Game mechanics, especially choices, were the main topic of Peter Molyneux’s (Lionhead Studio) talk. He motivated the whole idea by an example from Populus, were one could choose the color to be a blue or a red god. While this had no effect on the gameplay people liked the idea of choosing between good and evil and – ka-ching – Black & White worked out. With Fable three theyare now working on a system of choices, which are based on judgements the player makes as king/queen. A further mechanic will be the action of touching AI characters in the Fable III world. Touching will create an emotional bond affecting gameplay and story as well as choices later on.
Second keynote for today was David Cage from Quantic Dream, which one might already know from Fahrenheit or from their title in development Heavy Rain. He made – unsurprisingly – a good chain of arguments against the mainstream game insdustry. In his opinion games are more or less build on primal emotions and feature no or only a very simplistic story. The sequence of narrative elements is constantly interrupted by action sequences, an people just play it for the action scenes …. just like a porn movie (David’s word 😉 )
He outlines a way to create games for a mature audience featuring more social and complex emotions. According to the figures he presented (which looked valid according to the studies I’ve read) 75% of the people buying games are 18+ years old, in average 35. This indicates that there actually is a mature audience. His propsed tool for this is interactive storytelling. You might now go and see a video (from E3 2009) of Heavy Rain, so I can stop writing 🙂
Byline: I found my seat beside the editor in chief of a major german game magazine, which I won’t mention but rhymes on games-car. By trying to communicate I found the complete absence of humour and small talk ability in this guy. I’m again impressed by the selectiveness of journalists towards people they don’t know.
I just heard the talk of Dan Connors, CEO of Telltale Games. For those of you who are not familiar with the company: they buy licenses for existing franchises and publish story telling games in episodes. They latest big hit in the news was Tales of Monkey Island (originally Lucasarts). He said that they understand themselves as story telling company, while not so much being a game company. In a world of people trying to make AAA games they focus on short dev times (e.g. 8-10 months) and small and fast sequels (e.g. 4-6 months). Judging from the history of Telltale Games thihs approach works out fine 😉 They focus mostly on digital distribution, also based on their own platform.
Buying licenses is an interesting thing as Dan stated. Companies either give them away with the freedom of telling the story on and on, while other need to be involved or have lots of handbooks with do’s and don’ts.
After lunch I had the chance to take a look at the demos on the Dolby booth. I’ve heard Pro Logic IIz in action (having two extra channels for high up speaker, left & right) and I’ve seen and heard a multiplayer demo of Dolby Axon. Axon is a rather new technology for voice communication within games. and virtual environments. New is that the environment affects the communication. In contrast to teamspeak and alikes you can’t hear a player when s/he out of reach. Of course it supports surround sound, so you’ll hear colleagues talking from behind and so on. Also walls, doors and windows affect sound based on echos, blocking or distortion of the sound. Real fun seems to be the option to invent spy devices. In the demo an Unreal translocator was used as remote mic.
The first presentation after lunch was on building a level with the Cryengine 3 level editor in 45 minutes. The – obviously experienced – presenter should a rapid level creation process given the fact you already have yourr models and textures 🙂 While I do not really agree with the Crytek way of doing, seeing and commenting on things I still have to confess that I wasimpressed by the editor.
A great talk 😉 Hilmar Petursson introduces CCP (developer and now also publisher and IP holder of Eve Online). He divides MMOs in thema parks and playgrounds, whereas WoW is the first and Eve of course is the latter. Within a playground people can make new friends compared to the theme parl easily, but the environment is more challenging and not so flashing and rewarding.
Obviously the whole Eve world is in the hand of the players, so there is minor interference by game masters etc. So compared to many other games divine intervention is reduced to a minimum. Hilmar has shown several good examples on how political and commercial alliances form and challenge each other. They even have an economic newsletter produced by an economist quarterly.
Hilmar also announced a new product, called “DUST 514”, a first person shooter integrated in and connected with the Eve Universe. It will be a console game with a lot of real time strategy. DUST mercenaries have to be contracted by Eve cooperations and will fight the infantry wars. It’s developed in Shanghai and kept secret now for three years. The trailer looks great, expect the video to be online soon.
