Three years ago, a pair of independent game developers decided there should be a place for local Boston-based indie developers like themselves to come and show off their work to fellow indie game fans. This idea soon culminated in the first ever Boston Festival of Indie Games (or Boston FIG for short) which drew in a sizable crowd, featured several informative panels and guest speakers, and a bunch of different indie games all of which were made by local New England-based developers. Now, the festival’s third yearly outing is right around the corner (September 13) and I got to chat with both of the festival’s co-directors about what’s in store for this year’s show. As an added bonus, I also got to talk with members of the development studio Proletariat, whose new game World Zombination will be featured at this year’s Boston FIG.
Despite the resounding success of the two previous shows, Boston FIG co-directors Dan Silvers (who is also the founder of local indie studio Lantana Games) and Aerjen Tamminga (who uses his skills in clinical psychology to help bolster his indie development endeavors) have been listening to feedback and working hard to ensure this year’s show is even better.
“It's been an unbelievable experience to watch [the] Boston FIG grow over the last three years,” Silvers said in an email correspondence. “From two thousand people in overstuffed classrooms to seventy-five hundred people in the Johnson Athletic Center, this year our focus has been on making our established format work more smoothly than before. We're ironing out the kinks and we're making sure everyone is more prepared for what's about to go down. What will make it memorable is the concerted effort to make it run right.”
As for specific changes, Silver said his chief concern this time around was incorporating feedback from attendees in as much as possible and this year that means featuring panels and discussions based around ideas submitted by the Boston FIG community.
“The big change this year is our community-submitted talks and panels. In the past, we built all our own panels and talks from scratch, with the exception of last year's lightning talks. Now, not only are those returning, but there are going to be many great, informative, educational, and just plain fun panels given by members of the community that we never could have built ourselves.”
As someone whose work, both game-related and otherwise, focuses on education, Tamminga felt that featuring panels centered around community-submitted ideas was an especially important next step.
“Next to upping the quality on most things, we've gone the extra mile in terms of presentations this year. We realized that we want our audience as involved as possible and asked for talk submissions with interactive elements. As a non-profit we have an education related goal and we believe the best way of learning is doing. The result is an overwhelming amount of interesting talks we couldn't have imagined ourselves.”
Tamminga also echoed Silvers’ sentiment about community feedback and said that another key piece of said feedback, namely the amount of space available to both developers and attendees, has also been addressed.
“One piece of feedback last year was that the space felt a bit cramped at times, so we've secured festival space that's a lot larger with more room to move about. As a big tabletop aficionado I'm really proud of the explosive growth of the tabletop showcase submissions. It's really great to see tabletop games on a more even level with digital games at a festival.”
Of course, the Boston FIG wouldn’t be what it is without a whole host of games to feature and Silvers has promised yet another massive showcase of indie titles, many of which will be fully playable for those in attendance.
“We had over 200 games submitted to the digital and tabletop showcases, not to mention our incoming game development sponsors will be bringing their games with them. I may be biased but I am looking forward to Lantana Games' Steam Early Access stealth game Children of Liberty, *cough cough*. In all seriousness, the Boston Indies community is going to be very well represented at the show, and we are putting out some fantastic games in 2014 and beyond.”
Among these 200 games are recognizable titles such as the hit iOS beat-em-up Big Action Mega Fight from developer Double Stallion and the quirky first-person cat simulator Catlateral Damage from Chris Chung. There will also be virtual reality games such as Ben Kane’s Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, artistic titles such as Upper One Games’ Never Alone and Kara Stone’s Sext Adventure, and completely new and original game concepts such as the previously-mentioned World Zombination from Proletariat. In a separate email interview, I got to discuss World Zombination’s unique premise, in which players can play as either survivors or zombies in isometric strategy gameplay, with the Proletariat team.
If the idea of an asynchronous strategy multiplayer game in which the two warring factions are humans and zombies sounds odd to you, don’t worry because you’re not alone. However, according to Proletariat co-founder and CEO Seth Sivak , the humans vs. zombies part was actually the tail-end of the team’s base idea for a game.
“We knew early on that we wanted to do a faction-based game,” Sivak said in our email correspondence. “The theme choice was driven by our art director, who wanted to create a new spin on the zombie apocalypse, but all of the founders were behind the idea. The different types of gameplay for humans and zombies came through a bunch of prototyping and just grew organically over time as we kept trying things to find what was the most fun.”
While World Zombination will primarily be a faction-based PvP game, Sivak also confirmed there will be PvE elements as well such as a lengthy story campaign meant to help ease new players in and build up their characters.
“We do have a story campaign that players can complete to steadily upgrade their hero unit, which is a piloted mech for humans and a mutated mad scientist for zombies. Guilds can participate in PvE raids on cities and we will also have single player asynchronous PvP. There are a lot of different ways to play for players of all types.”
The ultimate goal is to make World Zombination into a fully-fledged MMO-esque mobile game and, as with any ongoing MMO project, Sivak and his team are already thinking about the future after the game’s full release.
“Our goal is to release content packs with new units and cities, along with new features, several times a year. We are ultimately making the type of game we all want to play, and post-launch support is part of that too.”
World Zombination will be just one of the hundreds of games attendees can check out and play for themselves at this year’s Boston FIG. While many of the games featured at the festival may not have the name-recognition or financial backing of games being developed by triple-A studios, you’re not likely to find a more innovative and robust gathering of unique, fun, and oftentimes easy-to-learn games anywhere else. If the prospect of getting to see and try out a massive room’s-full of games like World Zombination sounds like a fun time to you and you’ve got ten bucks (the price of an admission ticket) to spare, it looks like this year’s Boston FIG will be an even better use of your time than the festival’s previous two showings.
For more info on the Boston FIG or to register, you can check out the festival’s official website. If you want to know more about World Zombination, you can also check out this blog post written by Sivak which discusses the game’s conception and also touches on the challenges of delving into a genre as oversaturated as zombie games.
Special shout out to Boston FIG Festival Publicist Mark Nolan for helping to facilitate correspondence between myself and the festival’s directors.
Nate Hohl has been working as a freelance writer and game journalist ever since he graduated college in 2011. He has written for a large number of different websites including freelancewriting.com and Newegg's gaming site gamecrate.com. While he enjoys writing news and reviews, he feels his skills are best applied when exploring relevant topics and engaging readers through opinion and editorial pieces.