Indie Dublin: One Game a Month and DubLUDO

Last week I published the interview I did with Colm Larkin from Gambrinous. We met at the One Game a Month (aka 1GAM) meetup they hosted at Against the Grain in Dublin, a lovely pub.

The meetup started three years ago and each month has a theme, like many other game jams, but the event is relaxed and casual, the theme only there if you can’t come up with anything else. “If you have an idea for a game, then just do that, the theme is just there to help.” Colm mentioned. He sees 1Gam as an opportunity to meet new talent and catch up with friends. And that was the vibe I go from it all, these were old and new friends, sharing drinks, food and a good laugh over their ideas. There were developers, designers, artists, composers and some writers.

For this jam the theme was depth, but the games were an eclectic sort, reflecting the creative freedom One Game a Month is all about. One of them was a procedural music game. In another you controlled a quicksilver shaft across a road, avoiding giant spheres and other obstacles and another involved digging and shaping a landscape to merge spheres together. There was even a point & click adventure game, developed with a new set of tools for Unity that allow drag & drop game development.

But while other game jams focus on the competition and a winner, One Game a Month, as I previously mentioned, is more about the community. The devs there were just as interested in showing their game to the attendants as they were of sharing a good pint, a nice story and a good joke with everyone else. It was a terrific and relaxed environment and one that I feel is great for new developers. There isn’t any pressure to deliver, just enjoy your time there.

Sons of Sol looks cool already!
Sons of Sol looks cool already!

Last Thursday I went to another Dublin indie event at Colm’s suggestion, DubLUDO. Compared to 1Gam, Colm described this as a more official meet, for more professional indie developers. And if the quality of the products on show is anything to go by, he was spot on.

Owen Harris started DubLUDO two years ago with the goal of creating a space dedicated to quality. Not for marketing and sale, but for indie devs to show what they were working on and could receive honest feedback on how their game played. He told me it came to him after spending years going to evens and only hearing chats about marketing and sales, but none on polishing a game until it worked.

As it is now, DubLUDO is a more casual event where the different developers can meet and catch up and work with each other, but Owen aims for it to become that collaborative quality-focused space he envisioned.

As I arrived at the event in the Odessa Club, Owen took the mic for a speech and revealed the meaning behind the differently coloured tags everyone wore (and which confused me on arrival). Whoever had a blue tag was someone offering their services to indie developers, be it coding, art, music, etc. And those with green tags were looking for help. It might seem silly to you but I felt it was a big step in the direction of Owen’s ambition for the event. The moment he put the mic down, I saw a group of people with green and blue tags huddle together and exchange business cards and speak of their different projects. It worked, it got people to talk and hopefully collaborate on building great games and I tip my hat to Owen and co-organiser, wife and Larian Studios writer Char for the brilliant idea.

As for the games, the ones I tried hooked me instantly. Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest is an interesting SHMUP. Your ship is part of a squad protecting a vessel through an asteroid belt. You need to destroy the giant incoming space rocks and fight off enemy fighters. Sounds straightforward so far but what makes it unique for me is that there are proper Newtonian physics at work. Thrust will generate momentum in whatever direction you’re facing, and if you want to move in the opposite direction, you’ll first have to come to a stop by using your thruster in the opposite direction and fight the current directional speed. It makes maneuvering in the asteroid field extremely challenging but also quite rewarding when you pull it off. The game is on pre-Alpha, but developer Kevin Murphy—a dude with a cool name—plans to hit kickstarter next year once he’s progressed enough. He’s currently on the lookout for a pixel artist, so if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll get you together!

F-Drum is pretty awesome!
F-Drum is pretty awesome!

Ballistic started out as “The Paddle Game,” before Andrew Carass decided to give it a proper name. I only had a few minutes to play it but it struck me as a wonderful party game. Each player takes control of a coloured paddle in a multicoloured-walled cage. There are light balls bouncing around the room, and you need to intercept them with your paddle to change their colour and that of the walls they hit. But with the balls coming from multiple angles, you need to turn your paddle to face them or they destroy you, forcing you to respawn and waste time and possibly lose the walls you had already claimed. It’s fast-paced, engaging and extremely fun! The game is Andrew’s final project for university and he has plans on taking it further, hoping Steam or Xbox Live and PSN.

The Umbrella Game is a project by Stephen Larkin and Peter Cantwell, two of Owen’s students. It’s an umbrella-flying simulator. As the name implies you control an umbrella and you float, glide and pivot to move through the environment. What I played was a proof of concept demo, but the guys assured me they had a lot more planned. And to keep with the feedback and quality focus of DubLUDO, they grilled me for honest feedback on what worked and what didn’t and I obliged.

