The Independent Games Festival always seems to carry a controversy or two in tow, something a fellow critic recently called “scene drama.” It's the most visible event for the indie development community, a Sundance for the bedroom programming set. One of this year’s controversies took the form of the 2012 IGF Pirate Kart, organized by developer Mike Meyer: a collection of more than 300 broken and half-made games bundled into one package and submitted into the Independent Games Festival. Was it a joke, a satirical jab, or a rebellious scream? The answer is, of course, all and none of the above. Once you corral more than 100 creators into a project, their ideologies start to get muddied up and bleed into each other, and any sort of coherent meaning gets lost in a chorus of yells, not to mention the detractors yelling back. If you're deep in the scene, it's hard to see the IGF Pirate Kart for what it really is: a love letter to making videogames. Instead of trying to hear something in the shouting, we decided to slow things down and ask people one at a time:
Wait, what's an IGF Pirate Kart?
It's a celebration of all the games that are beautiful despite their ugliness. [Alan Hazelden; Tetris Fight Club]
The IGF Pirate Kart is a collection of games that wouldn't otherwise have been part of the IGF. Games that for whatever reason weren't likely to become a finalist in any category, and therefore weren't worth the $95 entry fee. It's also a launcher program to make browsing and playing hundreds of games easier. [Mike Meyer; 2012 IGF Pirate Kart organizer; Danger! Take!]
You could say it has all those qualities in common with a flash mob. It's kind of a brief, low-investment event that is inevitably bigger than the sum of its parts. There was no other ulterior motive or dissenting message from me—I just enjoyed being part of something bigger, especially something that could go anywhere. [Elliot Trinidad; Fuck All Y'all]
Most of those games are really bad on their own, but putting them together they reinforce each other; there’s a funny mix of unexpected ideas and you’re always curious to see what will be the next one. [Nicolai Troshinky; Shoot-Em-Art].
Going from half-baked concepts to tiny considered experiments to bad jokes, parodies, semi-sequels, and mashups was a lot of fun—you could watch ideas develop, get thrown away, get picked up by someone else, and refashioned into something new. [Stephen Murphy; Murder Dog IV: The Trial of Murder Dog]
"Most of those games are really bad on their own."
The first Pirate Kart came out of really wanting to submit something to the TIGSource B-Game Competition. I finally hit upon the idea that we should combine a bunch of games into a Cassette 50, Action 52-style pile of crap. The only way to get enough games made was to convince as many people as I knew to make games continuously for an extended period of time; like that weekend. So with basically zero notice, I put out the word that we were going to somehow make 100 games in 48 hours, throw it in a bundle, and enter it. I had no expectation that we were actually going to hit 100 games; there were three of us! I figured we'd just copy the same games over and over, like a real pirate multicart.
Only it turned out that by posting in a couple of forums, even with basically no warning, we ended up having 17 people participate, and we somehow managed to crank out 103 games. It was exhausting and incredible. My wife was eight months pregnant, and so pissed off at me. [Jeremy Penner; Pirate Kart founder; Fatherhood Episode 2: Entertain Eric! Quickly!]
Pirate Kart to us is a game-design refresher course for those that want to see what the most obscure indie scene has been working on in the last years. Of course it's not an inclusive collection, an encyclopedia; it's more like a random mood board for contemporary game design. [Santa Ragione; ALIANTE]
[My games] just didn't conform to that standard you expect when you sit down to play a game. [Andy Moore; Crab Attack 3]
An existentialist, Zamboni-filled reinterpretation of a mid-’90s edutainment game. [Noyb; Don't Flub Your Line]
Some ask you to do weird things with your keyboard. [Andy Moore]
…a series of conversations between British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson and thinly veiled videogame heroes on their violent natures and broken dreams… [Noyb]
Some require three players at one computer. [Andy Moore]
…a business simulation where the player takes the role of a trademark troll… [Noyb]
Some require to be played at parties on big projector screens; some have artistic depth that requires more in-depth study. [Andy Moore]
…a dating sim where the player character is neurologically incapable of distinguishing among the faces of his potential lovers… [Noyb]
I've never thought of purposely making a poor game, but the exercise has been excellent. It's more personal, and often the short games created are like design in-jokes. I doubt the audience is all that wide for any single game, but the mix is serendipitous. You just never know what you'll like or hate. [Jen Grier; Windows Offender]
Like, sometimes the stupid little one-minute YouTube video is a thousand times more engrossing than the five-minute comedy sketch, y'know? [Elliot Trinidad]
Who are you?
