Watching myself on the evening news in Singapore was a most surreal experience. I had flown in to the country just a few days earlier to help organize and promote GAMBIT's presence at the Games Convention Asia (GCA), and to represent the MIT side of the project as one of the team leaders from our inaugural summer session. I got a sense of just how interested people would be about our project, and the amount of scrutiny our games would receive, when keynote speaker and Singaporean cabinet member Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan described GAMBIT as an important pillar in Singapore's strategy to become a major hub in the Asian games industry. At the mention, a collective shiver of excitement seized our group, which was comprised of GAMBIT executive director Teo Chor Guan, fellow MIT traveler Trey Reyher, and many of the student interns we had befriended during our intense summer of work together.
Games Convention Asia 2007, which ran from Thursday through Sunday last week, marks the very first iteration of what the organizers hope will be a continuing program of events to showcase and promote the games industry in the Asia-Pacific region, a region that is sure to see some significant growth and change within the next several years. Some of the biggest names in the business brought out the fireworks in the public exhibition, staging elaborate demos, contests, and shows to draw attention to their triple-A titles in development.
Though our booth in the business center, comfortably nestled among other game developers and technology companies, lacked the sheer spectacle of the displays in the adjoining public exhibition, there was a palpable feeling of excitement about our project, and on Thursday many members of the press dropped by to see what we were up to. Which is how I came to see myself and my teammates, later that night, in a video package about the GCA broadcast by the Malay-language news program preferred by my host family (you can also watch the report in English).
The Singaporean government had given our project a boost, and the press had followed. Now it was up to us to show that our summer session had produced more than hype. We showed off three of our games at the booth. AudiOdyssey is a rhythm game developed to be accessible by the visually impaired, but just as fun for sighted players. Backflow is a hybrid-genre mobile phone game combining elements of casual gaming and resource management with an environmental theme. And Wiip uses the Nintendo Wiimote to make the player feel like a circus ringmaster, whipping their way through an onslaught of attackers (you can find more info about these games, and playable downloads, here).
In keeping with the educational philosophy of the GAMBIT program, the booth was decked out with promotional material all designed and arranged by the students themselves. And of course when visitors stopped by with a question, or to demo the games, the students were their main points of contact. It was hard to miss our booth, as it was so often spilling over with students eager to talk about the fruits of their labor. We were each called upon to promote our games, explain the goals of the program, and describe our summer process (astonishment was a common reaction upon hearing about our 8 week production cycle) . We listened carefully to the feedback visitors had for our games, even when we couldn't resist defending some of our design decisions. By the end, GAMBIT students had gone toe-to-toe with some real heavy hitters in the games industry.
However, this was not merely a social event. We were there, like any exhibitor, to take our products to the next level, to find some potential publishers for our games. What looked on the surface like fun was also important work for our project, and the students handled it quite effectively. When we could, we also stole away to the developers conference portion of the convention, to learn more about this industry that suddenly didn't seem so impenetrable. We left the business center Saturday evening exhausted, but optimistic about future prospects.