Day 1 GDC 2012 – All the things!

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GDC proper was about to start, i’ve been around san francisco seeing the sites, eating burgers, visiting alcatraz and prepping my liver with various people and / or scholars. So I’m prepped, ready and raring to go right? Let me put it this way, when faced with too much choice, indecision takes over and well, I had a few to make today.

For those that don’t know, Monday and Tuesday at GDC are occupied with Tutorials and Summits, focused sets of material that last the entire day on particular topics, from Google developer days, Social Media and AI summits to tutorials on game design, mathematics and scrum training. So I had a choice, business and leadership training, game design workshop or smart phones summit. As i’m doing the producer boot camp tomorrow I decided I would be better off attending the smart phone summit and see if I could learn something new, I was slightly afraid it would be very hands on with current technology which wouldn’t be immidiately beneficial to myself, but sometimes you just need to take a leap.

For the record, I’m going to try and do sketches of as many of the panellists as I can through the week, my art skill’s pretty poor but we’ll see where it goes ^_^; My apologies in advance if you’re the person I’m talking about and it looks nothing like you, this is pretty likely.

Jamil Moledina

So the first talk of the day was “Guidelines for Building Cross-Platform Games” with Linda Tong (Tapjoy), Martin Chamrad (Craneballs Studios LLC), Kyu Lee (Gamevil USA), Jamil Moledina (Funzio), Perry Tam (StormB) and Mike DeLaet (GLU). So between them they have created one of the largest pile of multiplatform games on mobile platforms around including Modern Warfare, Zenoia, Overkill, Crime City (and if you don’t know GLU you haven’t been near a mobile phone store in the last ten years) and many more.

Their talk was focused on a much higher picture than I expected, discussing multiplatform development from a business perspective, when and where they would choose to utilize the other platforms. Of no surprise, no-one was currently working on Windows Mobile 7 due to several reasons, primary of which was the current install base, tho everyone expects that to change. Mike DeLaet had nothing but good things to say about Android as a platform, but always have a eye on what’s coming out in the future so they can start to filter out older devices now and make sure their development is keeping up with the market at the correct pace. Gamevil had to make a similar choice with the iphone 3G in order to keep with the curve, it was apparently a difficult choice. Currently no-one uses HTML5 due to performance and distribution, but they expect it to change. Mike DeLaet also said that he currently expects WinPhone7 to grow in 6-18 months and will be in a three horse race by 2014. Of final note, people are looking for true cross-platform play, as in between console, portable, mobile and more and that people should really make this happen. On the whole, not too bad but it really was from the perspective of having a highly successful business, not of too much worth.

RJ Micael

Second was “Designing the Five Second Game” with RJ Mical who (sadly) I was not aware had made video games at Williams Electronics, involved with inventing the Amiga, Atari Lynx and the 3DO and more recently was a senior manager at Sony for the Playstation. So pretty much a very amazing (read:fucking awesome) guy. The point of his talk was to present analysis he had done in order to create a game as a personal project, so he had looked at about 50 games (partial list is here) and found common criteria.

  1. Easy to Play, Mildly Challening & Fun
  2. Learn the rules in 5 sec
  3. Learn the interface in 5 sec
  4. Finish the level in 1-5 Minutes
  5. Anyone can pickup and play but challenging to become an expert
  6. no real time investment, can walk away mid level
  7. simple graphics and fun audio

RJ went on to display a game by Secret Exit that he felt had those items in common and went into statistical (basic) detail on what percentage of games used those points and what other points were also common, but not between all the titles. But at the end of the day, less is more, simple ideas and art trump expressively detailed worlds and you have to have the decent sound (not soundtrack) as “all the little beeps and boops” will make all the difference.

“Thing I remembers when I went back to programming OpenGL is how much I hate OpenGL!”

