Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Utah Indie Night – September 2011

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 30, 2011

Starting this month, Utah Indie Night went bi-monthly instead of quarterly, so we’ll now be meeting six times a year instead of four. The original plan to meet quarterly was sort of quick, casual decision on the part of the eleven or so of us who met for the first one, so there wasn’t exactly anything sacred about that decision.  We were just concerned that meeting too frequently would hurt our numbers. This was more of a concern when there was only eleven of us. We’re a lot bigger now.

For me personally,  night began with an extremely nice gift and a little bit of good-natured ribbing by Jonathon Duerig, author of Tile Factory (go play it, BTW, it’s a very good game!). He gave me a cake and had the entire group sing, “Happy Ship Day” (to the tune of “Happy Birthday”) to me as a congratulations for FINALLY shipping Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, after *cough*years*cough* of it being a perennial showpiece at indie nights. Thanks for making me feel like a celebrity for a night, dude!

The real celebrity of the night, however, was novelist and former game designer Tracy Hickman, known by many of us old RPG farts as the co-author of the Dragonlance series and the original Ravenloft D&D module. He’s written dozens of modules since then. And, as good friends with Richard Garriott (who I supposed has given him plenty of insight into the computer game side of things), he is also the screenwriter for “The Apogee of Fear,” the first science fiction film shot on location in space.

He gave our formal presentation for the evening. His talk went way into overtime, but was fascinating throughout, packed with useful tools for game designers interested in story within their games. The focus was on improving storytelling in games, though a lot of it was about a very insightful analysis into story structure that I hadn’t heard before. He covered some basics about creating game-story structure that I’d heard him talk about many years ago involving the use of soft boundaries and hard boundaries to direct the course of the game to follow story structure while still allowing plenty of room for player freedom and choice. But the main thrust of the talk was on a couple of different approaches to story design. One was involving plot “throughlines” – he explained that games are really good at presenting the first two involving the “objective story” and “main character’s story,” but were generally very poor at handling the other two throughlines. He also showed a way of breaking principle characters of many stories down into two sets of quadrants, one for “drivers” and the other for “passengers” for the objective story throughline (though, as he pointed out, the main character need not be a ‘driver’ character… using To Kill a Mockingbird as an example.)

Anyway, I don’t know about everyone else, but I was pretty intrigued by the talk. He covered a lot of territory, even given the extended length of his presentation, and only plugged his website / workshop, Scribesforge.com, a little bit. But I feel like plugging it here as a thank-you for an insightful presentation. My wife, a professional storyteller,  found the discussion equally useful and was frantically taking notes right next to me.

He also told a very powerful story of one soldier who had been influenced by one of his earlier books. It was a very moving story, and I can’t do it justice and won’t even try. But after sharing that experience with us, Hickman explained that this was the power of story. Story can change lives.

After that, and a chance to get some autographs from Hickman (I gave him a copy of Frayed Knights on a burned CD as well, though I have no idea if he’ll ever play the thing), we broke for the game presentations in another room. This is an informal, simultaneous thing, which always leaves me feeling I’m missing a bunch of stuff. Especially when I’m showing my game (and I was… for the last time!) I did get a brief look at the latest update on the always awesome LinkRealms.  Jonathon Duerig had “Tile Factory 2” which I got to see only briefly. It will hopefully be up on Kongregate pretty soon, though.

Curtis Mirci showed me the latest build of his shooter-with-RPG-elements, “March to the Moon,” which makes Frayed Knights seem like a downright somber game by comparison.  It is still in mid-development and needs work, but I think I was in need of a nice, goofy, fun shooter. I really had fun playing it.

Bryan Livingston collared me at the end of the evening and dragged me to look at his project, Smote.com, which he described as something of “World of Warcraft meets Gauntlet.” Yeah, he knows how to get my attention. The game looks a lot better now that it’s not just white blocks. I was really impressed. It’s still very much in development, but is already fun.

And there was a lot I missed that I caught glimpses of.

As always, I am impressed with the talent of the indies, here in Utah and everywhere else. In my opinion, the guys who make games and actually PUT THEM OUT THERE, through contests, ad-supported networks, pay-for-download, or whatever… these guys are my personal heroes. It’s easy to criticize games, but it’s something else entirely to build something of value that has to compete in a contest or the ‘real world’ marketplace, and to succeed on any level.  That’s a big part of why these evenings are such an inspiration for me.

And the other thrill is seeing the students doing their projects too… there are some extremely creative ideas out there. It’s equally inspiring to see these tiny projects coming out that really break the artificial boundaries of genre and style and do some new things. They may have near-zero commercial possibilities, but they challenge the status quo and help open up the player’s (and designer’s) mind about the possibilities of game mechanics, theming, and even the concept of what a game really is.

I really appreciate these meetings. And my kudos to Greg Squire, for putting these together and running them for all these years (and now going even crazier by making them every other month!). We kept talking about it being a “nice idea,” and wishing there was something like this locally, until he got tired of wishing and did something about it.

UPDATE: A two-part post about the night’s festivities can be found at The Ludi Bin. With pictures, which automatically makes it 100% cooler than my post:

Utah Indie Night, Sept 2011 – Part 1

Utah Indie Night, Sept 2011 – Part 2

Filed Under: Utah Indie Game Night - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Rachel said,

    Hey, thanks for the link! I’m looking forward to playing the Frayed Knights demo, and it’s great that you’ve finished the game (as finished as games get).

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    I’m insanely jealous you got to meet Tracy Hickman. I met Margaret Weis a few years ago and got her to sign my massive annotated copy of The Chronicles. (She only gives out so many autographs at each appearance, either to avoid, or because of, carpal tunnel.) Now the giant tome just needs Hickman’s signature!

    Those two were some of my favorite authors growing up and I have almost all their books.

    Congratulations on the game release – I’m slowly working my way through the demo in-between work. I keep dying . . . . ::shuffles off looking embarrassed::

  • Sam Bryan said,

    That was a lot of fun. Congrats on the release of your game. It looks like a lot of fun.

  • Vatina said,

    Whoa, Tracy Hickman. So envious!

    Sounds like a great meeting.