Five months ago I moved from California to Washington. Like many other wayward millennials, I’d spent the past two years in my hometown after graduating college. While it has its charms, Monterey County’s biggest industries are government, agriculture, and marine bio. For creative types in their 20s, not a whole lot to offer. I didn’t really seek out the Seattle area, so much as I kind of ended up here.
Cramming my life into my ratty 1996 garbage-truck-green RAV4, I drove up to Washington and didn’t look back. In many ways, it was a bit of a gamble. I didn’t really know much about the greater Seattle area or the city itself. Yet here I was, moving up to start what was the next leg of my life. Thankfully, it’s been a gamble that’s paid off.
Seattle and Indies
Seattle is a hodgepodge of enterprising creativity. The city has flourished with the presence of the tech industry, gaming companies, and a robust art scene. As a result, there has been an influx of talented designers, developers, and creators. Tom Hunt, a local indie developer, spoke with me about his experience working in both larger studios and as an indie. Many indie devs, he told me, are people with day jobs that commit the bulk of their time towards larger projects.
But that desire to create doesn’t go away as soon as they clock off. In my interview with A Hat in Time‘s lead dev, I found out just how time-intensive indie development is. Free to pursue their own projects in their off time, indie games and devs have popped up in droves. Seattle is a city that creates the perfect environment for indie development to thrive.
One of the clearest examples of this is the non-profit, Seattle Indies. The organization began as a chat group back in 2011, a way for developers to meet and talk. Over time, membership grew as various groups coalesced into a loose mixture of like-minded individuals. By 2016, Seattle Indies had grown into its current iteration: a fantastic support network that encourages, challenges, and celebrates indie games and the people that make them.
“We make it a point to welcome and offer folks something at all levels of their indie path – whether they’re just starting out or are already making their own games full time. Our members tend to be super open and laid-back – everyone’s always willing to share their personal experiences, lessons, and love for making games, and there’s very little gatekeeping to be found.” –Constance Chen, Seattle Indies Board Member
Seattle Indies hosts a number of regular events as part of their ongoing mission to “empower people to make games, share feedback, network, and showcase their projects.” Not sure where to start? The weekly Indie Support Group welcomes developers of all stripes to come in and talk shop. Hit a wall with your game’s current build? Bring it to the monthly Critique Circle and dig deeper into its design. Show and Tell is one such event and provides a very laidback environment for devs to demo their games in whatever state they may be.
Show and Tell
Last Sunday was the most recent Show and Tell and featured a wide variety of developers, projects, and ideas. It’s a wonderfully organized event that shows off Seattle Indies as a microcosm of talent, creativity, and DIY work ethic.
Hosted by the Living Computers Museum, the main exhibition area took up the middle of the main hall. The sheer simplicity of it struck me the most. Surrounded by smartly designed tech displays and exhibits, Seattle’s indie devs carved out a small niche of plastic chairs, folding tables, and crisscrossing cables.
The first two projects I passed by are a good example of the range of ideas and experience Show and Tell features. Wading through a small crowd of people, I ended up at a laptop boasting the words “PROJECT LABYRINTH” against a rough textured background. This pre-proof-of-concept, as the game’s dev put it, was simply a tangible way to figure out that yes, it’s possible to make something. What that something has thus far amounted to is a menu and walking down a series of hallways. Nevertheless, Alexander, the dev, was beaming with pride and excitedly talked about what he had in store for the project.
On the other end of the spectrum is Phantom Brigade. Situated a couple seats over from Project Labyrinth, Phantom Brigade was a noticeable jump in ideas, mechanics, and presentation. Developed by Tetragon Works, Phantom Brigade was described to me as “MechsCom: the Mecha Story Generator”. Buildings crashed and robots exploded on an extensively detailed tactical grid, all wrapped inside a beautifully designed package. Chad, the lead developer, has worked on games like Universe Sandbox and Kerbal Space Program. Much of his team is of a similar pedigree, and it shows in their work.
For a game that is still in early alpha, it’s an incredibly polished product. The slick and colorful UI, snappy controls, and entertainingly complex systems all speak to a development team with extensive experience. A small peek into Tetragon’s Discord server reveals a consistently active hub of discussions, updates, and devlogs. Phantom Brigade is proof that indie game development can be just as disciplined and polished as AAA.
The Wide World of Indies
Show and Tell featured a diverse number of games and ideas, from the vocab-stumping Pokardy to the abstract arthouse puzzler, G. The devs behind these games express an enthusiasm that’s infectious, inspiring, and refreshing all at once. Whether it was a fleshed out build or a proof-of-concept, Show and Tell is a testament to the innovation, creativity, and passion of the Seattle indie scene.
Posted below are images of the projects exhibited at Show and Tell and links when available (photos and links provided by Constance Chen). Taglines/descriptions are either taken from the devs or the game’s webpage.