Friday, May 8, 2009

IGC East '09 - Part 2

Friday's sessions started out with the keynote by Dallas Snell of the Happy Corporation (and formerly of Origin System Austin), about the importance of social interactions. One would think that this would be about the importance of social interactions in games specifically, but Snell emphasized the importance of social interactions in everything in general. The talk boiled down to him describing his life, with a lot more about his personal history and genealogy than anything else, and he apparently took some time away a long and storied career in games and did some personal research in social psychology.

The meat of the talk itself was quite interesting, and it struck something deep inside me. The point was that millions of years of evolution have come down to this, that humans generally require four things in life to be truly happy. Of course now, after the fact, I can't remember precisely what those four things are. They're four C words: choice, competency, maybe connection, and one other. I feel dumb now for forgetting. Anyway, the short of it is, humans are social creatures. The subtext of the talk was that we need to embrace that when designing games, although that was never explicitly said. Mr. Snell gave a great talk, as long as you were able to get past his rambling about his family and horrible singing.

Snell's talk went long, so the next talk I went to was a little bit rushed, especially since it was in the other building. William Ferguson of BBN Technologies gave a talk about a system he plans on building that would be a story engine. It sounds like it would work kind of like most BioWare games, presenting a list of choices and options of a story. Except the options and text would be "crowdsourced" (written by the general community, like Wikipedia), and tagged. The system would string together similarly-tagged parts of the story as long as certain criteria were met, with those criteria being defined by the user's actions, for the most part. It sounds like an interesting experiment for moving toward better interactive fiction, arguably one of the weaker parts of game development currently.

Next I sat in on a talk about iPhone development by Ravi Mehta of Viximo Studios. Basically it was "if you want to develop a game for the iPhone, here's some of the features the iPhone can handle, and here's what you can expect from Apple when trying to distribute it."

Then it was off to lunch at Uno's with Ichiro and Rohit of Dejobaan, a couple fellow WPI students, and a couple others (I'm sorry, I forget their names). Lunch went long, just by nature of the fact that we went to Uno's, and the delayed schedule caused by talks going long. I thought it was a bit ironic that I was late going to the next talk, Networking for Indies, featuring Darius Kazemi, Scott Macmillian and Sam Houston, when really I was networking at the time. It's okay that I was late, though, since their talk was essentially "use Twitter". I don't know what other advice they gave earlier in the talk, and I'm curious how outdated that talk will seem in a couple years when the Next Big Thing comes along.

Off to Duncan Watt's talk about the role music plays in games...another similar talk he gave at WPI before. And then a presentation by a couple of guys from Muzzy Lane Software about a system they're developing called Sandstone. The system uses Locust, a hybrid of XML, Javascript and a language they made up, which modularizes functions of the games they put online. It's a way of providing 3D multiplayer games online to run on off-the-shelf computers. It's a lot neater than I'm making it sound.

Later in the evening was a performance by Video Game Orchestra, which was free for conference members to attend. It was held at the Fenway Center, which was a converted church there on the Northeastern campus. I was a bit disappointed to learn that this was a chamber group...usually it's a full orchestra with a choir and everything. So this performance was a lot more intimate than I was expecting. They played a few of the video game music standards, such as Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Halo and a jazzy version of Super Mario Bros. (for the Berklee students in the group, apparently), as well as from God of War and perhaps a couple more I'm forgetting. All in all it was a nice, informal performance, and I hope sometime I'd be able to see a full concert.

Overall, I had a good time at the conference. I found most of the talks to be interesting, even if they weren't necessarily anything I could directly apply, myself. I only wish there was a bit more free time, to mingle, network and talk with the other conference patrons. I hope I get to go again next's really exciting to see Boston emerge as a major player in the video game industry.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

IGC East '09 - Part 1

Today and tomorrow I'm attending the Independent Game Conference East '09, being held at Northeastern University.

I left extra early this morning to account for traffic, since I'm not used to driving in during rush hour traffic and I didn't want to be late. Turns out, the traffic only slowed a little bit, and I made it into Boston at about the usual 1 hour, so I had a little extra time to kill. I spent some of that time shooting the breeze with WPI IMGD professor Charles Rich, also in attendance. Also, upon registering, I got a T-shirt. Bonus!

The conference is basically a series of panel/lectures, divided into a business track and a technical track. The first keynote lecture was by Vlad Starzhevsky of Creat Studios, about "Challenges of Independence". It was more anecdotal about how Creat moved from pure developer to becoming their own publisher in the new digital distribution age. This was a theme I was going to hear a lot today (all these indy companies releasing their games via PSN, XBLA and WiiWare), which is fine.

I went to the technical discussion by Eitan and Ethan of Fire Hose Games, a lot of good and humurous lessons about their rapid prototyping process. Next was a large panel discussion about the ten "Really Important Things" to remember about game design. I believe the panel moderator, Linda Currie of Creat, gave a similar talk at WPI last semester. I was also surprised when I got home that Darius Kazemi had pretty much tweeted the entire lecture...that was a lot of tweets to sift through. All good things to consider, but unfortunately, like all things of that nature, it's hard to give all 10 equal billing in practice. Or maybe I just haven't had much chance to practice them yet.

After a quick burrito lunch at the Marino Center, I sat in on the business side of things. Brett Close of 38 Studios gave a talk about quality of life in the game industry, and explained how things worked at 38...making me even more disappointed I didn't get a chance to work there (yet). I stuck around for a panel discussion about managing your company's brand, but unfortunately I was starting to zone out due to a lack of sleep the previous night.

So I went over early to the setup of the Game Demo Night. A bunch of people set up their laptops and computers, and it was kind of a show-off-your-work/pitch session. Finally got to see and play a bit of Dejobaan's alpha of AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity (seriously, that's the name...which alone rates a 4 out of 5 on the awesome scale). I've never BASE-jumped, so I don't know if they're realistic controls...but I found them to be a bit sluggish. Plus, I'm sure gameplay will be a lot more interesting once all the little extra features and powerups get added. Also, if it's going to be that easy to crush all of your bones and die (pretty much after just colliding with a building), then it would be great to have a faster turnaround to get back to free-falling. Going through the menu system every time was a bit of a drag.

Another of my favorites was a game called Bumble Tales, by Tandem Games and Perfect Dork Studios. It's essentially Bejeweled, except there's added layers of collecting materials to build a town, along with a cast of characters (the blobby people things) that grant combo bonuses. Now, I like Bejeweled, so this game was right up my alley, what with all the extra features and ways to do things, instead of just "click and slide". They're also awesome for giving away near-complete copies of the game. I hope this game does really well...I really enjoyed the few minutes I got to play of it.

Part Two coming tomorrow!