Huddling inside an arcade game room at what’s billed as the country’s largest free arts and music festival might seem like a squandered opportunity.
But a sizable crowd gathered nonetheless inside the first floor of the Bunting Center at the Maryland Institute College of Art this weekend for Gamescape, introduced last year to the long-celebrated, decades-old Artscape weekend festival.
Video gamers gathered around tables where local game developers showed off their newest computer and console games, while others spent time at the game cabinets inside the makeshift arcade. A father-son team duked it out at X-Men, punching blue and yellow buttons repeatedly until, in a moment of two-dimensional, computer-aided Darwinism, father-as-Wolverine killed his son.
The first iteration of Gamescape—Betascape—appeared at Artscape three years ago, the brainchild of organizer and Pure Bang Games founder Ben Walsh.
After earning a computer science degree at Monmouth University in New Jersey, the 36-year-old Walsh returned to Baltimore looking for tech jobs. He spent some time in management before landing a gig at the formerly Timonium-based Big Huge Games (which folded in May), and then moved to Bethesda Softworks doing production work on original content for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii. Two years ago, Walsh launched his own independent game development studio, Pure Bang Games, which is headquartered in Highlandtown.
“It’s definitely a dream job,” says Walsh, whose studio was proudly displaying three new games, including Super Nut Jump, where players use a seesaw to bounce a hungry squirrel into an acorn-laden tree.
A cadre of local game developers and design studios joined Walsh over the weekend. Critical Gameplay featured its game Big Huggin’—picture hugging a 30-inch stuffed teddy bear hooked up to a game console, each hug enabling the bear on screen to leap over rocks and other obstacles. Technically Baltimore spent some time with Tumbleweed Express, the baby of game developers Dirigiballers, kitting out a steam train with boxcars sporting rotating flamethrowers and cannons used to fight off attacking enemies.
“It’s exciting to see what all the other people are doing,” says Justin Livi, a 22-year-old interactive design major at MICA. Livi was there with 21-year-old MICA photography major Brandon Eddy, co-founders of their own game development company Tribitech LLC. On display was their prototype for Tribal Hunger, an iOS where players control one of four tribal gods tasked with defending their homelands from conquering hordes of bomb-wielding Vikings.
The dozen-plus game cabinets were donated by the people at MAGfest, a four-day music and game festival held in National Harbor, Md., now in its 11th year.
“We want to help Baltimore be more of a game atmosphere,” says Orvie Thumel, who helps run the 30,000-square foot game room at MAGfest.
Ultimately, that’s the mission of Gamescape, Walsh says.
“We hope to inspire people that walk through that is a career option, that this is in their backyard,” he says.