Dare Protoplay - experimenting with the concept of the indie game festival

Like its soon-to-graduate participants, Dare ProtoPlay is in a state of transition. The event, which marks the culmination of Abertay University’s annual Dare To Be Digital student game design competition, has been steadily growing over the past few years, and now it’s looking to bolster its offering.

Director Dr William Huber, who is better known to students as the head of Abertay’s Arts, Media And Computer Games division, is keen to sculpt a more curated experience for attendees. It’s an intention that’s immediately obvious in the careful use of space that characterises this year’s event. Whereas the majority of last year’s Dare – including talks, game exhibits, and other events – took place in a single large marquee, with Caird Hall’s main room reserved for the indie showcase, the August 2015 event sees the City Square play host to several smaller tents, while Caird Hall opens up more of its cavernous interior.

The event is a fantastic opportunity for the student teams to practice their patter as they explain their ideas and receive immediate feedback – both good and bad – throughout the week. And unlike last year, where all of the teams had to work on their games in Dundee, a change in the rules means this time around the majority of development took place in each team’s home university, which has led to greater differentiation between the projects.

The largest marquee is reserved for the 16 Dare To Be Digital projects, and proves remarkably busy throughout the week. The crowd here is markedly different to those of other videogame events, consisting of families with young children and curious members of the public who’ve wandered into the event from the busy high street.

This year, along with the regular Junior Judges initiative that gives a group of kids a clipboard, voting power and the opportunity to skip the lines, some of the event’s younger attendees also take advantage of the Dare ProtoPlay cardboard challenge. Taking place on the main stage, the idea is to highlight the conceptual stages of videogame design and give kids the opportunity to quickly prototype ideas into something playable. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the hall, volunteers talk parents and kids through game creation in Scratch alongside a perpetually busy run of Johann Sebastian Joust games. In the room beyond, sessions of Killer Queen Arcade Field Game, which takes the titular arcade game’s rules and transposes them into reality with buckets, balls and swords, run throughout the Friday and Saturday.

More advanced interrogation of the creation process is provided this year by the Edinburgh Game Symposium: ProtoPlay Edition – a series of talks and panels primarily focused on game audio, as well as tips on starting your own indie studio – and a keynote on Intersubjective Intimacy within games. The independent exhibitors, meanwhile, include Get Into Games Challenge winner Jon Caplin and the runner-up Abertay students of Glyph Games, who are displaying their games Icarus.1 and Penny Pursuit respectively.

Dare ProtoPlay continues to be an invaluable event for aspiring game designers and even younger enthusiasts who might eventually decide to go down that career route themselves, providing a mix of inspiring role models and fun, hands-on learning opportunities. But while this year’s curation delivers a more varied schedule and begins the process of expanding the event’s remit, it feels like the first steps towards something much bigger. There’s a noticeable absence of established developers in the indie showcase, for example, the presence of whom would significantly elevate an already appealing proposition. However the festival develops in the coming years, though, just a couple of days spent among its crowds demonstrates the clear impact it’s already having on everyone who attends.

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