This site is about processes, people, places, software, culture, videogames, culture, ideas, successes, failures and GameCity.
It's written by Iain Simons. Mostly, anyway.
Category Archives: GC6
We’re a really small team working on GameCity, probably slightly too small. Still, it’s nice to be kept busy…
Right now we’re at the largest we’ve ever been and the smallest we really can be to get the job done with four full-time people. We swell to around six or seven folks part-time in the three-four months approaching the festival, and then those people go full-time for the production weeks. It makes for a strange, loping arc to the year but we’re getting used to it by now.
During the development period of the festival, we spend a lot of time sketching out new ideas we’d like to try, creating hit-lists of people we’d like to invite and trying to as accurately as possible predict the possible effectiveness of a given event or project before making a decision about wether to push it into full-production or not. The evaluation criteria for possible ideas involves a number of variables, some of which we are aware of and control, and some that we’re wholly ignorant of. Working with a wide variety of partners and stakeholders as we do, one of the biggest challenges is keeping up to speed with what’s important to them – wether that’s the brand emphasis or constraints of a given i.p. or changes in political / educational policy.
The development period is about incubating new ideas, and as much as possible create the space and opportunity for our team (and partners) to try them out. The publication of volume 2 of the Zelda Zine reminded me that we really needed to make some notes about this flagship project from GC6. As we’re doing more and more frequently these days (more about that another time), the team gathered together last week in campfire to try and recall the order of events and piece together how the project came to be, which form the basis of these notes.
Lee likes Zines.
He really does. In some respects, the initial motivation for the project was as simple as that, which is a really good place to start from. Early in 2011, we’d started having initial discussions about moving away from our usual key-art strategy of using character renders. We’re lucky enough to work with some amazing partners and I.P.’s, but working with what are usually global brands necessarily demands an approval cycle which can be difficult for a small project such as ourselves to work within. Early in 2011, Lee got in touch with Cory Schmitz having followed the work he’d done on EXP and Sword & Sworcery LP. Cory was kind enough to take part in a ‘From the Desk of‘ at GameCityNights S02E03 (no doubt soon to be published on GameCityTV) where in keeping with tradition, he was recklessly invited to the festival at the close of the interview. He accepted!
Sooo. In April I emailed Cory asking about doing a zine and branding stuff
a non-specific zine at that point?
“Probably to make a zine or lead some kind of creative collaborative thing with the designers who come to the festival.” Thinking it would just be something people would make during off time at the festival. Over drinks and things. Like a socially led project.
Zine/comic jam style, Non specific games culture
As Lee recollected,
I’ve been going on about doing a zine for ages at Chloe.
We’d been talking to Nintendo for a few months, trying to pull together a concept for the Zelda 25th and when the ‘Zelday’ idea came into being – pegging the Zine around a Zelda theme suddenly gave a real focus to the project.
The initial idea, although nice, is a little general.
Giving out such an open brief would’ve been chaos.
so zelda came along, and we hooked it around that theme – at which point it started to raise its head as a production issue.
my main recollection of this is Lee being crystal clear about the whole process and not at all concerned, and one other member of our team being very worried indeed…
Once we’d committed to producing the Zine and Cory was on board, the whole idea graduated from being a nascent ‘Lee likes Zines’ speculative conversation to a repeated item on the production agenda and ‘festival problem to be solved’. One of the things we don’t do very well sometimes is explain things internally to each other. Working in a niche culture as we do, it’s easy to make assumptions about prior knowledge of other members of the team. Whilst all of us knew what Zines were and how they were put together, that was very different to sharing an understanding with one member of the team who had an intimate understanding and trust of how they come into being. There were two big concerns, first – that the management of the production itself (and associated possible event – see below…) could be resourced and contained, and secondly that people just might not want to take part at all.
In the journey from passionate personal project to production item in festival, we had a few internal wobbles…
Oh yeah. I kept having to stress that it should be ‘zine-y’ and not too much of a big deal.