I don’t consider myself a game developer; I have never learned how to code; I am a children’s books illustrator and animation filmmaker. [Nicolai Troshinky]
I'm trying to figure out if it's my calling. I'm almost 37 years old; I've had a number of careers; and I've always wanted to be a storyteller in some form, be it writing, filmmaking, or as presently, game development. [Jack Nilssen; Dark Acre's Ball of Steel]
"I kind of came to the conclusion years ago that making games for a living would be miserable."
My post-secondary life was spent chasing "the proper life" where you get a boring job and pay the bills and be a good little consumer. When I was 28 or 29 or so, my good friend Colin Northway made Fantastic Contraption. I followed him to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco that year, and was overwhelmed with inspiring stories from all the indies in attendance. That was the turning point for me. [Andy Moore]
I would spend hours while growing up messing around with pogs, Pokémon cards, toy cars, whatever I could get my hands on; and invent a game where they were racing, part of a football team, or anything else I could imagine. [Benn Powell; Where Am I?]
I was participating in my first game jam, making a game called Zombie Zapper. It was midway through the last day and I was struggling to get one of the core game mechanics to function. I got some help from the folks around me, but I still couldn't make it work properly. Finally, something just fell into place. I saw a new way to program it, tried it out, and watched as the game I had spent the past three days imagining became an actual, functioning THING. I had to relearn math I had forgotten from high school, and use programs I had no prior familiarity with; but I had taken an idea out of my head and managed to make it into a working game. It was a rush. [David Gallant; EscapeOut]
When you're a kid, and you're interested in programming, you're interested in making videogames. It's pretty much the coolest thing you can do with a computer. I kind of came to the conclusion years ago that making games for a living would be miserable, given the state of the industry, and so I make my living building other kinds of stuff instead. Right now it's audio tours for museums on smartphones, but I've also worked on software development tools, medical devices, and vehicle electronics. [Jeremy Penner]
I have whitewater rafted down the Grand Canyon, lead climbed 5.12 ceiling routes, run the hardest half-marathon route they run in my city, played live music for crowds of strangers, fallen head-over-heels in love, and become a father. These are the things that I would consider some of the most intense or exciting events in my life so far. Making videogames gives me a feeling only ever-so-slightly less intense than events like those. [Adam Saltsman; Grave Robbers]
I was born, I got a computer, I got drunk, I made games later on when sober. In 1979, nobody died. It was all pretty amazing, really. How am I still here? Hahaha, I can't believe I got away with this. [Robert Fearon; Babymine]
Why make games?
I don't want to pull the whole "beautiful flower" card, but when I look at the games being produced anywhere really I don't see the kind of games I want to see, and those are the games I want to make. [Marek Kapolka; Ah La Mure]
Gone are the days of (necessarily) worrying about graphics drivers, vertex buffers, and the sort. Even "scary" things like sprite sheets aren't even necessary anymore. I think the "rise of indie games" is just beginning, and will only pick up more speed; this isn't some blip on the radar, it's the start of a new era. [Andy Moore]
"Like, sometimes the stupid little one-minute YouTube video is a thousand times more engrossing than the five-minute comedy sketch, y'know?"
