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Indie gamers take videogames to new levels: The joy is back in “joystick”

The joy is back in “joystick”

Kokoromi collective get their game on
Photo: Joseph Yarmush

Underground collective takes videogaming for a new spin at Arcadia

All the big guns in the gaming industry will be in Montreal showing off their stuff this week for Arcadia – the three-day non-stop videogame fest known for being a hardcore gamer’s wet dream.

While many of the commercial games at Arcadia will cater to the couch-bound dude with teenage fantasies, a small collective of indie art-gamers here in Montreal, known as Kokoromi, or "experiment" in Japanese, are intent on taking gaming to a whole new level.

The group, comprised of Heather Kelley, Phil Fish and Damien DiFede are hosting Arcadia’s big kick-off, called GAMMA01: Audio Feed, an event that has far more to do with mingling and warm fuzzies than it does with fast cars and shoot-’em-ups.

"We wanted to make an event that shows how gaming can be as expressive as any other medium," says Kelley, a game designer with A2M in Montreal. Much of Kelley’s career has been about challenging traditional macho values in gaming. Fish and DiFede met while working on the second version of Kelley’s prototype for a design challenge around sex and games. The game, Lapis, a simple interactive "bunny masturbating" game (an analogy for female orgasm) took the top prize at last year’s Montreal International Games Summit.

"Strangely enough, there’s no indie cinema or indie rock equivalent in gaming. Sometimes it’s as if every single movie was Rambo and every single band was Britney Spears. It’s a shame, because to me video gaming is the greatest medium ever conceived," says Fish, a self-described gamer since birth.

With GAMMA01, Kokoromi’s first event, expect a gaming event unlike any other – a unique experiment in gaming as a social event. "There will be a stage with live DJs and bands, including Jan Pienkowski, Taxi Nouveau and DJ Guapo. The games will be displayed all evening long on six giant PCs which are in turn projected onto giant screens at the SAT," says Fish. Designers were invited to participate on an open-call basis. All the games curated for the event use live audio input to generate some element of interactive game content, whether it’s enemies, environments, power-ups, weapons, Al, etc.

Everyone from hardcore gamers to the uninitiated is invited to take up joysticks at each of the PCs for short five-minute game stints. I Have Big Balls, submitted from a Toronto gamer Shawn McGrath, and Kokoromi’s own submission, Glee, are simple 2-D games. In Glee, players must avoid enemies and safely whisk defenceless pulsars to "home nests."

"We intentionally wanted a game where there are no points for killing or shooting. The pulsars have facial expressions, which convey their emotional states and reactions in relation to the enemy and to you, their hero," says Kelley. Since all the games are required to use a live audio input from the show, you’ll see the influence of the music played live that night on the individual games. In Glee, for example, the baby pulsars materialize in number and size in relation to the beat of the music.

Curating such an indie gaming event hasn’t come without its setbacks. "It takes a lot of technical know-how to make even simple games," says Kelley. "So it was hard to find teams willing to submit games."

While other mediums, like video, have undergone democratization – in no small part due to the Internet and the digital revolution – video games are still extraordinarily complicated to make and distribute. There is no standard operating system in gaming, cross-platform issues cause playback problems and there’s no universal language for game designers.

"There’s the prevailing thought in this industry that if you pitch a game that isn’t about fast cars and well-endowed women to publishers, it just won’t sell," says Fish.

The Kokoromi crew hope that with GAMMA01, and future events, they can up the profile of experimental games within the industry – and push for more experimental approaches to making and playing games.

GAMMA01: Audio Feed
At SAT, Nov. 9
Open to the pubic after 9 p.m., $8

Arcadia Festival
Nov. 10-12
www.festivalarcadia.com

Kokoromi
www.kokoromi.org

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  5 comments

  • by Carmela Sicurella - November 5, 2006, 8:34 am

    Ever since Artari came out I have always been fascinated about video games and my whole entire family is in love with video games. I still remember the day in 1987 when I saved up all my money and I bought the Nintendo entertainment system and I fell head over heels over the super Mario brothers 1 to 3. Later on I moved to Super Nintendo when I purchased one in 1991 and everyone use to come to my house just to play it and the best game that the created out of Super Nintendo were “Doom” and “Mortal Kombat.” Than I got the Xbox that I won and I love it. It’s a great idea that they have Arcadia festival because all the video game lovers can come together and share the passion of video games. I hope that I can make it to the festival.

  • by Mark St Pierre - November 6, 2006, 4:48 pm

    Wow, this is what I call the ultimate in creative gaming multi-media synergy! The Kokoromi are defintely pushing the envelope with this interplay of live audio – DJ’s and bands interfacing with games designed uniquely for the event. Their maverick, no-holds-barred, forward-thinking approach to gaming definitely augurs well for the future of the industry!!!

  • by Oliver Domenchini - November 7, 2006, 2:09 am

    Get used to it. The billion plus dollar a year video game biz isn’t going away anytime, ever. In fact with constant new innovation, new marketing strategies, and perpetual r&d(research and development), it will only continue to grow. As gen X’ers and their offspring grow and bring their love of gaming along with them, they and new game hungry genearations will continue to solidify a growing market.
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    The face of the gamer is changing as well. As games become more interactive, more female friendly, more educational and much more than just car racing, sports and shooting, they appeal to a new and broader market. Gamers are not just fat pimple faced, Coke swilling couch potatoes anymore.
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    Arcadia and shows like it are a blast. They are not just great forums for new gaming entertainment, but also cutting edge exhibitions of advancements in technology. Groups like Kokoromi are prime examples of the new ideas and directions gaming can go.
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    I’ve never owned a console, but have known many who have. I’ve even rejected offers of free previous generation consoles, because I have enough distractions in my life as it is. But this hasn’t stopped me from being able to appreciate the evolution of the video game. My addiction started in the arcade and now with more games than I can keep up with for my PC, I’m still a p/t gamer. As the technology of software and hardware continue to improve, (with lots of room left, the possibilities are inconceivable) games will only continue get better.
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    There is one thing that scares me though, I believe interactive multimedia stimuli (intermultimeduli or IMS) will become one of the most addictive drugs of the future. I’m curious what and how extreme the side effects will be for the hardcore IMS junkie?

  • by Marlan Menuau - November 8, 2006, 9:33 pm

    If you’ve seen the arcadia website, you might have dormant the question: “What is the service fee?” You mean to tell me that aside from phone companies giving my wallet the same sentence as Saddam Hussein (Hung…up to dry/die), I have to go to a place where I DON’T know how much I will end up paying. The site says quote: “13 years old or more: 10$ per day + service fee + taxes.” Making the service fee not only unknown, but taxable as well? Just a thought. Happy gaming everyone!

  • by Stephen Talko - November 12, 2006, 11:56 pm

    Games like flight simulator let you develop skills to help you earn your pilot’s license. A similar simulation could be developed to help you learn defensive car driving skills so you can avoid accidents during treacherous winter conditions. Strategy games such as chess and go are great for flexing the mind and preventing dementia in later years. However I take exception to the many violent games that warp the player’s sense of reality. Let’s keep games clean.

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