But explaining what zine-y is is quite difficult it seems
I didn’t understand why and how people would actually do it
It’s quite organic
because it’s an operating culture as well as an aesthetic?
Yeah, it’s a social/community thing really.
I remember the only thing I was worried about was people contributing during the festival getting sidetracked by Brian Provinciano’s social game
It’s one of the tensions at the heart of the whole project – something wanting to be inately social / community led – but also needing to adminstrate large amounts of budget and health & safety and etc.. etc…
It’s one of the things we struggle with most, and probably the thing that makes the project both the most fun – and the most difficult to communicate on occasion.
I think we learnt from this that we need to create a slightly more formalised way of communicating the essence of what projects are to each other when they come in. Often an idea will have an internal champion within the group, but making the time to communicate exactly what the idea is before any pessimism is born from misunderstanding is really important. Even if there’s no clarity in the immediate solution, knowing the essence of what we’re all trying to achieve is really important. One of the things I love most about the project is the slow, shaping of the festival itself. We tend to establish the hallmarks of what we’re aiming for in that year, and then descend into action and thick, dense fog as it starts to take shape. (Festival making is much more sculptural that it is performative, I think.)
The project was announced over at Gamecity.org in a blog post on October 17th , with the details for taking part made clear within it.
• A5 (UK size – 210mm x 148mm portrait)
• Email text or high resolution images (.jpg or .pdf) to lee AT gamecity.org
• Black and White
• Written submissions to take up no more than 2 pages. Typed or handwritten is fine.
• Illustrations one page or double page spread (but bear in mind there may be a small white border on both pages)
I never saw all of the submissions, but in the fog of festival production everyone was aware of an excitement starting to rapidly creep over the project. Lee became increasingly delighted (and, I think, surprised) as some extraordinary pieces of creativity started to flow in.
I asked Lee for a few notes about the submissions :
We had 133(ish) submissions. I have most of them but Cory got a couple of late ones and written ones that I don’t have copies of.I’d say it was around 85% illustration, 15% written…I guess I noticed how strong the illustrator/videogame fan community is. Everyone speaks to each other, supports each other, shares each other’s work. Very much like the indie game community.We had an academic journal submission about the physics of Link’s Hookshot! Definitely one of my favourite submissions. That was from University of Leicester, I think? I can look tomorrow. My other favourite was by Charlotte (aged 4) – The picture of the King of Red Lions (the boat in Windwaker). I had an email from her relative who sent in the drawing on her behalf after I sent them a copy of the zine saying“Hi LeeReceived the Zelda Zine… many thanks… Charlotte was absolutely made up to see her picture in there You dun a good thing! Thanks again”Also, Zac Gorman’s piece is a favourite because I’m a HUGE fan.
Where’s the event?
Mostly, we make events at GameCity. We try and bring interesting people together to make situations that wouldn’t otherwise occur, and as such a lot of our development time and instincts are spent trying to create and/or extract maximum ‘eventness’ from any given activity. To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean maximum scale in a production sense, but a maximum presence within the festival as a whole. For a long time during the production period of discussing the Zelda Zine, discussions were split between concerns about simply how we would manage the production practically and how we would make the production of the Zine itself an event…
well Lee was firmly opposed to it having any public workshop space, as I recall
umm yeah true?
I don’t think it was an ‘event’
I’m not sure now, really.
Because the response to drawings on the shields that we had were quite nice. Definitely zine worthy.
It would’ve been very different.
too much ‘production’ ? i mean, kind of the opposite of the kind of feel you were going for?
Yes, I suppose.
you thought it was totally outside of the appropriate zine methodology
with the benefit of hindsight too – if any of us had known what zelday was really going to be….
we’d have run it all week though
to make content
mm. I was just about to say that.
i remember calling up Ricoh to try and get photocopiers..
I quite like the idea of having this persistent activity community thing going on in the background.
and some talk about an all-night publishing event just lit by the photocopiers…
but then you didn’t want it to be focused at children
It was probably partially to do with the public (twitter/tumblr) repsonse that we got just by mentioning it.
