NASSCOM Games Development Conference 2013, Pune
Me: Marriott jana hay.
Taxi Driver: Kaun sa Marriott? Pune mein to chaar Marriott hay!
(I need to get to the Marriott in Pune and I ask the taxi driver to take me there. He asks me which one – there are four Marriotts in Pune!)
This was my second visit to Pune. The comparative opulence and cleanliness had me surprised. As had the women on scooties and in trendy clothes but with their face covered except for the eyes. I crossed the historic Yerawada Jail and then entered downtown Pune with its Maratha gateways and modern shopping malls. I had reached the right Marriott.
And inside it was gaming like I had never known before in India. There were stalls with mainstream game studios and indies showcasing their work; Julie Heyde, eminent indie designer from Copenhagen was letting people have a taste of the Oculus Rift. I saw a perfectly staid saree-clad PR lady who had never done any gaming go crazy with the virtual world coming alive around her.
I had to say hello to old friends. The videogame industry in India is a friendly place. Rajesh Rao of Dhruva (one of the pioneers of gaming in India) casually walked over and chatted for a bit. He was featured in a recent article on Indian videogaming by Adrienne Shaw, I told him. And of course in mine. I had just missed Yoichi Wada’s keynote (of Square Enix fame) because the plane was a little late. I walked into the ‘Project Heera’ presentation by Tanmay Chinchkar. The BAFTA tag drew me in automatically. So Tanmay, a student of DSK Supinfocomm, has designed this awesome game which is kind of in the ‘chor-police’ (cops and robbers) tradition and the multiplayer experience has you playing either as the cop or as the robber, protecting or stealing diamonds, as the case may be. Simple mechanic and as Tanmay’s post-mortem revealed, there was quite a bit of excitement in the BAFTA stands when they got two leading gamers from Codemasters to compete against each other and win prizes. So clever promotion tactics, a decent GUI and of course, an addictive multiplayer experience is clearly a winning formula. Whatever little I saw and played of Heera, I liked.
Posing with Lightning and the Halo gun
After a tea break and catch-ups with old friends, I came across Lightning from Final Fantasy – it was Niha Patil cosplaying and we weren’t friends yet. So dodging the sword of Lightning, I was back in the ballroom and ‘Gordon’ Gardeback or the ‘Go’ of Simogo, the celebrity indie developers from Scandinavia was speaking. If nothing else could have made me buy an iOS device, Bumpy Road, Year Walk and Device 6 would have been successful. What surprised me was how quickly these games were made and of course, the concepts. So here’s a platformer where you are in an old car with your partner driving slowly through a cute Russian-fairytale landscape and collecting memories (which are placed in photoframes). Only you don’t drive the car, as the player you bump the road and the car trundles along. Normally, I have an aversion to overusing the word ‘cute’ but for this game I’ll make an exception. Simogo has also made other internationally acclaimed iOS titles such as Year Walk and Device 6. I haven’t played the former yet but Device 6 is about this story of a girl who finds herself in a tower and her story rolls out (literally) as the player turns and tilts her iPad (or iPhone) as the girl changes direction and the story asks her to do so. I did have to cheat a tiny bit – the puzzle element is hard and I was often confused. I liked Device 6 a lot though and I think that makes me part of a huge group of fans now.
After the Simogo talk, I went to watch those who were trying out the Oculus Rift that Julie Heyde had brought along. Julie had been one of the judges on the indie panel with me – the other being the extremely helpful and super-modest Divyendra Singh Rathore. Soon I was chatting with Divyendra and catching up with friends when I met. I was introduced to Arvind who is building his MMORPG called Unrest and has based it on ancient India. The game is still in development and we learned about the problems that Indian game devs have to face on a regular basis – power failures, low bandwidth, cut Internet cables and other joys of game dev in India. Unrest looked like it was heavily story-based and very similar to adventure games but I’ll wait and hold my breath. The project is on Kickstarter for any who wish to learn more. From there I went to a panel on Indie game development and again, the scenario was very well defined for us by Shailesh Prabhu and Yadu Rajiv. Funding still seems to be a problem but there is a lot of dedication and watch out for some good indie stuff from this part of the world.
As I said, I was a judge on the indie panel and none of us had any doubts about Yellow Monkey Studio’s Huebrix as the top choice of them all (we reviewed around twenty five games in all). Huebrix is, as its name suggests, about colours and bricks and the objective is to solve puzzles that involve covering pathways with bricks of a certain colour and specific affordances. Deceptively simple, says I. As you get through the levels with the designer’s subtle sarcasm talking back at your achievements, be prepared to tax your brains immensely. Huebrix is now available on the iOS and Android stores. Our runner-up was Sandy Loisa’s pc game Save the Dummy. I have written about this at length in my Times of India column ‘Game Theory’ and as the developer hails from Calcutta (my hometown), I feel a surge of hope for game development in Eastern India. But of that, perhaps another day. I covered many talks – by Microsoft (who did a standard ‘why we are great’ spiel and never mentioned Xbox One), Facebook (much interest from young developers here) and Disney UTV (Hrishi Oberoi spoke of the need to have a Sholay of videogames to promote Indian gaming). I also ended up at a session on game related laws in India and while this was very informative, the fact that the speakers hadn’t ever played a videogame was kind of disappointing.
Anyway, this is indeed a very late post – two months late in fact. Better late than never as they say, though. I have to thank Dr Padmini Ray Murray for making my trip possible in the first place (from her AHRC project , on which I am a consultant) and also Joel Johnson, that wonderful man behind organizing the NASSCOM Game Awards – the first time ever in the country. Finally, of course, Shruti Verma and Vijay Sinha, the two stars of Indian videogaming without whom I would have been very lost indeed in the huge crowds of game devs and others that filled up the halls of The Marriott.
'Literature is a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material [...] but it is a game that at a certain point is invested with an unexpected meaning' - Italo Calvino