Tucked in a jammed corner of the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, 12 teams of developers sit in huddled clusters. Their backs are bent over their laptops, and a mess of wires, headsets and scrap sketch papers clutter the tables.
Under the fluorescent lights and watchful eyes of the PlayStation Mobile team, these indie developers are participating in a Game Jam to find the next big indie title for PS Mobile.
"We've been working with IndieCade for three years now, and we've worked with them a lot on PlayStation Home," PlayStation's director of emerging platforms Chris Mahoney told Polygon. "We have a bunch of indie games built on Home and on our main platform, and the indie game part of the business is growing."
PS Mobile launched in October 2012 with the intention of bringing "bite-sized" games to the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation Certified Android smartphones and tablets. Shortly after, Sony launched the PlayStation Mobile Developer Program, which provides indie developers with the tools and resources to produce PS Mobile content.
Mahoney said that groups were introduced to the PlayStation Mobile-specific development environment one week prior to the Game Jam itself. Even with last week's heavy snowstorm in the city, every participant showed up. Some teams had been working on the game since learning the software, which codes in the C# programming language, and had taken advantage of the week lead time before IndieCade.
"It's almost like we're building the games with them."
"Quite honestly we like to be here," Mahoney replied when asked why Sony chose to host a jam. "We like to be here with the gamers. Getting here on the ground with them and going through this process with them, we're actually learning what they like about the platform and what additional features they want. It's almost like we're building the games with them."
The PS Mobile Game Jam's theme was "evolution." While many took the theme literally, creating games wrapped around concepts of genetics, many took the idea in the opposite direction. From the group of games, four finalists were chosen for a shot at an even bigger grand prize:
- Crystallon, by Team Crystallon: Players complete puzzles by matching three geometric shapes that will increase exponentially as they are repeatedly combined.
- Hermit Crab in Space, by Golden Ruby Games: Players assume the roll of a hermit crab with a gun in space. The crab must shoot oncoming enemies and space debris, then build himself a protective ship using salvaged parts of his attackers.
- CRUMBLE, by Team Snakessss: Inspired by games with simple play styles like Helicopter and Doodle Jump, Crumble is a puzzle adventure in which players control a small block that changes shape as it brushes up against walls and obstacles. Players must consistently tweak and shift the shape in order navigate the ever-varying hallways of a maze.
- Don't Wake the Bear, by Backpedal Games: A multiplayer game designed to be played using one Vita, Don't Wake the Bear has players pass the handheld between one another similar to the Hot Potato game. Players can add objects around the sleeping bear to make it more difficult for other players to pass the Vita without waking him, or can stuff cotton in his ears or giving him a tranquilizer to keep him asleep.
The four teams will be sent to the 2013 Game Developers Conference, all expenses to be covered by Sony. Over the next month teams will complete development on their titles, readying them for a spot on the GDC show floor. One winner will be selected at the conference to have their game showcased in Sony's booth at the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo.
"I think a lot of these people are the most passionate about seeing their game do well," Mahoney said, explaining the reasoning behind this particular prize. "Prize money is great, but it doesn't really get you in the PlayStation booth at E3 in front of the world presenting your game. I've talked to a bunch of them about it, and they said they'd sign up for it."