"In the art house and experimental field of games, it is even more important to have a platform where joy and business come along in the right way. People from around the world come to A MAZE. / Johannesburg to meet the African community to exchange culture and perceptions. Our talk and workshop program is diverse, and builds on the bases of authorship, artistic expression, and African culture." says Thorsten Wiedemann, festival founder and director for A MAZE. / Johannesburg.
A MAZE. / Johannesburg, a celebration of independent games and playful media, is currently taking place in South Africa from September 13-16.
"A MAZE. is a place full of positive chaos, and festival attendees learn to think out-of-the-box. Everything is there, but different. Developers can easily create an international network, do business, meet press, and get visible with their own work, but without the financial pressure of a convention. It's very special to me, as I basically built the festival from scratch in 2012, and the continuity with my local team had an inspiring impact on the game development community in South Africa and Africa."
Featuring workshops and talks, as well as an arcade filled with independent games from African and international developers, it highlights the experimental, powerful work being done in the medium, and its speakers and developers are rightfully proud to be there. We spoke to some of those who would be present for the festival, hoping to learn what it meant to them to be there, and to learn more about the unique work these talented creators have made.
Cukia 'Sugar' Kimani
"I'm a Kenyan born game developer with an affinity for digital art. I'm best known for Boxer which I made alongside Ben Crooks (which won won the inaugural AMAZE Jo'burg award in 2015). Since then, I co-founded Nyamakop with Ben Myres, where I work as the lead programmer on Semblance. Semblance is Nyamakop's debut title, which is set to release in early 2018."
"I've been drawn to A MAZE since my first interaction with Thorsten when he pushed me to give my first Hyper Talk in 2014. In many ways, A MAZE is what kickstarted my career as a game developer. 2014 was my first A MAZE and the first game festival that welcomed me with open arms to the weird and crazy side of game development. Ever since then, I've wanted to make games / playful installations to show at A MAZE and other game festivals around the world. For me A MAZE is special because it celebrates interesting and weird games - things I was never aware of until A MAZE."
"I won't be showing anything this year, which is kind of a first since my entrance into the A MAZE world. I will, however, be speaking on a panel titled "Entrepreneur Mindset in a Digital Space" where we'll chat about the opportunities that are available through starting a business in the creative/gaming industries. This panel is an interactive session designed to engage young creatives and developers into the world of entrepreneurship."
"Ever since starting Nyamakop I've become more aware to the entrepreneurial side of game development and the creative industry. So, this is a great opportunity to share what we've learnt in starting a company and working on a commercial title."
Kirsten Lee Naidoo
"My name is Kirsten-lee and I'm 19. I'm currently a 3rd year game design student at Wits University. When I was a first year student, I was immediately drawn to the range of games at A MAZE. There were silly games and retro games and just types of games that I had never seen before because the concepts were so creative. And I think that's what makes A MAZE so special. It is a time to celebrate indie games that are different and interesting. Also, it's the perfect time to share your games with designers and experts from different parts of the world, which is like a game design student's dream!"
"I'll be showing a game called Jodio. The game was a second year exam game based on the topic 'Urban' with a setting of Johannesburg. It was a group project worked on by me and 2 other students (Keanu Teixeira and Rohun Ranjith) . It's basically a kind of music-making audio visualizer where you click on parts of environments (which are parts of Johannesburg) and sounds play with accompanying visuals."
"I will also be doing a HyperTalk about how to be 'noticed' as a student in the game design industry in South Africa (A HyperTalk being a strictly 5 minutes or less talk). During this talk, I will be speaking about student opportunities in the Game Design industry and the importance of taking these opportunities."
"I'm a game designer and programmer living in Melbourne, Australia. Up until very recently I've been making games part time as a hobby, but I recently started doing it full time (as a solo independent developer). I've released about 30 small free experimental games over the last few years such as Catacombs of Solaris, Action Painting, Southbank Portrait, Doomdream and Gonubie Hotel, but also some commercial ones, such as Boson X. My games often have a visual focus and many double as art creation tools."
"I'll be showing my game Catacombs of Solaris - a colorful maze explorer with a sneaky twist. The game doesn't have any explicit objectives and is more about exploring an abstract 3D visual space. Exploration often results in striking images generated by the choices you make when navigating the space."
"I'm also giving a workshop on a tool I made called Vertex Meadow. This is a tool for creating explorable 3D landscapes using a simple paint-program-like interface. It's a way to create atmospheric "walking simulators" in a way that feels immediate and organic. I'll be explaining how the tool works, showing some example worlds made with it and then guiding attendees through the process of creating their own world."
