Aubrey and I were in Austin, Texas last week at the Fantastic Fest Arcade. The main focus of Fantastic Fest is usually on independent film projects but this was the first year ever that the conference went out of its way to reach out to independent game developers. Indies in attendance included Derek Yu, Adam Saltsman, Jonathan Blow, Andy Schatz, Mark Essen, Cactus, Jack Monahan (you may remember his sweet OG concept art) and many more...
I wasn't sure what to expect but the Fantastic Fest arcade ended up being one of coolest conferences we've been invited to so far. The turnout beyond us game developers wasn't huge, but that actually made things pretty relaxing. Instead of being your typical mob scene, conducting and attending panels was more like hanging out with your friends.
There were 2 major locations for the Fantastic Fest arcade. The arcade room itself was located in the ballroom of a bowling alley bar called the Highball (and yes Lebowski fans, I did order a white Russian while I was there). The arcade was great because each of the featured games had its own cabinet. Lugaru wasn't a featured game, but it was one of several indie titles exhibited on the many arcade laptops. Here is a picture I took of two people who happened to be playing Lugaru side by side.
Also on display at the Highball was a Left 4 Dead mod that had perfectly created a virtual copy of the Highball (the modders had referenced the restaurant's actual floor plans).
Compare this screenshot to this real life image! This mod was spot-on.
Throughout the conference there were various competitions going on in the arcade. Derek Yu won the Canabalt tournament with a score of 8008. Aubrey kicked my butt in DDR but the local competitive DDR circuit showed up in full force so neither of us had a shot at the finals.
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
All the indie panels for the conference took place at Theater 6 of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. This was the first time I had been in a theater with a table at every seat and a walking lane between each row so the waiting staff could deliver food and drink to anyone in the audience at any time.
Theatre 6 of the Alamo Drafthouse during the "Declaration of Independents" panel. From left to right: Derek Yu, Jim Munroe, Jon Blow, and moderator Brandon Boyer
One of the best panels (other than ours of course) was hearing Jon Blow and Nacho Vigalondo (writer and director of Timecrimes) discuss the differences between movies and video games. It was a real treat to discover that Nacho is surprsisingly well versed in game design and he and Jon had some very engaging exchanges. The most memorable quote from Nacho occurred while he was expressing his envy that games, unlike movies, can go on for hours and hours while still keeping the player engaged: "Having sex is OK but when you get done, you want to play video games."
Another fun talk was delivered by Lord British aka Richard Garriott, the creator of the Ultima series. He gave us an interesting summary of his game development career while including a few anecdotes about his trip to outer space.
A Little Bit of Star Power
A few celebrities were in town for Fantastic Fest. Aubrey got a chance to see a showing of Independence Day satired by Master Pancake Theatre with Bill Pullman himself in attendance. I got to see a few boxing matches including a bout between Michelle Rodriguez and the owner of the Alamo Drafthouse.
The Michelle Rodriguez fight.
FF Arcade Awards
The conference concluded with an indie games award ceremony. Some developers mentioned liking how the FF Arcade awards presentation was so informal and relaxed when compared to other high-stress venues like the Oscar-style ceremony for the IGF. You can see all the winning indie games here.
Given that this was Fantastic Fest's first foray into independent games, we were quite impressed and hope they continue Fantastic Fest Arcade in the future.