Monday, July 23, 2018
Game developers of Color Expo: A Lady Blerd’s First Look At Heaven.
As I stepped through the doors of the Schomberg Center, a museum dedicated to blackness, I was greeted by a sea of beautiful natural hair in various styles and colors. I was also greeted by an array of consoles and controllers. My people. I was at The Game Developers of Color Expo, a collection of like minded-game crafting individuals. The aim of the expo was to highlight the game developers of color and how their lived experiences intersected with their style of game design.
As a black woman and gamer, the Game Developers of Color Expo was three floors of fresh air. It felt like a niche market, speaking directly to me and people I could easily identify with. Like comic con before everyone knew about it.
One panel, in particular, Activism and Politics in Game Design, immediately caught my attention. The panel was led by the creators of the game Objectif. Objectif is a game in which each of the three players is asked to identify the most attractive woman in the deck. As two players face off against one another with their respective “deck” of women, the third player, the judge, determines which lady is more attractive in each round, and must explain to the group why they chose their pick.
The objective is designed to draw attention to our arbitrary beauty and racial standards of attractiveness, something that becomes more apparent as you come across duplicates of women within the deck, differentiated only by their skin color or ancillary features.
The developers each spoke about the experiences that brought them to the intersection of politics and gaming. One story that particularly stuck out to me was As
A game designed for three or more in which each person picks an opening insult from the draw pile, that they aim at a fellow player. This player then responds with a clap back from their hand and if the clap back is strong they’ve “won” the round. Playing ‘The Ultimate Clap back’ felt like a night with my favorite girls. The game was easy to jump into, didn’t have a long laundry list of rules, and I had a strong desire to continue playing after the demo was finished.
Another 3 + player card game but, with a murder mystery twist. Team Murder Squad’s addition to the expo starts off with a death. A player representing the judge holds on to ‘evidence’ cards associated with the case and the remaining two players then pick five narrative cards. The object of the game is to weave a plausible explanation for the initial death based on three of the five narrative cards picked. The most believable story wins the round. I found myself hooked on this one pretty quickly. It was simple, easy to learn, and fun. The narrative cards didn’t always create a cohesive story and this encouraged silliness within the storyline. This is the sort of analog fun that lends itself really easily to drinking games and would be a hit at parties.
From DecoyGames, Swimsanity is a multiplayer underwater shooter, playable by up to four people at once. This one was a blast in both the competitive and co-op mode, which I found surprising because PvP is not my favorite style of gameplay. The competitive mode had a quick regeneration cycle that made dying on the field feel less punishing and getting back into the action seamless. I also loved the special attack system. The controls were easy to pick up and played intuitively across systems (I played the demo on an Xbox, and am personally a PlayStation user. If you are switching consoles you still shouldn’t have a problem.)
The co-op mode is also fun, pitting you and your friends against waves of aquatic enemies, forcing you to change your attack strategy. The only drawback to the game is that the characters look pretty similar, and even though they are color-coded it is easy for the eye to lose your character on screen, especially with multiple players. This is another game that could be a huge hit with company.
This LionPlex title was absolutely a blast to play and was coincidentally the first game I played upon entering the expo. This side-scrolling, 8-bit style throwback arcade game was very reminiscent of old-school Mega-man games and it was very intuitive to play.
There were eight unique characters to chose from, each with a different moveset and strength profile to suit different play styles. Although Neon Kreiger Yamato is a pretty basic side-scroller, the dynamics of the stage mechanics made for really interesting puzzles, all of which had a multiplicity of solvable options, limited only by the player's imagination. I remember myself and my partner running afoul of a flame-throwing robot mech at the end of the first stage and found, after getting our asses summarily handed to us, that the best way forward was to simply … skip him and head for the retractable platforms blocking the exit.
I also loved the fact that the levels were structured for single or multiplayer action from the outset, and that the game didn’t require the players to go into a special two-player area at any point in order to fully enjoy the scope of the two-player action. The two-player action was easy and seamless.
The only drawback was the developers haven’t gotten the button commands fully correct as of yet. When in-game prompts came up to explain things like blocking and special attacks, they were still optimized for the keyboard so, it was a little confusing trying to identify which buttons did what on the console controller. The prompts, however, were properly color-coded and the game is still in development. Its flaws can definitely be forgiven based on the awesome gameplay experience. I can’t wait for it to come out.
The Game Developers of Color Expo is definitely a haven for anyone who likes games and was especially welcoming for the underserved niche of women gamers of color. The expo had more than a few gems, I loved everything I got my hands on and completely lost track of time. All in all, it was a great way to spend an afternoon.
By Alisha Smith, Alisha is a 24-year-old recent graduate, writer, blogger, gamer, and corporate drone by day and rampant blabbermouth by night. She currently writes for Ms. Vixen and on Medium and spends her free time shamelessly pursuing her interests and avoiding other humans.