Seattle’s SoDo industrial district might not be the place you would expect to find a den of game developers. But just a few blocks south of the city’s pro sports stadiums, through two unassuming front rooms, you’ll find the headquarters of the Seattle Indies non-profit organization.
The large, open room is packed with comfortable couches and coworking spaces for Seattle-based indie developers. And this weekend, it was also home to hundreds of power cords, quickly improvised working spaces, and 52 devs taking part in the Global Game Jam, an annual game development hackathon that drew 35,000 participants this year.
Tim Cullings, a board member of Seattle Indies and a systems engineer at Facebook-owned Oculus, says the goal of the jam is less about creating a finished game and more about exploring new ideas.
“A lot of people come here for a creative release. Maybe they have a job that doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they would like to, or they’re set in one part of the game developing process and they want to come here and be an artist or try their hand at making sound,” Cullings explained.
Each Global Game Jam has a secret theme and a set of modifiers designed to challenge developers to think outside the box. This year’s theme was “wave,” and teams made some creative decisions on how to apply it.
In one team’s game, Tidal Takedown, the player controls a wave in a bay, sweeping up objects and absorbing waves smaller than it. In Sound Tetris, players must combine sound waves to keep the tone they hear from getting too loud. And in Hue Me, Baby! the player must satisfy the emotional needs of their date — if the date’s waves of emotion become too extreme, the date is over.
One team took the theme very literally: they developed an arcade-style surfing game called Flippy Board, and even constructed a mock surfboard as a controller.
Cullings said the Global Game Jam is a great place for creative release, and is also an important way for Seattle’s thriving indie scene to make connections and potentially find new partners.
“We have really all levels of developers here in Seattle, from professionals who left their triple-A jobs at Microsoft or Bungie to start their own studio, or beginners who are straight out of DigiPen or another gaming college and are just starting off their career,” Cullings said.
“I meet new people every month at our social events that we do that say they have moved here just to be a part of the game development scene in Seattle,” he said.
Cullings said Seattle’s indie dev scene is thriving, so much so that the site actually had to turn some developers away because they had hit their maximum capacity. Several devs chose to work from home during the event so they could still take part.
That thriving community is why Seattle Indies, originally a loose organization of volunteers, recently became an official nonprofit. Cullings and four other local developers serve on the nonprofit’s board, and are looking for ways to better serve Seattle’s indie dev scene.
Another Seattle Indies board member, Alex Schearer, said building a more cohesive community is a big goal for the nonprofit. Schearer left a programming job at Microsoft two years ago to start working on his puzzle-based game, Tumblestone, full-time, but has been involved in Seattle’s indie game scene for much longer.
“To a huge extent, what we do today sprung from the minds of some of our organizers,” Schearer said, adding that he hopes the nonprofit can start implementing ideas that come from other devs in community.
Schearer also said Seattle is “one of the best places to be an indie game developer,” in large part because giants like Nintendo of America, Microsoft Xbox, and PC gaming platform Valve are all based in the area.
So what can gamers do if they want to support local indie devs? Schearer said attending indie game showcases, like the Seattle Indies Expo and the Indie Megabooth at PAX, is a good starting point. He also said coming to Seattle Indies events and meeting developers one-on-one can be a good way to get involved.
In the meantime, check out all the games developed at the Seattle Indie’s site this weekend, as well as these games, developed at another local site hosted by the Academy of Interactive Entertainment.