Canzine Artcade 2009 – The Hand Eye Society Takes Toronto

Written by: Luke Fimio

Indie games?  Social?  Those words don’t go together:

Picture this: A single individual, eyes transfixed on the monitor, huddled over a full pot of coffee, hammering away endlessly at his or her keyboard just for a chance to bring a few strokes of creativity to an often uninspired gaming world. This was once the world for an indie video game developer.

But guess what? There’s been a revolution.

The programmers have found each other, banded together and what’s more, they’ve invited artists, musicians and anyone with creativity and a passion for video games to the party. And together they are building the Hand Eye Society.

Canzine Artcade 2009: The hand is quicker, because the eye is gawking at the games.
At the Gladstone Hotel, in downtown Toronto, ON, comic book artists, poets, and writers alike form a hipster-bazaar, offering their wares to the strolling patrons. The creative, eccentric and nerdy elite have all amassed within this one building. And deep within the buzzing crowds, an entire room has been dedicated to independent video game development. I’m impressed.

I watched as hundreds of different people strolled through the room, amazed at the fully-interactive displays and workshops that the Hand Eye Society has provided. One display allowed people to use the Gary’s Mod engine (the famed mod of the Half Life 2 engine) to create interactive levels and props in 3D space. Another allowed people to play with a program called Scratch, in which they could quickly and easily build levels using simple buttons (no coding involved, for us lay-people).

A rather ingenious workshop, and one that I think showed people just how creative they could be, allowed people to draw a character (as simple or as complex as they wanted) in 4 frames of a walk cycle. Then via web cam, each frame was taken into a program that created a fully interactive, video game sprite right before their eyes. For me, watching my own little creation walk back and forth across the screen was a thing of beauty. If I had named it I would have wanted to keep it.

The crown jewel of the show however had to be the extremely impressive Torontron. Yes it sounds like a beast, and yes it could take over Tokyo.

This ain't your daddy's Tron. User beware!
This ain’t your daddy’s Tron. User beware!

However it was only beastly in terms of its gaming presence. For all of us retro-gaming nerds the Torontron’s story is a slice of gaming heaven. The original arcade cabinet was home to a 1981 Italian arcade game called Magic Worm which was actually just a clone of the classic game we all know and love, Centipede. The game no longer played so Hand Eye Society member Jph Wacheski gutted the entire cabinet and re-worked and re-fitted the controls to play six different games all created by different indie game developers from around Toronto, ON. If the machine itself wasn’t amazing enough, the 6 games that it contained were equally stunning. The games it ran were:

Night of the Cephalopods by Miguel Sternberg
lockOn 2 by Jph Wacheski
Albacross by Rosemary Mosco
Mondrian Provoked by Jim McGinley
Monster Puncher by BananasInPajammers
Heavy Weather by Team Entelechynt

Each game worked off of simple but engrossing game play mechanics, and contained a unique art style that you could only find in the culture of indie games. The show was capped off by an interesting and informative slide show in which Jph Wacheski demonstrated step by step how Torontron was created.

Jim Munroe, one of the Hand Eye Society’s founding members told me that he considers the society to be an indie game advocacy group, and that’s exactly what I found them to be. The show seemed to provide many video game lovers with a breath of fresh air, showing them how easy it can be to bring your talents to life. And to those whose only interactions in the video game world consist of Rockband and possibly Wii Fit, it provided a simple spark of imagination and a look into the culture where video games all started.

Gamers, new and old gather around Torontron.
Gamers, new and old gather around Torontron.

Visit the Hand Eye Society

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