Artists, programmers, designers and audio technicians gathered at The Nerdery for the April meeting of the International Game Developers Association Twin Cities chapter.
Local developer Patrick Swinnea presented his experience at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco first. He was followed by two student teams from the University of Wisconsin-Stout as they gear up for the 2018 Stout Game Expo.
Swinnea began by discussing the focus on narrative in the digital games community this year. Indie games like Harold Halibut, featuring scanned puppets and photo telemetry, and Claybook, with a digital world built entirely of moldable clay, made strong impressions on attendees.
Comedy was huge with games like Untitled Goose Game and Shadow Fencer Theater. One puts the player in control of a goose that wants to terrorize a groundskeeper while the other challenges two players to fight in hand puppet-to-hand puppet combat with toothpick-sized swords and spears.
Swinnea ended with a brief anecdote from the GDC Film Festival. At the screening of Insert Coin: Inside Midway’s ‘90s Revolution, he and a dozen other audience members were delighted to talk with Ed Boon and John Tobias, the creators of the Mortal Kombat series, who were in attendance.
The second half of the evening was devoted to two student groups from the University of Wisconsin-Stout Game Design and Development Program. Lecturer Karl Koehle introduced the capstone course and how students complete their B.F.A. coursework.
Koehle views his role in this class as facilitating student projects while connecting them with professionals who can help when needed. They learn from local indie developers like the teams behind Newt One and Verdant Skies and partner with music students from Berklee College of Music. The semester culminates in a public exhibition known as the Stout Game Expo, taking place on April 30th in Menomonie.
The first student group presented an atmospheric stealth horror game called Small Hours. The story focuses on a little girl searching for her cat in a town populated by monsters. They found inspiration from games and movies like Kakurenbo and Coraline.
On the location of the game, programmer David King said, “we were drawn to the concept of the Kowloon Walled City. We wanted to get a really claustrophobic look.” Throughout their design process, they had to change directions and evaluate what could get done in one semester. Originally hoping for three monsters that hunted by sight, sound, or smell, they instead opted for one, a long-necked creature that moves like a gorilla.
Next, the group behind Umbrella Mondays presented their game. The feeling they are going for is “cozy, but damp.” Featuring Fella, the protagonist explores cavernous spaces and meets friendly characters, bringing to life fire spirits along the way. “We wanted to build a game that would build beneath a character’s feet,” said design lead April Lewer. “It should feel like an action figure on a set.” Their puzzle and platforming game has an atmospheric, almost therapeutic effect. Lush music and gentle sounds in a cathedral-like setting lull the player into a sense of comfort as they play.
The International Game Developers Association Twin Cities chapter meets on the second Wednesday of every month at the Nerdery.