From the 18th to the 21st of September, the Ludicious Zürich Game Festival took place for the first time within Switzerland, bringing together partners from the worlds of business, politics, culture, media and education. Hungry and excited about going to my first game festival, I felt as if out of nowhere, caffeine was infused into me. I’m the kind of guy who’s grumpy 99% of mornings throughout the year, but in these few days, my mind switched over to the 1%, the energetic side, and my hunger typically stayed at its highest levels. I walked into Ludicious with a bag filled with my Tascam DR-05 recording device, my notebook, spare pencils, chips, a lot of Korean snacks, and a tomato mozzarella sandwich.

Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia and Urban Development Zurich, the board for Ludicious, aspired to contribute to the development of video games, as it is seen to be a creative form that can still shape and define the 21st century. They endorse events focused on interactive media and they support the creation and promotion of high quality Swiss games.

Within the Kasernenareal and Pädagogische Hochschule Zurich, Ludicious organized its exhibition nearby two halls used for giving talks, keynotes and panels. The exhibition itself was a room illuminated by a dozen monitors showcasing the nominees’ games for the International Competition, the Student Competition, the SGDA Swiss Game Award, Swiss Student Works and European Student Works. With that many games free to play, I couldn’t organize my limitless options. Left, right, and up and down if we’re talking about the Oculus Rift, there were games.

Oculus Rift Game

The International Competition went hand in hand with the €8000 Ludicious Award, directed at game designers with a finished video game project. According to the Ludicious website, “126 games were submitted, out of which 8 nominees have been selected.”

The Student Competition, with a €4000 Outstanding Talent award and a €3000 Diamond in the Rough award for the best video game concept was directed at university or school enrolled students during the 2014 spring semester. The Ludicious website states that there were “53 submitted games, [and] 8 have been selected as nominees.”

The SGDA Swiss Game Award is a game development award which recognizes and commends projects that have set a spotlight on the Swiss game industry. It honors innovation “in form of novel and disruptive ideas in the digital media sector,” according to the SGDA award page.

My first and only panel visit was Michael Böni’s talk on Production: Big Bang vs. Fail Fast. “The goal of my talk is to make the guys sensible to new production approaches and to, let’s say, display the challenges of traditional big bang approaches, where you have one big, long running project and launch at a hard date. And I’m arguing that more modern methods like the fail fast strategy, where you have an iterative approach, test out the market and then do episodic content would be more fruitful and less risky,” said Böni.

GameZfestival took place for the second time in Zurich from the 19th to the 21st of September, featuring an exhibition on Friday characterized by arcade games, on Saturday by the Indie scene, and on Sunday by the board games and the multiplayer classic, all the days falling under the central theme of 1st vs. multiplayer where the development of game design throughout decades was showcased. Knowing that the systems I touched and played were produced decades ago made playing the game feel like I was interacting with history and not just observing it.

gameZfestival Retro Consoles

I attended a talk on FI-Content, the September 12th to 13th Hackathon results and an SAE school presentation given by Bob Sumner, a representative from FI-Content coordinating the gaming effort. FI-Content is an EU-funded project that explores new technology for location based gaming with the goal of moving away from console and playing games out in the world around us.

“Augmented reality is really fantastic because it has this promise to add a magical layer on top of everyday objects, so it can really provide new interaction metaphors and concepts that blend the real world and the virtual world together for new possibilities,” said Bob Sumner, FI-Content representative.

Augmented Reality

The hackathon teams took in this concept of augmented reality and created four puzzles, all of which were combined and made into an app. Two honorable mentions were awarded after the hackathon, each being 250CHF. Second place received a 500CHF cash prize and first place received a 1000CHF prize.

The SAE school presentation opened with an animation and footage of gameplay, all made by students from the school. Within the two year private education, a student must create one animation, one game, and one final project which could be either a game or an animation. An animation, The Ride, was a first-person perspective animation radiating a sense of ambiguity when suddenly the train crashes as you sit in what seems to be a Swiss train.

Mike Rose’s, Taking the Total Biscuit: Getting YouTubers to Cover Your Games talk explored how YouTubers are of more benefit to broadening a game’s viewership and player base than written reviews. He is a UK-based video games journalist, currently the UK editor for Gamasutra.

“People can put across their personalities and their honesty in video form, and viewers like to see that – it’s far easier to get a real impression of how a game plays and whether a person is truly enjoying it in a video, compared to in writing. The traditional press will always continue to play a large role in which games “make it” and which don’t, but as the methods for recording video get easier, we’re only going to see more and more people making the more to video,” said Mike Rose.

An example of Flappy Bird was used, and how at first it went down on a trend line until YouTubers covered it. The game, Race the Sun, also received recognition after a popular YouTuber by the name of NerdCubed played it, increasing the amount of votes it got on Steam Greenlight.

