Recently, I was chatting with my webcartoonin’ pal Jason Viola, and he sent me a link to the Artsy Games Incubator website. “WOT DIS??” I exclaimed out loud, my brain suddenly contracting with excitement. I had a brief fit and blacked out.
The Artsy Games Incubator – as you can learn for yourself at the website – is a regular get-together, in Toronto, Canada, of artistic types who would like to design games, but perhaps lack know-how or discipline. The Incubator uses assignments, deadlines and peer support to encourage confidence and productivity: “We know that when we sit down to work on something on Monday that people we like and respect will see it and discuss it on Wednesday.”
This struck me as a sensible and interesting approach to ‘bedroom’ game design, so I emailed some questions to Jim Munroe, the Incubator’s instigator, to learn more...
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Patrick: Jim, what is the Artsy Games Incubator, and why?
Jim: AGI sessions are held once a week for six weeks. Each week we need to do a specific game-related assignment – make an N level, make a game clone in Scratch – that people do on their own time. Then we get together at one of the participants’ places and show each other what we’ve done, soliciting comments and suggestions on how to improve it. We start with derivative assignments (levels/clones) for the first three sessions and then work on an original game for the last three. I got the idea from writer’s circles I’ve done – it provides structure and feedback.
I was having trouble with the team model of gamemaking – programmers I’d starting working with had dropped off the map once they’d gotten a job. So after a discussion with the founding sponsors (Raigan, Mare, and Jon, who made N+ and Everyday Shooter) I decided – both personally and with the group – to pursue the solo gamemaker or ‘auteur’ model for a while. And that’s worked out really well.
Patrick: What sort of people attend your meetings? Game designer-y people, or not? Or both? And are some people more welcome than others? Are you a racist?
Jim: Both. I’m most interested in a mix of people who can expose each other to new perspectives. Everyone has one art talent outside of game design. As well as that, I try to involve at least one woman and award myself bonus points if there’s a non-cracker in the mix.
Patrick: Your website was last updated in April. What’s going on, Jim, and are you ashamed of it?
Jim: There’ll be a bunch more posts now that we’ve started having the Round 3 meetings. [He was right! – Patrick] It might develop into more of a regular blog depending on the participants’ involvement, but at the moment it’s primarily an archive of real-world meeting notes. It serves to explain the project to outsiders but also helps coalesce the group dynamic internally since the participants each take a turn in writing the log.
Patrick: According to your website, the entry charge for your meetings is “a work-in-progress or a snack/beverage for the snack table”. Do you feel there is a strong connection between videogames and food? What do you suspect is the psychological cause for this feeling?
Jim: Actually, that was the ‘fee’ for the open house we had, which is where we showed off the games we made and invited the indie games community to show what they’d been doing – not the previous six meetings, where we workshopped and talked about games-in-progress. Other than doing the assignments, taking care of the snacks for one meeting and doing the session write-ups for another, there’s no cost involved – mostly because I don’t have to host, cater or report myself.
Snacks make things more fun: at least 30-35 percent, at my last estimate, more if the hummus has added pharmaceuticals.
Patrick: You give assignments for each session of the Artsy Games Incubator, such as, “Make one working level of your original game. Rough is fine.” What if someone comes to a meeting with a completed game? Are they punished? How severely?
Jim: I have issues, being an anarchist organizer-type, with rules and punishments, but I do value structure. None of the suggestions in the mandate and assignments are enforced at all, but I do go to great pains to explain why, say, collaboration is discouraged. If people still decide to get a pal to do the graphics, that’s fine.
Patrick: Which is more fun – making games, or playing them?
Jim: I think I’m more engaged by making games right now. I don’t know if it’s more fun, exactly, but it seems like more of a genuine achievement than beating the final boss in someone else’s game.
Patrick: Jim, I want to incubate some artsy games, but I don’t live in Toronto, or even know where it is. What in god’s name do I do?
Jim: First: Change your pants that you’ve just taken a dump in. I can smell them from Toronto.
Third: Read the session reports on the site. Play our games. Think to yourself, these aren’t so great! I could make waaay better games. Get some pals together who feel the same way, or post a message on craigslist or whatever. Make up your own ‘assignments’ or take ours and modify to suit.
The main thing is, there are lots of people who want to make games but have trouble making them. Get together and help each other out, both crit-wise and structure-wise. Drop me a line if you run into trouble (but not if the trouble requires bail money) and I’d be happy to help.
Patrick: What’s your favourite game, Jim?
Jim: The one that’s ringing my bell the most at the moment – both as a player and creator – is Savoir-Faire, by Emily Short. It’s a text adventure you can play in your browser.
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Many thanks to Jim for his time.
If you’ve been trying to make a videogame, but find that spending all your free time in front of your computer, in your bedroom, alone, is sapping your enthusiasm, why not do as Jim suggests and start (or join) an Artsy Games Incubator! WHY NOT, EH??