And i remember tweeting at a few friends and at people like Rex and Jon Burgerman saying hey we’re doing a zelda zine, will you submit something just to get the ball rolling.
In the end, all of our concerns turned out to be un-founded. The event, which I’d assumed would be anchored around the production of the Zine, turned out not to be in the making of it at all – that took place in private. It was in the throes of Zelday, when the Zine’s publication was announced, that the event element of it suddenly made itself known at Page 45…
Things we learnt…
- It’s really important to make sure your team can understand each other, I know this seems obvious – but I’m talking about a sharing of a more empathetic understanding of your audience. Particularly within videogame culture, when the whole is divided up into countless interest groups as deep as they are narrow, it’s unreasonable to expect any team to just instinctively know what each other are talking about. We need to create ways in which ideas can be clearly explained and compared, a better framework for explanation, evaluation and iteration.
- Trust the audience’s creativity, both in terms of their ability to engage and their capacity to enjoy doing so. Whenever we’ve put pencil and paper in front of people, the results have been amazing (incidentally, the same goes for LEGO and origami plans…). There’s a broader point here to do with economy of engagement.
- Give people constraints to be creative within and they work much better. (I know this is obvious, but it’s worth noting that it works with strangers too..)
- The event isn’t always where you think it will be & not everything is a performance.
- Zelda is really popular.
- No really, it is.
- Material matters – this will not be being released on kindle…
- ..as does scarcity. The Zine is printed cheaply (but beautifully), very easy to cheaply reproduce and strictly limited.
Talking about this in the production meeting last week, it seems obvious that we should explore crowd-sourced publications and projects again – the whole festival leans more toward that each year – but the real issue is in working out ways to evolve such things in house.
Lee made some notes too …
“I learnt that there’s a lot of admin! Underestimating the amount of submissions meant I’m still struggling to keep communicating with all the contributors. Organising the postage of their free contributor copies got a little waylaid while I sorted out dealing with the sales of volume 1. I’ve made sure to deal with the contributors first for the 2nd volume. Haggling with the post office is…fun. The packaged zines are right on the cusp of cost levels so I have to argue to keep it at the lower price.Also, people REALLY like Zelda. And print isn’t dead…”
After the Charlie Higson event at the 2011 festival, I was hanging around at the back of the building chatting to the audience as they were leaving, trying to steal some feedback. A mum and her (fifteen-year old?) daughter were hanging around and we got talking to them about the reading, which they’d enjoyed. I asked them how they felt about the rest of the day, as it turned out they’d been there since the morning and happily they broadly had nice things to say about it. Surprising, welcoming, nice venue, enjoyed the illustrations on the blackboards – it was all going well before the girl, who had volunteered a lot of these compliments, went awkwardly quiet. Her Mum started to encourage her to speak – she obviously had something on her mind that she wanted to share, but was unsure of whether to do so or not.
I can’t remember exactly what she said, but I think Mum alluded to it being something to do with being a female perspective which we might appreciate.
At that moment, I was imagining it was going to be an objection to some of the content being too weighted violent / masculine. In many videogame environments that would probably have been valid, but that kind of game doesn’t tend to get shown at GameCity much. Still, these were my assumptions.
A little more encouragement and the girl – who was still a little shy about talking – spilt her beans.
The problem wasn’t anything to do with the content, it was that the girl didn’t get to play it very much.
Most times when she was stood around one of the lounges where presenters were showing work, the (usually male) presenters would pass controllers to one of the crowd to play and they would almost always be also male. Cumulatively, she started to feel excluded from the activity.
Her Mum was making great effort to carefully qualify that this wasn’t a complaint, but an observation. She was generous in this criticism and it wasn’t delivered angrily. She wasn’t accusing the boys who were showing the work of pre-meditated sexism, just of being pre-programmed to assume that the girls might not want to play – or perhaps to ignore the fact that they do. Lazily, we’d been assuming that creating an inviting, exciting context to present devs and their work in was probably enough. We’d been focussing on removing all possible barriers to the widest section of the public possible experiencing the work and overlooked to pay any attention to the final – critically important – part of the experience. We hadn’t considered that the devs themselves might sometimes be a barrier.
