Swanston Street. Next Wave continued it in 2005 and 2007 at ACMI, then in 2009 stewardship of the whole thing passed to me and my co-director Eve Penford-Dennis and shifted venue to the State Library of Victoria. That first one for us was really successful and we’re back in 2010 with the same mix of a free public and a paid conference program.

And the why…?
There are a lot of events that look at games from a business / studio perspective or from the consumer perspective, but very few that look at games as creative and cultural artefacts. Freeplay fits into that gap.

What do you think indie developers can do that no one else can?
Indie developers can just make things. If you’re working in even a small studio, you’re likely beholden to at least one or two other people – and possibly hundreds. If you’re an indie, working by yourself, you can experiment with the form, make mistakes, and hopefully try a whole bunch of things in the same time a larger studio gets through pre-production.

That’s what we want to encourage with Freeplay. We want people to leave after the Sunday with a whole bunch of ideas and the energy to prototype and workshop and just get down in the dirt and make some cool new projects.

Why are industry get-togethers and collaborative efforts such as Freeplay important?
In a lot of ways, we’re in a period of transition right now, making the shift from being a technology industry to being a creative industry – and we aren’t quite sure what that means. Technology industries tend to be very secretive, keeping things quiet, making sure they’re the first with some breakthrough. By contrast, entertainment industries are a lot more open. Screenwriters, musicians, novelists, poets, all workshop their ideas, all get together formally or informally and share their thoughts, stress-test their projects, and all the while try to learn from each other. Middleware, more powerful hardware, and new distribution platforms, have meant that technology is no longer the limiting factor. Now we need to rely on our creativity, and to do that we need more get-togethers and collaborative efforts like Freeplay.

How do you determine your finalists for the Freeplay awards?
We had a crack team of judges play the over 50 games that came through. They graded them all according to the categories we had (and added an extra one because we had some international entrants – something we weren’t expecting this year), then we tallied the votes and that was pretty much that :)

The categories themselves were workshopped by our amazing program advisory committee and after that it was just a case of letting people know the awards existed. The one thing that makes us a little bit different from other awards is that we wanted to encourage more than just completed games, which led to us having categories for best concept art and best on-paper design.

We were blown away by the response this year. It’s really exciting and affirming that there’s such great projects around, and teams willing to put their work out there.

What do you love about Australia’s indie game scene?
I like that we’re in the time of flux that I mentioned before. I like that things are a bit uncertain right now because that gives us the possibility to craft our own future. I think we haven’t seen the best that Australian indies have to offer yet, and that’s kind of cool. We’re looking forward to Freeplay being part of that future.

Thank you, Paul! I appreciate you taking the time. Only one week away from the festival you must be busier than BP’s public relations department, so thanks!

I’m really looking forward to this year’s Freeplay festival, you can find information on the programme here and buy tickets here. Keep an eye on Freeplay’s website for the Fast Five interviews with local industry-folk, keep up with the goings-on by following Freeplay on twitter, and you can check out the finalists for this year’s Freeplay Awards. I’ll see you there!

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