"I'm originally from South Africa and went to the University of the Witwatersrand, which is just up the road from where A MAZE is being held in Braamfontein, so I'm excited to see how the area has changed since I was last there 18 years ago. When I lived in South Africa I wasn't making games and wasn't aware of any game development scene,
but there seems to be a blossoming scene there now and I'm really keen to see it for myself and hopefully make some new friends along the way."
"A MAZE seems to focus more on the cultural significance of games rather than their commercial significance and I think it's important to have events like that. South Africa has such a rich history and cultures to draw on so I'm really excited to see what local creators are making."
"I am a 3rd year game design student at Wits University. I am also one of the founding members of Glitch Face, which runs pop-up arcade parties in Johannesburg. I'm primarily interested in games as social spaces and tools for education or self-expression. This year, I'm showing my local-multiplayer platformer, TRIGGERED."
"This year will be my fourth at A MAZE./ Johannesburg. Ever since my first, it has been the highlight of my year. For me, it's a great platform to show my work and get feedback from super talented people from the South African scene and abroad. There is also so much to learn from what other developers are working on. What is especially important to me, is that it has a South African core, and it's putting South Africa on the global map of game development. We're so geographically removed from the other development hot-spots around the world, and it's great to have them come to us when, for the most part, South Africans don't have easy access to the rest of the world."
"I'm Paloma Dawkins from Montreal, Canada. I am a cartoonist and animator and I made a few games including Dream Warrior, Alea, Gardenarium and now Palmystery. None of my games are alike, I'm always trying to achieve a new vibe. I want to make something that doesn't already exist and draw from a different facet of my imagination."
"I'll be showing Palmystery at A MAZE! It's an anxiety simulator. Basically it's like being in some kind of Limbo hell/techno club and all the ghosts are hands or indifferent participants. Nothing really makes sense, its meant to be confusing. I made the game while trying to channel the energy I felt in the air from the US election results in November. The American Dream was looking like some kind of cartoony hell version of itself and I wanted to capture that vibe without being too specific."
"A MAZE is like the *dream* festival, I've always wanted to go to Johanessburg and Berlin. They consistently pick the most interesting games and showcase the best talent. I wish I could talk about all the amazing people I've met and all the great games I've played but I wont be able to make it out because I am currently in production on a new project :( hopefully another time."
"I like the games they pick - giving interesting and challenging games a home is important. It gives me hope knowing that my effort with Palmystery won't go unnoticed."
My name is Rohun Ranjith and I am currrently a 3rd year game design student. I'll be showing 2 games at A MAZE. The first one is 9L17Ch, which is a 2D platformer in which the player has to use a glitch mechanic to solve puzzles and interact with the world. The world is set in a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk context, and the player plays as a cute robot. It is currently my group's 3rd year project. The second game is Jodio, which is an experimental game our group made for class. The game is an audio visualizer, that uses sounds from Johannesburg incorporated in a low poly version of Johannesburg."
"I am really privileged to go to the Wits because they are heavily influenced in the running of A MAZE Johannesburg. So in first year, we had to work at A MAZE, which opened me up to the awesome indie game scene. I think A MAZE is special, specifically in South Africa, because it allows international and local artists and game designers to interact. You can learn so much from all the experienced game developers from around the world and also discover the ones that are in your country. Also you get to be inspired by the great work being exhibited."
"Game development appealed to me as a medium that comprised a whole bunch of aspects from previous media with which I had interacted. Coming into video games quite late (compared to other people), I have always been fascinated with how video games appear to revolutionize telling stories and foster far deeper emotions in people. Specifically, with how much empathy - more so than other media - games can produce between players and characters.
I am a graduate of the University of the Witwaterstrand Game Design course, and am currently employed as a programmer at 24BitGames."
"My talk focuses on the how to subvert well-known mechanics and craft new mechanics to better facilitate marginalized and vulnerable people's stories. The principle behind the need for this is that video game stories have upheld hegemonic narratives and we cannot use those same techniques to tell the stories of the subaltern."
"I have had the major privilege of being able to attend A MAZE since I was studying, as my university is associated with the festival. The festival brings enterprising and creative people together to share experiences and ideas. I am grateful to have an opportunity to share my ideas and, hopefully, find people who could inform my own ideas and even change my mind on some matters."
Marie Claire Leblanc Flanagan
"My name is Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan, and I come from Canada. My background is in weird arts communities (wyrd), alternative education with alienated youth, and many other projects with people who want to build something different and are willing to do the work to make it happen."
"Exactly two years ago I moved to Berlin with a single goal: I wanted to make strange and experimental games. At the time I didn't know anything about games, but I made up my mind and got on a plane for Berlin."
