The Big Indie Pitch, a regular event run by the makers of PocketGamer.biz, sees indie developers engage in a rapid-fire pitching competition for fame and those sweet promotional packages.
The event gives indies five minutes to pitch their games to a panel of press, publishers, and industry pundits, each receiving invaluable feedback, before the judges pick three winners.
The indie view
The Big Indie Pitch is getting bigger and bigger as we bring it across the world. We've sat down with a number of past BIP contestants to offer their views on the event, its attendees, and the games on show.
Today, we're speaking to Noah Rosenfield, who created and pitched Addagrams, at The Very Big Indie Pitch at Pocket Gamer Connects Toronto 2022 and walked away as our mobile winner.
PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a little about yourself and your indie studio - who is on the team, and what are their inspirations?
Noah Rosenfield: Right now it's a one-man show, which is daunting, but also incredibly freeing. There's no space for finger pointing or feelings of discontentment. You get out exactly what you put in. And it's definitely one of the most exciting (and terrifying) things I've done lately.
In terms of personal style, I'm a very mechanics-first designer. "How it works" has always been the most interesting question to me. I'm drawn to and draw inspiration from toys and games that really embrace that. First, it was mechanical puzzles like the horseshoe-ring puzzle or snake cube. Then it was Tetris. Then strategy games, rogue-likes, puzzle platformers. Backgammon. I love backgammon.
For Addagrams specifically, words within words, word ladders, and wordplay, in general, have always been interesting to me. There's a game called "Ghost” we used to play as kids that I loved. And "Stinky Pinky”.
Can you tell us about Addagrams that you pitched at the competition?
Addagrams is a word puzzle that's all about you. And that sounds clichéed. But I guarantee the gameplay is truly one of the most personal experiences you'll have with a word game. In most other word puzzles, when you start the game, the "right answer" has already been chosen – by them – for you. Addagrams is different.
You start with 6 letter tiles and use them to make any two words you want. You get a point for each tile used and a bonus point for using all the tiles in a round. At the beginning of each new round, you get one new tile and repeat. So you're rearranging all your tiles, plus the new one, into two new words. The real challenge is that you can only play a word once per game.
There are nine rounds and that's pretty much it. It's not a complex rule set. Which is what grants the player so much freedom and possibility. That and the two-word submission.
What do you think are the most unique and interesting aspects of Addagrams that players may never have seen before?
Moving from a one-word submission to a two-word submission is a huge creative boon for the player. It's exponential. It's the difference between "eyes" and "googly eyes", "kind eyes", "cat eyes". or even "eyes cream". It's self-expression. It's inside jokes. It's secret phrases. It's huge.
My goal with Addagrams, and my game design in general, is to show people something that they've never seen before. And for Addagrams specifically, to prove that even in a saturated genre there is still engaging, original gameplay to be discovered if you know where to look. The word puzzle arena has been dominated by old names and even older mechanics for quite some time. Scrabble was coined in 1938. Hangman showed up over a century ago. We're looking to give players a chance to choose something different. Something fresh. Something exciting and personal and clever and creative.
Addagrams is a word puzzle game. Given how competitive this genre is, what made you choose this genre, and what do you think you bring to it that may not have been seen before?
One of the interesting things about the word game genre is the durability that comes from the nature of language. It's never going away, it's constantly changing. It's dynamic and emergent and meta. This sort of makes it an interesting subject for all time and explains why competition is so stiff and incumbents are so enduring.
The choice to create in this space came out of the discovery of the mechanic and living in New York City. The amount of text that you see around the city... it's everywhere. And there's endless wordplay in the non-functioning neons and the sticker-covered subways and the scrawlings of bathroom patrons.
I have two stories about that. One of them I only tell in person, but there was this bar called One Mile House. It's closed now, sadly, but in one of the bathrooms, if you were standing to pee, right in front of your face someone had written: "You have a huge Glock" complete with a picture of a stick-person shooting off an oversized handgun. Next to the person, there was an equally oversized pocket watch. And as you looked at this, you could see that in fact, it used to read "you have a huge clock". Which in turn, at one point, had been a lewd compliment to the reader. And which originated as a lewd insult about the reader (someone had penned over "tiny" with "huge").
I loved this in all the ways. And again, you have to know where to look.
How did you come to choose the platforms that you would develop Addagrams for?
This ties into both the genre, my design sensibilities, and my limits as a solo creator. I haven't attempted a console or pc title (yet), but my instinct has been that the kind of experience I would design for those platforms is a larger project. So I'm really hoping Addagrams' future includes finding some collaborators.
Mobile feels like the right tradeoff in terms of project difficulty vs. access to players. And as I mentioned, I'm heavily influenced by physical toy puzzles. Because mobile is touch-based, you can really transform the phone as an object into a toy in the mind of a player. And word puzzles have a long tradition of physicality be it in ink, plastic, or wood. So this all just fits together as a mobile title.
Looking at the studio now, how hard is it to survive as an Indie developer?
Haha, well, it depends on your definition of survival, but so far I'd have to say it's pretty Darwinian.
From a financial standpoint, it's only as hard as holding down a job that supports your cost of living. That's definitely the "easiest" way to be an indie developer. Get a job. Create on the side. I did that for 10 years. The problem is that while you can survive, your passion may not.
