This Saturday I went to my first Boston GameLoop, and I was one of 200 game nerds from Boston and beyond who spent all day at the Microsoft NERD Building, talking about games. I’ve been remiss about hanging out in the Boston scene – living in Portsmouth only puts me an hour away, but sometimes that’s enough. GameLoop made me realize just how incredible that scene is.
The big area companies like Irrational, Harmonix, and Demiurge were well represented – and so were hot indies like Dejobaan and Fire Hose. (Not to mention out of towners from No Fun Games, Shadegrown, and Haunted Temple.) I saw some folks from MIT’s Gambit program, and Boston’s storied history in text adventures (“INTERACTIVE FICTION!”) was well represented by Jason McIntosh and Andrew Plotkin, who led an impromptu training session in Inform7, a natural language authoring tool. And I met or ran into a bunch of awesome game journos and bloggers, including – and I’m really sorry to whoever I missed – Rob Zacny, J. P. Grant, Maddy Myers, Dan Bruno, Nicole Kline, and David Bolton. We had 200 really smart people, and all of them were up to something.
I’ll share a few notes on unconferences for anyone who’s never been to one. I knew that it’s an informal way to run a conference: people throw ideas on a whiteboard, and then you wheel out a second whiteboard where people vote on those ideas, and finally you move to a third, grid-lined whiteboard where you schedule the most popular sessions. Somebody steps up to moderate, and you’ve got a talk.
The sessions were usually either discussions or tutorials. I signed up to moderate a session on game journalism and game crit, but “moderate” is a loose word: I asked a few questions and tried to make sure people got a chance to speak, but generally, once the conversation gets rolling, it can go wherever the attendees want to take it.
We had a great, lively discussion, and I took away some takeaways to inform the loose community of “brainy” game bloggers – aka the brainysphere, and boy did that term get old as the hour went on. People agreed that there was smart writing about games on the ‘Net, but I heard from several people that it was hard to find. This is especially a problem for reviews: the classic format review is broken, because the write-up that appears the day the game launches is usually a simple consumer guide (“The graphics rate a 7, the gameplay rates an 8,” etc.) – but the terrific writing that comes afterwards, and that can show up a month after launch, has a harder time finding an audience. (For example, Michael Abbott’s terrific “I’m Your Huckleberry” post, which is a fascinating take on Red Dead Redemption but is not a review.) At the same time, I agree with Dan Bruno – it’s never been a better time to write about games, and nobody reported having a difficult time getting their work out there. Getting paid, of course, is another matter completely.
Anyway, that was one takeaway I can remember – if I find other write-ups I’ll link them here. And good news, I sold a bunch of copies of Kill Screen #1, and got some extremely kind feedback from people who had already seen it. K. Adam White even wore his KS t-shirt (and looked super-natty in it)!
The discussions were fascinating, even the ones I didn’t spend much time in. You’re expected to “vote with your feet,” and noone takes offense if you decide that a passionate discussion about prototyping in Unity isn’t your thing. Niche sessions were usually balanced out by more general ones, and there were a number of great tutorials: Jeff Ward gave a great introduction to XNA and the AngelXNA prototyping framework, and like I said, the Inform7 tutorial was fantastic. Even though Jason and Andrew said it was thrown together last minute (nobody really prepares their talks – it’s part of the genius of the thing), they did a great job of introducing the tool and walking us through a simple example, and Jason followed up later on Twitter with more links. An hour of that was just enough to get the gist of how the tool works and whether I’d want to learn more, and I’ve been to better-organized talks that weren’t as persuasive (or nearly as much fun).
I don’t know if the model would scale to a thousand participants; the scrum around the whiteboards might get a little intense. But for a small, superb crowd like this one, and under Darius’ and Scott’s impeccable and passionate leadership, it was perfect. GameLoop was a hit, and just as important, it was a great day for Boston – a town that’s been on-and-off as a games biz leader, but that’s proving itself a scene to be reckoned with.