"When I landed in Berlin I poked around looking for people and communities doing interesting work. I found the School of Machines, Making and Make Believe, A MAZE., ARTGAMES, Spektrum Berlin, Berlin Smell Lab, Creative Code Berlin, BerlinGameScene.com, and many other gatherings and creative communities. Berlin is one of those labyrinthian and layered cities where the more you dig the more you find. It's a living ecosystem with 300 layers of graffiti on top and some juvenile skateboarder swearing at the top of her lungs just so she can say the forbidden words. I guess (like anywhere?) some of the corners of Berlin are awful cesspools of posturing but most of it is mind-expanding and bizarre in the best possible way."
"Since moving to Berlin I've made a handful of strange and experimental games and interactive experiences. Usually with my games I'm looking to explore a question, often something personal and embarrassing. Why is life so lonely? Why can't I be understood? Why do I struggle to connect with other people? What does it mean to inhabit this meat body while exploring virtual, digital, and augmented realities? These are all very old questions, but I'm interested in using play to explore them in new ways."
"I often play with new technologies in my games, like VR/AR, machine learning, and computer vision. Right now I'm working on a blockchain game where the core mechanic is an act of trust. I hope that while I slip delightedly into these new technologies I'm also questioning them, stretching them, shredding and collaging them, and challenging what they can mean in our lives."
"At A MAZE. Johannesburg I'm showing my game Closer. It's a cooperative game for two people. Both players share a single playable character which is controlled by their (shared) movements and their proximity to each other. It's a serious game but is also silly and fun, people are jumping around and trying to navigate the difficulty of a shared fate."
"I'll be talking early in the morning on Friday about 'All the worst things.'" It will be a brief adventure through many of the horrible things that I've worked through/continue to work through in the past few years making experimental games. This includes challenges with tech, challenges with humans, and general living challenges. I'm also going to talk about how I deal with these challenges. "
"I'm also doing a workshop on Friday at 4pm. It's for total beginners who are curious about making strange games and interactive stories. It's the workshop I wish I had two years ago. You can sign up for it here."
"A MAZE. is very special. Full disclosure: I work with the Berlin edition of A MAZE. doing experience design. The reason I got involved with A MAZE. is because it's a door anyone can pry open to a wonderland full of magical play installations, experiences, and games. Many of these games can be hard to find elsewhere or are even impossible to play outside of events because they have special hardware and setup. And maybe even more than all this, the festival itself is a place of gathering. It's a space where people come together."
"My name is David Kamunyu, a self taught, solo, indie game developer, based in Kenya, working on my first title The Orchard. My game is to be shipped under my business, Broken Helmet Entertainment. I have been an indie dev for the last 5 (or so) years, which I have spent learning the skills needed to develop my project. The Orchard is the culmination of these skills put together."
"Full disclosure, I will not be able to attend A MAZE this time around, however those awesome guys have assured me that my game will still be showcased regardless."
"The Orchard is a first person, role playing, adventure game, set in an open world, sand box environment. The world is a fictitious Kenyan district and the final product should have several settlements and a working economy. In addition there are survival mechanics, a full day/night and weather system, looting, and a few other mechanics that are still planned."
"As you have guessed, the game is still a work in progress, and is currently in closed alpha. Open alpha (build 1.0) is targeted to be released by the end of the year. Other platforms will be made available as soon as I am able."
"In case anyone is interested (or generally enjoy a bad joke) in reading my ramblings about the processes I follow and thoughts I have (if ever), they can read my blog which I update once in a (great) while."
"I was introduced to A MAZE by way of a post in one of the local indie dev Facebook groups I am in. I was not particularly optimistic at the thought of being chosen, but I figured "What do I have to loose?" and submitted my work. Though finding out about A MAZE-Joberg was not in any amazing sort of way (pun not intended), I thought it was quite cool that it gave African devs the opportunity to have their work showcased to such a huge crowd. Considering how competitive the game development world is, this is a really great platform to be able to get the much needed publicity and meet other devs and talk shop."
Despite being in the South African game dev scene for ages, I have never actually released a full title (unless you count a mobile prototype of Vicious Attack Llama Apocalypse years ago). I started a company doing mobile app development about 5 years ago, and financially it went well, but mobile app dev gets...boring. So, I shifted to working on VALA about 2 and a half years ago, and after about 6 months we stopped app dev almost completely to focus on it."
"Our game, VALA, based on the true events of llamas taking over Santa Llama City, and Llamazon having to slaughter them to liberate the city. It's your standard mass llama-slaughter roguelike-lite-ish couch co-op twin-stick top-down shooter."
"A MAZE celebrates the half of gaming that isn't mass-market-appeal AAA-cookie-cutter goo. Also, there are cool people giving talks that I can fan-boy over."