Second talk for today for me was the “Lessons learned from social games” presented by Hugh de Loayza from Zynga Inc. He states that social games are meant for socializing, which is also the viral component. One plays, invitest friends, plays again, gets invited, … And thats different from casual gaming, which is not necessarily a social thing. Business models are mainly based on advertising or micro transactions, whereas the latter just starts in the U.S. Hugh states that this is not the end of possible models, but there will be new ones. An interesting thing he pointed out is that he came into Zynga as “the game guy” in a company full of “web 2.0 guys”, which was a clash of culture. They had to work on the integration of game mechanics and social interaction. The focus of social games is more on traffic and interactions (installs,invites, gifts, etc.) than actual game play. The benefit is that one can look at and adopt the game mechanics of other social games (so a big part of the innovation is in the interaction and socializing part). There are also some hints for first approaches:
- keep it more casual than casual (kiss),
- build viral mechanics into the game (gifting, competition, crewing like building up groups by invites, notifications, etc.),
- less game, more social,
- use ubiquitous technologies (e.g. flash, php) and
- think reach (which and how many social networks will be reached).
He also mentions how to bring a social game to market. One needs to seeds the game by
- buying installs,
- trading installs with other developers (cross promotion) or
- develop a brand, a social network within a social network based on your game.
Biggest mistakes in social games are
- licenses (people seem to be not interested),
- linking to a destination site (breaks the viral loop),
- converting existing games,
- overthinking everything (just try it!) and
- widgets (they just don’t work, e.g. they break the viral loop).
First presentation in the morning I listened to was the one from Stefan Baier and Rainer Banninga, both co-founders of Streamline Studios. They talked about how art, coding and production are interconnected and what is there approach to manage all this.
They state that it is crucial to communicate interdisciplinary and to know people personally (meet them at least one time). For the art side they point out how crucial it is to stay within limits (memory, hardware, etc.) and to allow streaming of content. Another point they make is that you have to buy in the right tools or that you afford having an in-house dev team for tools you need (e.g. a race track editor for a racing game). An interesting artist team streamline studios has is the SWAT team. That’s 2-3 people just taking care of unexpectedthings in projects like cleaning up, changing details, removing glitches, etc. Rainer Banninga stated they had no crunch time for the last 18 month, so the approach looks good 😉 Surprisingly the Stefan and Rainer elobarate the need of standardized metadata meaning keyords. That’s a good sign that industry doesn’t really know about whats going on in standardization and acadmia or the other way round that standardization and academia are not working on solutions that can be applied in industry.
The talk of Erik Simon, who is having a game project management company, adressed common project management issues in gaming industries. Unfortunately it seems that there was no learning process from general software development. He adressed the communication patterns between developers and publishers, but completely missed to differ between social & technical. Sorry, wrapped up the talk was not good, so was the content of the talk.
Kellee’s talk however was great. She motivated the design and story of Flower and showed a lineup of prototypes. Horribly interesting! First prototype was in Java, second in Flash. Then they moved on to XNA and PSN 🙂 The way Flower developed is so strange … they tried virtually everything to be different, but actually many of the ideas have been dropped. For instance they tried to move by focus. Focus on an object and zoom in und swoosh you are there 🙂
Just coming out of the keynote of Matias Myllyrinne my head is still buzzing from the absolutely fabulous brand new trailer of Alan Wake (sorry folks, no spoiler allowed). He said one specifically interesting thing: everything you create should have a sense of “uniqueness” instead of “me-too”. so if there are shooters with muliplayer, why create the same? Also he elaborated the fact that many game bnames are composed of the same words like star, race, war, etc. and a sequel number like “race of war 2” 🙂
Also most interesting is, that Remedy unstands itself as Entertainment Company, not a game factory and puts an effort in creating mutlidisciplinary teams. Sounds for me a lot like there are still companies outside there who do not build their software on crunch time 😉
I just just had the chance to talk to James Cox Head of Development of Playstation Home from London Studio, SCEE. He was pointing out that developer access for teaching purposes to the Home development kit (HDK) is an issue and that there will happen something at a certain time 😉 He couldn’t tell me any details (yet), but there is definitely the idea too do that.