I Am an Old Man: The IGF Pirate Kart

As time goes on I feel like less and less of an “Indie” developer, at least on a community level. My work certainly fits into that niche, but the ‘Indie Community’ seems like an alien entity and the two of us don’t seem to share the same values. This is where the IGF Pirate Kart comes in.

Now I might have a lot of this wrong, but lemme do my best to explain the situation as I’ve come to understand it. So the Independent Gaming Festival” added a 95 dollar submission fee for entrees that many people felt was exclusionary and generally a waste unless you were some ‘known’ person. Now I could never care less about IGF (contests and awards and events just have never been my thing), but this seemed like a legit complaint coming from a lot of people who are generally struggling to do what they love. So the folks over at Glorious Trainwrecks(I think) had the idea to make a big game compilation to send as a single entry to the IGF. The Glorious Trainwrecks community has done these pirate karts for some time just for fun and this seemed as good a time as any. So they gave 2 days to submit games. To quote the website…

A Pirate Kart is a very very inclusive game compilation made in a hurry. Jeremy Penner came up with the idea for the first Pirate Kart as a way for the Glorious Trainwrecks community to collaborate on something for TIGSource’s “B-Game” competition. To galvanize the community, he set an absurd goal: make 100 games in 48 hours and package them as a single entry in the competition.

The IGF Pirate Kart continues the spirit of the Pirate Kart but with a new twist: instead of making brand new games for it, mostly people are entering the games that they are proud of, but not “big” or “polished” or “real” enough to be worth the entry fee.

Conceptually I don’t mind this. There are a lot of reasons to make games and there is no law saying you need to spend a million years polishing something to release it. Sometimes it’s good to just let loose and do whatever the heck you feel like. There is no reason for game making to be exclusionary. Also no reason for me to have to play it, but Twitter lit up with talk about how important and awesome the pirate kart is. I had to take a look.

Now, I only played about 20-40 out of the roughly 300 games. At best that’s 13% of the game. But I felt like I played enough. I felt extremely disappointed. I felt like I was, for the most part, playing Action 52. The good ideas I saw were nothing but good ideas — unpolished, raw ideas that were mostly too crude to properly enjoy for me. Sometimes they were just a single clever gag, or other times something utterly unplayable. Now, I have no beef with these games being bad exactly. They are what they are. They were made under extreme conditions for a particular purpose. The thing that gets me is the reaction. Before I say anything else, let me just say I don’t feel ‘right’ about anything I’m going to say. It is my own frustration and confusion that’s coming out here. I don’t want to rain on any parades. I don’t want to force people to see my opinions. I kept off the IGFPirateKart hashtag. But if anyone is checking my blog or twitter, they obviously want to know how I feel, and this is how I feel.

I feel like the indie community lauds mediocrity. I think they overvalue concept and undervalue execution. As I’ve always felt, ideas are cheap. Everyone has a million ideas and it’s nice that people can get them out… But it’s when a person takes an idea and polishes the heck out of it and makes something beautiful — that’s what gets my attention. I feel like an illustrator among abstract artists. While I concern my self with form and carefully constructed lines, the majority of the community is just having a stream of conciousness. They are embracing their flaws. Are they wrong? I can’t say that. Flaws add character. Even on those who aim to polish their work, everything comes out with flaws and those flaws are part of what defines a game. They just take it to a far greater degree than I can stomach. It’s not wrong, but to me it is alien. In a way it seems even more different than just being ‘more extreme’. It feels like something else and I can’t bring my self to enjoy any of it.

I released a very flawed and very buggy game. Sometime in the next year I will release another game. It will probably be less flawed and less buggy, but it will be far from perfect. But I try and will continue to try. I’m sure some of the people who contributed from the pirate kart will try too. We’re all people who love good games (though our definitions will differ). But it seems to me like less people will strive toward the unattainable when people heap endless praise on a day’s work. People spent less time on their game than I’ve spent -planning- in game menus! Now, that’s not wrong, but the response I would want to hear is “This is a great concept. Now take it and make it shine”. Some surely will do just that, but that doesn’t seem like the prevailing atittude. I don’t want to just see someone’s brain droppings, I want to see their best effort.

This is where I am left feeling like an old man. Now I know many of the more ‘artful’ indie folk and I can appreciate their opinions. Heck, my bro Zara, who’s rather mechanically minded is into this whole indie kart thing. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see peoples wacky ideas. That said, it’s lonely over here. Where everyone is thinking about art and expression, my mind is in mechanic, loving the dirty and the nitty-gritty of game design. During all these IGF related talks about wanting the community to be inclusionary and “represent everyone”, I feel my self more and more distanced from the whole thing… and I wish them the best. I don’t even necessarily want to be part of the community. I’m a pretty introverted guy. It just feels weird to technically be ‘a part’ of something that is so alien to me.

Oh well, this won’t stop me from doing anything, it just feels weird and I had to get all this out.