Graeme Devine of GRL Games

Next up we had “Designing a Game your teenage daughter will actually play” with Father and Daughter pair Graeme and Rocque Devine from GRL Games (Giant Robot Lizard apparently ūüėČ and the basic idea was Graeme presenting the games he had published by his own business in the last year (well, just six out of eight) and his daughter would comment on them from her perspective. The session was pretty interesting (and lets be honest, will be invalid shortly unless you can repeat the process with your own procured teenager) but the main issues that were highlighted by her preferences were a desire to be lead in the correct direction (was a fan of hidden mystery games), sharp graphics, a desire for customisation (in both music and graphics) and a request to avoid spamming facebook as it isn’t the done thing.

Rocque, the (dare I say it) 'smarter' half of the panel.

What was interesting is that Graeme went onto how he works with his daughter designing a game she wants to play. Apparently the typical prototyping cycle involving regular iteration she wasn’t interested in, he had to come back every fourth or fifth time with a slew of changes as in Rocque’s words “she trusts him to make the right decicions”. That being said getting the game ideas out of her head is a very painful and drawn out experience. But the game he has designed with her “Dance City” is a combination of Space Channel 5, Temple Run and LMFAO and will be interesting to see finished.

“Guidelines for successful mobile apps for children” with Carla Fisher was next in line (@nocrusts). This was a gentle introduction to design considerations for ipad and tablet based materials for young children and justification for said choices. The most depressing fact that I walked away with was that only 1% of children will play an app or a game more than once. But many considerations include;

Carla Fisher of No Crusts
  1. Keep buttons you don’t want kids accidentally using high up out of reach.
  2. Any buttons you want the kids to use, make sure the “hit zone” includes space lower than the target, as kids aim low.
  3. Drag and Drop is hard!
  4. Multi-touch, swiping and scrolling are all learned behaviours.
  5. make sure that you interact on touch-down, something needs to happen.

She also went into considerations concerning text & speech, syncing text highlights to audio helps reading comprehension and support text with audio cues wherever possible. Carla then went further into changing development and narritive guidelines for 2 – 12 and how the cognitive processes change over that period and how we can use scaffolding to support our games. So overall a very imformative panel to someone who has no idea about that field.

Finally for the day we had “Life in the Funds Lane” with Brian Robbins from Riptide Games. The purpose of this talk was to discuss a variety of funds that developers can gain access to with some work, and how they would do that. The basic fact is that most of the funding companies he was speaking about want eyeballs / network and reach out of their funding, therefore their priority was marketing and any money allocated would usually be used for marketing budget, quite sobering really.

Brian Robbins

The first thing you need to gain said funding is a track record, but seeing as those are in short supply at the moment what you’re usually requiring is a nearly completed game only really seeking money for marketing and porting between systems. Brian then went into what he called “5 Minute MBA” to talk about some realities involving costs of running a studio, running costs, cash flow and other bits and pieces. But the main point was “be careful, think about literal contracting costs, you can make this work and good luck”. I only wish I had seen this six months ago instead of having to learn it myself on the go (school of hard knocks and common sense >.< ).

So that was pretty much the day, after which I found the scholars, doped a pile of mates into the metagame (to get free cards) and went and drunk a couple of beers, not too shabby. Tomorrow is Producer Boot Camp, so wish me luck!

The story so far

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I’m sitting down on a bed with July friends in our hotel room in San Francisco as I type this and feeling quite reminiscent. You see the last time I did this was four years ago, having been awarded a gdc scholarship I had flown by myself across the world and has in a small hotel room on the edge of the mission district wondering what would be going on. I was alone and had not met anyone else yet (the scholars program soon fixed that). Now four years later I am back at GDC and feeling that I should talk about what’s happened in the past four years.

There is a reason for this. A quick scan of the previous scholars shows that they are a collection of the best and brightest. Usually these people go onto work for amazing companies, Microsoft, bungie, insomniac and cap on to just name a few. Or are fairly successful in a academia. Now not all scholars do that, success is contextual after all, but I feel I should be explaining what I have been up to in the intervening years.

The big thing you need to realise is that Australia’s game industry has¬†traditionally¬†taken care of shovel-ware, third party contract work (which has now changed) and there was especially next to no ‘industry’ in Perth. ¬†Now for me to get more ‘traditional’ employment I would have to be working elsewhere, in another state, but I’ll go into that later.

