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Extended Play 2012

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend 2 days at ExPlay 2012, the South West’s only Indie Games Festival. Having started in Plymouth only a year previously, I was interested to see how it had developed and moved on to bigger and better things.

ExPlay did not disappoint to say the least. It was talk after talk and panel after panel of inspiring, insightful and downright awesome speakers, including keynotes from Robert Briscoe, creator of the hit game Dear Esther and Alex Fleetwood. Not forgetting the Expo room of course, which was full of inspiring South West start-ups demoing their latest games.

The conference got off to a flying start, with a positive and upbeat talk from Alex Trowers entitled ‘I’ve got an idea for a Game’. This is where he really got the audience psyched about creating games explaining that “Audacity, Unity, Gimp, it’s free to make games and the distribution of games is simple. There’s never been a better time to make games”.

The first day was all about how games can relate and integrate into mainstream society. The first panel of the conference featured The Wellcome Trust’s Danny Birchall, Force Of Habit founder Nick Dymond, Tomas Rawlings – creative director at developer Auroch Digital and Phil Stuart, the creative director at Preloaded. It focused straight on how we can use games to teach science, an example being the game Axon which we recommend you have a go at playing, it helps bring neuroscience to the gaming market. We were also shown a video of a game called The End which is commissioned by Channel 4, the focus of which was designed to educate kids about death (which is pretty novel to say the least). Throughout the game you collect different items that represent death and at the end of each level you must answer a question such as “Would you prefer to choose how you died?” and then you enter a Yes or No door.

This sort of integration of gaming and education continued with a talk from Ben Templeton (@thoughtben on Twitter), which sought to integrate light, mobile gaming with education. Examples of this included Magic Tate Ball designed for the Tate museum & Zoom based on educating kids about animals, which worked with motion detection (the Kinect), and asked the player to imitate the animal.

We then moved on to a talk by the legendary Oscar Clarke, by my rating, one of the two best talks of the conference. Clarke gave a great insight into the Freemium gaming model and his views were very clear cut. They were if you make premium games, they will be DOA (Dead On Arrival) unless you are a big corporation, and If you make free games, they will be DOA because they are likely to be copycats. Freemium is the way forward. Clarke then went on to give a 13 step lesson on how to market your Freemium games and what they will need to be and do to succeed. Clarke then left us with a final parting point – “Love wins in the end – if you don’t love your players and your game, why should they love you?”, a very important word of advice to everyone present.

The second day brought a separate theme and the majority of the talks were largely centred around design. We saw a panel from Edge Magazine, which was about 5 inspirational ideas for game design (you can see their Explay coverage here). We were able to experience and see some of the more creative games ever made such as From Dust and Journey which really made you realise that gaming isn’t just Call of Duty and Halo, as much as mainstream media would have you believe.

To the Expo room!

The expo room itself contained 12 South West Indie Games companies, each with their own impressive portfolio and showing off their new IP (Intellectual Property).

Exhibitors included Opposable Games and their game, Clockwork Racers, which is a collaborative game where iOS players are able to link their iOS devices to a central iPad and race using their iPhones/iPod Touch as controls.

MutantLabs from Plymouth were also there, showing off their first foray into their own IP – Half Inch Heist, in which you have to “Steal back the Queen’s diamond and avoid the perils of Dr Puss’ security vault, using only your wits, your reflexes, and your finger.”

4T2 media showed off their latest and greatest lego game too, LEGO Ninjago, whilst Plymouth University made an appearance along with UAE (University of East Anglia).

However, the game everyone was talking about throughout the conference was JS Joust Tournament,  a no-graphics, digitally-enabled playground game for 2 to 7 players, designed for motion controllers such as the PlayStation Move. To see a full description, check it out here, its pretty awesome!

I’m going to leave you with possibly the best piece of advice given at ExPlay 2012: “If you ever hear yourself say ‘just’, when working in Games Development, leave the room, go outside and slap yourself – it’s the worst four letter word in games.”

What do you feel about educating kids about death with games? Is that right? Is the age of Freemium games drawing closer and closer? Have your say below in the comment box! 


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