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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Callaghan’

Jam-packed yet slack.

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

I hate it when blogs start with a “I haven’t blogged in ages” type apology, so I’m glad I’m not doing that. Moving right along.

Stuff has been going on, yo! (Everywhere except here.) These last few months have seen a lot of change, and I’m feeling quite adrenalized, to be honest. I was lucky enough to have some great fun these last few months, and I see it spilling over into next year all things going well. Warning, I’m going to talk a bit about the things I’ve been fortunate enough to experience over the last 6 months or so, and how they’re shaping me as a person and where my creative direction will lie in 2012. It’s probably narcissistic, self-indulgent and trite but it’s cathartic so *raspberry*. List incoming, take cover!

We sold our house in May. More stressful than it sounds. I also had pneumonia which was enough to knock me around for a month or so. Only really getting my groove back now, in December. I don’t recommend getting pneumonia if you’re considering it — takes a lung, lung time to recover.

I had a trip over to AVCon in Adelaide in July to check out the Indie Games Room and the great work associated there. It was an amazing weekend and I had an absolute blast. AVCon is one of the better organised conventions Australia has to offer and it was obvious in many ways, particularly the work done by the captain running the very tight ship – Dustin Wilson. I loved the indie games room being right next to the main convention so people just had to roam on in to have a look, was great seeing local indie games being showcased to the masses like that, Ben Kilsby did a great job. I did a few interviews there and spoke to some very talented developers and I hope to put those videos up sometime soon. It’s been ages but other things got in the way…

Like Freeplay. Oh freeeeeplay. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. (Spoiler: ALL of the ways). Last year’s Freeplay Independent Games Festival was a life changer and this year’s was no different. Almost makes me fear what the hell next year’s is going to to do me. I was lucky enough this year to be an Associate Producer at Freeplay 2011, and that left me in charge of one night of the Playful Program which ran in the days preceding the festival proper this August. We put on an evening of Lemon Joust club, featuring a street game involving wooden spoons and lemons, set up like a (playful, and deliciously silly) night of Fight Club. Along with lots of scotch and some belly laughs, it was a learning experience. I’ll write more on what I learned at Lemon Joust Club another time. It was fantastic to be involved in Freeplay 2011 and I’m antsy as hell to start working on 2012. Paul Callaghan is foolishly letting me help out again next year*.

In September I popped in to the State Library of Victoria to check out a pride of primary and secondary school students presenting the games they’d made, run by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. It was truly amazing to see how smart these kids were and the insights they had on game development and creativity, some as young as 6 years old. Also a little jarring to be confronted with some misconceptions about our industry normally associated being a particularly adult state of mind – indicating just how deep-seeded some of our issues are that even children are spouting the same rhetoric. I walked away feeling positive about it though, and with a knowledge of some great tools available for our younger game developers, such as the Kudo game lab.

In October I was lucky to be asked to be on a panel at Cherchez La Femme (a salon-style discussion night with a feminist frame) on an evening discussing Women in Gaming, along with Clem Bastow, Moran Paldi, and Ben McKenzie, hosted by the glorious Karen Pickering (on whom I have all the crushes). With “women in games” being an issue many people wanted to discuss throughout the year, it came to a rapid boil enough to warrant a night to talk about it disassociated from any official gaming collective. I think having the issue on its own and with no one scared of speaking “on behalf” of anything really helped to address the state of women in games as it stands, both in the games themselves and the industry creating them. Once you have a good look at how it stands you can then start to sort out what needs to change and why. Only from there can you start to ponder the “how”.

November saw a very very lucky me attending GCAP 2011, the Game Connect Asia Pacfic conference put together by the Game Developer’s Association of Australia. It was a very different beast to Freeplay, with more of an industry focus than a cultural one, so it was the yin to my Freeplay yang, so to speak. Experiencing both certainly left me with a pretty well-rounded look at what our local games dev scene has to offer, and what it needs to work on. At GCAP there were some fascinating talks about Serious Games (something I hadn’t given a lot of thought to previously) and how they can be used for training and retention of knowledge in industries such as defense, law enforcement, healthcare and education. I particularly enjoyed the talk by Randy Pargman of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (yep, that FBI) on how the Bureau uses games and simulations for training modules. He crowdsourced the order in which he talked about each topic he wanted to cover, leaving it in the audience’s hands through the AudienceStar web application. Changed the way I looked at attending a lecture or talk, it isn’t just a talking head at the front of the room anymore. We engage now more than ever in these environments. The entire conference had great little tidbits to take away about game development and building a brand, and the people I met were fantastic. Was great to meet (and thrash at Raskulls at the Mana Bar!) Mike Acton from Insomniac (and behind the #AltDevBlogADay blog), and meet the likes of Tracey Lien, Tim Best, Amir Rao from Supergiant, Shainiel Deo from Halfbrick, and Dr Jens Schroeder from QANTM, among glorious others. Really was spoiled for company over those 3 days, and made some strapping realisations.

Which brings us to December. Where I currently sit. This month saw us buying a house, a meeting about Freeplay 2012, an IGDA Christmas party, way too much scotch, a Christmas, way too much wine, a Boxing Day, and … this blog post!

The realisations made over the last few months have left me facing a different direction creatively. A few months ago I was offered the role of editing the latest Gamebook Adventure — Temple of the Spider God — by Tin Man Games. Seeing my name in the credits for a game was exhilarating and the experience of actually doing the editing was surprising amounts of fun. The tools Neil and Ben have developed, and their experience in the Gamebook genre (this being their 7th title) both ensured smooth passage in an unfamiliar landscape for me, and I firmly believe it wouldn’t have been as fun or as enriching an experience with anyone else behind the helm. I’m going to be working with them again in the future and feel so incredibly lucky to have that opportunity. I’m currently writing something that I can’t talk about just yet, but through editing the Gamebook and starting this project, I came to the realisation that actually making stuff was much more rewarding to me personally than writing about the things other people are lucky enough to make. So for now I seem to be going in more of a game dev direction than writing about games themselves. I’ll still feel the need to vent I’m sure, and there will be the occasional article flying around but right now I’m having a blast writing for games instead of about them.

So it looks like 2012 will be an exciting year toward a new direction. A goal is to work on 4 more games at least, start a few projects of my own, launch a website I’ve been meaning to launch for over 12 months, and keep blogging. Oh, and a vegetable garden. There’s something relaxing about watching tomatoes level up until they’re ripe and ready to be eaten.

2011 was a year of paralysing self-doubt that stopped me expressing myself adequately, which definitely has ongoing affects on the psyche. I was too scared to write. After hearing many writers (curators, creators, artisans, teachers alike) all say that it’s part of the writer’s journey, I feel like I have now surrounded myself with enough support, love, positivity, and a collective of erudite people with amazing levels of experience that I don’t feel like it’s such a lonely journey anymore. 2012 will be different. It’s going to be lead by a phrase that once told to me changed my life:

“Self-doubt is the price you pay for getting to do cool shit”

Bring it on, 2012!

*Thank you Paul. Not enough words. Honestly. Not enough words. Not enough good ones anyway.

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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