Thursday 3 November 2011

Greedy Bankers at GameCity Nottingham

October 26th to 29th saw Nottingham invaded by games and gamers, for one of the most varied and quirky games events in the UK calendar. There were talks from industry veterans including Naughty Dog's Richard Lemarchand (also a kickass DJ, but more on that later), 100-player laser-pen projector games, stirring breakfast discussions hosted by the Guardian's Keith Stuart, and, of course, a smorgasbord of indie games to try out on the show floor.

And the Greedy Bankers were there to join in!

Greedy Bankers vs the City of Nottingham

I have to say, demoing the game at Eurogamer Expo has really given me a thirst for more public events. The game does really seem to suit it, and battling a friend over a shared iPad can be a memorable shared experience.

The audience was much different to what I was used to from previous demo sessions, as there were a lot of families there, which made a nice change. One kid (pictured) was particularly good at the game and kept on coming back. He wanted to challenge everyone, and usually won! He even gave me a run for my money - I beat him after two very close rounds and only $500 in it in the end. Normally I'd go easy on a new player, but my pride was at stake!

There was also a pretty epic match which went on for 15 minutes and descended into a wrestling match. Seriously, they were literally rolling on the floor wrestling! Annoyingly my camera wasn't ready, so I didn't get a photo of it in action - hopefully next time!

Another highlight was meeting the Occupy Nottingham protesters, who were camped near the venue. I don't know how they'd respond to the proud "We are the 1%" that I'd chalked onto the wall, but they thought it was really funny. I got a photo with them at the camp, which I'm still waiting to get emailed to me, but I think they have more pressing concerns!

A tale of two GameCities

Of course, demoing wasn't the only fun part of the event. GameCity is party central for developers, and I also got to try out some very exciting experimental games. Due to demoing commitments I missed out on a lot of talks, but the Guardian Breakfast panels, on horror games on Friday and games industry awards on the Saturday, were thought provoking, and had a wide selection of voices from the industry. I also particularly enjoyed the Sheridans Indie Panel on Thursday afternoon, where a selection of indie developers talked about what they'd learnt from their indie successes and how that's affected their follow-ups.

Thursday evening played host to WallFour's live 100-player laser-pen game Renga. A mixture of enemy-zapping and crowd-driven spaceship-piloting, players had to cooperate to bring down abstract alien ships and move the "harvester" ships to collect valuable debris. Aliens were groups of circles, and to destroy them players needed to put a laser dot in each circle, while the harvester was controlled by having pointers hover over directional arrows on the moving ship.

What fascinated me most about this game was how, as a cooperative game, players act as a hive mind rather than a coordinated team. The lack of communication and limited actions of an individual forced everyone to respond to the game around them and try to cooperate based on what they thought their team would like them to do. It reminded me of Loren Carpenter's 5000-player pong experiment where two teams played a perfect game of pong by "voting" in real time whether to go up or down.

The Wild Rumpus

The Wild Rumpus on Friday night was fantastic fun, and just as crazy as the name implies! The event showcased innovative multiplayer indie games, with a focus on real-world interaction. I played B.U.T.T.O.N. for the first time, and also had a go at Johann Sebastian Joust, which I was terrible at, but was tremendous fun. There's something I love about these real-world party games, and the infinite range of real-world strategies they afford players. It's definitely something I've always wanted to be present in Greedy Bankers vs The World.

At the same event, we had game karaoke (classic songs re-fitted with hilarious game-related lyrics) hosted by One Life Left, and the most incredible DJ set performed by Naughty Dog's Richard Lemarchand, and Polytron's Phil Fish. Seriously, where do all these awesome developers get their hidden talents? I think I use all of mine in my job already! Number Theory may be the closest thing to hidden talent I have, and I can't think of a use for it.

What surprised me most, however, was just how much games industry people are party animals! There was a fantastic showing of developers, students and journalists, and I met so many great people. You're all so cool and I can't wait to see you again.

On the subject of that, anyone going to Develop Liverpool this month?

What I learned

Of course, I didn't just have good fun and make a bunch of new friends. I also learned some things. Particularly about the game, and improvements I want to make. These should hopefully find their way into the next update.

One issue is that it's not clear enough how much money you have left to get. I've been mulling over this one for ages, and it was Honeyslug's Ricky Haggett who suggested a solution. Instead of having the value of a gem pop out when you cash it in (which you already know because it appears when you're building it) have the amount remaining pop out. The player's already going to be looking there and so it should be much more obvious. I've implemented that now, and it clearly works a lot better.

I also noticed that the game is easily spammed. This is the big reason I'm happy so many kids played, because kids aren't afraid to spam each other. If you keep on dragging stuff onto your side and tapping it, you can stop your opponent from doing anything and it gets really annoying. It may not be a dominant strategy, but it's annoying enough that it may as well be. I'm implementing an optional "barrier" to come up whenever to steal something, so you won't be able to steal again for the next second. Hopefully that should fix that.

I've also implemented a few little visual aids to let you know who's in the lead, which should help make it clearer what's going on.

Actually, regarding the game I have a few extra mode ideas that I'm quite keen to work in. I'll keep you posted on those as they develop.

And a big thanks!

Finally, big thank-you to everyone involved in the festival. The event organisers, the stewards, and the tech crew, for making it all happen, and the speakers and developers for showing off their wares and sharing their thoughts. I had a great time, I learnt a lot, and I'm very grateful for all the work the GameCity team put in!

I look forward to coming back next year!!

(final image courtesy of GameCity, from their Flickr page - more awesome photos there)