If you don’t know how the unconference model works, here’s the quick version using this weekend’s third-ever Game Loop Philly as a primer. Smart people interested in a given topic, like video game development, show up in the morning to drink coffee, eat pastries and create a day-long collection of cutting edge industry discussions. Then they attend them to learn and share with each other. Easy.
Like the far larger and wider ranging Barcamp Philly, which follows a global trend of open format thought-leadership events, Game Loop is meant to be designed by its attendees, said Nicole Kline, who has organized the event with Ray Merkler since its 2011 launch.
There was a talk for every aspect of gaming: the coding, the art design, the writing and the consumers. Subjects ranged from free to play monetization, dating Sims, staying motivated, code architecture, the language of color in film, diversity in the gaming scene and beer. “What We Learned at Game Jam,” the industry conference standard, was a popular discussion.
Like any event, the best way to know it is to get a sense of who was there. Here are five people we met.
Mark Schoennagel, Unity evangelist
A representative from the gaming development software staple, Schoennagel was in town to do what he gets paid to do: remind game developers how attainable Unity has made game development. If the user can handle basic Photoshop, he said, they can make a game in Unity.
While showing how to make a cartoon Yeti jump, Schoennagel said, “People want more streamlined design and code. [Unity] is artist friendly and coder friendly.”
Did we mention that he made a yeti learn to jump?
Amanda Lange, host of Interactive Fiction/Visual Novels and Microsoft technical evangelist
In the Internet of old, when loading times were slow, text-based role playing was the fastest way to get your fantasy fix. Now we can redesign our “Minecraft” castle on our smartphone, but interactive fiction like “Save the Date” and “Crystal Warrior Ke$ha” still have a fandom, said Lange, a frequent speaker at local game events.
She has been playing and writing interactive fiction for more than a decade. She demonstrated how to use Inform, a design system that lets the user write a visual novel of their own.
“I read interactive fiction for so long, playing ‘Worlds Apart’ until I finally wondered, ‘Could I get involved?” Lange said. She entered a competition and now she’s the author of three IF games: “Body Bargain,” “Dive” and “Girl in the Haunted House.”
Shawn Pierre, creator of These French Fries are Terrible Hot Dogs
Shawn Pierre got into the gaming scene in 2009 after getting his degree in computer science and philosophy. He thought he’d get a job in the industry, but he said he soon realized that “the better way to work in gaming is to just make games. I went to Global Game Jam, I joined a Unity group. I do a lot of collaboration. You can’t make a game alone,” he said.
Pierre stopped for a quick pic and demo of TFFATHD before hitting up another talk. When he started a Kickstarter fund for his card game, These French Fries are Terrible Hot Dogs, he requested $4,000. The campaign closed with $19,932. That’s 400 percent over the goal. It counts to have friends, he joked.
Nicole Kline GameLoop Philly organizer, gaming journalist and game designer
Also a Girl Geek Dinner organizer, Kline was taking a quick breather before lunch when we caught up with her.
“You know what the problem with game design is?” Kline said. “You have no time to play games.”
Between writing about games, organizing GameLoop and working on getting one of the games she has designed (with collaborator Anthony Amato) Resistor published, it’s hard to sit down and just play, she said. But it doesn’t seem like she minds too much.
Ray Merkler, Founder, President and ‘Only Guy That Works at’ BeaverHat
South Jersey resident Ray Merkler programmed for Lockheed Martin just long enough to know he couldn’t do a job like that ever again.
“I was so depressed,” Merkler said. “Then I realized there was an alternative. I could do work that truly satisfied.”
Now he’s his own man and working on games like “Monster Punch,” a nonverbal sidescroller for the “eight to 88 crowd” so cute it made a reporter squeal like a child.
He’s philosophical about the importance of the work they’re doing at GameLoop.
“Your job is what you do to pay your rent, your mortgage, to feed the cat. But your work, that’s what you love,” he said.
Geekadelphia’s Eric Smith had a nice profile of Merkler for Philly.com back in spring 2012.