I’m back from Brighton (windy, rainy, at least I was indoors a lot), and from the Develop Conference. I had a great time helping and I think all the volunteers enjoyed it (the free bar at the end of the night might have helped there 🙂 ). Read on for a quick summary of what I enjoyed and some pictures from my album, although I meant to take more, they give a feel at least for the conference, although with my camerawork you can’t see much. Read on for more…
Day 0 – Monday 23rd July
The “flower” clock of Hove
I arrived on Tuesday since my train took around 3:30 (actually 4:10 due to some delays) from Coventry. Gave me a time to read more of Catch-22. It also rained a lot in Brighton once I arrived and checked into my hotel, but it was a nice walk around the city (the Brighton museum was closed too, a shame). I did see some good shops on the non-main streets, and the pier was nice (if wet, did I mention it was raining?). You can see the Hove flower clock to the right. I thought it was a bit of a cop out honestly, not really made of flowers after all! It was also one hour slow, so disappointing (Hove didn’t have a museum that I could find either). One thing I hardly saw was tourists however, I think the bad weather certainly drove them away making the streets quite empty.
Day 1 – Tuesday 23rd July
Getting to the conference around 8:30 and picking up my badge, and meeting all the other associates (all very nice people, most were students working on game courses too) we did bag packing – a lot of them (see right). Due to having only 2 or 3 rooms being used at once, there was half the associates around to help with other tasks or watch the GamesEdu or Mobile portion of it and help there. I did some work in the morning (and had a chance to look at the expo floor being setup, see the gallery), and in the afternoon did the last 2 of the mobile presentations.
The GAMES:EDU was interesting, especially Creating Next Gen concepts by Matt Southern (although I was told some of the ones I missed were good too). Matt discussed several interesting points on what development teams do and why on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and applied some of those thoughts to what universities should be doing too since he was originally a lecturer (which helped his presentation a lot I found). One thing most people I talked to about it said while it was good progress, there was a lot of not-much-to-do-with-academia, and there was not much on the internship and apprenticeship fronts or what academia can provide research-wise (problems being legal was an argument put forward), however good steps forward for the UK (Skillset accreditation recently, courses being restarted, internships being now available), and hopefully next years will be another good way of joining academia and industry.
The mobile conference, while I am not as interested in since I don’t own a game-playing phone, was a good insight into how it works – there are several mentions that advertising might become the norm, if done well, in mobile games, and that there now is a system where all operators can release the game at once, although their portals are poor currently with finding the games (the problem of “looking past the first page” for games). I didn’t even know mobiles had proper 3d now, which graphically will hopefully make for a good 2d experience (rather then a poorly controlled FPS). Talking with a mobile developer after the conference enforced that – mobile phone’s controls don’t lend themselves to anything you have to do, very fast, in real time, so hopefully it won’t be abused and games will remain usable.
The TIGA buffet
In the evening, the free bar (up to a limited time) was good, with Magners being my choice of drink, however going to the TIGA event afterwards was great, with a big spread of free food and free drinks too, certainly was excellent (and I was told didn’t happen the year before). The TIGA representative was nice, although I am pretty sure only developers in a company can join TIGA, and they represent much more commercial interests then I have currently, I will have to check them out more.
Day 2 – Wednesday 24th July
Richard Garriott was doing the morning keynote – The Rapidly Maturing Genre of Online Gaming, which was interesting since I don’t play any MMOG’s, and took us from history through to the future. The main points of the talk was summarised nicely at Gameindustry.biz and Eurogamer – but suffice to say it was nice to see the range of games NCsoft made (and why), and that he disliked the fact grinding and data crunching was the norm, and needed, to play the current games. Hopefully his new designed games will live up to what he talked about. I am glad he also never really said “innovation” since it is more going to what games used to do a long time ago online.
Massage by Zoe Mode
I did a long Production Masterclass up to mid-afternoon (Depending on demand we usually choose which talks to help, this was not my first choice however). Interesting notes on production, and on agile development (or whatever it is called at each company), and on the way producers work (which is always different everywhere of course). During lunch, I had a look around the Expo, and found some of my fellow yellow-shirt associates having massages from Zoe Mode. I didn’t actually have one myself, I probably should have – they looked good.
Finally, the afternoon had me attending a workshop on Getting the Best Out of Writers, the hosts being good independent game writers gave me some good knowledge about how it all works (along with a lot of their complaints and ways to solve them), and an overview of working on Overlord, which I have actually brought today (since playing the demo before I went to Brighton, I intended to regardless) with its quirky humour and being fun, the knowledge that the story was not tacked on was good, and that there was basically only core design completed and a very bare outline before the writer Rhianna was brought in, having heard the earlier horror stories on lack of time. Having knowledge of the Writers Guild of Great Britain was good too, and how hiring and working with writers works (very much “who you know” still, and a few ways to find writers being available, noting can work worldwide as a writer). Story (or any dialogue and text) is important to many games, and writing is getting better at least – especially how it is more tightly done in design, and more guidelines are being worked on by the Writers Guild.
