IndieCade, short for International Festival of Independent Games, is the only stand-alone independent-focused game festival in the nation. Traditionally taking place in Los Angeles in October, the festival has launched itself for the first time on the east coast this year. For this inaugural occasion, two of our own from the Digital Media program will be in attendance: Dr. Celia Pearce, Associate Professor who specializes in studying and developing multiplayer games and co-founder of IndieCade, and Simon Ferrari, a PhD student who is focusing on game studies and eSports research.
“There are a lot of people who make IndieCade the one trip they make during the year, even people from Europe” Ferrari says. “It’s because they can get more recognition for their games at this festival than at others, which tend to focus only the winners, separating them from the pack. At IndieCade, there are more games and competitions so developers can really showcase their work.”
“It’s the Mardi Gras for game developers,” Pearce agrees.
IndieCade prides itself on incorporating many projects from up and coming developers from all around the country, even games that may not fit within traditional standards.
“Other game conferences that I’ve been to were industry based-events, and so the games that were selected were also clearly industry-based,” explains Ferrari. “If you had a weird, artsy, esoteric game, it was really hard to get that into the conference. At IndieCade, there’s a much wider diversity of games.”
“One of the things that we observed before we started the festival was that there was a very narrow idea of what an indie game actually was,” Pearce says. “What we wanted to do when we founded IndieCade was broaden the definition of what an indie game is.”
Both Pearce and Ferrari cite the community of IndieCade as being one of the main attractions to the festival.
“People are always working on new projects and sharing what they’re doing at IndieCade,” Pearce says. “There are also industry veterans and award winning game developers who come, which means that younger, greener developers can get feedback from them. And that’s something I really like about IndieCade. There’s a multigenerational thing going on where people from my generation like John Romero come and are becoming actively engaged and mentoring people of Simon’s generation.”
IndieCade also serves as an ideal “matchmaking” environment since game sponsors want to meet with these fresh developers. The organizers of the event often handpick developers in order to make the right connections between these two groups.
This weekend, Pearce will be moderating a panel about the New York independent game scene, an apt topic given that this is the festival’s first time on the east coast.
“I’m very interested in what comes out of this panel because I’m familiar with the Los Angeles indie scene, but I don’t know much about the New York scene even though I know a lot of developers individually,” Pearce says. “New York seems to foster such a great environment for independent game development because they have people coming out of NYU ITP and now Parsons. There is also a longstanding tradition of people from my generation doing indie games during the 90s.”
Additionally, Ferrari will be giving commentary on this year’s Iron Game Design Challenge, which is described as Iron Chef but with game designers. Because this is IndieCade East, it is only fitting that the two teams competing will be students from NYU ITP and Parsons. The two teams will go head to head to develop a game in an hour based on prompts that will be given to them the day of.
“The audience helps to choose a theme for the challenge and then we add in a secret ingredient that these designers have to somehow incorporate into their final game,” Ferrari explains. “In the years I’ve gone, the secret ingredient has ranged from bananas, scissors and string, and last year it was candles and water bottles.”
“We try to incorporate these non-digital exercises because people can get so bogged down in the technology,” Pearce says. “And that’s something else great about IndieCade because it doesn’t discriminate against non-digital games.”
Attending IndieCade isn’t all fun and games; participating in IndieCade and discussions with new and veteran game developers alike helps to bolster the legitimacy and sophistication of game studies and criticism.
“There’s a movement in academia and in the indie scene to raise the level of game criticism because, honestly, it’s really lame right now,” Ferrari says. “They sound like car reviews: ‘This new gun does this and has these new colors.’ It’s just not sophisticated.”
“And what’s starting to happen now is academics, like Simon, are approaching being a game critic like being an erudite film critic,” Peace adds.
“We’re continuing to develop this forum of discussion and sophistication at IndieCade, which is so important because we as game developers can actually do something with that criticism, what we make is changeable,” Ferrari says. “So if I show a game that’s in progress at IndieCade, I can change it based on feedback I get, and it becomes a dialogue.”
Follow Simon (@simonFerrari) on Twitter for live updates from New York.