There's nothing harder than starting your "indie work day" after getting home from a full day of work. Even when your heart’s in it, your time and energy are finite. It's like a lemon. You can only squeeze so much out of it and it leaves a sour taste. I still don't know how I managed to release my first game that way. Probably coffee and youth. That kind of schedule (read: sleep deprivation) is easier to tolerate when you're younger.
Now if we're talking about "survival" as in supporting yourself financially solely through making games, well, nobody wants to be the "starving artist". But it's a trope for a reason. It's still very hard to get people to pay for creative work. Especially games. Especially now. But that's the goal. And I think Addagrams has what it takes to survive.
Are there any tips and advice you would give to an independent developer out there who is just starting out?
As far as tips for newbies, and especially those interested in owning the game design aspect, taking a project from 0 to 1 by yourself, that is coming up with a concept and publishing it on a platform accessible to the public, is an invaluable experience and here's why:
This is going to be a solo project. That means you're handling the design, the art, the coding or construction, the playtesting, the marketing, the community management, and the press. Even if you remove the actual building of the game itself from this equation, it's an incredible amount of work.
As the one who has to wrangle all these disparate parts into a cohesive vision, there is value in feeling the full weight of that load on your shoulders. Maybe you put too much weight on, you over-scope the project, and you can't finish and have to bail out. Ok, so be it. No harm done. Lighten the load, scope it down, and try again. Regardless of the outcome, testing your limits so that you can properly assess yourself and the task at hand is a life-long skill. And particularly helpful later on when you need to start assessing that task on behalf of others.
And you'll find out what you're made of. If you've got what it takes. Games can be an overwhelmingly complex medium. If you aren't willing to try again, and again, and again, you probably won't make it to the end. The majority of projects don't fail because they're received badly, they are just never released.
The second tip and this isn't novel advice, is about "experiences". Go have some. Experiences are out there *points nebulously*, not in here *points to phone screen*. If you want to build experiences for other people, it helps to have some reference points. Get outside. Look at things. Listen to things. Smell things. Touch things. Taste things. And by things, I specifically mean, "not a screen". Definitely don't lick your screen. It's not sanitary.
And lastly, the most important tip is definitely to tell everyone you know about Addagrams. That'll help you immensely. How? Not sure yet. But trust me.
How did you find your experience pitching as a part of the Big Indie Pitch?
In true Addagrams fashion — that is, in two words: utterly awesome.
This was only my second time pitching a game. The first time was to a very talented artist and friend, Danny Rivera, who I convinced to help with an illustration for my first game. That happened over some happy hour beers at a bar in Soho, so it was a very different vibe than that of the competition. The pitch was less "Come on man, it'll be great!" and more "Let me show you why this game is great."
I don't generally boast about my work, so it was exciting and different and free to step into a space where that's the job. To say "Here's what I have. I know it's great. I can see it. Can you?" And on the flip side of that, to put the game out there to be judged, to maybe have it thrown back in your face because it's not as good as you think, or to maybe have it held on high because others can see what you see. That shot at artistic validation. It's terrifying and exhilarating.
What do you feel you have gained from the experience, and what do you still hope to gain?
Perhaps most importantly, a few new friends. During the first hours of the event, I ran into this guy demoing a location-based RPG called Orna. He was passionate, friendly, and just had great vibes all around. And that was how I met Josh O'Reilly who, unbeknownst to me, was also in the pitch contest and ended up taking 2nd place. It was incredibly exciting to make a new friend, discover they're actually your new frenemy, and then both come away with a win.
And, another little tip here, the experience and information gained through pitching to as many different people in as many different scenarios as you can are invaluable. The pitch needs playtesting, same as everything else. I had a feeling going in that I needed to be ready to ditch it at any moment and start taking questions, but I didn't expect to only finish my spiel one time. People were very responsive.
In terms of hopes, my wildest dream is probably the experience of being involved in a small studio and showing a few more of the curiosities I've got cooked up. But I'll happily start with the experience of running a successful new hobby game enjoyed by wordies worldwide who are looking for something fresh that speaks to them and through them.
What are your hopes for this game in the future, and do you have any plans for any future projects?
I’d love for Addagrams to catch on and shake up the genre a bit. We've got a bunch of updates planned including new game modes, a more customizable look and feel, and even some live events. We're hoping to launch later this year and you can get an invite with exclusive in-game goodies by signing up at Addagrams.com.
In terms of future projects, we’ve got a title codenamed "Tunnel" which I'm pretty excited about. It's still very early in the process and a totally different genre. More action, less puzzle. But it’s got another never-before-seen mechanic and in the same way that I could feel Addagrams was something special, it feels like that again. I can't say much yet, but fans of Downwell and Cowboy Bebop should stay tuned.
You can find us at @PlayAddagrams on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We love to see what people are coming up with so please tag us, say hello, and come indulge in our offbeat brand of humour. And for my fellow indies who made it this far, we’ll be doing some other informational content, talking about process, Unity tips, etc. Not sure on the platform for that yet, but you can find me on Twitter at @nosenfield and that’s a safe bet.
Want to show off your exciting new game? We host Big Indie Pitch events throughout the year, so be sure to keep an eye out on our events page for an event near you, or even our new Digital pitches.
All our upcoming pitches including how to enter can be found over on our upcoming events page on BigIndiePitch.com.
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