When I heard word that Phil Hassey (the creator of Galcon) was planning a crazy houseboat trip to a giant lake in the middle of the desert for indie game developers, it didn’t take me too long to decide that I wanted to be a part of it!
Like a lot of indies I’ve talked to (myself included), we can tend to get kind of isolated by our solitary work and lifestyle. Phil had vacationed on Lake Powell a few times before on family getaways, so when he found himself inspired by Colin Northway’s GDC 2013 Indie Soapbox talk (at around the 1:04 mark) about the benefits of travelling with other indie game developers, he stepped up and organized this trip.
Part of that organization involved asking the eight of us that were attending to submit talk ideas in advance which he then created the conference schedule from. Most people lead two talks spread out over the course of four days. Generally talks were 45 minutes long and there were four occurring each day. Most talks began with a basic introduction and setup by the developer who proposed it, and then the talk largely turned into a round-table discussion about the topic.
Indie Boat 2013 Schedule
It worked out quite well in practice and I found a lot of value in the variety of things we discussed as well as the different perspectives and experiences each developer had to share.
I ended up leading two talks:
The first talk was framed as Music as More than Background–a round-table discussion about the ways to push the current boundaries of music’s relationships to games. I was able to share some of my thoughts on how to harness music’s emotional and evocative power to affect both the creation of and player interaction with games. I was very pleased with the amount of good discussion we had during my talk because I wasn’t sure how many others would share my passion for music. As it turns out, others did!
My second talk was titled Environment as Story/Character and was loosely about my explorations into world building and environmental storytelling. We all discussed games we felt had done this well and also pondered more ways that games could further evolve the genre.
It was informative and inspiring to hear everyone else’s thoughts on my topics. My only regret is that we didn’t record everyone’s discussions as there were a lot of cool ideas to share. I’m left with my notes at least!
The Indie Boat Eight under Rainbow Bridge
Here are a few other examples of some of the many talks that were lead:
Phil had us discussing Indie Survival–but not in monetary terms, rather more about work/life balance and mental health.
We had Kim Voll teaching us all sorts of fascinating facts about Reframing Artificial Intelligence as well as Cognitive Game Design.
Andy Moore convinced me of the value of Sharing our Personal Story–via written and/or video blogs–and how that can have a lot of positive and unforeseen benefits down the road.
There was even a tools discussion lead by Gavin Bowman that had us weighing the pros and cons of how best to develop our games for the many platforms that existing (and the new ones that are on the way.)
Almost a full moon.
Other than the four talk sessions each day, the trip was largely unstructured.
We had five days to get the houseboat up into the canyon as far as we wanted and then make sure to turn around in time to make it back to the marina.
We made it from the Wahweap Marina all the way to Rainbow Bridge National Monument and back with plenty of neat stops and distractions along the way.
Every afternoon we would pick out a new spot to anchor the houseboat and setup camp. I managed to sleep on the top deck almost every night (barring a few rain scares that chased me inside briefly.) I’d never slept outside in a place without bugs so it was an amazing experience staring up at the clouds, moon, and bats swooping all around.
The days were filled with fun swimming, exploring, and many speedboat shenanigans. Outside of the scheduled talks there was much free form discussing of game design and game development.
Our first night’s camping spot.
The whole trip was just so surreal surrounded by all that canyon scenery. The rich dark reds, ochres, and tans of the stones and sands mixed beautifully with the big sky and strangely tropical colored waters. I can’t think of a more perfect place to hold a mini-game development conference. I love that most days we did the discussions on the top deck of the houseboat while we navigated the waters encompassed by such grandiose terrain.
I’d definitely go on a trip like this again and take my advice, if someone invites you along to a game development conference on a houseboat, say “Yes!”