F-Drum Masta is Esteban Moreno’s graduation project. It’s a visually simple game but it’s extremely fun and complex. It’s a rhythm game, like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, but instead of playing on a guitar or similar instrument, you press button on a small number-pad-like controller. Each button has a color and it matches one on screen. As the notes scroll towards a black & white bar on the edge of the screen you need to press the buttons on time to keep the music going. It sounds simple but with 9 possible buttons to press, it takes precision and coordination, and I don’t have much of that to be honest. Still, I managed to clear the intro level and Esteban congratulated me for being the only one to finish it that evening. Then again, I only had one pint of Guinness in me while the rest had about triple that amount by the time I arrived, so maybe being sober is the way to go.

As I’ll be living in Dublin now, I think I’ll go to more of these events and see what new stuff the Irish indie community comes up with and to keep an eye out on the progress on some of these titles I’ve seen.

I’d like to thank Colm Larkin once more for inviting me to both events!

My Dublin Perspective

I’ve been in Dublin for two months now, and with a job secured it looks like I’ll be here for a while longer. But ever since I came here, the city’s struck me as odd—so many contradictions and quirks—more than I’ve seen in any other city I’ve visited.

Dublin is a city, but doesn’t feel like one, it feels like a big town instead. There’s a sense of familiarity, of close-knitted community that is perhaps impossible to find in any other capital in the world. Dubliners themselves are a mix of open and friendly townies, always keen to hear a new story and see a new face, and victims of what I call Big City Syndrome—no one looks at you in the eye and just walks on taking care of their own business. At any point of the day you can meet either type of Dubliner.

Dublin has a ‘robust’ public transport system…that no one understands. I felt better about being new in town when I saw locals having trouble figuring out which bus went where. There are buses running through the city all day and it’s not uncommon for people to wait for a specific one even if the two before it had the same overall route. I’ve seen people give up on finding a bus and just take a taxi.

Thankfully, it’s a very walkable city. As long as you’re within walking distance of the city centre, you can get anywhere.

After living in Canada, the postal system in Dublin makes very little sense to me. Unlike other countries with six-letter postal codes, Dublin postal codes are much simpler and depend a lot more on street name and house number than a specific code. There are 24 postal zones in Dublin, Dublin 1 to Dublin 24, with odd numbers north side and even ones for the south, the River Liffey being the line separating them. Funnily enough, the distance between one Dublin zone and another is minimal. At the moment I’m writing this I’m in Dublin 9 and that is about 30 minutes away from the city centre on foot.

 

For me, as an immigrant and admittedly someone who’s still discovering what he’s capable of, a bit of a late bloomer in that regard at 31 years of age, Dublin has perhaps offered me more chances than any other place in the world to do things and have new experiences.

I didn’t like going out until late at night or going to pubs, as I don’t really drink. I did have a pint of Guinness two weeks ago, but mostly for trying something new. As I did, I spoke to an old Dubliner in the bar and realised the appeal of the Pub. I understood the pub culture of Ireland and why even with hundreds if not thousands of them in the city, they were all packed to the rafters every single night.

People think it’s the drinking and Irish people have a reputation for it. But there’s much more to it. Pubs are about community, about having fun in an amazing and relaxed environment. The drinks are just icebreakers in the end. Pubs are places where everyone is equal, the young man and the old fellow, the big boss and the fresh employee. In a pub everyone’s just another man or woman looking to have a good time.

In the past three weeks I’ve sang—butchered—Irish traditional music, I’ve gone to lectures on famous Irish Writers, met up with fun people I had never met before and even walked home close to midnight. This last bit would scared the hell out of me in the past, but here it’s not a problem. Dublin might feel like a small town but it’s one of the most active cities I’ve ever seen and the streets are full until very late in the evening, even in the middle of the week.

 

I’ve expanded my tastes since I’ve come here and every week has had a new experiences, something fun to do and something more to learn about myself and the people around me. So when I say this, believe me that it is true: I’m happy I came here.

This place and its people are mental, they’re strange and interesting and it doesn’t take much to have fun. Having said so, Dublin can seem boring at first, like there’s not much to do except go drinking and eating. But when you start looking for trouble and go through the websites for city events you start to see just how much there is to do, especially if you love stories, good music, art, theatre and that beautiful Gaelic.

This is a strange place, but it’s also really fun.

Now I can’t wait to see the rest of the country!

Attic Cleanup – 2013 and Special People!

It’s been an interesting year, with ups down, monkey wrenches in plans and some truly fantastic, borderline epic moments, and I just can’t wait for what 2014 will bring, because I have the distinct feeling that it’ll be awesome.

Continue reading Attic Cleanup – 2013 and Special People!