Since I am not a writer or producer (and unlikely to be either), I found it really worthwhile knowing how both work in-depth.
The future: Community driven?
Lastly, there was Chris Satchell doing a presentation on the XNA group, and how the community might provide a resource for content in Creative Divergence: Surfing the Web 2.0 Community Wave. Quite a lot was, to me, buzzwordy (starting with the title), but there was a valid point there that for games, there are no real easy to use tools which might provide YouTube-like content, although to be perfectly honest, there would be a lot more poor content then good based on YouTube. It was implied the Xbox Studio Express was a stepping stone up to it, so the Xbox has all the tools (from developer SDK’s, to “Youtube” ease of use game creators) to provide a tool for everyone. I am not sure it’ll work that easily, but it might be a good idea to try.
There was the Develop Industry Excellence Awards in the evening – at £200 a seat, not something I could attend. Some awards seemed a bit off, but I don’t know who judges or organises it and only was able to read the award winners when I got back.
Day 3 – Thursday 25th July
The day started with Tsutomu Kouno doing a designer diary sort of thing on The Making of LocoRoco. Apart from seeing from conception, through to prototype, to finished design, and how the design was influenced by certain people and things. We also saw some bits from what the Playstation 3 version might have (no pictures allowed sadly), since he recently announced it. Having not played it, seeing it did make me want to (one of the associates also said he brought a PSP just to play the game, so its got some credibility at least 🙂 ).
The other morning event was run by TIGA and the UK Trade and Investment department, and looked at UK Game Sector Strategies. Knowing how the business is doing and comparing to elsewhere was very good to know. One major problem area is that UK developers are work-for-hire, and there are few publishers, so UK developers act more like outsourced labour for them, never retaining the IP rights in the process. Another set of issues were the big big lacks in any kind of decent credits/tax breaks, and that R&D tax breaks are not really usable due to the inspectors not understanding the industry. They mentioned perhaps it changing, it would be good if both did, since film and TV get the breaks of a local game production industry, and tax breaks to encourage more games to be produced.
The Future of Game Work
Next was Jason Della Rocca doing The Future of Game Work, which was great to watch. Very interesting to me, even if I am not the target of the talk, especially since it was a bit more dynamic – see the picture, since he basically drew the appropriate graphs and lists while the presentation was ongoing. It went though costs and production team size (noting exceptions to every rule of course) and how in the future it might grow, or the market may shift – S curves in development of games using better graphics, changing to online games instead. He also talked about quality of life and retaining staff – a major sore point and still a big problem in the games industry, with huge amounts of people leaving the industry after 5 or 10 years, and some places having a massive loss of talent, and the hiring problems that come from that. He also talked about internal vs. external IP, and how it is a larger amount of internal, but a more risky endeavour – but bar none, the top sellers all were huge internal IP.
There was also a good discussion on celebrity status developers (and the need for them, or not), and the need to have someone speak for developers more.
In the afternoon I helped on a few that were needing cover. Managing a Global Beta Trial Launch on Console by Sony Computing Europe was a good overview of how they did their Sony Home beta worldwide, and now saying that they can do it for any game (very PC-like I think). While they basically repeated the slides they made, the content was solid. Lastly I covered part of the Audio Track, most of the keynote they had on. Again, seeing parts of the industry I know nothing about – this time Audio, and how the keynote speaker got into the industry, and how it has progressed and improved (technology problems and design issues), but also what they need to work on (job availability, worldwide working, and trusting the sound guy). Like the writers talk, it was interesting to hear how they work (like hearing about the Game Audio Network Guild – you can guess the joke there). Audio (music, sound and dialogue) is partially on-hire work like writing and sometimes on staff.
Peter getting hit with a pie
Lastly in the day was the Buzz: The Video Game, with a panel consisting of 2 guests (one of which won 🙂 ) and Simon Byron, Charles Cecil, Martin de Ronde, Jason Della Rocca, Ellie Gibson and Peter Molyneux. It was enjoyable (if fast, and a short game) with a surprising amount of quick answers so many quite a few done by the guests (who seemed to pick up the game faster then the developers!).
In the evening, more things going on, including NCSoft and Linden Labs being at a nearby seafront bar, and Gameindustry.biz’s late night party, but the most fun was the Never Mind the Polygons, a great discussion / panel “show”, which touched on some good things (grants/tax breaks, UK game controversies, PR and other things). Sadly the room was very crampt I felt, but it was still good. I should have stayed but went off a bit early at the end. I intend fully to go to later ones (held in Derby) since I am currently unable to from Coventry, but will be able to later in the year.
I found it one of the most informative things to go to (knowing about areas other then programming and design for starters!), and I found helping out very worthwhile and enjoyable. I can only recommend it to others who would enjoy volunteering, and if I am not busy I will try and go next year too! 🙂