Gaming Unconference & Nintendo Memories [Ice Cream Sundae]
I’m sitting in a hall of London’s South Bank University today attending the 8th edition of GameCamp, an unconference I hadn’t attended in years. There are people playing board games, video games around, and a few rooms away there are conferences, round tables and discussions about all sorts of gaming related topics.
James Wallis I interviewed for my podcast is one of the main organisers, and nearby Tim Burrell-Saward of Sensible Object who was also on the podcast is play testing the game that is no longer called Fabulous Beasts (they’re in the process of changing the name of the game).
A whopping 14 people joined me earlier for my first live audience recording of the Ice Cream for Everyone Podcast.
We had a great talk about a bunch of gaming related stuff, watch out for it online in a few days.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, an unconference or open space conference is a participant driven meeting or event. Apparently the term was first used for a web developers’ conference in 1998 (though I was also told the concept has existed for much longer). Many have adopted similar formats; of course this particular event I’m attending is all about gaming. I’m in the Play Hall right now, there is a library of board games available to play and several indie video game designers and developers with versions of the games they are working on to play test as well. A guy just arrived with a virtual reality headset and a small group gathered around, apparently play testing some new prototype.
A bit further down the hall a large board on the wall is split in 30 long minute segments and any participant can take a note card and pin whatever they want to talk about if there’s a free spot in one of the rooms available. It’s the main spirit of the participant driven unconference. I attended a discussion session about writing for interactive games earlier that was pretty interesting. It’s also what I did for the podcast earlier, I invited whoever wished to join a live audience recording and participate in a conversation about gaming. It was great fun.
I’m meeting some pretty interesting people including game designers and developers, writers, journalists, marketers and more. I attended another interesting session discussing what video games can learn from the world of improvisational comedy. A person who used to work for Nintendo will be running a session about marketing for games later on I’m interested in attending as well. In the meantime I stopped for a while to write this Sundae.
The Nintendo mention is a good segue, I had a draft about classic video games that I can expand on now. I think it’s actually the first game related Sundae, like the first of many to come
As I’m sure you know, video games are pretty popular these days. In fact it’s a huge industry worth billions of dollars. What was seen as a vague curiosity in the 70s is now an industry projected to be making over $91 billion as of last year according to 2015 research and they expecting revenue to surpass $107 billion in 2017 as year-on-year growth is close to 10%.
I’m trying to remember my earliest experience with a video game. It must have been an arcade game but the actual memory eludes me.
I do remember really wanting either an Amstrad computer with games, or what seemed the most advanced at the time, the Amiga computer. I remember reading all about a new game being released called North and South about the American Civil War and it seemed the most fascinating thing ever. I think it was in one of my kid magazines.
A son of friends of my parents who was a couple of years older had an Amstrad computer, and the older brother of a school friend who had a huge play area at her house had the Amiga and they’d showed me the game once, it looked like loads of fun.
On the home gaming console side I distinctly remember first discovering about the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) when visiting friends of my parents in Long Island, New York. We went to visit in 1988 for holidays. Their son was a couple years older than I was and he showed me the console and Super Mario Bros. It blew my mind. I don’t remember that much, though I imagine I had some sort of star-struck look with gaping mouth, speechless. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
The pad, the colours on the screen, the way I to press buttons on the controller to handle the Mario character and it moving to the order given by pressing the buttons on the pad — all of it felt like magic. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life. I wanted one badly. Those kinds of games are called “platformers” and they’re still one of my favourites.
I got a NES for Christmas later on, possibly that year, or the following. I begged my parents so much to get it. I studied all the games published to choose the one I really wanted. The console was expensive and the games even more so, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get many games so I had to choose wisely. Usually I only had one or two at a time in addition to a few staples like Super Mario Bros, and then exchanged them for new games once I finished playing. I was particularly interested in adventure and roleplaying type games, in addition to platform games.
I loved The Legend of Zelda. I started making friends who also had the console, or who didn’t and would come round the house to play games. I was able to borrow games from friends and vice versa.
I’d occasionally sneak to the play area of our house and turn the TV on and the sound down to play discreetly in the middle of the night.
There was a game that was really difficult where you played like an angel character or something in a Greek mythology like environment and that was I’d obsessed over before being able to buy, it was a huge purchase. In the end I didn’t enjoy the game too much and thought it was really difficult. I’ve been looking through old lists of published games but can’t find it again.
I’d written a whole much longer list of the games I loved and while editing this I deleted a bunch, realising I don’t really want to turn this into a classic games review. I also don’t have much to say about all these games albeit the fact I had hours and hours of fun and occasional frustration trying to beat the various levels.
There were arguments in the schoolyard about which was the superior system between the Nintendo and the Sega Master System. I was a staunch Nintendo defender, but a few other friends liked the Sega better. I guess you’d defend whatever it was your parents got you. One lucky friend had both.
My elder brother once came home with friends with a new game in hand they’d bought called Stealth ATF — A stealth fighter game. I was never very good with these kinds of simulation games. They hogged the console for hours, I was sitting nearby and watching them. I always enjoyed watching others play. I guess I thought it was more entertaining and interactive than TV, it’s a little more involved — though not as active and involved as actually playing the game.
Today I don’t really take time to play many video games though I still follow what’s going on in the news with the main titles releases and enjoy watching the trailers and game review videos too.
From a marketing perspective, I believe video games are an interesting industry where the product itself sells. They’re increasingly sold like big budget movie blockbusters. Nobody really buys a video game because it washed whiter than white, if that makes sense. Individual features are rarely boasted. The cinematic trailers are supposed to garner interest and entice players, then industry reviews can help convince them to purchase the game. Large communities of players can make or break a game given how they all communicate and share their likes and dislikes online.
Probably because of the huge teams and budgets involved in developing major video games (what they call AAA games), large video game publishers have been going the same direction as large Hollywood studios and focusing a lot of their efforts on sequels to popular franchises such as Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed.
This first piece about video games was meant to be focusing on the classic video games of my childhood and bringing it back, it’s fascinating that these kinds of low budget games are coming back into fashion as more and more independent video games studios are created, developing games that are heaps of fun to play with the same kind of graphics the NES had in the 80s and 90s.
One of the most fun games to play test at Game Camp is BlockShips, a game developed by Dr Davient who joined the recording of my podcast and is advertised as the illegitimate child of Space Invaders and Tetris. Classic games are coming back in fashion. Check out popular titles on the Steam online gaming platform and you’ll see quite a few of these kinds of games.
Just like many creative industries, video games are being disrupted by the democratisation and availability of the technology required to design and develop them. I’m not sure what it means or where the industry is going though I’m excited to be watching what will happen next.
I hope you enjoyed reading this, talking about new technologies and the way they impact our evolution and behaviour I had an awesome conversation with Kwame Ferreira about that for my podcast. Kwame founded KwameCorp, a design, engineering and innovation collective. He spends a lot of time thinking about the way technology is changing our human behaviour and pondering how it can also be used to better society. I recommend checking it out if you want to find out more.
Please forward this to a friend or share it on your social networks if you enjoyed reading, you know I just want more people to be reading and enjoying these!
Last but not least, you know how these are like letters I’m personally addressing to you? I’m just thinking it would be nice to start handwriting and posting a few letters in the mail too. Would you like to receive one? If yes, reply with your address and I’ll add to my list. Don’t expect one tomorrow, but it’ll be a nice surprise to have in the next few weeks or months.
Till’ next week,