James Earl Cox III
"I'm James Earl Cox III, normal height boy with green hair who just made 100 games in 5 years (what a feat!). The majority of my games push for awkward, tense, raw experiences. They can be fun, but usually that's not the aim. They can all be found on my site. Since making 100 games in 5 years, I've been focusing on my brother's and my company Seemingly Pointless. We've won an award or two, and it is very impressive!"
"I'm honored to say I have two games at A Maze this year: the second videogame from Seemingly Pointless, MOLOCH (zero) is a worker management game that forces the player to decide between efficiency and decency; and Temporality, a contemplative war game. Two very different tones in two very different games."
"A MAZE is magical. It treats games like experimental art and appreciates playful nuance. I have yet to met an attendee who hasn't enjoyed A MAZE. While I won't be at Johannesburg this year, I will be attending the Berlin event and am very much looking forward to it."
Diaa ElHak Guedouari
"My names is Diaa ElHak Guedouari, you can simply call me Diaa. I have been making tiny games by myself since 2008. I've always tried to focus on implementing short games with good design and satisfying user experience. Meanwhile, I participated in many competitions and Game Jams, won several awards including "Excellence in Gameplay" in the International Mobile Gaming Awards (IMGA - MENA)."
"I will be showcasing one of my works, Lamp of Truth, a short monochrome platformer about a blind old man who uses magical lanterns to materialize/enlighten what surrounds him."
"A MAZE is what drew me to come to A MAZE ... I mean, it's A MAZE-ing. The best part of the show, is the game developers gathering from all over the world to discuss their lifelong passion, game development. Being their feels more home-like than home itself."
"My co-creator Alex Duncan and I are game people based in New York City. We met in graduate school at the NYU Game Center a few years ago. I'm a freelancer and indie developer; I've made games for Sesame Workshop and
just came back from the Stugan Accelerator, working on my game 10 Mississippi. Alex works as a game designer and developer at Looking Glass Factory--a Brooklyn-based company that makes holographic displays--and also teaches game studies and game development at various schools in the New York area. His own creative practice often engages with representations of nature and non-human animals in digital spaces. Space kitties count."
"We're showing our game Space Kitty, a physical/digital arcade shooter. Encroaching dogliens (dog aliens) want to attack the Almighty Space Kitty. Players use the flashlights on their phones to zap the on-screen dogaliens
before the Space Kitty loses its 9 lives. It's a small experience and we've found that players have a blast clambering over each other, strategizing the best way to arrange themselves to rack up a high score."
"We were drawn to A MAZE because the spirit of the show resonates with us as creators. A MAZE shows games and has talks that explore new territory, it spotlights pieces and people that are doing extraordinary work. Getting the chance to be a small part of that experience is really special."
"My name is Bahiyya Khan. I am 22 years old and currently doing my honours in Game Design at the University of the Witwatersrand. I have also completed an undergraduate degree in English Literature last year. (I decided to do a dual degree in game development and English Literature since it combined both of my strong fields of interests)."
"I only started really being interested in games in my second year of my degree. In our first year, we only focused on board games which I did not enjoy as much. I love making games about stuff that I think are important and I wish existed. I have made games about depression and the patriarchy and being queer and suicide."
"I have a game called after HOURS (an FMV game about molestation and mental illness) which is currently being shown at A MAZE and I have also done a talk there called 'Crying in the Club: How to Make Games Despite the Crushing Weight of Being Alive'. I also helped Marie Claire Flanagan on her workshop, 'A Kind of Play'."
"A MAZE is special because of how intimate and personal it is. You can actually make genuine friends there and you don't feel like an outcast because of how welcoming everyone is. It is a warm and cultivating experience."
Mukenge Kim Chulu Amina
"My Name is Mukenge Kim Chulu Amina, I am a Game developer and game designer based in South Africa. I build mainly educational games and entertainment games. My studio is called Kimard Studio and I worked on Armel, which is a game about a musician playing inside his composition after being reduced to the size of his music sheet. The demo is available on Itch.io and the full game will be released soon."
"At A MAZE I am speaking about players and developers Expressing themselves in through games. The talk is all about finding the issues we have in Africa, and how we can turn their seriousness around to bring a playful light to them."
"A MAZE is a festival I have always wished to attend and, to do even better, contribute to. I have been trying to submit one of my game to it for the past 2 years for the exhibition but it was not ready yet. This year, at least I could contribute by sharing my thoughts on this topic, which came about after a game based on political issues in South Africa erupted and the game got featured on the Sunday Times after being published on the Android store."
"The show can grow bigger and I think it is growing. It is a great way to meet up with other experienced developers, learn and share."