Arcades are revered in gaming culture. Once they were ubiquitous. It was hard not to run into one of these dimly lit storefronts, crackling with static from rows of glaring CRTs and the frustration over gobbled quarters. Nowadays, the arcade is almost extinct. Almost.
The Victory Condition Arcade, an event that invites local tabletop game and video game developers to display their creations for the public, is taking a different approach to the arcade. Games will be present and playable, but you can also talk to the people who made them.
The arcade will run from May 14–15 and will be held in the Open Space at The Art Institute of Portland. The arcade is open to everyone and admission is free. No quarters required.
Robert LaCosse, Victory Condition Arcade director, said he wanted to keep the event free and public because that accessibility helps to establish community. The interactive nature of games also allows for the formation of fast friendships.
“With games, folks show up, usually at the same time as a handful of other folks, and they end up playing a game with strangers. That helps to break the ice,” LaCosse said. “The game is a fantastic community-binding agent.”
The arcade will be followed by a game design workshop on May 16. The workshop will consist of a lecture on design concepts, player engagement, mathematical considerations and user experience. The price of admission for the workshop is $30, with a reduced price of $20 for students.
LaCosse said while all of the games at the arcade will be playable, some are still in development. Attendees are invited to help playtest unfinished games. By providing honest feedback, playtesters can help refine games before they’re finished while also getting to see inside the development process.
For the swarm
Tim Eisner, founder of Weird City Games, and Ryan Swisher, artist and co-designer, will be showing March of the Ants at the arcade. March of the Ants is a multiplayer strategy board game set in the microcosmic world of the ants.
The game revolves around exploration and territory control. By foraging for resources, players can upgrade their ants and nests. Alliances can be formed with other players, but the game is ultimately competitive. The player with the most territory or the best nest wins.
Eisner and Swisher recently launched a Kickstarter to fund the game.
The arcade presents an opportunity for the two to test their game and get feedback from the public.
“Every time we take our game out to get feedback and responses from players is really helpful,” Eisner said. “I think the arcade will hopefully draw a lot of people who are into games and into testing prototypes of games.”
Eisner said he and his brother have been designing game prototypes casually for the past 10 years. When they weren’t designing games, they were playing them.
“We’d always play games and sort of manipulate them or change them,” Eisner said. “We’d add this rule here or take that one out.”
Eisner said he originally moved to Portland to sell jewelry at the Saturday Market. After five years he was approved for a small business grant. Initially, he was going to apply the grant to his jewelry business, but he wanted to try something new. Looking back, Eisner said his time as a jeweler influenced how he makes games.
“The jewelry I made is a style of macrame from South America, it’s very intricate knot work,” Eisner said. “Games have a similar feel. You just need to zone in and play with all these little interlocking pieces and variables to figure out how it works.”
The arcade also presents an opportunity for developers to test out new features in games they’ve revisited.
Wick, a local game designer, developed and released the space dogfighting video game Rubicon after a successful Kickstarter of his own. Wick said he is incredibly critical about his own games and couldn’t help but go back to Rubicon.
“I released Rubicon at the end of the summer and said ‘I’m done, I’m not going to work on it anymore,’” Wick said. “And then I opened it back up and started working on it again.”
Wick said the changes to Rubicon have been nothing short of drastic. He said he has added a multiplayer option, changed the metagame so that ship upgrades are less of a hassle, and overhauled the graphics and the gameplay.
“I’ve basically recoded the entire thing,” Wick said.
Wick said he plans to use the arcade as a chance to test those changes. He said he plans to take notes as attendees play the new version of Rubicon.
“I try to get my friends to constantly be playing it and giving me feedback,” Wick said. “But having complete strangers pick it up, who have no familiarity with it, is incredibly useful.”