We needed a student's perspective for our GDC 2012 Breakfast Club article, so we contacted the Academy of Interactive Entertainment to see if they could get one of the studios from their Incubator program to contribute to our article. Instead, we received a whole bunch of responses, so we've decided compile them for this special Incubator edition of the GDC 2012 introspective!
The AIE games business incubator program was announced last year with the aim of turning games development students into entrepreneurs with the know-how to run their own games studio start-up. And what better way of inspiring these future developers than throwing them straight into the lion's den - The Games Developer Conference in San Francisco!
The GDC 2012 Incubators are:
Chloe Parton, BigSwing Studio - BigSwing Studio website
David Dawson, Floating Man Games - Floating Man Games website
Daniel La Rocca, Evoke Method - Evoke Method website
Gonzalo Araya, Red Knight Games - Red Knight Games website
Alanna Mondon, Pear and Melons - Pear and Melons website
Raymund Serrano, Couch Pixels - Couch Pixels website
Finn Spencer, Evil Aliens - Evil Aliens website
How many times have you been to the GDC?
(Chloe Parton, BigSwing Studio): This was our first time at GDC and it was a great experience. We are looking forward to coming back next year!
(David Dawson, Floating Man Games): Having just graduated from college, this has been the first year we've had the oppurtunity to attend.
(Daniel La Rocca, Evoke Method): This was our very first GDC, but after experiencing this one we are definitely and seriously considering going again for 2013, not even the Mayans will stop us.
(Gonzalo Araya, Red Knight Games): GDC 2012 was Red Knight Games' first GDC experience.
(Alanna Mondon, Pear and Melons): Last week brought our count to 1.
(Raymund Serrano, Couch Pixels): For most of us Couch Pixels, it was the popping of the GDC cherry. Unfortunately we left one Pixel behind, but that was more due to bad timing rather than a fear of anything.
(Finn Spencer, Evil Aliens): This was my first time attending GDC, however I was always aware that GDC existed I just did not have the cash spare to just jump on a plane and attend the conference. However my school AIE is running this programme called “Incubator” in which they help the start up process of new emerging independent games companies and fund the trip for us to go to GDC.
What was your main purpose for going?
(Chloe Parton, BigSwing Studio): We were looking to make some new contacts and introduce ourselves to the gaming industry as a new start-up indie company. Also learning tips and useful advice from the many talks and presentations that were available.
(David Dawson, Floating Man Games): We're a small indie team just starting up so our main goals were to see how the rest of the industry works and try to learn from them, as well as make contacts and get ideas and feedback on the first title we're working on. Looking back on last week, it seems we met our goals.
(Daniel La Rocca, Evoke Method): We initially went to test our game on the people we met, but we quickly ditched that goal because it was just much fun making more contacts.
Our other goal was to learn as much as possible from all the talks, and combined, i think we got about 40-something pages of notes, all of it apocalyptically helpful.
(Gonzalo Araya, Red Knight Games): To get out there and let people know that we exist and what our design goals are, but other than networking like madmen we just really wanted to learn and soak up as much knowledge as we could from all these established industry pros.
Since we had never been to GDC before, we worked off what we were given by the AIE (Academy of Interactive Entertainment). We planned out our days, looking at what summits, tutorials, and talks we wanted to attend, this included just talking to game developers around the event and at after drinks.
(Alanna Mondon, Pear and Melons): Getting the most out of the experience by collecting as many contacts and having as many drinks with potential business partners as possible. As well as consuming lots of information from all of the interesting sessions.
(Raymund Serrano, Couch Pixels): Our main aim, seeing as this was our first time, was to drum up interest for our start up. We wanted to show a face(s) to the name and also get involved in the whole GDC scene which seemed to be something like ‘progressing by sharing’. It also didnt hurt to get drunk with developers and pick up a few helpful contacts here and there.
(Finn Spencer, Evil Aliens): Gaining contacts, gaining industry knowledge and promoting our debut game ORBITOR.
Overall impressions of this years GDC?
(Chloe Parton, BigSwing Studio): GDC was a lot of fun, the sheer number of the talks and the quality at which most were presented was outstanding. There were a few however to failed to gain the attention of the audience. Even though the content was important, some talks were difficult to pay attention to. We did however learn a lot at GDC and will be applying the advice we picked up to our upcoming project.
