How Portland Indie Game Squad changed the city’s game scene

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Portland-based Tonight We Launch plays guitars and re-programmed Gameboy music for a party hosted at Ground Kontrol by the Portland Indie Gaming Squad. Photo by Jacob Ashley

Most people who play video games at some point have the thought: Wouldn’t it be cool to make a video game? That’s where the Portland Indie Game Squad comes in.

PIGSquad is a local group of game enthusiasts and creators that meet on a regular basis to make and discuss games. The group is comprised of a healthy mix of total newcomers and industry veterans. While the games community at large can sometimes feel insular, PIGSquad prides itself on inclusivity and openness for members of all skill levels.

PIGSquad frequently hosts events like Art/Code Night, where game creators get together in the same space and work on their respective projects. But not every event the group hosts is based solely around creating games.

Some events, such as Board Game Night, are just about getting together with friends (or making some new ones) and having fun. If the topic of conversation turns toward the underlying mechanics of the game in play, then all the better.

PIGSquad was founded by Will Lewis, a Portland State alumni. For a time Lewis was running the PDX Film Collective. Not wholly satisfied with the Portland film community, he set his community organizing skills to a new goal: games.

“I started holding monthly meetings no matter how small, and consistency ended up bringing more people in,” Lewis said.
But Lewis isn’t standing still. PIGSquad has only been growing.

“We’re hosting more events with more variety, and the attendees and participants of those events are more diverse than ever,” Lewis said.

Lewis said that as time has gone on members have been making games with more polish, and gaining more notoriety. Games like Cartoon Network’s Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake and Skullduggery, which won Editor’s Choice on the iOS App Store, are both games that got their start at PIGSquad.

A local video game creator, who goes by the pseudonym Wick, started attending PIGSquad meetings while raising funds for his game Rubicon through Kickstarter. Wick said attending his first meeting was eye-opening.

“As far as I can tell, it is the community for indie game designers in Portland,” Wick said.

For the last several years PIGSquad has hosted the Portland chapter of the Global Game Jam, an international event in which game creators all over the world devote just a couple of nights to the creation of one game. In the past this has resulted in everything from story-driven games to virtual reality experiences.

Among other things, Wick said he is particularly fond of game jams.

“My impulse is to take responsibility for everything in a project myself, but game jams have absolutely been humbling experiences that have taught me how to play well with others,” Wick said.

PIGSquad also serves as a testing ground for game developers, offering a much needed outside perspective in what can be a highly creative yet isolative occupation.

“PIGSquad’s intermittent game showcases are my primary avenues for play-testing,” Wick said, “something which I consider an absolutely essential part of the development cycle.”

Matthew Hunter, co-organizer and head of artist relations at DataPort, a monthly music event that celebrates all things chiptune, said PIGSquad sometimes matches musicians with game developers.

“They’re a great resource to get chiptuner’s music out there,” Hunter said.

Chiptune is a genre of music that most closely resembles the music heard in older video games. Some artists use modern technology to replicate this retro sound. Some, like local band Plain Flavored, go straight to the source, creating intelligent dance music using the Gameboy handheld console.

Alix Banegas, a game designer and artist, said she was drawn to PIGSquad because of the focus on smaller, independent games. Banegas worked as a character artist at Sony Online Entertainment for four years, during which she helped ship two massive, online games.

Banegas said she has retired from the game development industry. She now finds joy in smaller projects.

“I was growing tired of producing games as a means to make money and was heavily drawn toward the games as art idea,” Banegas said. “I decided PIGSquad was a great way to meet others who shared the same passion for game creation.”

Banegas said PIGSquad reintroduced her to the fun she had initially associated with game development, sans the corporate setting.

Banegas said she is most proud of her game Womb Room, which she helped to create at a game jam hosted by PIGSquad. Womb Room is an interactive experience about life, death and the endless possibilities that exist between.

“I had so much fun working on this project with my group, and look forward to participating in future game jams.”

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