Freeplay 2010: The Design of Everything

It's been over a week since the Freeplay Independent Games Festival, which might be enough time to start properly gathering my thoughts.

I want to start with a massive disclaimer. I am not about to do the festival or the many excellent presenters justice. The positive energy and ideas are better covered elsewhere.

For example, in Brendan Keogh's write-ups on Gamasutra:

Brandon Boyer Tells Indies To 'Be Yourself, Be Wonderful'.
Why Adam Saltsman Makes Video Games.
The Difficulty of Understanding A World That Can't Exist.

I'm embracing not only the idea that "All Play is Personal," but that everything is personal. After all, that's partly the point of this blog.

So, this will be half self-indulgent talk about my own experience, and half jumping off-topic based vaguely on something a presenter said. Unfortunately that happens most often when I disagree with or misunderstand someone, which is why I add my disclaimer about not doing Freeplay justice. Most discussion caused me to nod agreement or feel contagious excitement, but I don't have much to say about that right now.

I attended Freeplay 2010 as an observer, happy to listen and absorb as much as possible. That's an awkward position to take at an event full of interaction, but I guess that's just the way I am. I take my thoughts away, let them stew for a while, and only then begin to express them. The problems with that may well show in these write-ups, for example idly wondering how the workshops went.

My passive approach is probably a large part of why I had nerves to overcome. But I wandered down to the State Library on a lovely wintery Saturday morning, and my tension settled. There's nothing threatening about settling myself into a theatrette to watch a presentation. It's a lot like being back at uni again -- old familiar ground.

It's also possible I've become so used to the anxiety I stopped even feeling it for a while. I lost the adrenaline rush when my phone rings, the tensed up muscles navigating a crowd, or even the little butterflies in the pit of my stomach when I think of someone I'm attracted to. All that leaves is a numbness, and a willingness to sit quietly and accept existence. From the outside it looks even more paralysing than a physical response, but I care less.

Okay, now I'm just being overly dramatic.

The Design of Everything

This session explored different approaches to the creative process. This is quite a bit broader than just video games, which could be said about most of the sessions I attended. Throughout Freeplay I heard a lot of muttering and questions from the audience about how each discussion applies to games specifically. I was disappointed some people couldn't find their own relevance. I hope I just happened to sit near the few people who didn't completely 'get it'.

I'm not much of a creator. Or, at least, I'm quite new to the idea of myself as a potential creator. The various processes people use fascinate me. The main thing I took away from the Design of Everything panel was the idea of creating from a visual perspective. I'm all about characters and ideas, and focus more on concepts than aesthetics. I would probably begin with themes, characters and setting (not necessarily in exactly that order). Deane Taylor and Ian Gouldstone are animators. They may very well begin with things I wouldn't even consider until much further down the track.

Michelle Gilmore from Neoteny also presented an unfamiliar process of Service Design. I understand the concept of neoteny in biology -- the retention of juvenile characteristics in adults. Like axolotl gill-retention, or lactose tolerance in adult humans. I don't consider play a juvenile characteristic. That doesn't invalidate anything she might say about how adult play can be utilised, but still started me off on slightly the wrong foot.

Most of what I kept in my head was discomfort about this use of the term neoteny, and a picture of coloured post-it-notes. That much I at least understand. My walls and floor were covered in that sort of stuff while I was studying, and I still use those methods for brainstorming sometimes. I have to wonder if there's more to it than that. Discussion of that sort of process often sounds like corporate wank used to make the obvious sound more complicated. In other words, we are all capable of that creation anyway, but she has a business to promote. Maybe that's horribly unfair, and being part of the process is probably very different to discussing it abstractly. I'd be interested to hear how their prototyping workshop went. Also, I do forget how often stating the (arguably) obvious can be useful.

What she did cause me to think more about was group brainstorming and creativity. I'm a lone wolf, and have never been very good at sharing projects. I am very secretive about my own creative process, because I worry about anyone else seeing a work in progress. I want people to criticise things that deserve it, not things still unfinished. I know that's often not an ideal way of looking at it, because incorporating other people's ideas early on is easier.

I am shaped by experiences growing up, particularly times when I've felt dismissed by teachers, my parents, and other people around me. It's not helpful baggage to be carrying around, and I'm trying to break out of it.

Andrew Drage (Editor/Tester Tin Man Games) began this session by explaining his approach to writing stories. Andrew's approach doesn't work well for me. He creates the beginning and end, then fills in events in the middle. I'm not saying that's wrong -- he also admitted that there are many different approaches. But I'm more character-driven than plot-driven, so a story written like that is unlikely to ring true for me. The risk is that characters end up making decisions based more on the pre-determined ending (and other planned events) than on their own nature.

My fiction writing attempts so far have been abysmal, admittedly, but we all have to start somewhere. Still, I know that the best parts occurred when I understood the characters and just let them speak for themselves and run in whatever direction they please. I always thought I'd be the type to plan everything out carefully, but that didn't work at all.

Andrew's main point seemed to be to just go ahead and create something you enjoy, and I certainly can't argue with that.