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Kev’s Slog #8

Seven days is all we get to play BattleBlock Theater’s closed beta test.  Each day, we have to do something in the game to test a feature.  It’s serious and we have to fill out a survey afterwards.  There’s several secret forums, which only the beta testers and developers can see, to discuss bugs, suggestions, and general commentary.  I re-read my contract, and I can’t review the game.  This means, I believe, that I can’t even tell you guys what I think about the game.

However, I can tell you guys this.  I am absolutely horrible at BattleBlock Theater.  It looks so simple from the Let’s Play videos.  Youtube streaming pros just chat and tell jokes while they seemingly glide through this platforming game like an elegant swan.  On the other hand, I just play like a drunk bear.  I scream “Damn it!” (and much worse profanity) as I mistime my jump for the sixth time in a row and fall to my death.  Because of this, I can confirm that I would never be good at making Let’s Play videos.

I can point out something about BattleBlock Theater without violating my NDA.  The game is clever in ways that many people don’t realize.  For example, there’s shallow water and there’s lava.  Now you can guess which would be dangerous in most games and which would be safe.  But in BattleBlock Theater, if you touch any water then you instantly fall in and drown.  Lava, on the other hand, is relatively harmless and they are used to make you jump REALLY high.

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I need to talk about GAME_JAM.  Game journalists, Youtube streamers, and indie developers have all gotten wind of this story, and it’s shown how much damage one event can do.  The story broke this morning with the writer, Jared Rosen, saying that he may get fired afterwards.  The problem is that he was writing about how his parent company (i.e., his bosses) completely screwed up and lost over $400,000 in the process.

I’ll give you the quick rundown.  Some time ago, the founders of Indie Statik and Game Jolt had an idea about coming up with a documentary show called GAME_JAM.  The idea was that famous indie game developers would be invited to their studios for an authentic game jam.  They would create a game and the whole thing would be filmed and turned into a documentary show.  What was new was that Youtube celebrities would be involved–they would work on the game also and also actively promoting it on their channels.

The idea was that this would push indie game development into the spotlight.  It could potentially be huge as it would have multiple game developers and Youtube celebrities.  Somebody began thinking that this wasn’t going to be thousands of viewers, but maybe millions of viewers.

Somebody at Polaris, the media company behind the event, got greedy or stupid.  They now wanted corporate sponsors to finance it.  And somebody did:  Mountain Dew.  If you’ve been keeping up with gaming news, this kind of corporate sponsorship has had a very negative connotation in recent times.  (Google “Doritogate” if you don’t believe me.)  At the very least, it pushes the stereotype that gamers drink “Mtn Dew”.

Once a corporation was now paying for the show, the game jam quickly devolved into a horrible reality show.  It wasn’t even a documentary anymore.  The show became a competition with (terrible) prizes attached.  Like all reality shows, the executive producer wanted to sensationalize the show to make it more interesting.  He’d intentionally goad the developers to try to get them to start in-fighting or arguments with the other groups.  (If you’ve noticed, all reality shows often feature a conflict that strangely has to be resolved in each episode.)  The show quickly turned into a farce and all the developers walked out on the first day of the shoot.

In the end, almost a half-million dollars was wasted in the production of a show that would never be made.  Even worse, stories about the fiasco are quickly spreading around the Internet, and even developers and Youtube celebrities that weren’t there have voiced their opinions about it.  But this could have an ironic silver lining:  Because GAME_JAM was such a disaster, it’s become a teaching tool and there’s now other game jams being started.

As a shameless plug and to tie this back to Steam, the upcoming Super Game Jam–a documentary series which will be on Steam for free–should be a really brilliant documentary series.  That’s going to be done as a short documentary series featuring two developers who have never worked together to come up with a game that’s out of their element.  The intent isn’t to make a super-great game, but to see how the game design process works and how developers come up with original ideas when they work in an unfamiliar environment.  As an aside, the series is being sponsored by Devolver Digital, the indie publishing company located in Austin where I live.

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