This wasn’t an apocalyptic moment for anyone, no lawyers were being called, no-one was incensed with a feeling a deep discrimination – more than anything else I was really struck by how the Mum was almost giving a resigned apology for us and the presenters. She knew and expressed that the men showing the work weren’t being intentionally exclusory, they didn’t mean to do that – it just hadn’t occurred to them because it was a crazy, busy festival and no-one was noticing. She was just trying to help us all make it better.
The context, the moments when someone who hasn’t played before approaches a controller, attached to a computer, attached to a screen for the first time are surprisingly fragile; like your feelings about a subject at school being defined early on by the quality of the teacher you first had. We have to pay attention to those final parts of an encounter with a videogame carefully. We can create a great context, a great platform, we can generate a sense of excitement and interest – but having done so, we need to be able to lead people by the hand through the translation much better.
I was thinking about this today because we’ve had a string of really interesting meetings this week and have been talking a lot about how to make this better – more about that later, though.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the intrinsic sexism in the games industry over the last few weeks, initially sparked by Mark Sorrel’s piece, followed up on by our chum Margaret and then most recently given another (to be confirmed) high-level working-example here. We’re right at the other end of that chain, but are similarly very aware of the need to develop diversity at all levels in the industry and the culture that surrounds it. Partly because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s less boring.
Matt Taylor posted this, much to our surprise and delight. Watch it, because it’s brilliant.
Apart from being brilliant, it throws up lots of interesting possibilities for how we might approach documenting the things that take place during the event. Matt takes a very different approach to the usual straight documentary style we (necessarily) default to when recording the events. We *document* the content that happens, which more often than not is primarily aural – interesting people, saying interesting things at an audience – usually with slides. (In itself of course, this is no easy thing to capture – one of the best examples of it as a research resource I’ve seen is the GDC Vault. Check out Eric Chahi’s 2011 ‘Out of this World’ session…)
What Matt highlights and captures incredibly well are the experiential experiments that we reach for in the show, using an entirely different visual grammar to share the mood as it was that night. In particular, I love that the only voice in the piece is Robin’s – and the text overlays identifying Eric and Rich really gently level the audience – footage of whom forms the majority of the film. What a handsome and charismatic audience they are, too.
One of the things we talk about a lot at the moment is the audience who aren’t there, and the efforts we need to make to help them understand what the performance was. As Matt explains in his notes :
These performances mark a new, shared experience in video games, before a live audience. Propagating GameCity’s mantra to promote discussion and discourse and challenging the conventions of how we enjoy video games.
Performing play – of huge and vital interest to us, but more on that later. Right now, we’re thinking about documentation and how we approach it. There is of course, one engine in particular that pumps out *vast* amounts of content and serves as a model for lots of conferences / organisations who are looking to publish their materials.
TED has been pumping out interesting people being interesting for years now, and provides a robust model, conservative model for documentation.
Google, quietly, has been ploughing a similar furrow with their @Google series which I stumbled over a few years ago. They’ve been assembling an amazing selection of speakers and gently putting them out on their YouTube channel. What’s charming, disarming and slightly odd about them is the production values associated with them. From an organisation with a (presumably) huge a/v resource at their disposal, they opt to present the talks often in the style of a locked-off home movie. Someone amazing doing something brilliant in the corner of a room, shot like a community-centre wedding reception, whilst googlers look on.
Personally, I love these. A (small) step-up from camera-phone footage, with all the excitement of the almost accidental witness.
I’m writing about this because we’re starting to make some progress with examining how we produce and disseminate our archives, and indeed plan the ways in which we’ll document and produce material in the future. We’ve been sat on boxes of footage for six years now, contemplating how best to distribute and use it. Finally, we’re getting round to it.
Over the next few months in 2012, we’re going to be running some experiments with it and would really appreciate your feedback, not just about how the material we put up works – but how it can inform how we document activities in the future.
Hope you can help!