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The AGDC Awards 2002 winners article!

It was by no means an easy task, but I've managed to get responses from nearly all of the winners of the 2002 Australian Games Developer Conference Awards, held last year in Melbourne!

The AGDC 2002 Award Winners by Souri, 28/2/03

2002 will definately be marked down as a very productive year for Australian game developers. Many titles released from our shores were world class in quality and of a very diverse range of game genres and entertainment platforms. Platformers/action games were represented from the likes of Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, Men in Black II, and Rocket Power:Beach Bandits. Grand Prix Challenge, World of Outlaws Sprint Cars, and Looney Tunes Space Race led the way for locally created racing games, while the Strategic Studies Group held the flag for turn based strategy games with Warlords : Battlecry II. Auran triumphed in the train simulation market with their popular title, Trainz, while IR Gurus produced the goods for sports fans with AFL Live 2003. And then there was Freedom Force, a game which has received so many awards and accolades so far that those Irrational Games people must be swimming in trophies.

It was also this year that the Australian Games Developer Conference held their very first AGDC Awards, giving much due recognition to local developers for their hard work. With the aim of getting to know some of the people behind these awards and the games / industry that they help shape, I fired off a few quick questions to each of the winning nominees, starting off with their response on receiving such an award...

Career Achievement Award: Adam Lancman
Adam Lancman (MD of Infogrames Melbourne House, President of the GDAA): It was a great honor to receive such recognition from my peers. I started with Beam Software back in 1982, effectively sowing the seed of the game industry in Australia and it has been a priviledge to be involved in nurturing its growth.

Can you tell us more about yourself? (How long have you been involved in the games industry, what role you have in Infogrames Melbourne House etc)
Adam: I've been involved with the Australian games industry for more than 20 years, in all aspects of games development and publishing. As the MD of Infogrames Melbourne House (IMH) my key role is establishing and implementing the expansion of Infogrames into the Asia Pacific region. Alongside this role, I'm also President of the Game Developer's Association of Australia, an organisation that focuses on fostering local talent and providing opportunities for Australian developers and the industry to grow and be successful on an international level.

What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Adam: You mean apart from surviving it for more than 20 years? Seriously though, I am constantly amazed by the talent that is in Australia. Being able to work with amazingly creative people who are focused on making great games has been my joy. Its been great to know that in some small way I have contributed to the industry.

What is your opinion of the local industry now?
Adam: In Australia we already have developers who are creating games for the international market. I'm commited in my role as GDAA President to help the industry reach its full potential. With GDAA initiatives such as the PS2 developer kit program aimed at fostering local talent, the industry is poised for greater things. I mean, its great to watch start-ups like Evolution Games receive an award at the Australian Game Developer's Conference.

I'm looking forward to exciting times for game development in Australia.

Award for Outstanding Industry Contribution: Camille Wall
Camille Wall, Executive Assistant, Infogrames Melbourne House: I was completely surprised and honored just for being nominated for this award. To actually have been awarded it was simply amazing.

What can you tell us about yourself to any of our visitors that don't a lot about you? (how long you have been in the industry, what your role in Infogrames Melbourne House involves etc)
Camille: Originally I come from a background in education and teaching. I then began working as a personal assistant to MD's in various companies in media and software development. I've always been interested in the games industry, so when I was fortunate to have been offered a position with Beam in 1998, I jumped at it. Currently I am the Executive Assistant to Adam Lancman, President of the GDAA and MD of IMH.

What kind of things have you been doing for the industry?
Camille: Primarily my contribution has been as an assistant to the President of the Game Developer's Association of Australia (GDAA). The GDAA began in 1999 and was launched at the inaugural Australian Game Developers Conference. During the past 4 years I have been priveledged to work on a number of exciting projects aiming to support and grow the industry in Australia. I primarily view my role as that of a facilitator between the Australian game industry, government, other companies and educational institutions.

