Game Spaces, Maltese Places

Yesterday, I attended an amazing session about social spaces for games by Kunal Gupta from Babycastles, as well as an awesome game session involving Hokra and J. S. Joust by Doug Wilson. But before I go into an interesting discussion about what Kunal Gupta presented and how I think it is highly relevant to Malta, I’d like to mention what I’m up to so far during the second semester.

Semester 2 has started at ITU, and I’m already extremely busy. I guess that’s partly my fault though, since I’ve decided to assign myself twice the workload. Apart from the 3 courses I’m meant to be taking this year, which I will explain later, I’m also continuing work on Sun Valve,  the game that I made last semester in a team for the Game Design course, as well as continuing work on Mussades, the game that I made in another team during the Nordic Gam Jam 2o12. I’m also starting the second module of Danish lessons, which means that I should be kept very busy this coming semester.

Game Development

The main bulk of this semester is a 15ECTS course called Game Development. The concept is similar to Game Design from last semester, groups of people making games over a certain time period. However, this time round, the groups are bigger, the games must be 3D, and we have 3 months to create a polished vertical slice. Whereas in Game Design, we were working together in teams of 6, in Game Development, we are working in larger teams of 7 or 8. I volunteered for the role of project manager this semester and so far, it’s been an interesting challenge co-ordinating and guiding people. We’ve more or less settled on a vague idea of a concept so far, but it still needs to be refined before we enter production.

Persuasive and Serious Games

I’ve heard Persuasive and Serious Games being referred to as the most academic game design related course that is offered by ITU. So far, they don’t seem to be wrong. Taught by Rilla Khaled, herself an inspiring lecturer, the course discusses ethics in games, persuasion in games, games for learning, games for health, gamification and other interesting concepts. There’s a lot of literature to read, and we also have to make a persuasive game. My team is developing a game that discusses piracy, but the concept also still needs to be refined.

Intelligent Systems Programming

Before the second semester started, I asked around to see whether or not it would be more intense than the first semester. In particular, I asked about Intelligent Systems Programming. Friends of mine who had already taken the course stated that it was quite challenging; some even mentioned a 60% fail rate. By the looks of it so far, they don’t seem to be wrong.

The material so far is really interesting, as we’ve discussed heuristic searches so far (such as depth-limited search, iterative deepening search, best first search, A* and others), as well as adversarial searches (such as minimax and alpha-beta pruning). The course is, however, heavily based in maths and logic, and makes a lot of reference to set theory and graph theory. We are also expected to work out exercises for every week, as well as work on small group projects throughout the year.

Game Spaces

Kunal Gupta from Babycastles
Kunal Gupta from Babycastles

With that out of the way, I’d like to discuss Kunal Gupta’s thoughts yesterday and its relevance to where I’m from, the island of Malta. Babycastles is more of a movement, an indie collective, a performance space, an independent arcade, but don’t expect to find games like Street Fighter or Mortal Combat there! It’s a space for independent game developers and designers to show off experimental work and thus, constantly redefining what games mean. If you want to learn more about what it is, this article might help.

Kunal’s main argument, and one that hit home, was that by having this space allowed game developers to meet up, making the indie scene in New York stronger. With the knowledge that Malta wants to get something started in games, I think that something like Babycastles is missing, and will be well received too. By piggybacking onto the local music scene (again, similar to what Babycastles did), I believe that we can manage to group the local game developer community together, as well as get other people interested. One particular example was the Memento Mori exhibition by Scaremongering, which I think worked really well in fusing the art scene and music scene in Malta together.

If a person were to come up to me and ask me my opinion on the best places to find an indie games community, 3 cities immediately spring to mind: Copenhagen, New York and Utrecht. The fact that there is an academic presence (in the form of a Masters course) in each of those cities adds to the fact that there is a strong, vibrant community that is able to share ideas with individuals. I believe that Malta can contain something similar. Games development in Malta, although slowly progressing, is still in its infancy, and there is a lot of work to be done before it is accepted locally as an art form. To my knowledge, some courses are being offered at the University of Malta in games development, and a small group of people called the Digital Games Production: Malta organizes talks and events such as the Gamezing competition.

At the moment, the emphasis in Malta seems to be on digital games. My personal opinion is that we should go beyond that and enter the space of folk games, analog games, role playing games and performance games, leveraging the small communities of performance artists, board game players and card game players. Doug’s quick session of Hokra, a digital sports game, and J. S. Joust, a performance game set to music tempo, proves that these type of games are interesting both to play and to watch, and I have not come across any similar games from Malta.

By having something similar to Babycastles in Malta, and with the help of the local art scene and music scene, I think that we might be able to form a local indie games scene and get something going!

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