7 thoughts on “I Am an Old Man: The IGF Pirate Kart

  1. well.
    if you ask me
    it’s a bunch of crap.

    ask someone what a “two hour game” is. if he says “a game that takes two hours to beat” he is a normal person and probably pretty sane about most things. if he says “a game made in two hours” he’s a fucking crazy person. there have never been good games made in two hours. there have never been decent games made in two days.

    it’s really a bunch of crap.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_polarization see also

  2. It makes sense as a way to spread and propagate ideas, so I like it in that respect. Ideas are cheap, but it’s still hard to think up every idea or variations of an idea. By making rough games and sharing them you’re helping to spread ideas beyond just theorycrafting them. Even a flawed game can still show off why a single idea is good. To me the eventual goal is the idea that developers can use the knowledge they’ve learned from all these flawed implementations to pull together and bundle good ideas they may have never otherwise thought of.

    Which really is nothing revolutionary, everyone pulls ideas from other games (hell just look at Brave Earth Prologue which is awesomely combining concepts from Smash Brothers and Castlevania among other influences). The only difference is you have designers with free time making flawed games just to show off proofs of concept (and some who just make flawed games I suppose). I think why it’s a big deal to them is sharing has been a core part of the indie community for a while and stuff like the piratekart represents a big level of sharing ideas. So the whole thing makes little sense to me as well. It’s a bunch of concept games bundled together that I might otherwise not want to bother downloading and checking out. Cool, but not a big deal at all.

    What this has to do with the IGF or any controversy… I don’t see it. A bundle of flawed games isn’t any better than the best game of the bundle (which isn’t going to be very good since they’re unpolished) and the entry fee is most likely there to limit entries because it takes time and money to judge entries. I can’t see any IGF controversy being anything more than developers disappointed they can’t get cheap marketing by entering the IGF.

  3. I think it goes back to something you posted earlier: Ideas are cheap; Execution is expensive. Great execution of a common idea makes a great game. Poor execution of a great idea makes for crappy games. As a player, I don’t mind that ideas are rehashed. And indeed if you read enough literature, you begin to realize that almost all new ideas are not revolutions but evolutions upon previous concepts. Having a neat thing that nobody else has done before has appeal to the game maker (to be unique, to be Special!), but to communicate that effectively you need great attention and care to the execution, aka polish.

    Sadly, that is nearly impossible to do in a mere two days.

  4. The challenge of making a game in two days could be part of the process of learning the craft, but when it stands in for that process something is going wrong. How much that lies with the game makers and how much with the audience is unclear.

    Certainly craftsmanship is what’s at stake. It happens in any creative field; fashion designers with no sense of pattern cutting or the technicalities of fabric, artists relaying concepts to a studio of helpers and so on.

  5. Well the thing is, if you’re cranking a game out that fast, you aren’t even learning anything you can take forward. You’re just coming up with an idea, putting in the minimal amount of effort to toss that idea up on the screen, MAYBE sketching out a couple levels, and tossing it out there, without ever testing it to see what does and doesn’t work, tweaking things to pin down how to design levels that fit with it (or, how to design levels at all), etc. etc. The only knowledge you’ve gained is how to do a probably lousy implementation of a single gimmick which probably doesn’t even have any legs.

    The thing that always amazes me with quickly dashed out indie shovelware like this is how often the designers try to superficially emulate Portal. Seriously. Just go take a look at the offerings from, say, any given flash portal and count up how many involve stark barren “test chambers” or a “funny” AI. What is it? Like, half?

    Now go count how many take away what, as a game designer, should be what stands out about Portal- Taking a novel, complex mechanical concept, and designing an entire game around the player naturally developing an understanding of its nuances, making full use of them, and calling it a day. Did you find even one?

  6. While I do agree that the pirate kart is host to some truly awful titles, it’s a good chance to get something out when you don’t have enough time for a full game and keep yourself active: also, it’s a chance to divulge game ideas that would never work as a full game.

    If anything, the indie community lauds a short attention span.

  7. The real problem with the IGF Pirate Kart is this part:

    “instead of making brand new games for it, mostly people are entering the games that they are proud of, but not “big” or “polished” or “real” enough to be worth the entry fee.”

    In theory this was a way to raise the level of quality a bit higher than the usual goofy free-wheeling Klik-of-the-Month material. In practice what it meant was that the IGF Kart is inundated with old Ludum Dare entries. I don’t know how much attention you pay to the various game jam communities but LD in particular has produced maybe two decent games [i]ever.[/i] It means that a large percentage of the games on the kart are just as mechanically “bad” as your average KotM improvisation, but without the charming punk spirit.

    Submitting to the IGF was a mistake. KotM and the Pirate Karts were never meant to be subject to real critique or scrutiny, that’s the whole beauty of them. When you try to dress trash up as something respectable, you negate the whole point of being trash in the first place.

    All that said, Murder Dog IV is on the Pirate Kart so that completely redeems it.

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