One of the initiatives I was heavily involved with was the PlayStation2 Development kit program, an initiative of the GDAA, the Victorian Government and Sony Computer Entertainment, which provides first-time developers a chance to break into the industry and network with other developers. It's great to be involved in projects like that, which provides opportunities for the outstanding talent we have here in Australia and shape the future of the industry here.

Microforte: Outstanding Innovation: Big World Technology, Award for Best Level Design: Hotwheels Bash Arena
Steve Wang (Producer and Lead Designer, Microforte): Its always a real thrill to receive an award, and one that comes from other game developers is no exception. In fact, there is something quite special about being recognised by your peers for work in the industry, so I was really pleased by these awards. Hotwheels Bash Arena is a game of pure immediate fun and I think the level designs really reflected that. I guess I'm particularly pleased with the award for Outstanding Technology for the BigWorld Technology. We have received several awards already for it, but none directly from the games community. It really is an award that is a tribute to the fantastic work done by some of the most talented people I have ever had the privilege to work with, so I'd really like to take the opportunity to thank them once more for their outstanding (and now multi-award winning!) work.

What would you say were the big hurdles in producing something like the Big World Technology?
Steve: Developing BigWorld Technology has been a long and difficult road. We started over 3 years ago with literally nothing other than some very talented people and a strong vision of what a MMOG could be. In fact, it was such early days that the genre was not at all established, and out initial proposal for government Research and Development assistance was entitled "the LSMPU project" (Large Scale Multi-player Persistant Universe). Our biggest hurdle really was just the sheer size of what we were undertaking - we were not just producing a server solution to host these worlds, or a client front end to visualise them. We were woking to a full solution - rendering engine, server back end, and world building tools. Basically, its taken a long time to get to where we are, and that's all development time without a publisher funded project, so there were some pretty lean times along the way.

Thankfully we are now at the point where we can benefit from that work. In some ways it was a blessing NOT to have a specific funded game. In meant that instead of rushing things to meet game publisher deadlines, we were able to do what we needed to keep the core architecture of the whole system really clean, and I think now we really benfit from having a truely remarkable system to build MMOGs on. (Of course at the time, a publisher funded project would have been preferable if we'd been able to get it!). One of the great things about doing it all ourselves is that we now have a really well integrated solution - the client and the server sides are designed to work together, so everything from script execution, to synchronised or propogated updates, to message passing, to client and server side physics coordination, it all works in a very fluid and seamless way between the client and the server.

Any comments to those of us looking forward to the MMOPG by Microforte?
Steve: I wish I could comment on it, but I'm afraid I am bound by the usual non-disclosure agreements with the publisher.

Evolution Games: Best New Startup
1. Is there anything you'd like to say in response to receiving this award?
2: Has the process of being a start up been a rough one? What have been the hardest hurdles to get over?
3: Any quick words of advice to others thinking about heading towards the same path?
(Unfortunately I didn't get a reply back from them)

Infogrames Melbourne House: Award for Best Game of 2002, Award for Best Game for Next Generation Consoles, Award for Best Game Audio, Award for Programming Excellence, and Award for Outstanding Visual Arts for Grand Prix Challenge

How does the Grand Prix Challenge team feel after cleaning up a lot of the awards at the AGDC 2002?
Kevin Burfit - Producer of Grand Prix Challenge: Everyone was wrapped - the awards covered all aspects of the game (Art/Sound/Programming/Best Game) and showed the guys & girls who worked incredibly hard on Grand Prix Challenge that they had achieved something special and that their efforts had been recognised by our peers. The quality of games being made here in Australia is on a par with the best in the world so it's a great honour to receive the awards. There's also a satisfaction that most game developers get when people get to see their game for the first time and say nice things about it, you've spent a great deal of time working on it and then you basically hand it over to people to hear their opinions about it - which can be scary but very rewarding if you've put the time and effort into making the best game you can like we did with Grand Prix Challenge.

