Portland organization connects indie game creator community


At his recording studio in Aloha, Oregon, Trevor Dodd creates sound effects for Punch Card, a digital card game he helps design with six other crew members for Portland Indie’s Autumn Slow Jam event. Game Squad. The Portland Indie Game Squad organizes educational and social events for local game developers in the Portland area and across the country.

April Ehrlich / OPB

Carrying a bowl of ice cubes and various mugs, Trevor Dodd settled into his recording studio – consisting of a folding table, keyboard and computer in the corner of his bedroom – for an afternoon recording sound effects.

“Let’s try this first,” Dodd said as he clinked ice cubes together, pouring water and drinking it, creating exaggerated sounds for an audio recording.

Dodd is the composer and sound designer of punched carda digital card game he and his teammates created as part of Portland’s Slow summer jams an event. Video game “jams” are events where participants create video games from scratch in a relatively short period of time. They usually have a fast 48-hour deadline, but these “slow jams” in Portland give participants a few weeks to build their games.

The Summer Slow Jams are organized by the Portland Indie Game Squad, also known as PIGSquad, a non-profit organization that organizes workshops and events for game developers in the Portland area.

This is the eighth year that the group has organized the Summer Slow Jams. It organizes three slow jams during the summer: one in June, July and September.

“We call them ‘Summer Slow Jams’ because you can take your time with them: they usually last around two weeks or even longer,” said PIGSquad Officer Marlowe Dobb. “And the whole point of that is just to be able to continue to do one every summer month and have it be something fun and enjoyable.”

Each slow jam also has its own theme. August Slow Jam’s most recent theme was ‘boss fight’ and ‘dreams and nightmares’.

Each solo or team developer can interpret the theme in any way, whether the player is fighting a classic monster “boss” or their literal boss in an office job.

Building Portland’s Indie Games Community

PIGSquad formed in 2011 to grow Portland’s indie gaming community. The Summer Slow Jams are one of the many different events it hosts.

“One of our big goals is to access and provide technology and creative education and networking in the Portland area and for a greater online community and beyond,” said the founder. Will Lewis.

In addition to game jams, PIGSquad hosts Talent Talks, a series of conferences where indie game developers can share experiences, teach new skills, and network with other video game creators. They also live stream free workshops on coding and game design.

Lewis credits the success and growth of PIGSquad to the community’s code of conduct and dedication to hosting safe events for people to create games.

“You’re going to come in and you’re going to make yourself vulnerable by sharing your ideas,” Lewis said, “You’re going to share something about yourself, you’re going to learn what other people are doing. being laughed at or having your personal boundaries shattered.

Create a punch card

A screenshot of the battle screen in Punch Card showing the cards used to attack monsters.  A team of seven developers created Punch Card for the Summer Slow Jam, a Portland-based game-making event.

A screenshot of the battle screen in Punch Card showing the cards used to attack monsters. A team of seven developers created Punch Card for the Summer Slow Jam, a Portland-based game-making event.

Courtesy of the punch card developers

PIGSquad has grown to host events that draw hundreds of people across the country, including Dodd and the rest of the team that develops Punch Card.

Dodd worked alongside six other teammates to create the digital card game. In addition to the sound effects, Dodd has composed music that sets the scene.

The team’s project manager, who goes by the name Dev, said the game challenges the player to take on the role of an office worker fighting his boss.

“You are going to have a manager for the day. This manager will assign you tasks. And those tasks are like little monsters attacking your health bar,” Dev said. “And your goal is to play these cards that represent various slacking strategies to avoid the work your boss gives you without avoiding so much work that you get fired.”

For the fight music, Dodd extended his songwriting skills to create elevator music with a twist.

“I ended up making really jazzy music and then putting weird effects under it, so it was a really unique creative challenge,” Dodd said.

The members of the Punch Card team first met at a meetup event for August’s Slow Jam. Besides Dodd and Dev, others have worked as game designers, programmers, and artists.

Hanna Alvelais, who created the game’s art and animation, had the important task of designing the characters and monsters. For the monsters, Alvelais looked at reference images of paper textures and shapes for inspiration on Google, then found ways to make them look like enemies the player would fight in a desktop video game.

“Just add crazy eyes or teeth or various animal-like parts and just try to make them look monstrous, but also tired and boring to fit that kind of monotonous office vibe we’re looking for. “, said Alvelais.

Unlike large video game companies such as Nintendo or Sony Interactive Entertainment, which have several large development teams creating different games at once, Dodd, Alvelais and Dev are independent game developers. This means that they work independently or in a small team to create games. While some indie games such as Among us and Subtitle may have achieved major success, many others are not as well known.

The Punch Card team is made up of people with different skills and backgrounds, and many hope to develop video games full-time.

For Dodd, he wants to be part of the next innovative game.

“I would love to be a part of…games that really push the medium of video games and storytelling forward and what that can do,” Dodd said, “That would be the dream for me…and then maybe 10 years later on line, another person will be inspired by what I have done and I can pass on the inspiration.

As someone coming out of burnout from making games, Dev used the slow jam event to gradually get back into making games. For them, the biggest part of creating a video game is observing a player’s reaction.

“When you watch someone play your game and you can see the emotion in their eyes, no matter what it is, I can’t help but sit up and smile,” Dev said. .

Impact of the pandemic on video game developers

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, PIGSquad organizers held all of their events in person, including slow jams. Now they are hosting every event remotely.

PIGSquad uses the Discord messaging platform to communicate, hold discussions and provide game creation resources. The events also take place virtually on Twitch, a live streaming platform where the event hosts the streaming game or hosts workshops while interacting with a live chat.

Despite having been running remotely for over two years, PIGSquad events still attract hundreds of developers, with 234 attendees at the latest slow jam.

For Alvelais, working remotely with his Punch Card teammates has brought challenges, but also opportunities.

“I wish I could interact with my team in person, but it’s also cool because we have people on our team who aren’t in the Portland area, which allows us to work with people from anywhere. where, really,” said Alvelais.

The pandemic has also significantly affected the entire video game industry. A survey conducted by the Game Developers Conference in 2020 showed that 97% of video game developers were working from home in 2020. While the video game industry increased by 20% in 2020, major video game companies around the world delayed the release of new games in the same year.

Even titles known as the latest version of Halo, a popular first-person shooter franchise, has experienced delays due to the pandemic. Because developers couldn’t have the direct conversations they were used to in an office environment, they lost a major source of innovation and collaboration.

The future of Portland’s indie game developers

An over the shoulder view of a computer screen showing recording software.

Trevor Dodd tweaks tracks in recording software while helping design sounds for Punch Card, a digital card game he helps create with six other crew members at the Autumn Slow Jam event hosted by the Portland Indie Game Squad. Dodd is the composer and sound designer of Punch Card. August 25, 2022. Aloha, Oregon.

April Ehrlich / OPB

Going forward, Lewis and Dobb hope COVID cases will drop to the point that they can host in-person events again.

They want to organize professional development events for the community by bringing in speakers.

“So many people have worked with PIGSquad for so long and they really know what they’re doing now,” Lewis said. “They’ve really had so many different experiences making games together that they’re either ready or really want to try what it’s like to take a game from start to finish and make it into a commercial product.”

Another event Lewis hopes to organize is a convention for game developers that would draw people locally and beyond.

“We know we could really pull something special out and put Portland more on the map in terms of having something in town that celebrates indie creatives who are focused on games a lot,” Lewis said.

Participants submitted over 40 games to the slow jam. They are now available so that the public can play for free.


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