Friday, March 9, 2007


As I sit here, listening to the Flame Trick Sub's rendition of 'Plastic Jesus', I am brought back to their rocking performance at the Gathering of Developer's Holy Lot back in 2000. "Sing loud. Sing strong. Sing like the beer in your hand was brought to you by the Lord."

G.O.D. created a trailer park of sin and gratifyingly poor taste in a parking lot next to the edifice of E3. The free beer required an ID, but anyone could be entertained by the midget pole dancers, befatted 'Satan's Cheerleaders' and the bevy of Catholic school girls cum floor talent. As a business, the Gathering burned and sank into the Texas swamp. A few Easters later, the team was resurrected as the high class publisher Gamecock. They now insist on mimes outfitted with Kiss makeup when they throw a party. Ah, such is the mellowness that comes with age.

I can't say anything about the games they released or their business plan. The thing that delights me is that they actually appear to possess a personality. You know, one of those crackling zestful outbursts so chock full of rainbow sparkles that the gray morasses of humanity momentarily pauses and perhaps stare.

The existence of a vibrant personality hints at an abnormality of thought that I happily associate with the destruction of the status quo. Admittedly, such human ElectroPlanktons are not necessarily revolutions in and of themselves. They are however, day glow markers that let us know that the broader community supports and rewards a spectrum of behavior generally not considered predictable or rational by the wise majority. If the freaks can survive here, it must be quite fine to get a little freaky.

Personalities of Christmas Past
When I was an impressionable young scrapper, there were people visibly and crazily in love with games. Molyneux was so hip I named my female cat after him. Minter had his llama fixation, George Sanger, aka The Fat Man wore his Suits of Infinite Coolness. Richard Garriot built a goddamn castle. On a more personal level, dozens of my compatriots made shareware games, not for the money but because they were mad with passion (and more than a little angst.) Katanas, furry conventions, giant stuffed animals and whigger posturing were par for the course. From big to small, these were electric personalities casting sparkling arcs of inspiration throughout the industry. You could be guaranteed that at the very least, your gaming coworkers would be colorful.

Upon graduation from college, the options were obvious. A bright lad like myself could work my way up in an established business. Intern, copy boy, illicit affair, promotion, paycheck. Maybe I could even become a 'high level middle manager' one day. One day. In contrast, the kaleidoscopic roosters in the game industry yodeled from atop their precarious unicycles, proclaiming there was still a job where you could be creative, alive and yourself. Once, I heard the call and I do not regret a second of the ride.

When the music stops, turn out the lights
Years passed. The industry matured. For a while, I thought personality might have died. The same old names were trotted out when the believers asked "Whither the creativity?" Franchises and brands were established. Did anyone stop to nurture and grow the industry's creative spirit? Process is great, but it needs to be the sort of process that still allows for the construction of a life sized sofa out of pastel mini marshmallows and spritzer. You know, one with matching felt pillows.

A New Hope
A little while ago I got a chance to meet Daniel James of Three Rings. I hear he wears a pirate hat. I know for a fact that he also happens to carry about a long scarf in case the opportunity arises to dress up as Doctor Who. I wanted to hug the man. That might have been awkward.

The spark of revolution still glows.

I recently stopped by Derek Yu's site TIGSource forums. My god, what a wonderfully bitchy bunch of ill informed hackers and dilettantes. These are the sort of people that make games about Columbine. Oh, and several of them just won the Indy Game of the Year award at GDC. They'll produce a lot of crap, but they'll also be willing to push buttons and boundaries. We all benefit when our perspectives on what is possible are reset.

Indie communities driven by strong personalities that match the old glory days of PC shareware are rising again. Smaller MMOs, village games, are growing like communal fungus on the dark underbellies of the internet. L33t Flash developers with amazing hair are rediscovering the demo scene 20 years after the fact. They are using their new found skillz to

To quote Scripture, "For those about to rock, we salute you." Yes, we do.

It makes sense that folks with personality are emerging at this time in history. The big consoles throwing money at the problem of innovation in order to differentiate themselves from the pack. The PC world with platforms like Torque, RPG Maker, Flash and XNA has put massively powerful technology in the hands of the small teams on the fringe. Digital distribution is coming of age. All of this means a wider range of people making games and more unedited press for those who rarely are coached in proper 'rod-up-the-rump' PR etiquette. I watched this year's IGF awards and was intensely proud of all the stuttering and yammering.

Creative Canaries
Personality matters. We need our anarchists, yiffers, cross dressers and virtuous assholes. They are the canaries in the coal mine. Where they exist, they indicate that our industrial culture venerates the rule breaking that these larger-than-life personalities embody. Where they do not exist or are not tolerated, beware. Creative expression requires a conducive cultural environment. If you lack that environment, even simple innovations are often an act of banging your skull against a thick granite wall.

Cultivate your canaries. Cultivate the unique spirit of large-than-life personalities. Encourage people to shatter a few boundaries. Reward them, even. Especially if they make games that reflect these values.

This is the time (once again) to get freaky.

take care

Chandelier made from gummy bears


  1. The canary in a coal mine aspect is especially true. I find it interesting to contrast the two environments I've got the most experience in.

    On one hand you have openly hostile environments, badly run universities with a level of political infighting and backstabbing that makes each day a drama-fest worthy of a soap opera.

    On the other hand you have stable and organised software house. There's always some crap going wrong with the app, but no one really cares. It does the job well enough and it sells well enough.

    The university gathers quirky, inventive and wildly creative personalities like three week old leftovers gather fungi.

    The software house is a great place to work. Nice, stable and full of friendly people. But it's lack of soul drives you batshit insane after a while. You have to figure out how to compensate after-hours.

    Then, of course, you run the risk of becoming this really nice, stable and utterly boring guy with a mildly interesting hobby.

    (I'll stop before I start to run off too much on a tangent :) )

  2. G.O.D. are the last group I would have thought of as "freaks" of the industry. If they had a personality it was the hooting fratboy spending his allowance on beer and lapdances. They were supposed to be the New Hope of independent developers at (what turned out to be) a pivotal moment in the industry, and they pissed away money they should have spent promoting their games so Mike Wilson could get carted around E3 in a sedan chair by women.

    Don't think for a moment they let real freaks into E3 - they make the suits skittish, you know?

    I don't mean to denigrate your main point though, which is right on... viva the real freaks, the people who are uncontainably creative and weird. By and large those people are what got the industry off the ground two decades ago. Like you say I wish there were more contemporary examples to point to.