On Sunday, April 15th, the 5th annual PlayExpo made its debut at LIU Post with almost 300 attendees. The PlayExpo allows for talented developers of video game media to showcase their works to be judged and compete among each other for fame and cash prizes. The event was engineered by Elena Bertozzi, the director of LIU Post’s Digital Game Design and Development program.
The first PlayExpo was held at the University of Wisconsin in 2008, but this wouldn’t be the first iteration of this event. Bertozzi explained that during the political climate of the late 1990s and early 2000s, due to the shootings at Columbine, videogames, which were never respected as a medium to begin with, were now being scrutinized as catalysts for violent behavior.
“We will have a title with game in the title over my dead body,” was the kind of responses she received when trying to form a festival that allows for people to display their talents for creating games. Video games had become taboo, and no one was willing to tolerate it on the university level, she explained. She would eventually call her first festival Interactive Digital Environments, Art and Storytelling or IDEAS, as a way around using the word “game.” It was held at Indiana University in 2002.
This was a breakthrough.“[Before this] People didn’t have the opportunity to show their work.” It opened up opportunities for those with talent, who were being held back in an institution that’s supposed to help progress the development of ideas, she explained.
Though the environment has settled down, and video game media has been allowed to develop in the public square, there are still many who oppose the spread of video games. From experience dealing with these critics, Bertozzi contests that “most critics haven’t even played the games they slam.”
One of the games on display,“Against the Wall,” is a first-person puzzle solving game developed by Michael Consoli, a developer visiting from New Jersey. It was a platformer that tasked the player with scaling a wall by using a staff to pull out huge blocks for you to climb on to. The higher up you reached, the more advanced the puzzles became, and the more interesting the environments.
“Delve” was another game featured. Kevin Porras represented a small team of developers from NYU that themselves Blacktorch Games. He was on hand to display some game play elements. The game was a puzzle game, not unlike bejeweled, but with a twist. It had an impressive storyline, which is traditionally vacant from puzzle games of this type, with an emphasis on solving puzzles, while boss characters disrupt your progress with attacks. Porras explained the game allowed for a simple design accessible to casual gamers, but the boss fights, themselves, would always trip you up and change the rules that you were previously accustomed to. Porras was particularly pleased with the PlayExpo. He said, “I am very proud of our team and how we performed at this showcase. This was the first time we have showed Delve to the public, and we were really pleased with the reaction we got. We are grateful that LIU and Elena Bertozzi gave us the chance to show off our hard work. A big thanks to the judges for seeing what we see in our game and to our fellow peers, who also presented that day. It was great to be involved.”
There were two speakers at the event prior to the awards ceremony: Dave Johnson, art director for the original Donkey Kong, and Cindy Au, community director for Kickstarter, an organization that assists independent game developers draw in a fan base and fund their works.
Dave Johnson briefly lectured on the development of art design from games from the era of Donkey Kong all the way to mobile games you’d find on your iPhone. He noted that technology is always changing radically, and sometimes, it actually goes backwards. The case he made was that the games found on iPhones are not quite as advanced as those found on Xbox, but they’re just as popular and important in many ways. The point he was driving home is that for young game developers, it’s more important to focus on things, like color theory and artistic goals outside of the computer, because they’ll always be important to you on any technology you utilize them on.
Cindy Au was the keynote speaker and brought forth an impressive demonstration for Kickstarter. The idea behind Kickstarter is to allow a developer to make a presentation that anyone can watch for free online. The developer sets a goal, and people can choose if they want to back the project with their money; this allows for an early development of a fan base and for projects that would be impossible because of financial reasons to finally get the wheels turning. For instance, Consoli’s “Against the Wall” was made possible due to the donations of backers that he collected through assistance from Kickstarter.
The awards ceremony followed the end of Au’s lecture, and the winners were decided. For the efforts of Blacktorch Games, they won the coveted Games for Fun Award. Consoli won the People’s Choice Award for “Against the Wall.” A group of Dutch game developers, represented by a Dutch visitor named Francesco Coan, won the game design document category for “Planetary” and the games for programming category for “Horus.” The game “Oh, No!,” developed by Brian Lamey, won the 2D design category.
The big winners of the night were Matt Cooper and Lauren Perugini for “History Investigator: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.” They took home awards for best game with a serious tone, sound design, and interactive conversation. The judges were unanimous in these awards.
Freshman Connor Carey, a Psychology major and music minor, enjoyed the event. “The environment of the forum was very positive with only constructive criticism. The game developers could showcase their games without any negative backlash. The audience was also able to benefit by talking to the people who made the games,” he said.