BY PETER DORFMAN
Piloting a skeletal ship through gloomy seas, Gaby Benninghoff, 21, is on a mission to collect souls while evading monsters and giant sharks. “We’re still working on the fog,” she says. “We’re going for a dark, scary underworld.”
Benninghoff and co-developer Dakota Erickson, 20, are giving a demo of Oddest Sea, a computer game they are creating for fellow game creators at Bloomington Independent Game (BIG) Night, a public gathering of independent gamers held each month at The Media School at Indiana University.
The event provides a forum for designers of computer, board, and card games to show off their work, compare notes, and playtest games. Many attendees are students from The Media School but anyone can play. Designers love it when people show up and try out their products.
BIG Night started a decade ago. “It came about because we wanted to meet the people who make games in Bloomington and Indianapolis,” says Nathan Mishler, one of the event’s creators. Mishler is an adjunct professor at The Media School and an “interpersonal fictioneer” at Studio Cypher, a small Bloomington-based game publisher.
“We want to catch designers before they head out to the coasts and convince some of them that Bloomington is a great place to launch a game design studio,” Mishler says.
In addition to creative skills, students in IU’s three-semester game design program learn business skills. By the end of the program, a development team typically will form its own limited liability company, Mishler says.
“I have faith in this game, but I’m less sure how much faith I have in our marketing ability,” says Ryan Reske, 23, co-developer of Slug Slasher, a platform game in which the player collects points by zapping giant slugs with salt. The future of the game rests on the visibility provided by its online platform, Steam, and whatever buzz the developers can generate through their Twitter account, @SlugSlasher.
Students publish games through platforms like Steam, itch.io, or humblebundle.com,
looking for recognition that ultimately could lead to jobs with major game publishers. They’re candid about their immediate commercial prospects. “It would be great to sell enough access codes to buy a nice dinner,” Erickson muses.
BIG Night is held the second Thursday evening of each month, usually in Room 035 in Franklin Hall. For more information, visit bignight.org.