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3 Comments

culture

Send Us Back to GamerCamp

Like all good camps, this three-day festival gave gamers of all stripes a chance to learn, make new friends, and—most importantly—play.

Tweetris is demonstrated for GamerCamp attendees on November 26.

Video game enthusiasts from around Toronto and beyond gathered this weekend for GamerCamp LV3, which took place at a number of venues downtown. Now in its third year, GamerCamp provides a variety of events such as workshops, competitions, socials, and movie screenings in an effort to celebrate and spread the word about the many wonders of gaming.

The majority of events happened at George Brown College’s Richmond Street campus, whose classrooms set the tone for what was ultimately an educational weekend. The mood of the event swung precariously between standard gamer fare and a more serious look at the mechanics of play.

Some events were tailored to developers looking to make money off of their businesses, while others were devoted to less serious events, like a man’s challenge to beat himself at Mortal Kombat II. The man ended up winning more than 75 rounds in a row, which drew quite a crowd.

There was a strange contrast, though, seeing academics talk to groups of attendees still in pyjamas after Sunday’s “8-Bit Cereal Breakfast” and seeing them marvel at the man’s ever-growing winning streak later on.

The weekend as a whole bore resemblance to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in that the focus shifted from professional or “triple A” developers to independent companies. As some Toronto companies, like XMG Studios (Cows vs. Aliens) or Capy Games (Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP) have made quite a name for themselves producing for smaller audiences, many of the attendees were either working on their own titles or at least had ideas kicking around in their heads.

“We carefully select our speakers and then work [with them] to create the topics that can be applied to various areas,” said Mark Rabo, one of the event’s organizers. “We look to inspire people, and [give them] something they can aspire to.”

Some of the workshops were geared towards novice to intermediate developers (such as the appropriately titled “I MAKE GAMES AND SO CAN YOU!!”), while others looked at the raw psychology behind the act of play itself. It was a bit jarring stepping out of a classroom where GamerCampers were discussing what play really meant to them, only to be faced with attendees and staff playing a zombie infection “meta-game” with NERF guns. There were applications of the things attendees learned lurking right outside the classroom door.

“I think the interesting thing about this community is that a lot of people are just focused on the passion of [design] and doing what they really love to do,” said Rabo. “The people that have been very successful have not tried to make their game something marketable; they’ve made it an expression of their being, and it hit.”

GamerCampers get their game on in 3D.

Rabo emphasized what was readily apparent, in that GamerCamp is largely about the passion that these fans show for the medium. Indie game shops, like Spadina’s A&C World (formerly A&C Games) and the Annex’s Snakes and Lattes sponsored rooms that allowed players to unwind with a quick board game or a round of retro beat-’em-ups. Like TCAF, GamerCamp is the closest thing one can get to a cross-section of a medium’s fans.

“GamerCamp is part celebration and part inspiration. It’s a celebration of games in general, where we celebrate the talent here in Toronto, [the] playfulness that games bring, and the creativity and artistry in this industry,” Rabo said. “The inspiration part is where we bring together interesting people doing interesting things.”

Highlights from the show included Tweetris, a new version of a popular Nuit Blanche exhibit. The game uses Microsoft’s Kinect camera to track body movements and use them to play a bizarre game of Tetris: one person on a team plays a “regular” game while the other makes shapes with their body in front of the camera to help his or her side or hinder the other. It draws inspiration from the game show Hole in the Wall, which leaves its contestants bending their bodies in precarious positions. The game’s first demo at the Toronto Underground Cinema drew cheers and laughter when someone inevitably found out how to make a penis-shaped Tetris block. Tweetris‘s concept sparked a conversation about how much fun it would be to introduce to non-gamer friends and how soon a concept like this could find its way to our consoles. Instead of the game being introduced to a cynical crowd that could dismiss it as a concept, it quickly won us over with how plain fun it looked; that type of good design draws praise quite easily.

With events like GamerCamp and TCAF serving as lightning rods for nerd culture in Toronto, it will be interesting to see if those communities will be able to produce even greater things in coming years than they do already. It won’t be for a lack of trying, as educating a community will do wonders to strengthen it.

Photos by Matt Demers.

Disclosure: Torontoist staff writer Jaime Woo is one of the organizers of GamerCamp. He was not involved in the production of this piece.

Comments

  • Dave Lim

    GamerCamp Lv.3 was a complete disappointment. I cannot recommend this event to my friends, or most gamers for that matter, at all. I wholeheartedly disagree that Gamercamp is representative of a typical gaming community, or a “cross-section” of the medium.

    The “What is GamerCamp?” question on gamercamp.ca’s about page is answered with: “Gamercamp celebrates the artistry, innovation, and power of play.” This line is representative of the convention as a whole: there was little actual gaming. Design and innovation panels are nice, but in order to attract the majority gamers who aren’t interested in the design process, such as me, the event needed actual gaming events. And there were hardly any. But they must have had a LAN party, the core event of most gaming conventions. Nope, nonexistent!