In 2008 I was employed by ECU in the school of computer and security science as a IT guy. If you have ever worked IT you will know that many of the jobs are boring and stressful. My duration with the team there was working in IT heaven. Almost any resources and time we needed to stay on the cutting edge where possible. Everyone worked together. There was no shirking of work, no bullshit politics, just a bunch of talented peoPle working together. This was put to an end by operational excellence (when you hear the words “operational excellence” and “Deloitte” well, run) and my contract was let go as it was too difficult to place me.

This led to me starting my own business, developers at large, and working on it full time. The business plan is simple, gain contracts for common work in Perth and try to earn and find jobs in game development on a contract basis and use profit money towards developing our own projects. Not a bad idea, but in the intervening time the industry has changed (lot less people want websites) and people in Perth are just starting to think about game development and how it can assist their business, but more on that later.

I got married in July 2010 at a small ceremony at the church Leah’s parents had helped build and develop over the years. There was a whack of organising that I do not remember much about, but apparently Between both families and me we sorted it. Leah keeps saying she didn’t help as she was on site but I’m not ago sure about that. But the wedding was a success, cheap and memorable. Special shoutout goes to the photographers here, between Dick and Eugene we were covered ūüôā Plus of course Leah! (Technically I’m now Hayward-Crichton, but can get away with calling myself Jon Crichton ^_^). ¬†This is the reason why I stayed in Perth, you see, Leah is a geologist who works for a very respected multinational and Western Australia is where all the work is. ¬†I could not in good faith go ahead and move her elsewhere just for my own career, she has a awesome one and earns far, far, far more in a year than I ever would ;>.> ¬†And not to mention that I’m versatile, I can swing with a lot of things.

During this time I employed an couple of contractors to do web work. One day after taking one of the guys (Matt) out to see a client in rural WA we ended up in an accident. Bye was in a rough state, I broke an arm rather impressively (radial fracture above the elbow) and did several ribs. As a result I missed out on my honeymoon and do not remember November of 2010 at all (drugs were good drugs). It took several more months before I could get back to work, but the web industry in Perth has started to change, and the year was slow.

Midyear a job landed near my lap, one that I am rather happy with. ¬†The local science museum were developing an exhibition based around firefighters, helicopters, search and rescue etc. ¬†They wanted many interactive digital exhibitions. ¬†A good friend has worked as their games programmer for many years and he had larger more interesting project to fry, so we were asked to come on board and build the games. ¬†Four games (and one kiosk) in a three month period,¬†collaborating¬†closely with the museum on many levels. ¬†We got the job done just in time in the end, there was some time blowout and I could write a very large paper on problems with the project (or just look in a mirror for the biggest time cause) but the experience with Scitech, Wez, John and Myself was invaluable and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

So for the TL:DR;

  1. Went to GDC2008 as a IGDA Scholar.
  2. Worked IT for a couple of years.
  3. Got Married, stayed in Perth for love, Got into an accident.
  4. Working as a manager on small web projects.
  5. Did awesome project for local science museum.
  6. At GDC again on my own dollar (and important business dinosaur’s!).

So that’s the story, 2010 was a learning experience, 2011 I decided to make sure I would do whatever possible to do other work and learn a whole bunch more. ¬†This year I’m focusing more on polishing what I do know and trying to bring various projects to the fore. ¬†So i’m busy (when aint i?)

But the biggest point of this is success. ¬†There are many endpoints for success like, career milestones, employment, financial, personal etc. ¬†But the main point to take home is that success is contextual to a individual’s standpoint. ¬†I decided that instead of finding employment and learning the ins and outs of the games industry from the inside, I would take the school of hard knocks method and find my own way, making mistakes hard and fast and continuing to develop wherever possible. ¬†It’s worked fairly well so far with Game Pride¬†continuing¬†to develop and evolve as a team, DATL going well and always open for opportunities.

But with that being said, I’m going to try and put myself out there and see if anyone’s interested, who knows what opportunities might fall my way, and I plan to make a couple myself ūüôā