SA’s Broforce devs on why games are good

Turns out it was worth waiting until the very end at yesterday’s TEDxJohannesburg conference, as one of the last presentations was also one of the best.

Evan Greenwood, the lead designer on South African retro-em-up Broforce, gave an a beautiful presentation on the positive power of gaming, based on his experiences watching audiences play.

“The discussions around gaming always focus on the things we don’t want to see in games,” Greenwood told the audience, “We should be talking about what we do want to see.”

Broforce the game is an homage to 80s action flicks starring 8-bit style characters like Rambro, Bromocop, the Brominator and so on. It’s gratuitous, over the top and an enormous amount of fun. Greenwood opened his presentation with an anecdote about how Free Lives, the development company, was worried that Hollywood lawyers might be in touch.

And when they got a call from Lionsgate, producers of just released Expendables 3 starring the same 80s action heroes reprising the roles Broforce was parodying.

“[I] thought they were going to sue us,” Greenwood says, “It turned out some of them had played the game, enjoyed it and wanted us to make a tie-in.”

(Which Free Lives released for free via Steam earlier this month.)

Greenwood admitted that he feels uncomfortable when he sees children playing Broforce, which is ultra-violent but – I’d opine – more in the manner of Road Runner cartoons than splatter flicks.

But the touching moments from the presentation came when Greenwood read messages from fans that described things he’d never expected to see. Fans like the father and son who’d adopted the slow motion high-five characters perform at then end of a level as their confidence building goodbye before the child went to school.

“It says a lot about the impact of the game,” he says, “Plus, he has the power of slo-mo now.”

Watching children just pick up controllers and play with strangers at shows like A MAZE/Interact and MineCon highlighted the benefits of collaborative games like Broforce too. The lesson was that what had started out as a straightforward, stupid pastiche had turned out to have depths and effects the developers hadn’t even begun to predict – and that’s the power of the still-new medium of gaming.

If you’ve not reserved time in your diary and want to find out more about South African games development, it’s worth taking a look at the program for the forthcoming A MAZE 2014 festival in central Joburg next month here.

And if you’re looking for more of our TEDxJoburg coverage, you’ll find that here.

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