Scrapbook: Feral Vector

This Scrapbook entry is all about the Feral Vector games conference, which took place early last month, and that our Lead Designer Andrew attended. Here's a writeup of the event for your reading pleasure!

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Hebden Bridge, a picturesque town in Yorkshire, likes to punch above its weight. Evan Davies recently made the case that, should the UK ever have a second city to rival London, then we should look no further than this town of 4200 residents. Not only that, but Hebden Bridge is also the home to one of the most important games conferences in the UK - Feral Vector.

While the UK has a steady supply of games events, it's a struggle to find anything other than business-focussed events. Feral Vector's David Hayward (@Nachimir) purposefully and skilfully curates a line-up of speakers, games and workshops that is inspiring, insightful and diverse, for this annual, three-day gathering of game makers.
 
Refreshingly, there isn't a single mention of MAUs, ROIs or any other business buzzwords... instead we're treated to a line up of presentations covering anxiety, diversity, safe spaces, cultural bias, more anxiety, games that no-one wants to make, and the benefits of a slightly unprofessional approach when it comes to making comedic games. [see addendum for some more notes on the talks I heard].

Some of you might look at those topics and think "Well, none of those things really affect the kind of games I make..."

Firstly, I'd say there are several topics in that list that every game developer must take an interest in. And secondly, that's not the point… It's always good when a talk covers something that you have a direct interest in, but getting to know the sparks that ignite other developers' passions is both infectious and inspiring. I'm sure I wasn't the only developer to leave Hebden Bridge with a refreshed passion for making games.
 
Alongside the talks, there are workshops that are equally as diverse in their themes and aims. Most dispense with keyboards and monitors, preferring a more physical and direct form, frequently trailing out from the venue itself, into the countryside that hugs Hebden Bridge. And inside the venue, there are a bunch of games to check out - and as you'd expect, they are as diverse and interesting as the rest of the event.

Source: Twitter/David Hayward

Source: Twitter/David Hayward

Attendees had travelled from far and wide, and many of them were staying in a hostel attached to the event venue. Combined with the compact nature of the town (and the limited choice of post-event entertainment) it felt like Feral Vector was becoming not 'just' an event, but a community of likeminded people. I wouldn't be surprised if the gamedev equivalent of an artists' retreat pops up off the back of FV in the near future.
 
A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to attend IndieCade in LA, and while it's much smaller, Feral Vector echoes its personality - there's a buzz of excitement, a tangible positivity from people that are still hungry to shape the direction of our medium into something that relates to their vision, and not the vision of a spreadsheet-informed strategist.

There are few events in the UK -  especially for those that really value the creation of games over the business of selling games - that I could recommend more.

Source: Twitter/David Hayward

Source: Twitter/David Hayward

Addendum

  • Henrike Lode (@Machineers) gave a passionate talk about the joy of making games with different people, and the benefits of jamming (you get to create new 'stuff' that you can explore). She also touched on the need for our community to create safe spaces so that developers can truly express themselves.
  • Alex Roberts (@lexicobob), who works at the National Video Game Arcade, gave us an insight into creating bespoke controllers and hardware.
  • Amran Anjum (@amx109) spoke passionately about cultural biases in games. Games are a great vehicle to take our players into lands and cultures that they might never encounter in the flesh, but that comes with responsibility. It's easy to slip into stereotypes and pastiche.
  • Katharine Neil's (@haikus_by_KN) talk was about "Tools for Game Design Thinking". Design tool haven't matured as quickly as art tools, and Katherine gave us a peek at the tools she uses (and makes) to fill those gaps (Machinations and a modified version of Refraction). Personally I think some production tools (engines like Unreal, Unity or CryENGINE) are suitable for rapid development and prototyping of mechanics, and Nevigo's Articy:Draft for narrative-driven experiences, but, it depends on the type of game you're making. I'd love to see new tools appear, but I suspect that the variety in the types of games that people want to make will continue to make an all encompassing design tool elusive.
  • Elizabeth Simoens (@ESimoens) finished the Friday session explaining the complexities and pitfalls of producing LARPs. I sometimes joke that games would break less if we didn't have to worry about other people playing them. Making live action games has even greater levels of insanity (I know... I've made some), the people are your CPU and your operating system...
  • Saturday began with Tom Davison's talk "You Are All Ghosts", which explored anxiety and being able to talk to people. Increasingly games are being used to treat anxiety, but in Tom's case, it was the creation of his game Game for Hannah that helped him try and explain his feelings to other people.
  • Anxiety and fear was also the main gist of Johnny Marshall's (@TheMightyGit) talk. I'd already seen this talk - Spotter's Guide to Fear - at last year's Develop (video available here), but that didn't stop me from enjoying it again. Hearing about other people's struggles with the weight of being creative always comes as something of a relief, and the light-hearted approach to the delivery of this presentation made it much more upbeat and uplifting than the topic might have initially suggested.
  • Emily Short (@emshort): Focussed on Narrative Design and touched on some of the different approaches that game developers are taking.
  • The day's final presentation was from Crows Crows Crows (@HonestWilliam and @zerstoerer). Rather than deliver a prepared talk, they opted for a 'fireside chat' approach, answer questions that the audience threw at them. As one of The Chinese Room's remote workers, it was especially interesting to see how they dealt with a remote team. It was good to hear how the personality of team members - especially within the context of the comedic works that Crows Crows Crows make - affects the team dynamics.