Can you give us any insights about Grand Prix Challenge? How long was it in development, how big was the dev team, and what have been the major trials and hurdles in creating a game like Grand Prix Challenge?
Kevin: GPC was in development for almost 18 months (from initial design to shipping the game) with a team that reached about 50 people at it's peak. First up we're all racing fans, and F1 is the pinnacle of auto-racing so it wasn't hard to convince the team to get motivated :-) and to top that off our office looks out over the Melbourne F1 track so every year we get the sounds & smells of the whole F1 carnival !

Working with a license is double-edged sword - you have publicly recognisable IP that gives the game instant recognition - but with that comes limitations and caveats. Everything we did in the game had to be approved by the FIA and the teams. Our tracks contain every single change for the 2002 season, which is an incredible result when you realise that some of the track changes were not completed until the week before the race - we had to wait until the race was run to see exactly how the changes looked in real life, then replicate that in the game (and change the AI/etc to understand the track changes).

The detail in our car models is so high that every single sticker and feature on the car is visible - and that meant that it had to be perfectly correct to pass through the approval process - which was a nervewracking experience! The game runs at a constant 60fps, never dropping a frame - even when you have 22 cars on screen on the Monaco track in the rain. Achieving this required some amazing programming so that we could keep our very high res cars (up to 11,000 polys in the model, up to 20,000 with multipass effects) and huge viewing distances (no popup, 5km view distance) and still have the super-smooth gameplay of 60fps.

Can you give us any details on what Infogrames Melbourne House are up to next?
Kevin: We are currently working on a Transformers Armada game, although I can't tell you very much about it at this stage. A few of the GPC guys are currently assisting with the "Enter the Matrix" game. And, as you would expect, we're also planning our next racing game - but the details are top secret at this point - sorry :-)

Irrational Games: Award for Best Game for PC, Award for Best Game Design - Freedom Force
Jonathan Chey, Project Manager and Lead Designer, Irrational Games: I would like to thank the AGDC for seeing fit to give us these awards. Recognition by one's peers is always very significant for us developers and we are especially proud to receive this from our fellow Australian developers. Thank you, thank you.

Are you surprised at how well Freedom Force has been received (review wise, and fan base support)?
No, not at all. It was very clear to us that there was a significant opportunity to develop a game that was appealing to comic book fans. Because we have many comic nerds in our company and because we always make an effort to make games that *we* like, I think we were able to come up with a product that hit the spot.

That said, it's always gratifying when players do actually like your game...

What do you think makes Freedom Force such a stand out game?

Jonathan: The lack of other comic-book superhero games...? :-) Or perhaps it's the wealth of customization options and gameplay strategies that are available to the player. Or maybe just the fact that it was made in Australia?

Torus: Award for Best Game for Game Boy Advance - Duke Nukem Advance
Kevin McIntosh, Producer, Torus Games: It's great to be recognised by your peers for the hard work that you put into a game and the AGDC award is no exception. We were happy to receive the award for Duke Nukem Advance which has also generated other awards since then.

Torus really seem to be the leader in Game Boy Advance development in Australia. What has been the reasons for concentrating on the GBA?
Kevin: Torus has always supported Nintendo and their handheld line up since the onset, so it seemed logical that with the vast experience that we have with them to continue working with the Game Boy Advance. It helps in a number of ways. We turn around products quickly, we are able to take on staff that might not be ready for console work and it keeps a good relationship with publishers going. It's also a fun system to develop for and the team enjoys working with it.

What does Torus have planned for 2003?
Kevin: 2003 is going to be a great year. We get to release our upcoming PS2 / GBA title 'Ice Nine'. We're also going to be showing off our GBA technology with Moto X and starting work on some new projects shortly. You'll have to stay tuned for future announcements, but Torus has some interesting directions that we're aiming in.

Steve Stamatiadis, Krome Studios: Award for Best Original Character Design - Ty the Tasmanian Tiger
Is there anything you'd like to say in response to receiving this award?
Steve Stamatiadis, Creative Director and co-owner of Krome Studios: Well I guess thank you would be a good place to start. It's great to receive acknowledgement of good work from your peers. That's the diplomatic answer but for me it's also a big raspberry to those reviewers who didn't like Ty's design.

