The West Coast has been having all the fun since 2009. Sure, they have the sun and the surf (if you like that kind of thing), but up until last weekend, they had independent games as well. IndieCade, the internationally recognized festival of indie games had been staked out exclusively in Los Angeles for the last four years, leaving the East Coast gamers and devs to play by themselves. However, that all changed last weekend when IndieCade kicked off their inaugural East Coast expansion at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. The three-day affair included many of the staples of the West Coast conference, including expert panels, workshops, keynotes, and most importantly games.
IndieCade was founded in 2005 in an attempt to shine some much needed light on the thriving indie game scene, which includes video games alongside board and card games, and “big games” (think outside with a bunch of people). Since then, the group has expanded by being featured as a destination mini-expo at E3, as well as growing their annual presence on the West Coast, which debuted in 2009, to a three-day event every October. While having always featured New York-based game designers and developers throughout the life of the conference, this is the first time that IndieCade has set up shop on the right coast for any period of time.
Cultivating a collection of the 2012 honorees New Yorkers were able to test out some of the best and brightest in the indie game world all in one place, without having to fly across the country. In fact, it seemed like the IndieCade organizers and the Museum of the Moving Image went out of their way to encourage folks to venture all the way out into Queens (a whole three subway stops outside of Manhattan) by offer a plethora of events, activities, and personalities. In addition to the twenty playable honoree games that were on display all weekend (that included such interesting experiments as “Thirty Flights of Loving“, “Cart Life“, “Dyad“, and “Unmanned“), the speaker series included two keynote presentations: one from Kris Piotrowski, co-founder of CAPY, who discussed the studio’s secret gameogrpahy, and the second from John Sharp, who compared the indie game scene to the punk rock scene, and the group that created Spacewar. Some of the other panels included a discussion with the developers involved with Sportsfriends, game analysis from NYC fixtures Naomi Clark and Nick Fotugno (amongst others), and even a look at being a sore loser by game theorist Jesper Juul.
If trying out new independent games wasn’t your thing, and you didn’t want to sit in a theater listing to great minds discussing what makes games amazing, there was still an abundance of things to do. For starters, the museum was featuring an on-going exhibit telling the history of the creation of “Spacewar!,” the first “video game” ever made, which also included a look at some of gaming’s biggest innovation from the past few decades. In addition to being able to play “Star Fox” and “Portal” projected onto a two-story wall, attendees could test out their skills on some of the museum’s classic arcade games as part of the Spacewar! Decathlon, to compete for an Ouya dev kit. And, if that’s not enough, Oculus VR were on hand for one of the first public demonstrations of the Rift virtual reality headset. While the Oculus may have had the biggest line all weekend, attendees could also spend time playing with the fantastic Sifteo Cubes, or watch designers at work as a handful of teams competed in a GameJam sponsored by PlayStaion Mobile.
Even with everything on hand, there was one thing that was noticeably absent from IndieCade East – the large scale “big games” that the original IndieCade is known for. The museum may have not been the venue to house games like “Humans vs. Zombies” and “Field Frogger,” but there was some small consolation to be had, as New Yorkers were able to partake in the Night Games on Saturday evening. From 7 – 10 PM attendees were able to play some larger scale video and physical games throughout the space. Some of the highlights were the five-player rocketship game “Rakete,” the head-to-head battle game “Hit Me!,” and the (up to) thirty-player “Roaming Gnomes” from ESI Design.
While some of the panels were the victims of some technical difficulties (lots of dongle swapping never makes for smooth transitions), IndieCade East seemed to coalesce quite well. It struck a balance that cultivated the essence of the West Coast festivals, and blended it with the New York sensibility to create something truly special. It’s undeniable that New York City has a vibrant independent gaming scene that’s represented by almost every facet of the industry. From educational programs like the NYU Game Center and Parsons The New School for Design, to indie devs like Sortasoft and Wadjet Eye Games, there’s a thriving base for new talent with unique ideas about the industry. Add to that artistic ventures like Babycastles and the Come Out And Play Fesitival and New York is easily one of the most well-rounded indie gaming communities in the country. Having IndieCade set up shop here for three days was truly a demonstration of how important New York is to the indie scene, and hopefully this is the first of many IndieCade’s on the East Coast.