The second A. MAZE / Johannesburg took place this past weekend in various venues across Braamfontein.
Live SA joined the festivities at the opening and got a crash course in the bleeps and blips of game culture today. Held over three days, the festival’s jam-packed programme encompassed all things game-y, from talks and panels around new technology, the gaming industry and the notion of play, game stations, exhibitions, and lunchtime ‘street game’ sessions. We’ve pulled out the need-to-knows for the newbs out there.
Gamestick, special sponsor of A MAZE. / Johannesburg 2013, is a brand new product that hits US and UK markets at the end of September and will follow in SA and other emerging markets later in the year. The thin white stick – think your USB’s big brother – is an innovation in gaming hardware with aspirations to revolutionise the global gaming market. The stick is aimed at ‘casual to mid-core’ gamers (that’s you and me, newbie!) and is the smallest games console yet, with a dramatically low price to match. The device uses Wi-Fi to connect users to a free game store curated by Playjam (Gamestick’s manufacturer).
Many of the games on offer originated as cellphone games, and the selection shows a focus on ‘indie games’ – such as Oddy Smog, a visually and aurally stunning little piece, developed entirely by a single determined human. Gamestick is also enabled with bluetooth, creating a local multiplayer option. Gamestick hopes to open up what was formerly a specialised market for game consoles to the cellphone game generation, and to give indie manufacturers a platform to see their work on the ‘big’ (bigger than your cellphone) screen. The Gamestick also connects its curated games to a more user-friendly control than the smartphone scroll-and-tap, opening up playability and potential. For more info and to catch the SA release date, check out their Facebook.
Thanks to the internet, the world is now privy to the crazy things a man can do in his bedroom in the dark. ‘Indie’ games – as in either ‘independent’ or also ‘individual’ – are gaining more exposure and hitting higher standards than ever before, thanks to ceaseless innovations in new technology. Indie games consider themselves art, according to some first year Game Design students at Wits University’s new Digital Arts course, and strive to push the boundaries of game design in both ‘interface and aesthetics’ and ‘mechanics and dynamics’.
One feckless indie game champion, Sos Sosowski, presented a version of his ACHTUNG!ARCADE at A. MAZE. The arcade machine, built entirely by Sos and stocked with over 500 games of his own design and manufacture (even down to the on-point chiptune beats), is about as indie as it gets. Carting his invention to expos and festivals across Europe, the Polish inventor boasts, “I can even fit my backpack in an empty space [inside the machine]”.
With indie game culture set to grow from strength to strength, the presence of A. MAZE and Wits’ Game Design course, now both in their second year, seem set to create a critical mass around gaming in Africa.
Collaboration and Play
Perhaps the most exciting part of A MAZE. / Johannesburg is the attitude of openness and the willingness to play presented by its organisers and funders. In a totes-adorbs opening speech by Nils Jansons, representing the European Union, and later in organiser Thorsten Storno’s emphatic addition, the issues of global and pan-African collaboration were raised and venerated. For Thorsten, who also hosts A MAZE. / Berlin, A MAZE. / Johannesburg ‘s success depends on the work being taken up by locals, and not remaining an imported endeavour. Jansons cites the intersection of industry as a point of constant innovation, and hopes that cross-continental collaboration – such as that facilitated by A MAZE. – will also continue to grow arts and industry both in South Africa, and internationally.
Images supplied by A. MAZE / Johannesburg.