Can you tell us more about yourself please?
Steve: I started out working in comics when I left art college. I met up with John Passfield in the early 90's and we formed a games company and developed Halloween Harry and Amazon Queen. I did all the art back then. Eventually we became Gee Whiz! Entertainment and later joined up with Rob Walsh to form Krome Studios. At Krome I'm in charge of the art side of things.

On TY I did all the concept art, character design, art direction, level design. I also co-designed the game with John. I've cut back now to art-direction, character design and game design. I do the character design on our own properties because that's the stuff I love doing the most so I save that for myself - one of the perks of owning the company even though we have lots of other talent artists. I guess I'm also the person who decides who gets hired for the art dept.

What kind of goals did you want to achieve, and what thoughts and decisions did you have when designing the look and feel of Ty?
Steve: We'd been wanting to do another platform game for years and our biggest goal was to reach as many people as possible. And we also wanted a character that would appeal to kids and non gamers. Design wise I was just going for interesting shapes and details. I've heard a lot of people compare him to poochie from the Simpson's ( the committee designed cartoon character) but in reality it was just me doing a design I thought looked fun. The first design and the final game design are different only in the colour of his pants and the fact that he originally wore sneakers (they were going to be a power up to let him cross bindi patches).

His pants went from aqua to red because I felt he needed to have a warmer feel to him. So red it was. I'd love to say we did all this research and testing but we just went with what felt right and it just sort of caught on. =)

Wicked Witch: Award for Best Unsigned Game - Melodie Mars
Daniel Visser, Managing Director, Wicked Witch Software: In answer to your first question, we were very happy to win the best unsigned game award at the AGDC (especially considering we did not know about the competition and are grateful for our 'late' entry). Our winning the award showed to us that at least the Australian game developer industry were open to new idea's and concepts and showed their support for an original product by voting for Melodie Mars.

Can you briefly describe Melodie Mars for us?
Daniel: Melodie Mars is a story of a humble mail program 'melodie mars' that is running during a computer system glitch. The glitch leads to the program corrupting and becoming self aware! Melodie mars then learns about the world around her and evolves within her cyberspace home. Slowly she falls in love with human beings their music and a desire to become human grows. After finding form and a look for herself from within the computer she begins a long and dangerous adventure traveling through the internet, avoiding virus detection programs and music controllers etc. and collects all the music she can. She decides that the first step to becoming human is to strive for the human ideal of becoming famous and plans to spread her fame through the internet....

In multiplayer mode (the demo is a fully playable multiplayer level only) You control melodie mars (or any of the other characters in the full cast, such as her mentor: Galaxie Gail or the DJ club owner: Digital primate) and DJ battle against other players online. Players collect music loops called 'battle loops' and can play them while flying around cyberspace. Each player must get in time with the music that is playing (by clapping with the left mouse button) and lock the track into the current mix. The result is a psychedelic adventure through a creative representation of cyberspace where players are chasing each other to lock music grooves in the chart. As players lock in beats and effects they are added to the current mix for all to hear (a real-time collaborative music mix is created and continues to change as different players collect and lock in different grooves). Players must build up their self-esteem and ego points in order to be able to play tracks from the nightclub and become the most famous to hence win the game!

How long has it been in production, and what are your plans for Melodie Mars? (planning a demo, or a release etc?)
Daniel: Melodie mars was contracted to us by a guy named Christopher Coe (of Media Net Productions : who had the original concept of a DJ game based around his BigDayOut promotional character : Melodie Mars. Together we spent a few months developing the concept for a new type of game that involved music along with multiplayer action. After we had come up with quite an ambitious and innovative design, we spent several months finishing the Wicked-Witch 3d game engine (using the renderware graphics API) in order to facilitate the creation of the game. Another few months later and we had finished the game and had one level fully playable over LAN and internet.MediaNet productions have organised a demo release (the same 1 playable level) as a bonus disc on the BigDayOut2003 music CD, I think it is in shops now.....

Big thanks to everyone for their time in writing a response for Sumea!