First of all, many thanks to our friend Drew McGee for helping us out and tending the booth with us. Drew is a former compatriot of BioWare and has written for titles such as Bumble Tales and The Banner Saga. He’s also a bright, smiling face who got plenty of people to the booth as well as the hookup from the roaming Red Bull distributors. (Dat Red Bull Silver!)
It was such a treat to meet so many new faces and watch as people genuinely enjoyed our games. We met cosplayers of impressive caliber. Hardcore gamers with impressive skills. Parents who forgot how a simpler game could be fun for (and played by) anyone. Check out some of our attendees on our Facebook page!
As mentioned, we were trying to promote our new Steam Greenlight campaign for Indie Van Game Jam! Everyone seemed to be digging what we were laying down. Everyone was crazy supportive. Fans loved our stickers and seemed to be really interested in the Indie Van Game Jam. Honestly, when you see Stunt Mitch or Round the World in-person, it’s hard not to be a fan.
Indie Heaven, the happening place for indies, was full of great stories and talent. From our high-school neighbors, SmartCade, to the hometown heroes, Dallas Society of Play, the room contained a great level of passion. While Scott got completely addicted to Tumblestone, Chad flocked to KR-17. Big thanks to them and all the other exhibitors who we got to meet.
Hey! Hey! Hey! Have you been impatiently waiting for the second of Indie Van Game Jam? Well, you’re in luck! Our second episode, “Wizards of the East Coast”, just dropped. In this episode we travel from Austin to Orlando to visit Phyken Media, creators of Wizard Ops and Wizard Ops Tactics. You can check it out at the Indie Van Game Jam site and download the game, “Who Wants to Play a Game About Beekeeping!?”
Indie Van Game Jam is a reality web series about the challenges three indie game developers take to create video games in a van — in a compressed amount of time — as they road trip across North America. Special guests (seasoned indie devs) play the games and provide helpful feedback and suggestions for improvement along the way. The team learns valuable lessons about game design and teamwork along the way.
Our plan was to travel to 7 cities in less than 90 days. In fact, for two weeks back-to-back we shot three episodes and traveled to three cities! That’s three playable games in 2 weeks — and a lot of coffee!
This is the definition of BADASS.
Here’s what the team’s January calendar looked like this year:
Step 1: Buy a van.
Diego’s brother (who is fortunately a mechanic!) helped the team out by sending us Craigslist links to about 8 conversion vans in the DAL-ATX-HOU area, as well as tagging along to inspect its quality and driving performance.
Once we procured Big Blue and had it brought to our mechanic, Art, for repair and winterization, the series’ biggest missing component had been solved. The van was a Dodge B2500 High Top Conversion Van with over 100,000 miles on it. She turned out to be gentle and kind to us even as we racked up another 100k miles.
(We toyed with the idea of painting her with the IVGJ logo, gutting her insides pimping our ride, but we fell short on funds… Six seasons and a movie?)
Step 2: Contacting Studios
While the logistics were being ironed out for purchasing a van, I was reaching out to indie studios and gauging their interest level in being part of the web series.
In my opening emails, I would try to address questions that I felt indie devs would inevitably ask, such as, “Who are these guys? What is the web series about? Why should we [the indie studio] let them film here? Why do they specifically want us in an episode?” I wrote that in exchange for access to their studio for a day or two to film and demos/beta keys/etc. to play their games and capture gameplay footage, we’d provide them with high quality marketing material that would showcase their latest and greatest games. Plus, we’d take them out to lunch.
I was surprised by how welcoming people were! Here are some of the emails from the indie devs:
Reading these emails again made me feel incredibly appreciative of how welcoming and receptive the indie devs were to our pitch.
Once we had all seven studios on board (we tried in lock in all filming dates with studios before traveling), it was time to get serious (not that we weren’t up until that point!)
Step 3: Prepare!
We set out to procure what we didn’t have: hotel room reservations and/or lodging with friends, episode travel itineraries, emergency supplies, equipment purchasing/rental, equipment insurance, car insurance, release forms, beta codes and/or demos to play the indie games on Steam, driving directions, packing equipment, hard drives, etc. We actually got really lucky and only had to do the hotel deal twice.
We researched what news had already been covered on the developer/studios. Doing so forced us to familiarize ourselves with the company’s culture, history, and the surrounding indie scene in each city (for example, this Polygon article on Klei: http://www.polygon.com/features/2013/5/29/4362838/the-birth-and-re-birth-of-klei) , as well as generate interesting interview questions if we ran out of ones to ask.
I’d like to state that we followed through with all of these plans as a team of FOUR people working at a startup. Again, that’s badass.
Step 4: More Research!
