Indie Gamers Geek Out in San Francisco

The Game Developers Conference created the "Sundance Festival" for independent gamers. The 2008 Independent Games Festival is happening in San Francisco this week.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Okay, we're listening to music - I guess it's music - sounds, from "Gesundheit!", a video game in which you have to trap a booger-eating monster -several of them, actually.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Okay, can I listen to it for a second?

MARTIN: Yeah.

STEWART: Okay. That sounds like the music for a booger-eating monster.

MARTIN: That make sense? It sounds like a booger-eating monster.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Have you never heard of this? Well, maybe 'cause it's indie. If Super Mario is Bruce Springsteen, then "Gesundheit!" is maybe like the indie band Animal Collective - a little weird, with a smaller audience, but still strangely appealing.

Indie games in the spotlight last night at the independent games festival awards, part of the 2008 Game Developer's Conference going on right now in San Francisco. And Brian Crecente of the gaming blog Kotaku was there. And he's on the line to tell us what happened. Hey, Brian.

Mr. BRIAN CRECENTE (Managing Editor, Kotaku): Hi. How's it going?

STEWART: It goes well, thanks. So the winner of Seumas McNally Grand Prize was something called the Crayon Physics Deluxe. Tell us about this.

Mr. CRECENTE: Yes, it's an amazing game. It's essentially - you have a blank slate, and you draw on this blank slate with your mouse, and it looks like you're drawing with crayons on a piece of paper. And once you're done drawing, you drop an object - the object is to get this ball to move kind of across the screen and touch a star.

STEWART: So it's like etch-a-sketch, kind of?

Mr. CRECENTE: Yeah, except, literally, instead of having to use two knobs to kind of draw, be confined that way, you can literally draw anything you want.

MARTIN: And then those objects move?

Mr. CRECENTE: Right, right. And that's the neat thing, like physics takes over. So like you can draw a little stick and draw a brick, and then when you start, the brick will drop and hit the stick and maybe shoot this ball across the screen.

MARTIN: It sounds kind of retro. It's not very highly-animated, is it?

Mr. CRECENTE: No, not at all. And that's sort of what's so amazing about it. I mean, it's - I think you can't help but giggle a little when you're playing the game…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRECENTE: …with crayons.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So are there - what happens at this thing? Are there victory speeches? How did the developer accept the award for this?

Mr. CRECENTE: Yeah, it's actually pretty funny. It's - you know, I kind of cover a lot of these different award shows, you know, every year. And this is the one that is the most touching because people get up there and they really do, you know, they give these big speeches, sometimes these very short speeches. I think one of the winners last night actually gave their victory speech as a haiku.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRECENTE: But, yeah. I mean, and like different winners, one of the winners of - I can't remember which award it was - but their mom was there, and they asked the entire crowd to say happy birthday to her.

MARTIN: Oh…

Mr. CRECENTE: So it's a neat award. And you could tell that it's an award that everybody who, you know, if they win something at it, it really means a lot to them.

MARTIN: And it's a tight-knit community, I imagine, as well.

Mr. CRECENTE: Oh, yes. What's neat is it's actually the - the IGF awards happen right before the Game Developer Choice awards. So these are two award shows that are piggybacked together. And the Game Developer Choice awards are for the triple A titles like "BioShock" and "Call of Duty". And so you have those people, the people who made those games, in the same room. And, you know, everybody seems to get as much of a thrill out of watching the IGF winners as watching someone like Ken Levine win an award for "BioShock".

MARTIN: Let's get back to some of the award-winning games. The best student game went to something called "Synaesthete." I don't know if I'm saying that correctly - "Synaesthete." Is that right?

Mr. CRECENTE: Yes. It's a really hard game to describe. It's essentially - it's a music game, and it uses sort of techno music, and you play this thing that looks like it's made out of, almost out of Legos. It sort of stomps around a room, and it shoots out these rays to music.

It's so funny because a lot of these games, what's so neat about the independent games is that none of them are typically typical. So they…

MARTIN: Or they combine - it sounds like this is like "Guitar Hero", kind of?

Mr. CRECENTE: Well, except, you know, without the controls. But, yeah, like - well, it's funny, 'cause, like, I could say it's like "Rez" meets "Robotron 2000." But people probably don't know what either of those games do.

STEWART: Of course, "Robotron 2000," one of my fav - no, I'm kidding. I don't know anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRECENTE: But what's so neat, also, is that, I think another very important element of the show is that most of these winners go on to get publishing deals with really big - like with Sony or with Microsoft.

MARTIN: Do they really?

Mr. CRECENTE: Oh, yeah. Last year, some of the winners - two of the winners were "Everyday Shooter," which was a game that sort of - a shooter, for this type of game, it wasn't like a first-person shooter. It was more like "Asteroids," that type of shooter.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CRECENTE: And what it was, was sort of a collection of these shooters. And One way someone described was, it was like the "White Album" of shooters. So it was a collection of different shooters set to original music. And people liked it so much it won this award, but it was also picked up by Sony, and is now being distributed on the PlayStation 3.

MARTIN: Now, speaking of a community of gamers, if you go to some of these designer's blogs, you can read things like, hey, thanks for telling us about the bug in the installer script. Or, we added this, or we changed this. Is there a new transparency in this process now?

Mr. CRECENTE: Well, I think, certainly at this level, there is because I think they understand, like, they get thousands of entries for the IGF, and the process of - I was actually one of the judges for it. They have 20 judges who go through every one of the games, and it sort of, you know, boils it down to this group of finalists. And while they're doing it, they're still tweaking the game. So, like, it'll make that first level, and when it gets to finalist, often you'll have a game that's gotten a lot of revision. So it's kind of neat in that aspect. I mean, it's very fluid, the way that the games kind of go through the process.

MARTIN: Okay, very quickly, what was your favorite game that you saw there? What really captured your imagination?

Mr. CRECENTE: You know, I really think that probably "World of Goo."

MARTIN: "World of Goo."

Mr. CRECENTE: Which is such a neat - it won a couple of awards, including technical excellence and design innovation. And, essentially, you're taking these blobs, it almost looks like oil, and sort of pulling them apart, and they stretch to form these, like, bridges - whatever you want to create. And the object is to kind of move them across the screen, keeping them connected, and they have to sort of support themselves. It's really hard to describe, as you can tell.

MARTIN: It sounds more creative than competitive.

Mr. CRECENTE: Oh, yeah. And that's another thing, a lot of these games are a lot more about, sort of, creating things than it is about competing with other people.

MARTIN: Brian Crecente, managing editor at the gaming blog, Kotaku. Hey, thanks, Brian.

Mr. CRECENTE: Thank you.

MARTIN: Happy gaming.

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