The Society of Play Nathan Ortega March 6, 2015 Features Game development tends to be a solitary career path. Majority of the job is spent in front of a computer for hours on end, with inconsistent opportunities to interact with others either on team or otherwise. The problem is doubly so for those who strike out on their own in the independent space, where designers can spend months and months on end working in obscurity, rarely having a chance to bounce ideas off their peers or even have their work play tested. As a result, indie game coalitions have sprang up in various communities across the world, bringing together smaller teams in regularly scheduled meetings to share ideas and tips, gather feedback on work in progress, and bring attention to the burgeoning local independent scene. I recently attended a meeting of one such group, The Dallas Society of Play. Formed by industry veteran Nickolus Snyder, the Society of Play organizes themed meet-ups that range from show-and-tell style project presentations to open mic nights where people give talks on various topics about the game dev process. The meeting I attended was one focused on project presentations. Taking place within a small presentation room within a giant office building, this particular meeting had roughly 20 developers from all backgrounds. Everyone is welcome at the Society of Play, from the most experienced developer, to those who are just now working on their first project. Even those outside of game development are welcome to attend and give feedback and support. Each team gets roughly 5-10 minutes to hook up their equipment and give a quick explanation of the project, how it works, what they were going for, and what tools they used to make it. Other attendees are allowed to ask questions or give feedback or suggestions on various things like UI and design concepts. Some presentations require audience interaction (especially in the case of multiplayer games), and typically there is time at the end to allow playtesting for anyone interested. Roughly ten different titles were presented in the two hour meeting, and lots of positive feedback and constructive criticism were shared, so much so that I was honestly surprised. There was a definite sense of camaraderie among all the people attending, where you get the sense that they all understand the struggles of the process and would like to help with any insight they might have to help others avoid similar mistakes and frustrations. The meeting took on the tone of an afterschool club, with the organizers quickly getting everyone’s attention and breaking down how things were going to move for speediness as well as fairness to everyone presenting. What followed was a barrage of titles of all styles and genres, from both established developers with titles under their belts, to people just starting out. First up was mobile strategy game Warbits, coming soon to iOS. It had a sharp cartoony art direction and slick UI, and evokes comparisons to Advance Wars (something the developers are quick to admit). Warbits seemed to be well-received by the group, garnering plenty of enthusiastic questions and friendly suggestions. Runaway Thug followed, a 2D pixel hunting adventure game with a comedic spin. Being developed by a first time developer, peers were very supportive and had lots of suggestions on tools to help create his vision and work around roadblocks. There have been notable improvements to the project between meetings, as voiced by several attendees. Next up was We Slay Monsters, a roguelike dungeon crawler from Seriously Inactive Games. Combining traditional genre mechanics with poker inspired card systems, the game seems to be bringing some interesting concepts to very worn territory. Having been released on Steam via Greenlight, We Slay Monsters is in early access, so the developers are hungry for input on how to improve the final product. Grumble Bugs followed, a bizarre mobile game that played like a unique spin on Fruit Ninja with the personality of Frog Fractions. Players swipe falling bugs to keep them airborne, while hazards occasionally fly by to threaten them (tapping the hive in the middle of the screen sends the bugs to safety temporarily). Highlights include a photo of the developer as a kid popping up in the corner of the screen to give tips, much like the ‘Toasty’ guy from Mortal Kombat. It is a very weird game. Sharkbros 2 came next, a quirky underwater battle game that combines elements of dodgeball and airhockey, that features jocky fish protagonists that would fit well in the volleyball scene in Top Gun. While still early in the process, the framework for a fun multiplayer experience seems to be there, as evidenced by the excitement exhibited by the play testers. The meeting wrapped up with Gunmetal Arcadia, from Kyle Pittman of Minor Key Games. A 2D retro action platformer steeped in nostalgia, Gunmetal borrows influence from 8-bit classics like Zelda II, Castlevania, and Faxanadu. Implementing roguelike elements such as randomly generated areas and permadeath, the game aims to bring new game concepts to oldschool platfomers. As a fly on the wall, it was really fascinating to get a window into the welcoming environment of game development, divorced from the negativity and cynicism frequently found in online communities and social media. Here there was a group of people working together and helping each other get better and improve their work for the love of the process. It’s easy to forget how hard it is to make a game, even the smallest and simplest ones imaginable. These types of groups help encourage those in the wilderness of indie to keep at it and learn new ways to hone their craft. If there are any groups like these in your area, I highly recommend checking them out. It’s very eye opening and most developers are typically very excited to show off their hard work to others.