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October 12, 2016
Pixel Pop Festival, hosted on October 8-9 in the St. Louis Science center, is perhaps the biggest independent gaming event of the year for the St. Louis indie scene. Aside from the cornucopia of booths demoing games by aspiring, successful, or hobbyist local game developers, it also hosts speakers of various professions from all over the nation on topics related to gaming, game development, publishing, culture, and criticism. Included among the speakers this year were voice actors, journalists, artists, a psychologist, (self-)publishers, writers, producers, programmers, musicians, collectors, a lawyer, and of course independent game developers.
The first speech I saw all the way through was A Game Journalist? What’s That? by the amiable Josh Boykin, of intelligames.us, who talked about the various challenges that journalists face in a dynamic age where their role is ambiguously defined and valued. “I’m not here to say that [the basics of journalism, like how to get started what you get paid,] is not important, but today we’re gonna talk about something that’s closer to my heart.” Though much of the speech was still about the economics of being a games journalist, he highlighted his experience at E3, probably the biggest gaming event of the year, coinciding with the Orlando Massacre, where industry vets and writers were put in the uncomfortable position of getting very excited about games that featured excessive violence, guns, and machismo. Journalism, he posited, was about using knowledge and opinions to help people make informed decisions or more aware of issues surrounding the industry.
I spent the rest of Saturday playing demos of games, stopping first by the VR booth hosted by Nvidia to try out two of ten carnival games from NVIDIA VR Funhouse, which was never wanting for an audience. A curious player tried VR for the first time, where he popped a bunch of balloons with swords while members of the audience imagined what it was like. “Just like the motion of looking behind you and the game’s still there is mind bending,” he reflected. VR Funhouse is also played with two haptic feedback wand controllers, which aside from swords allows for instance the player to dribble a basketball in the carny game, signaled by vibrations when the ball touches your hand. I think I scored two shots in two minutes, if you want to hoop sometime.
Unusual control schemes were not unusual at Pixel Pop, as in the game played entirely using a Korg Synthesizer, where you play as a radio disc jockey, minimally stylized, and dryly called Disc Jockey Jockey. Through two sets of headphones, both players can listen in while one moves the slider knobs to turn up, or turn down the volume in a delicate juggling act that requires you to focus the volume on either music or speakers, switching between a few radio stations. Marketing the game might be tricky, but Disc Jockey Jockey should still be just as playable on a UI representation as a real synthesizer, and is a fun, light reproduction of awesome music and what a DJ actually does.
Food Art, now dubbed Nour: a Collection of Various Foods and Moods by Terrifying Jellyfish is described as “an experimental game about interacting with food in unconventional ways” played on the Midi Fighter 3D controller, made originally for club DJs. Colorful and attractive, Nour can be projected in tandem with a DJ doing some live-mixing on the dance floor, for some extra fresh style. “The core purpose of the game is to make you hungry,” says Terrifying Jellyfish. “I personally find it really compelling that with a few cleverly chosen colors and shapes, you can illicit the sensation of hunger.” An estimable goal. The game works by shifting between screens of curry, popcorn, or bubble tea (which you should try in real life), and inviting improvised key strokes on the controller — reservations be damned — which erratically angle the camera and environment, or drop ingredients out of the sky, so you can have your curry, and play with it too.
Stacks on Stacks (on Stacks) is a game by Ian & Elie, where you take turns trying to stack falling bricks to reach the height that is required of you. It captures the simple joy of stacking random objects. In a most sharp decision, you also knock down the towers with wrecking ball that appears out of the sky at the end. This scratches our deep psychological need to knock down blocks we just made without making anyone feel bad or having to clean up after.
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Icons courtesy of the Noun Project. Dice icon Created by Mani Amini.