The Games & The One Microsoft Game Development Platform presentation by Lee Stott, Microsoft UK’s Technical Evangelist, focused on giving game developers an introduction to [email protected] and the benefits found within the program. Qualified game developers can self-publish their games on Xbox One through this program while receiving tools and support at no cost. Pablo Rodriguez and Cesar Ortega, the creative minds behind Skara: The Blade Remains showcased their game in the presentation and discussed the opportunities [email protected] provided them with.

Skara The Blade Remains Presskit Image

I met Mikhail Chatillon, the Technical Evangelist at Microsoft Switzerland, and Loïc Duboux, Game Designer at Sunnyside Games. We headed to the Ludicious exhibition to try out the games. Schlicht was extremely challenging. It’s a multiplayer game in which you play two circles colored black or white. In the center of the screen is a stream consisting of multiple channels colored black or white too. As a circle, you cannot touch a stream with the same color as your circle, but the other circle with the opposite color to the stream can serve as a roof to crossing you through the stream. Each circle can pass energy to the other one to make it grow, but if one gets hit by a same colored stream, then its size is limited, thus making the protective “roof” smaller. We finished our game binge with an arcade racing game in which connecting our car trail created a solid obstacle that would stay on the map, making every round more difficult than the previous one. This was serious competition between Chatillon, Duboux and I.

Chatillon and Duboux

The Swiss Student Works and European Student Works sections of the exhibition consisted of six different schools, representing institutions with an international reputation, showcasing four student projects each. The schools, renowned for their education in game design, had their games open for play. The Cologne Game Lab (CGL), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) were three of the schools among the six with their students’ games on display. Miikka Junnila, a Professor of Game Design at Aalto University showed me some of the games his students created. I liked the third-person driving game on the iPad where I had to flee the police without hitting a single obstacle. I failed miserably at that game about eight times, where my rounds consisted of three seconds play time before I hit a wall. It was more difficult than it looked when I watched Junnila play it.


Miikka Junnila Showing Game

In the evening, I met Jeremy Spillmann, the Co-Founder and Lead Game Designer of Blindflug Studios. I also interviewed him two months before the Ludicious Zürich Game Festival. We chatted, ate pizza and went over to Armin Ibrisagic’s talk on How Goat Simulator Really Did Become Our Next Game. Ibrisagic discussed how the concept of Goat Simulator derived from a game jam and gained a gigantic audience through an early alpha state preview of the game on YouTube. After the video was uploaded, it received 80,000 views overnight, followed by 200,000 views by the end of the day. Currently the video has over 4,000,000 views. Ibrisagic barely slept with anticipation running through his veins. Millions of gamers were excited about this unconventional simulator. At one point in the Game Developers Conference, two people walked up to Ibrisagic and his team and they literally threw money at them.

Jeremy and Armin

Armin and I played a few games at the Ludicious exhibition. Krautscape stood out because of its interesting approach to the racing game genre. Not only do the cars operate on the road in that game, but they can spread their wings and work as airplanes. The artistic identity of that game was unique too. It’s available for early access on Steam at the moment.

Krautscape

The gameZfestival was where we went next after eating from the corbelled sandwich arches centered on a dozen tables in the Ludicious exhibition room. The selection of arcade games was incredible. Stepping into that exhibition felt like stepping into the past. Those eager to game on some of the older game systems could walk across the field from the Ludicious exhibition and play them.

Audrey Laurent-André, the Lead User Researcher at Ubisoft Paris, gave a talk on Games User Research which looked into improving games by observing who plays them. Laurent-André discussed the gameplay loop: objective, challenge and reward, and how if there’s a usability issue with one of those core elements in a game, then following the player inputs will be no output information. Balancing level difficulty curves and economic systems was discussed too, information valuable for game developers in the state of testing their game.

When all the talks, panels, workshops and keynotes were done, the award ceremony presented the award winners out of 8 nominees for the International Competition and the 8 nominees for the Student Competition. A Tale of Two Worlds was awarded the €8000 Ludicious Award. Expands received an honorable mention from the jury. Under the Student Competition, Tower Offense was given the €4000 Outstanding Talent Award and Soft Body was given the €3000 Diamond in the Rough Award.

Expands

On Saturday night, a giant mapping projection of Pac-Man, by g3dev, was displayed on one of the Kasernenareal buildings. Light illuminated the dark and the game attracted people curious of the huge projection. A free concert by Vendredi Soir Swing took place that same night, at the Alte Kaserne. There’s nothing better after a night of socializing, gaming and sandwiches, than barefoot gypsy music.

Pacman

About The Author

Andrew Ehrensperger

I'm Andrew, a Russian-Canadian dude living in Switzerland. I enjoy playing video games (obviously :P) and writing. I speak English, Russian, German, and I'm learning Spanish. My first console was either the GameCube or the Xbox. Both of them are terrific, but now I'm more of a PC gamer. I don't have a favorite game, but I spent over 2500 hours playing Garry's Mod and almost my entire childhood playing TimeSplitters: Future Perfect.