The components of any single episode ideally include:
I then set out on to put together a kind of “look book” for the series based on web series with similar content, tone, and aesthetic for reference. In retrospect, this was a tedious task but a necessary one, IMO. I wanted to understand what other web series were doing, the aesthetics they embraced and how we could possibly differentiate ourselves from similar ones.
The series we looked at for inspiration were Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, Man Vs. Food, Mythbusters, Penny Arcade, and Indie Game: The Movie.
In addition to assembling a look book, I started to create a shot wish list, breaking down the scenes into their visual components. For example, under the Whiteboarding scene, I wrote down “packing, tracking shot of van, GoPro dev cam, pitstop commentary, computer screens, keyboards, eyes, interviews with the team.” I knew that at the very least, if I captured a majority of these things on camera, we could stitch together an arc to the episode.
One of the last components we had to film as a team that I still consider pre-pro was the Binary HQ scene for all episodes. This segment consisted of having the team meet at Zeb’s place on a Friday or Saturday and spending time sampling the indie studio’s gameography, then thinking about the common threads their games exemplified and finally developing the central game design question for the episode. For instance, the game design question in episode one was: How can we remove an essential element from a game genre and still have people think it’s that genre?
And with that, like when Captain Picard took the helm of the Enterprise and set sail to Farpoint Station, we started the drive to Chicago, IL in December to visit Rob Lach.
My experience with filming run-and-gun short documentaries has taught me that it’s imperative to pack as light and as efficiently as possible. I wouldn’t have the space in the van to store lighting equipment, we wouldn’t have the production crew/manpower to stage and clear the equipment quickly in the indie studios, and finally we would be driving during winter, which of course meant direwolves and traveling on foot through snow and ice — not so good when you’re carrying around expensive candy.
TL;dr Make sure you pack light and can move quickly with equipment in order to keep up with the team.
When choosing a camera for any production, there are a couple of important deciding factors for me that go into renting or purchasing one: (a) weight, (b) dynamic range, and (c) environment.
Will the camera’s weight slow you down? If you like to move with subjects by using a shoulder mount, if you need to fit through tight spaces, you probably won’t be carrying Red Epic around with you.
The cost of energy expended from putting the camera down and setting it back onto your shoulder means that your ability to press record in time to capture spontaneous moments is that much slower. One of the primary objectives of a good cinematographer IMO is to minimize his chances at missing moments that typically happen in the blink of an eye (and thus can’t be repeated without some degree of acting and inauthenticity).
B. Dynamic Range
What is your lighting situation going to be? With documentaries, it’s hard to predict where your subjects will move and how to light them properly and persistently over time. This means that I must be able to punch in my ISO as fast as possible.
When the team returned home to Austin from Chicago in episode one for example, they had a post-mortem on the game jam process inside the van. It was 2AM and pitch black out. So we strung a couple of Diego’s camping lights up onto the side panels to give everyone some light, and I bumped up the ISO on the Mk3 to maybe 10,000. It’s hella grainy, but you make out their silhouettes and it gets the job done.
How well will the camera withstand traveling and weather conditions? Fortunately the 5D’s batteries never froze, but a better choice may have been a Sony or Panasonic HDV cam.
Tl;dr There are many factors that go into choosing a camera and its support, such as weight, dynamic range, environment, S-Logs, stability, etc. Don’t let the analysis paralyze you from going out into the field and experimenting with one or the other.
Most of the gear fit into a single PortaBrace that I slung over my shoulder and one Osprey backpack!
(War mode + epic beard ftw)
Editing happens on a Macbook Pro using PluralEyes to sync sound, Premiere Pro to edit, Photoshop and After Effects for designing stuff (mostly tweaking Diego’s awesome animations he’s shipped me!), Audition for sound editing. We use the El Gato Capture HD device hooked up to 2 laptops and 1 TV to record various development stages and Screenflow to capture a plethora of other things: missing gameplay footage, scrolling code, character animations in Unity, etc.
In case you’re interested in learning more about what goes into choosing a camera, check out this awesome post over at No Film School with thoughts from Still Motion:
If you ever wished you could put an Indie Van Game Jam sticker on your laptop or throw an Indie Van Game Jam disc around, you’re in luck! We just opened our online store where you can buy Binary Solo and Indie Van Game Jam themed goodies starting with a sticker and an Ultimate disc.
Both products to start feature Flip Bitworthy, the Indie Van Game Jam mascot you see in the show during the introduction and driving across the map. The first is a high-quality vinyl Flip Bitworthy sticker. It’s about 9 cm in diameter, so it’s a good size for the back of that Apple MacBook. The other product is an Ultimate disc with a Flip Bitworthy Indie Van Game Jam logo. For the curious, it is a Discraft Ultrastar, the kind used by USA Ultimate players.
There’s plenty more to come, of course, but stop by and check it out.