Mike Meyer

The GDC Pirate Kart has two missions: to get you to make a game, and then to give that game a home

The GDC Pirate Kart has two missions: to get you to make a game, and then to give that game a home

There was once a time when video games came on cartridges, and you could buy cartridges filled with dozens, if not hundreds, of pirated games to play on your console. Glorious Trainwreck’s Jeremy Penner revived that concept as a way to collect a large amount of indie games in one place, and the virtual package would be released as a single download. There was a pirate kart entered into the Independent Games Festival as a single entry, and the next kart will be released after the Game Developers Conference. You download the launcher, explore the huge variety of simple, often weird, games and enjoy. We sat down with Mike Meyer, the organizer of this latest kart, to talk about why he does it, and what he hopes to accomplish.

“I don’t have a single clear goal. It’s more that I thought the concept was awesome, so I decided to do one,” Meyer admitted. The IGF kart was put together at the last minute, using a combination of new and existing indie games. Putting the IGF kart together on such short notice was impressive, but Meyer wanted to put the emphasis on people creating new content for the GDC collection. “People saw the IGF kart as a protest against the IGF, and I wanted to create one that was about making stuff, and get the focus back on that,” he said.

So, how much time is spent explaining the fact the games are new and not, in fact, pirated? “That’s one of the issues, I guess. The biggest misconception is that it’s a Mario Kart racing game,” Meyer said. “That’s the thing I see the most. Especially with the IGF kart where the symbol is a giant pirate flag, that was a problem. With this one I think we did a better job of people seeing the site and knowing it’s about making stuff and not piracy.” That’s what Meyer wants people to do: create a game. Create whatever you want. Don’t worry if it’s good, or if it can make money. Just make a game. It doesn’t matter if you have no experience or coding knowledge; the tools provided on the main site will help get you started. Create a game, submit it using the big friendly green button, and you’re officially an indie developer.

“The Pirate Kode has only one firm rule: If the rules are getting in the way of you making games, disregard them! To put it another way: Cheating is encouraged,” the official site declares. There are a series of guidelines to try to help you, but those are merely suggestions. “If you don’t stick to these guidelines, that’s okay! WE WANT YOU AND YOUR GAMES ANYWAY!” The message is clear: come in and get to work, all are welcome.

25,000 people downloaded the IGF pirate kart, but the people playing the games are barely the point, and Meyer admitted that much of this is symbolic. “My main interest is giving people that platform. There are so many games, I can’t give any of them the attention they deserve… My focus is on getting people creating and sharing,” he said. “Part of the reason to do it is that the creating part isn’t done until you’ve shared it. Part of giving people the platform is making it freely available; I want to get the word out to creators more than players.” The fun also comes from watching people play through some of the games at random, and reacting to the crazy things they find. There are some early plans for livestreaming reactions from GDC.

“What I really wanted to do was get an arcade cabinet,” Meyer said about the presentation at the Game Developers Conference, but that proved to be too expensive without a way to “steal” expo space. GDC Play allowed Meyer to get a kiosk for “only” $3,000, and that was within the range of doable. He raised the money via Kickstarter. “It’s not as cool as an arcade cabinet, but with the mouse and keyboard no one has to make the effort to make the game special for the arcade,” he said. There will be a laptop connected to the pirate kart kiosk, and it will constantly upload new games and update the list as people submit games from the main site. There is no filter; if you make a game and submit it, someone may play it at GDC. There is no mechanism for picking some games and not others.

“Every five minutes it checks if there are new games, and once someone clicks the game on the launcher and hit splay, it’s downloaded,” Meyes explained. I asked about content worries: what if someone submits Swastika’s Dildo Adventures? “I would be okay with Swastika’s Dildo Adventures. Like, I think someone should go make that game. I don’t censor it at all. I’m not interested in that. Even if you’re making stuff I don’t want to see, at least you’re still making stuff.”

The system is completely open, but so far that hasn’t caused any problems, much to everyone’s relief. The games that have been included in the pirates karts have ranged from the amazing to the barely functional. Playing the games is always an adventure, and the GDC pirate kart will be no exception. “There hasn’t been much trolling,” Meyer said. “Just giving people the opportunity to have a voice and getting out of their way turns out to have amazing results.”

If you’d like to take a look at the some of those amazing results, you can jump right in. Anyone can play a game, however. Why not make one instead?