Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Oct. 4th
IndieCade kicks off tonight with the Red Carpet Awards, and on Saturday the full festival experience will be available for the general public. What exactly does that mean? Why GAMES of course!
Yet a lot more goes into a festival experience than just throwing up a bunch of tables and tents, stacking them with games and developers, then letting people have at it. That’s where Scott Gillies, former Disney Imagineer and current user experience (UX) designer at Fourth Wall Studios, comes in. While Scott is busy working on secret projects for the Culver City based transmedia studio, he’s lending a hand to IndieCade to help polish up the festival experience for patrons.
“To me it’s a simple experience design thing,” Gillies said in our interview, “to make it accessible to the average person who doesn’t necessarily know what IndieCade is about. Or they get a badge and they don’t know what they can go to.”
The first step was simplifying the layout of the festival from previous years. Each of the festival’s venues, which are spread around downtown Culver City, will have a singular purpose this time out. Starting with what has been the heart of the festival: the Culver City Firehouse.
“Every game that is at IndieCade should be at the Firehouse. Even the physical ones. There will be some sort of version of them, whether that’s pictures or whatever it is. But you should be able to get every game there.”
The original plan looked at using the large open space north of the historic Culver City Hotel for the IndieCade Village, the social hub of the festival.
“The cool thing is that it’s a big space, which is nice, but the negative thing about it is that it’s fairly vast and open. Because of that it’s distracting. It doesn’t feel that intimate. If we had a higher budget– however many million dollars or whatever it is– we could enclose that, put a lot of tents in there, and then make it so that we’re using the space in the optimum way that we want.”
Instead they will move the village closer to the hotel, creating a “more intimate” space inside the plaza corridor that during the week is filled with lunching studio employees from the surrounding movie and TV studios.
UX design is a hot buzzword, whether it is referring to a new interface for a social media network or the way that a public building or attraction is laid out. Gillies says that he thinks people are putting too much emphasis on the visual elements of design, and not answering the fundamental question: what’s going through a user’s head when they’re undergoing the experience.
“It’s that same concept of: you’re always telling a story. Right? Whatever experience you have, someone is going to have a story of them going through it.”
Gillies brings up Donald Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things“.
“There’s basically this concept that you have so many interfaces that you deal with every day; and it’s increasing pretty dramatically over the last 100 years how many interfaces you deal with,” said Gillies. “Every interface that’s in every possible game: that’s slightly different. Then you have your shoelaces and your doorknob, microwave and all that stuff. When you think through those things you have to think: Well here’s the interfaces that someone everybody deals with every day. How can we figure out a way to do something similar to that so that it feels familiar and that [users] instinctively know what to do?”
Gillies points to the approach that the game developers at Blizzard Entertainment used while designing World of Warcraft as an example of repurposing an existing design.
“They went to Disneyland, and spent probably days there looking at the way the design of that was set up. They said ‘let’s design World of Warcraft like that’. If you think about the flow it kind of works that way. You’re funneled through some sort of portal into the world, which is similar to when you’re going under the berm and into the tunnel– small tunnel– and then you open up into this world where you have all these options to go to. Usually you’re in this small town– Main Street– then it opens up into the different locations you can go to.”
It’s an approach he tried to apply to IndieCade, only without the ability to bulldoze buildings or summon land with computer code. Gillies said that since they can’t remake downtown Culver, the idea is to take the existing infrastructure and tweak it to make for a better experience.
Gillies brings a diverse background to his career as an experience and interface designer. As an undergrad at USC he studied theatre and film, both on the acting and tech side of the stage. An interest in games courses in college led to an internship and job at Electronic Arts working on The Sims. Returning to USC for grad school, Gillies studied with game designer Tracey Fullerton who had worked with Disney. Which is how he found himself working with the legendary Disney Imagineers who are responsible for creating some of the world’s most popular theme park attractions.
“I think that as long as you can understand the medium that you’re designing for, then you should be able to design for it,” said Gillies.
“Because that’s the big issue: being able to put yourself in the role of the player or somebody who’s experience that art piece or that experience that you’ve created. You need to be able to think through: ‘I’ve never seen this before, I have no experience in games. I’ve had no experience in whatever it is. What am I thinking the first time I come across this?’”