Welcome to Fight Club

Trash-talking indie game designers slug it out in Indie Kombat.

[Originally published in issue #208 of Hyper magazine, February 2011. I got to interview a bunch of insanely talented and super-hardcore indie devs for the article, notably Farbs, Mr. Podunkian and Banov.]

Two must enter the ring to demonstrate their might. Only one may emerge victorious, soaked in the blood and shredded dignity of his bested enemy. The winner is decided by the cruel honesty of public vote. The loser is to be humiliated, carrying his shame for the rest of his lifetime.

It may sound like a Roman gladiatorial fight, but this is Indie Kombat, the virtual battledome in which indie game developers from across the world square off against one another to see who can produce the best game under strict rules.

“I set up Indie Kombat a few months ago because I wanted to humiliate Robert Fearon,” says Canberra-based creator Jarrad ‘Farbs’ Woods, who you might know as the guy who announced his resignation at 2K Games with a Super Mario spoof that epileptically screamed “I QUIT!” before he went on to make the award-winning, Lego-esque space shooter Captain Forever. “Rob’s SYNSO games are good, but I thought I could do better, so I challenged him to an exhibition match. I figured if I cross-bred his retro shooters with my shamefully casual Fishie Fishie I could create something fun and interesting.”

Indie Kombat’s first round involved the mashing together of mechanics and resources that both Farbs and Fearon had used in previous games they’d made. A strict one-hour-per-day time limit was settled upon, and at the end of the month, both developers turned their resulting games loose on the public.

“According to the vote, my game was only 10% as fun and interesting as Rob’s,” Farbs tells us. “Still, the first match was rather fun, so I decided to see if anyone else wanted to play.” Indie Kombat’s ongoing developer fisticuffs were born. Farbs initially sourced new ‘kombatants’ by approaching other developers he knew, though he is open to offers to compete as well.

“I’d been in sort of a funk where I hadn’t been making any games,” says Greg ‘Banov’ Lobanov of his decision to compete in Indie Kombat against friend and fellow game designer Andrew Brophy. “We both thought it looked fun, so we signed on. Having a theme of jump off from and a deadline to beat got me back working at full force again.”

“Indie devs thrive on contests,” Farbs adds. “Short deadlines force us to finish our projects, and the themes help us invent interesting concepts. Indie Kombat gives devs a chance to try something a little different – and an opportunity to strut around in front of their peers.”

There are numerous contests in the indie games community that are commonly based around limitations, pushing developers to try different means of creativity. Ludum Dare, for instance, has developers making games from scratch in a single weekend, based on themes selected by the community; the Klik of the Month Klub, meanwhile, encourages developers to explore any ideas they like, but are restricted to using Klik and Play to create their games in just two hours.

What differentiates Indie Kombat from other contests is how pronounced the competitive factor is; cheery camaraderie gives way to amusing trash-talk and pre-emptive boasts of triumph, often before a crushing loss. This more cutthroat atmosphere can drive the contestants to do well and explore new ways of creating games. Arthur ‘Mr. Podunkian’ Lee cites this as a motivating factor behind his game, Streemerz 2.

“A lot of the motivation for working comes from the will to be better than the other person, which is something you don’t really see in indie game development communities,” he explains. “People are too busy high fiving one another and talking about fundamental issues with each other’s work. Indie Kombat gives developers a place to cut out all of the circlejerking and to point out and highlight the flaws in others, which, believe it or not, isn’t a bad thing at all.”

He admits that while the competitive aspect drove him to explore ideas he previously hadn’t used before, his game suffered because of the time constraints. “One hour of work a day really didn’t leave me with any feeling of development continuity. Every new day was like starting from square one, and it was as stupid as reading a book one letter at a time.”

How much can Indie Kombat contribute to the indie games development community?

“If Indie Kombat were music it would be a monophonic ringtone,” says Farbs. “If it were food it would be a spoonful of refined sugar. It isn’t subtle or complex. It isn’t planned, and it has no purpose. I don’t think it will leave a mark on the gaming landscape other than a minor cultural aberration, but it’s fun so I’ll keep doing it.”

If you’re interested in entering the fray, you’ll find the action at www.indiekombat.com.

Banov's Escape From the Underworld: It's a sword, okay? A SWORD.

Indie Kombat Legends

Streemerz 2 by Arthur Lee
Primarily a 2D developer, Mr. Podunkian’s foray into 3D platforming was directly inspired by his opponent’s decision to work in Unity. “Sophie Houlden was going to do something in 3D,” he tells us. “I’ve always found the best way to shame someone is to shame them in their own game. It adds a layer of irony to the defeat, like being beat to death with your own fist.”

The game is a tad buggy and laden with fart-joke humour, which he admits he didn’t have much time to improve upon due to the time constraints. Still, the narrative is solid, and the voiceovers aren’t half bad.

Fish Fish Bang Bang by Robert Fearon
If you’re angling for a good time, bite the mullet and sea this game for yourself! In Fish Fish Bang Bang, Robert Fearon appropriates the one-button mechanic of Farbs’ Fishie Fishie game, turning it into a frenetic explosion of stars, rainbow lasers, and dreadful fish puns.

In the Indie Kombat blog, Fearon posted some fascinating insight on his beliefs regarding game design, as well as extensive documentation of the development process – including the creation of the aforementioned fish puns, of course.

Escape From the Underworld by Greg Lobanov
Banov’s narrative of a fallen angel plays out in a sprawling, surprisingly atmospheric dungeon. The game will have you battling underworld denizens and collecting power-ups to help you get your wings back, and the soundtrack reinforces a moody ambience.

Says Banov, “I tried a lot of new things, largely because I was trying to borrow themes from my opponent’s work as per the rules. A lot of the things I did for the first time – game and story integration, exploratory world design – came out really well, and I’ll be finding ways to integrate that into my future work, for sure.  So I guess I grew a little bit as a game designer!”

2 thoughts on “Welcome to Fight Club

  1. FINALLY I get to read it!
    Interesting that this heightened competitiveness leads to the unhibited highlighting of flaws in the combatant’s work…and instead of tearing them down turns out to be very constructive and only serves to strengthen future efforts.
    Really absorbing article, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s