Between the various members of the htxt.africa editorial collective, we reckon we’ve spent more time at gaming events than the hardest of hardcore WoW players has spent in Azeroth (for non-Warcrafters, that’s a lot of hours).
And one of our favourite games related events, right up there with E3 in Los Angeles, is A MAZE./Johannesburg, which is returning to the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein at the end of this month as part of the Fakugesi Digital Arts festival.
Sure, A MAZE. isn’t full of giant stands built by giants publishers, but its rough and ready appearance is part of the charm. This is where South Africans celebrate making games and the joy of playing them, rather than AAA releases. Billed as a space for ‘Games and Playful Media’, A MAZE brings developers, programmers, designers composers and other creatives together for four days of fun with the public. Anyone from professional industry players to curious gamers are welcome, and attendees are guaranteed to have a large variety of games to play.
But to call A MAZE . simply a videogames festival is to sell it rather short.
“A MAZE. is a lot of things; it’s videogames, it’s parties, it’s workshops. These all take place around playful art media,” says Cukia Kimani, one of the developers behind the game Boxer, which demoed at last year’s festival. “It started off as a videogame festival but it’s transitioned into something bigger and better.”
Alongside the games, which are made by both local and international developers, anyone who pops into A MAZE. can take part in the gathering’s four day program of talks and workshops. Some presentations are are geared towards helping anyone interested in creative media on how to get their project off the ground, while other are aimed at more proficient attendees – such as how to create game soundtracks or how to combine 3D printing with digital creations.
“Artists, coders, sound designers, writers… a whole bunch of creatives who come to come together to make the sort of things on show at A MAZE.,” says Kimani. “It’s more than a pop-up commune for coders.”
Indie to the core
Onlookers will find a vast trove of knowledge available, not just in the talks and workshops, but in the indie developers who’ll be wandering the festival hall. Furthermore, the developers themselves can benefit from being in the same room as their peers for a weekend, since A MAZE. attracts many from the local gaming dev scene like moths to a floodlight – and brings international speakers and workshops too.
The South African indie games scene is a pretty tightly-knit community – devs frequently help one another out in various capacities such as beta-testers, coders and the like – and because A MAZE. gathers a lot of them in one place, many gain insight and help into their projects that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
“People have the opportunity to see what’s being made in this creative space,” says Cukia, “and they can speak to the creators in person. You can also get help on your own projects and become inspired by the workshops.”
Furthermore, A MAZE. itself can offer a boost to a developer’s prospects, as evidenced by Cukia recent travails. After he and his dev partner Ben Crooks won the Inaugural A MAZE. Festival Award for Boxer, doors started opening up.
What to watch out for at A MAZE.
“This year we got to show the game at A MAZE in Berlin to a bigger international crowd,” says Cukia.” “Since then we’ve been asked to have the game played at museums, parties and festivals in other parts of the world. Most recently we showed Boxer off in Vienna.”
“Just winning the award took me to a place I never thought I’d get to – being able to say I’m an award-winning game designer,” he says.
Cukia isn’t eligible to win the A MAZE. Festival Award this year as he’ll be hosting the award ceremony on the last day, but he will be presenting a new game, Semblance an doing a presentation on creating custom tools for gaming creation sets, which essentially make the process for game creation a lot easier.
Perhaps the biggest draw A MAZE. boasts is its friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The South African indie community is a friendly bunch and they make any newcomer’s introduction to their art as easy as possible.
“For anyone interested in games, or anyone who wants to check out digital art, A MAZE. is something you should check out,” says Cukia. “Oh, and the parties! Don’t forget the parties. They’re the best part!”