Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A MAZE 2018 after-action report

This year I attended A MAZE 2018 in Berlin. It's still probably one of the best video game events in the world; it happens in one of the coolest places in one of the coolest cities around. In the day, you basically hangout in a beer garden and drink some surprisingly affordable beer. At night, hordes of punky post-apocalyptic Berliner teenagers hangout and dance. This unique audience and format makes it all feel pretty special, and I think this year's award show host Tim Rogers put it best: usually people at games events are frantically planning where they're going afterwards, but at A MAZE, the after-party is the festival itself, and many people often linger into the wee early hours of the morning in true Berlin fashion.

There's also a strong participatory focus at A MAZE. Each night, there was an open booth for anyone to plug into and DJ, and "open screens" for anyone to exhibit their projects. There were also stand-up comedy routines, hypertalks, and a "devolution" show featuring various old builds of Superhot to understand its 3-4 year dev cycle. In that spirit of experimentation, I ran a "democratic lighting workshop" where I solicited lighting suggestions from the audience, and then attempted to realize their designs in a Unity scene. We laughed and we learned!!!

But wait, that's not all...

I also attended the festival as a jury member.

On Thursday, we all basically spent 10 AM - 5 PM playing games and thinking about them. Some of my personal favorites here included Attentat 1942, a video documentary game (it reminded me a bit of Her Story with its focus on unreliable realism) about your Polish grandparents' encounters with the Gestapo, and it was censored / not officially displayed at the festival due to Germany's laws against public display of swastikas, and a legal precedent against Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. (Challenging the law to set a new precedent for games will involve a lot of legal fees.)

At the exhibition, I enjoyed two short VR pieces that I had never seen before, Museum of Symmetry and Fountain.

The Museum of Symmetry belongs to the venerable VR narrative genre of "people shout stuff at you, and then you do stuff", but with an exceptional hand-drawn cartoon style and wonderful character design by Paloma Dawkins. My favorite part was a magical garden where I was watering plants, but then I watered too many plants and everyone started crying at how overgrown the garden had become.

Fountain is a critical exploration of Duchamp's famous found sculpture featuring a urinal, and what this kind of art means in an age of mechanical / digital reproduction. In general the designer Philipp Stollenmayer is basically a prodigy, who has shown he has the range to make tightly tuned physics games, as well as high-concept work like Fountain.

Anyway, this is all to say, that you should probably attend A MAZE at least once to see what it's about. If you can afford it and make the time, I recommend about a week or two in Berlin, to fit some sightseeing in there as well. In the meantime, I'll be dreaming about all the delicious doner I ate...