Last week I had the pleasure of going to my first games conference. Dare Pro To Play 2015 in Dundee.
While its no E3 or Gamescom, that didn't matter because what I saw there was some of the youngest, newest and the best game developers in the world and with a Bafta one to watch prize for the winner, this conference is only going to get bigger and better every year.
But I know what you are thinking, why Dundee, an Industrial town of 150 000 people?
Well the answer is actually quite simple. Dundee is steeped in history of video games, which still continues to this day.
Dundee is the birthplace of arguably one of gaming's biggest franchises, Gran Theft Auto. Yes David Jones, who was recently wooing crowds at E3 with his crackdown 3 video created it at DMA in the 90s. Of course that was after the other small hit they had with Lemmings. Some now say DMA now go by the name Rock Star North.
Another born in Dundee was Chris Van Der Kuyl, who now is chairman of 4J who help out on the minecraft games.
Then of course Abertay University was the first University to offer a computer game degree in 1997, are but a few examples
So it actually make a lot of sense in bringing Dare to Play to the city.
But what is Dare ProtoPlay.
It is an international games design competition for students organized by Abertay University. 16 teams have to design, build and test a new computer game then bring it to Dundee to be judged.
Some of the standout games I saw were observatorium, where you had to draw star constellations to proceed, then of course there was Mutiny, a multiplayer game set onboard a pirate ship.
Then I saw Monstrum, a first person horror adventure game set onboard a derelict ship, it looked like the most conventional game in the hall and it was really drawing in the crowds, the graphics and gameplay looked good but it was the fact you could play with Oculus Rift that was bringing the masses. As I waited in line I actually became somewhat apprehensive, after a couple of participants ripped of the Oculus screaming in terror. So after pushing, bribing and cheating my way to the front it was my turn to don the famous virtual reality headset. It immediately turned an average 1st person game into one of the most surreal experiences of my gaming life. In a hall filled with 2000 people I had become completely isolated, completely immersed and completely alone.
Once you get used to the controls, just looking up and seeing the stars or leaning out round corners made the wait worthwhile. Its an experience I hope you all get one day, Monstrum is already out on Steam.
Another game that caught my attention was Hugh the game, soon to be released on PC Xbox and Playstation, its a puzzle platformer that uses colour in a way for you to progress, watch out for that one.
But for me the game that stood out in the competition was You plus The Garden. From its look to how you play, its the one i want to hear more about, luckily I had the chance to speak to the developers.
- Can u tell us about the game, what is you and the garden all about?
You and the Garden is a first-person game in which you explore a garden and encounter an artificial intelligence presence within the space. The AI will help you explore the garden and teach you how to play the game, becoming a partner with whom you build a relationship over time. Beyond walking through the garden, the player also has access to an in-game console that allows them to directly manipulate the digital space of the garden using a series of commands; these commands are the same commands that the AI uses to interact with you, creating an equal dialogue of play back and forth between you and the game. Altogether, the act of exploring the garden becomes an act of exploring our relationship to artificial intelligence, and hopefully finding something that is a bit more personal and intimate than other portrayals of the human-computer relationship in contemporary media.
- How was the event, what kind of feedback have you been getting?
ProtoPlay was a fantastic whirlwind. You and the Garden is still early in its development, so I think the feedback and user data we gathered from play-sessions will really have the opportunity to impact the game. As a first-person exploration game, there's a certain type of player we're looking to resonate with; seeing those people get excited about the work that we're doing was a really satisfying feeling as well.
- How do you come up with a concept for a game like you and the garden?
We started with a discussion of the experience we wanted to create for the player. So many games are about the player's mastery over the computer's systems, and we were searching for a more equal, intimate alternative. After that, it just became a matter of matching this experience with the other things we're excited about as game designers and going from there.
- What's your favourite games out there at the moment?
Ben - I'm actually a big fan of strategy games - I've been playing a lot of Crusader Kings II lately. It's the way that narratives can emerge for the player from a relatively simple set of rules and operations - a lot of the same base material that goes into something like You and the Garden actually.
Adrian - My all time favorite game has to be EVE Online. It's such an exciting, emergent environment, and it is amazing seeing how vast political and economic empires are created by simply giving players the space to organize and create. This is the kind of design that I am most interested in a love to play with in my free time.
- Where do you see yourselves in five years?
Ben - The main focus of my work outside of You and the Garden (I'm a graduate student at University of California, Santa Cruz currently) is narrative design, specifically for multiplayer games. I'll be making interactive, systems-oriented narratives somewhere, and always experimenting with my own games too. I really want to explore different ways for players to relate to each other and to their games, so I think that will always be a defining feature of what I'm doing.
Adrian - This upcoming year I will be finishing my Master's degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I will be developing a game employing emergent gameplay narratives using AI techniques not unlike those implemented in You and the Garden. In five years time I hope to be working at a studio creating these sorts of emergent, sandbox games, pushing the boundaries of the games industry. That's absolutely the dream.
Thanks again and I will sent you guys a link when its live.
Thanks for that guys and be sure to check out more about You and The Garden in the future.
So, what a great start to my games convention life and if this is the standard out there long may it continue.