Monday, July 11, 2011

A Sketch of the Austin Gaming Scene

If the internet is another dimension, then the city of Austin is an axis mundi, a portal to that intangible realm. The relative high quality of life here means that most Austinites have some connection to the web and know how to use it.

From the screen to the scenery, memes carry over to Austin street art

That same quality of life also draws developers from the world of video games, bringing them into a population already profoundly affected by web and gaming culture. Recently, many of these developers got together for an IGDA picnic/party thrown at Castleton Village, owned and maintained by Richard "I went into space and live in a castle" Garriott. I was there, working sign-in from 4:30-6:30, eating barbeque, drinking beer, and shmoozing with people in the industry.

But here's the thing: it's not just an industry anymore. It's a scene. A small one, sure, but one that's growing. The gap between the video game players/enthusiasts and developers/designers is slowly, but surely, closing. At different video game related events I'm seeing the same faces, from players to journalists to developers, and we're becoming friends.

Events like the Global Game Jam not only strengthen the bridge to the broadband aether, but they encourage relationship-building between game enthusiasts locally. During the last game jam I worked on a game called C.O.O.P. Never before have I learned more about programming and design while being part of a team.

It helped that the team was awesome. We programmed in Actionscript 3 using Flixel, a game engine developed by local indie developer (and creator of Canabalt) Adam Saltsman, who I've interviewed for EGaDS. Our lead was industry veteran Shay Pierce, who also recently released awesome puzzler Connectrode for iOS using the same engine. Also programming was Will Swannack, who, while going to SMU for their gaming program, worked on Intertia, which beat Limbo in the most recent Indie Game Challenge. Then there was Robin Arnott, whose game Deep Sea has been impressing the gaming press with its unique sensory deprivation features.

The Game Jam was exactly that - a jam. An opportunity for people with various skill-sets and experiences to get together and make art. It was also a celebration of the process, a mutual enjoyment of the activity that is game design. I learned a lot, had fun, and made new friends. These are the kinds of activities that build not only community, but culture.

Another such event, or series of events, is Juegos Rancheros, a new series of get-togethers put on by the people that brought you Fantastic Arcade. These events also serve to build the Austin gaming community, focusing on the tremendous amount of indie developers in the city. The last event they had was a video conference with Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time and the Canadian developers of Sword and Sworcery EP. The aforementioned Adam Saltsman hosted it.

On my end, as an aspiring game developer and the industry officer for EGaDS, I'm making it a priority to involve us in this scene as much as possible. I'm going to be bringing in and interviewing a lot of guests from the industry in town, and posting videos of their talks to us online both here and on the EGaDS website.

Today in the Texan I saw that an Austinite uses his home as a venue and an Arcade once a month, for charity. When the general populace is celebrating video games as art and coming together to talk about and make them, we have culture. This isn't just an industry anymore - it's a community. I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops, and being an active part of it.

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