    I brought my Nintendo DS with me and arrived at 3:30PM in order to enjoy a day of handheld gaming. Much to my surprise, there was no handheld room (false advertising), and the suggestion of real retro gaming (quote: “Do you miss the feeling of sitting close to your CRT TV” on gamercamp.ca) was quashed when I saw the classic consoles… hooked up to an LCD. The consoles available were the Atari 2600, the NES, the SNES, the N64, and an XBOX360. All but the XBOX360 were in a cramped room that was maybe 50 square feet in size. …Yeah.

    Where were the retro computers? Where was the PC gaming? TPUG (Toronto Pet Users’ Group) is the one remaining Commodore 64 club, and they’re right here in Toronto. They were at Fan Expo last year, too! I was half-expecting a Commodore 64 or an Amiga to be available, or even a retro PC to showcase the golden age of adventure games and shareware. But nope, nothing.

    Eventually I met a single person with a DS, and we played Tetris DS and Advance Wars Dual Strike. This lasted about half an hour. Then I went to the retro rec room and cleared Super Mario World in under half an hour. Suddenly, at around 5PM, everything was closing. What the hell? What kind of a convention closes at 5PM on a Saturday? Why is GamerCamp a 3-day event when it cannot even fill a single day’s worth of content? Anime North has events running until midnight for its first two days, and only closes at 5PM on Sunday.

    I showed up for the 8PM Urban Road Trip event in a desperation attempt to justify my $35 one-day pass. 20 minutes before the event, I silently observed everyone who had gathered. None of them were talking about gaming at all. As for the event itself, I had a good time, but it was more of a social event (3 minigames not involving a video game system) than a gaming event. Apologies to my “Timelords” teammates, but one social event isn’t worth $35 unless it’s a concert. My handheld gaming experience was self-made; GamerCamp didn’t provide anything there.

    Gamercamp cannot justify its $70 weekend cost at all. Anime North at $55 for the weekend is a far better value. It has actual gaming panels, more events, and the venues are all in one central location. Gamercamp was simply a gathering of hopeful college design “hippies” who think their next indie game will be a smash hit. And considering that it was hosted at George Brown College’s design building, that couldn’t be closer to the truth. I saw maybe one or two people who were under 18.

    GamerCamp has a lot to improve on if it wants to appeal to the typical gamer. It speaks volumes that I have to comment here, since Gamercamp doesn’t have a feedback forum. And I refuse to use Facebook for personal and privacy reasons.

    – Dave Lim

  • TheWarder

    Personally, I had an awesome time last year at Lv2 as well as this year at Lv3.

    As a gamer, I suppose my initial expectation of Gamercamp was that I would get to play games and see some interesting local things, but after attending I can honestly say that my expectations were met and then some.

    As Dave mentions above, Gamercamp is not a LAN party so it may not be for those who just want to play. I believe it’s meant for those who are actually interested in the gaming industry as a whole – and are open to a convention experience akin to GDC, where discussion panels and innovative ideas are shared and celebrated – most of which is surprisingly grown in our very own city of Toronto.
    There is actually enough playable games to satisfy most hardcore enthusiasts. I found myself playing old school classics, local indie games, DDR, Smash Bros. Brawl, Microsoft was there with Kinect games, MK2, SSF4, and more.

    Of course, besides playing DDR on the silver screen (which is very cool), most of these games could be played at home so I was determined to explore the Gamercamp features that I couldn’t get elsewhere; discussions about building arcade cabinets, presentations from local and innovative developers for such software as Foldit, Scott Pilgrim the game, Tweetris, and much more.

    Gamercamp is only in its 3rd year. It has certainly grabbed the attention of the community and I believe it will continue to evolve and, as far as I’m concerned, is probably the best gaming convention in Toronto.

  • Dave Lim

    DDR is a game that most people cannot play optimally at home, where “optimally” means playing with a metal dance pad. Playing DDR on the big screen means nothing when the pads that were set up were soft, if reports are correct.

    As for the two gaming events on Friday, they were in another venue. I could bike anywhere I wanted, but asking the public to walk that far between venues is too much. Don’t bring up the TTC; GamerCamp won’t subsidize that.

    Here’s the thing about Anime North. I can go there, and I can attend a panel of a popular franchise, let’s say Ace Attorney, and talk about Ace Attorney with 30 other people in the room. There was nothing like that at GamerCamp. Tabletop gaming and LARPing, though not my cup of tea, has a larger presence at Anime North, and there are far more console gaming stations available. There are also many more tournaments, though the handheld events were admittedly a failure.

    Finally, if GamerCamp was meant to be focused around design, then advertise the convention as such, and don’t lump the rest of us non-design gamers with it.

    – Dave Lim