I entered a game my six-year-old did (and I didn't make any T-shirts about it!) and I entered two games the lady wife made as well. Because the Kart is for anyone and everyone; so everyone in here entered something. Because it's funny, because it's important, and because anything that encourages more people to make games, then yay, let's do this thing. [Robert Fearon]
One day, a grandmother will show her granddaughter a game she made, and maybe they'll make a game together. It won't matter if it's crude or buggy or lasts only a few seconds—that game will be important because it got made. [Robert Yang; CondomCorps]
I enjoy the kind of loose, mongrel sensibility of games, where you can kind of bang together these discrete components and then extrapolate the result into a whole other world. Like taking an MS Paint horse and a movement script of some kind and putting them together to get a sudden new sense of space or potential or experience that extends beyond whatever you actually have onscreen. [Stephen Murphy]
Game-making as a hobby or leisure activity rather than a business; personal expression through games; creativity without concern for whether the result is good enough by someone else's standards; welcoming those who aren't part of the “industry” or for whom videogames aren't a career or even a big deal; and making and sharing things for no other reason that making and sharing things is awesome. [Mike Meyer]
What’s wrong with mainstream games?
This is a very loaded question! [Noyb]
Are you trying to get me to say that the IGF isn't indie enough? Fuck “indie”! Let's make things! [Mike Meyer]
A game is a game is a game to me, and bullshit is bullshit. It just goes by different names. [Robert Fearon]
I work for EA. People seem to think I'm an “indie”, though.
Some of the games I work on ARE on store shelves. The ones that aren't are more personal, tiny, and pretty awful by usual standards. [Mike Meyer]
Far too few people seem to be making the games they want to make. (I think one of these these things is causing the other, but I'm not sure which way ’round it is; it's probably circular.) [Sophie Houlden; Ccccombat]
For me, sometimes I "dumb down" or "spice up" my experiments for actual market release. That's what keeps my bills paid. My biggest hit, the SteamBirds franchise, started off as a game only I could love (and the original name was in my style: SexyPlane). I was really proud of that. The version of the game you can play now, on just about any platform—I really don't like that game. Too boring, too mass-market! But it sells. [Andy Moore]
It's OK to confuse players; it's OK to anger them; and it's OK for them to laugh AT you. I want to be surprised. [Edward Cameron; Super Cult Tycoon 2: Deluxe Edition]
"Sitting on your couch at midnight and yelling into a $5 headset while you shoot digital Iraqis in the face is a decidedly niche activity in the big picture."
[Mainstream] games have so much money riding on them, they have to pander to an established audience. That's young, straight men. This has led to a vicious cycle: This young male audience is telling developers what games to make, and developers are teaching this audience what games to expect. Not only does this keep games in stagnation, it keeps the culture of games insular and unwelcoming. To try and exist as a woman in this community, or a queer person, or a trans person, is to face continuous hostility. There's so little diversity in games, in the people who make them and the people who play them; and the form, as a reflection of the human experience, is impoverished as a result. [Anna Anthropy; A Game About Choices for At-Risk Youth]
Precisely that, actually; they're not mainstream at all. Sitting on your couch at midnight and yelling into a $5 headset while you shoot digital Iraqis in the face is a decidedly niche activity in the big picture. I think the same goes for clicking cows on a virtual farm. None of these things have the reach or cultural impact of an Apatow movie, a Beyonce album, or NFL broadcasts. [Adam Saltsman]
I feel like I'm part of a community. Many communities, in fact, like we all are. I don't like scenes: scenes are cliquey and closed, and the future that I want for videogames is one where everyone feels welcome. That was what I liked about the Pirate Kart. [Anna Anthropy]
I'm part of the long tradition of people who make games. Videogames. One word. That's my scene. Everything else is bollocks. [Robert Fearon]
Conflict isn't the goal of the Pirate Kart; many of us like the IGF, are in the IGF, or have friends in the IGF. We just want space for alternative game-design practice to flourish too—it's probably the only thing we all agree on. [Robert Yang]
A fifth Pirate Kart will be shown at the Game Developers Conference 2012. If you'd you'd like more information, or better yet, to make some games for it, you can check it out here.