[FIELD NOTES] IGDATC January – Making Games with Bert & Ernie

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Professional and amateur game developers gathered on January 10th for an evening of design advice from industry veterans. The International Game Developers Association Twin Cities (IGDATC) chapter was founded in 2004 and meets regularly at the Nerdery in Bloomington with a focus on bringing together game makers in the Twin Cities at various stages of their careers.

After pizza and welcomes, the conversation centered around game jam success ahead of this year’s Global Game Jam.  Akin to hackathons, game jams are events where teams form to develop games in a short period of time. The Global Game Jam is the world’s largest such event, with over 36,000 game makers worldwide participating in last year’s 48 hour marathon.

Local developer and David Mann shared three pieces of advice for any game jam:

  1. Focus on the essential experience. You won’t have time to build everything you want to, but the central gameplay mechanic can be solid–even with only 48 hours to finish it.
  2. Practice scope control. It can be tempting to dream big, but this often leads to unfinished games. Keep the focus small right away and only build out when your product is polished.
  3. Utilize an iterative process. At every jam Mann attends he makes sure he’s got a minimum viable product up and running after the first twelve hours.

Mann used games he developed in years past as case studies in his presentation. His 2017 game Package Handler Training Simulator highlighted the essential experience: his team wanted to make a physics game that felt like working in a major shipping hub (a job they both shared). “If you put a bunch of rigidbodies in a pile, you’re going to get chaos,” Mann remarked. The result was a frantic co-op game with a physics engine that piled up packages at an ever faster pace.

After a short break Jeff Tidball shared insights from his years as a game designer. Currently the COO of Roseville’s Atlas Games, Tidball is the At-Large Director of the Game Manufacturer’s Association and has presented at Essen Spiel, the world’s largest tabletop gaming convention. Tidball’s presentation focused on two types of game design personas: Bert and Ernie.

Bert is the organized, buttoned-down, squared away game designer. “Think about it,” Tidball said. “Bert’s prized possession is his collection of things that collect other things: paperclips.” Ernie, on the other hand, is creative, impulsive, and prone to great big expressions. The two get along most of the time, but there’s always a little bit of tension.

Breaking down the game development process, Tidball highlighted which persona was most important at each stage:

  1. Concept: Ernie
  2. Creation: Ernie
  3. Production: Bert
  4. Sales & Marketing: Bert & Ernie
  5. Fulfillment: Bert

He emphasized that the things that frighten one developer are the same things another one loves, so finding a balanced team is critical.

IGDATC meets at 6pm on the second Wednesday of each month at the Nerdery in Bloomington.

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