Close to 300 people visited DigiPen's Redmond campus on Sunday for the second annual Seattle Indies Expo, a free event showcasing new and unreleased titles from about 20 nearby developers, including five DigiPen student teams.
Attendees had a chance to try out games on a number of platforms — such as Klei Entertainment's upcoming stealth-action game Mark of the Ninja for Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) and Slick Entertainment's recently released Shellrazer for the iPad and iPhone — as well as meet the artists, programmers, and designers behind the games. Some student developers used the opportunity to playtest their projects, writing down notes and observations while new players tackled their games for the first time.
The event was put on by Seattle Indies, an informal community of independent game developers, with organizational support from Seattle-based studio 17-BIT, which also showcased its upcoming game Skulls of the Shogun for XBLA. Paul Schreiber, technical director at 17-BIT, said the idea for the first expo emerged from a company planning discussion about participating at other industry trade events, some of which proved cost-prohibitive.
"As a joke I said, 'Why don't we just have our own trade show, and we can let ourselves in for free?'" Schreiber said. "And our director took it pretty seriously."
Schreiber and his colleagues connected with DigiPen after being invited to playtest their project during a Wednesday meeting of the student-run Game Design Club.
"We put it in front of a room full of design students … and they basically just took it apart," Schreiber said. "We went back and worked some stuff, and we thought, 'Wow, that was pretty darn useful. We want to see these students do the same thing to other titles.'"
Schreiber and others at 17-BIT continue to attend as many Game Design Club sessions as they can. The company also hired five DigiPen students as interns, all of whom were busy demonstrating their own games at Sunday's expo.
One 17-BIT intern, DigiPen student Brett Cutler, said he stayed up the previous night working on new levels for Rhinopocalypse, a 3D action game in which players steer a rampaging rhinoceros through a fully destructible jungle. Although he didn't finish the new levels in time for the expo, the game nevertheless attracted a steady crowd of attendees who both watched and took part in the gleeful destruction.
"Having people playtest a game is really good for the team, just in terms of morale," Cutler, the game’s designer and producer, said. "I didn’t expect people to enjoy just running around destroying things so much. They could do that for — it looks like — hours."
Another crowd pleaser was Xbox indie title Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, a hilarious 2D action game in which players navigate a deadly and surreal 19th-century wagon trail, shooting and maneuvering through a series of encounters with bandits, unicorns, and ninjas, among other enemies. The game’s creator, who works under the name sparsevector, said the expo was his first opportunity to watch new players try out the game.
"It’s fun to watch people laugh and have fun with it," he said. He later took to Twitter to share his highlight of the day – looking on as one skilled gamer beat the game on his first attempt.
For most of the developers in attendance, the Seattle Indies Expo also served as a more casual test run for the upcoming Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), which takes place August 31 through Sept. 2 at the Washington State Convention Center.
"PAX is cool, but there are all these giant booths and booming bass. And here it’s just a bunch of people in a room, checking things out," Nels Anderson, the designer of Mark of the Ninja, said. "There’s no barriers in between the goodness and the people who want to check out the goodness, which is how it ought to be."
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