The Game Developers Conference is arguably the most important event in the video game industry, with an attendance of nearly 20,000 people from around the world. For many developers, it is a crucial time to show off their games because of the abundance of media, publishers, and other developers. I’ve attended GDC for three years now and while Toronto has had some presence each year, 2012 will likely go down as a landmark year.
It was difficult to avoid seeing a game from Toronto. On the expo floor, in speaker presentations, at award shows, and at afterparties, attendees could see and play homegrown games like Dyad, Mutant Blobs Attack, and Mega Run. Perhaps the best example of visibility wad at the Game Developers Choice Awards, the Oscars of the video game world, where the iOS title Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, a collaboration between Capy Games, visual artist Superbrothers, and musician Jim Guthrie, won for best handheld game.
Such progress is astounding given that as late as five years ago Toronto’s video game community was essentially seen as an afterthought to more established cities like Vancouver and Montreal. Now, our city is on track to successfully export its games globally, following in the footsteps of other art forms like music and literature.
One of the stars of GDC was Dyad, a philosophical game that blends puzzle-solving and driving, which was lauded by industry media. Kill Screen called the game “the most impressive tech,” adding to “forget the unveiling of the latest iPad, and the crowning of the best indie games at the Independent Game Festival at the Game Developers Conference 2012.” Destructoid called Dyad a “very unique, psychotic, and amazing indie game.”
Dyad was available to play in the Sony Playstation space on the GDC expo floor. Also in the area was Mutant Blobs Attack, made by local studio Drinkbox, in which you play as a hungry alien mass devouring everything in sight. The game, a launch title for the Vita, Sony’s new portable device, was called “one of the best Vita launch games available, with plenty of personality and creativity packed into a tight little package,” by Pocket Gamer, not a light compliment considering Sony also released a new Uncharted game, one of its flagship series.
While such success is important, what’s vital is that Toronto can maintain this streak to cement its position in the games world. Longevity of Toronto’s scene hinges on how consistent games are released. Drinkbox after Mutant Blobs Attack already has another game called Guacamelee in production. In a splashy announcement at the Independent Games Festival Awards (the Spirit Awards if we’re to keep with film analogies), Capy’s next game Super T.I.M.E. Force was revealed to be released under a special partnership with Microsoft. Hemisphere Games, based partly in Toronto, revealed a multiplayer update to its celebrated game Osmos, chosen by Apple as iPad Game of the Year in 2010. Having a reliable schedule of games is a sign of the maturing of the still-young community.
Even better is that all of this activity doesn’t include the most prominent title from Toronto for 2012: Queasy Games’ Sound Shapes. The game, a platformer where playing the level helps to create the background music (in effect also making the game a musical instrument), wasn’t officially in GDC, but was shown to press, and has been called one of the most anticipated games of the year. Expect the spotlight to shine firmly on Toronto again when the game is released later this year.
It’s too soon to guess which factors are behind Toronto’s rise, and the story is never simple enough to reduce to a checklist. A small list of the factors would include the diverse and inclusive community; the indie culture that inspired no-nonsense tough love with one another but also a willingness to share resources; the proximity to other art communities such as film and music; the government support by the OMDC that has non-Ontario game devs drooling; and, the foresight to reach out and make connections with the global games community. For now, the city should celebrate a perfect storm appears on the horizon for the games community, something not even its most ardent supporters could have foreseen.