Earlier this month I attended IndieCade, a festival devoted to independent games, mainly out of curiosity. Next year I'll attend it as a must-do event. If you're interested in new games and the people who make them, mark these dates on your calendar: October 6-9, 2011. That's when the next IndieCade will be held in galleries, bars, cafés, and theaters throughout Culver City, on the west side of L.A. If you want a first-hand look at artistry, innovation, and creative collegiality in the indie game community, IndieCade is your ticket.
IndieCade bills itself as a conference and a festival, and it makes good on both promises. I'm a huge fan of the Independent Games Festival held annually at GDC in San Francisco. Simon Carless deserves enormous credit for his ongoing effort to shine a bright light on indie devs and their work. Unfortunately, three rows of game stations, tightly packed together, each hosted by designers shouting over the din of a noisy exhibition hall - well, it ain't exactly a festive festival.
Don't get me wrong. IGF is an amazing showcase, and its sublimely awkward awards ceremony is one of my favorite events at GDC. It's great to see so much promising talent on one show floor; but I always seem to walk away with a headache and a sense that my impressions of these games are derived from bullet-point summaries delivered by shell-shocked designers trying their best to accommodate so many curious visitors.
Fade out. Iris in on Culver City: a municipality with a law on the books requiring all public and commercial buildings to display public art. A town at the intersection of art and commerce since Thomas Ince built the first film studio there in 1918. When IndieCade relocated from Seattle to Culver City in 2009, organizers clearly saw an opportunity to host a festival devoted to games in a community accustomed to celebrating creativity. And IndieCade, I can happily report, occupies some funky Culver City locales.
For example, one morning I attended a session devoted to ARGs on the second floor of the Foshay Lodge, a Masonic Temple built in 1928 (click here to see photos, including 'Brother Chris simulating the antique Chamber of Reflection').
This session was followed by a fascinating talk on Minimalism held in a black box theater that's home to The Actors Gang (an outstanding renegade theater company); followed by a talk on Indie Funding Models at a restaurant/bar called Rush Street several blocks away. Over the weekend, IndieCade spread out to include playable game displays at nearby art galleries, a bakery, and even the Culver City Fire Station.
It must be difficult to organize an event that captures the spirit and non-corporate vibe of the indie game scene without fencing it in somehow. This year's co-chairs, Rich Lemarchand and John Sharp, deserve credit for encouraging spontaneity and leaving room for a little messiness in the flow of events. Conference sessions ran on time for the most part, but the festival aspects of IndieCade developed their own flavor and energy.
For example, on Saturday I was walking back to my hotel when I found myself unexpectedly surrounded by two cadres of Humans vs Zombies players warily eyeing each other on opposite sides of Culver Blvd. "You'd better get out of here," a 20-something Zombie-player warned me. "This is gonna get ugly very soon." I hustled out of the way, and moments later a Zombie assault on the streets of Culver City commenced. It was a sight to see. The next day I ran into one of the players at the Fire Station and asked her how it turned out. "You don't want to know," she replied. "Let's just say I wasn't wearing this Zombie headband yesterday."
IndieCade succeeds because it offers a uniquely receptive venue and a shrewd mix of programmed and free-flow events that showcase exciting work and explore ideas. If you care about indie games and the community fostering them, I encourage you to check out IndieCade. The other attendees will be happy to greet you...and consume your tender human flesh.