(David Dawson, Floating Man Games): It was very much an all encompasing experience. So much to learn and so many people to talk to. They could have organised the sessions better, timed them so they were staggered so that there was not 3 talks that everyone wants to go to at the same time, and then have not much else interesting for the rest of the day.
(Daniel La Rocca, Evoke Method): Initial impressions were that GDC this year was epic, it was just a completely new experience, never have we been in the same place with so many other developers and it was just great to be part of this huge gathering.
Towards the end of GDC however we slowed down a bit and skipped a few sessions in favour of meeting people at the expos and playing the AMD/Recaro racing chair DIRT 3 setup.
(Gonzalo Araya, Red Knight Games): An extremely awesome and hectic experience, between all the parties and events not to mention all the awesome stuff at the expo and all the information we had to try to soak up over the course of the week, we ended up completely spent but wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.
(Alanna Mondon, Pear and Melons): Overall great experience. Meeting lots of other people that weren’t that far away as where we are starting out from. There were a few small groups similar to our size and were already showing off potential from what they had to offer. This is what we hope to soon show off/prove to the public as well.
(Raymund Serrano, Couch Pixels): It was like going to Disneyland (which we did) but for developers and anyone else involved in the game dev scene.
Seriously, though, for the most part - GDC was an amazing learning experience. It was also a great eye-opener to different aspects of the scene. Some of the talks were a little on the bore side (just a little) - although Evan Skolnic’s “Game Writing in a Day”, which sounds like your typical English period session in highschool, was actually the most engaging of the talks. Literally engaging.
(Finn Spencer, Evil Aliens): It was great, there was always something interesting going on. “If only we could clone ourselves and go to all the talks” multiple people have said to me throughout the week. But thankfully GDC records nearly all the summits/sessions and they are available online depending on what pass you have purchased to get into GDC.
It was also apparent that there are a lot of independent game developers now who are doing really well for them selves, making great games on shoe string budgets.
From your time at this year's GDC, what seems to be the current trend or popular thing for developers at the moment?
(Chloe Parton, BigSwing Studio): The current trend seems to be the migration from making AAA games to the development of casual indie game companies. Along with that, there was a definite trend in moving away from the reliance on publishers and moving towards digital distribution and self publication.
(David Dawson, Floating Man Games): Despite the recent financial crisis, all the big studios are still very positive about making AAA games although there is a shift towards f2p and freemium games with high production values. There is also a growing trend of smaller teams poping up and making games they are passionate about, not endless sequels or working off established IP.
(Daniel La Rocca, Evoke Method): It was hard to determine the current trend from just GDC alone since most of the talks appeared to be about AAA titles.
The truth though is that indie games are starting to take over AAA titles and the majority of the talks were from or intended for AAA titles and developers.
We would've preferred to hear a game concept/design talk or post mortem from Playdead who made Limbo, or Edmund McMillen who made Super Meat Boy, than talks about hopw Unchartered water worked.
I'm sure it was a fantastic and interesting talk, but the majority of developers were like us at the moment pretty unhelpful or irrelevant for most of them.
(Gonzalo Araya, Red Knight Games): Social games seem to be gaining a lot of traction since people like the idea of working together towards a common goal. Mobile platforms are also really popular and really pull down the barriers of having to sit down at home to play, which may not be for everyone, leading onto the rise of casual gamers.
(Alanna Mondon, Pear and Melons): Indie development is definitely becoming an apparent trend among developers. I think the ability to make games for yourself and to your own scope is very appealing to people, and also the fact that going through a publisher is no longer needed has boosted that desire much more than expected.
(Raymund Serrano, Couch Pixels): For the most part, mobile and social gaming was huge. The expo side of things still had the huge AAA development titles, but for the most part, it was nudging on the movement towards social development, or at least smaller independent titles.
(Finn Spencer, Evil Aliens): A giant push for portable gaming platforms. Mobiles, Tablets you name it. and publishing games independently with out the assistance of the big end of town.
What was the standout session or party you attended (and if it's a session, can you give us a brief summary of it)?
(Chloe Parton, BigSwing Studio): We all attended several different talks at GDC which we all benefited from. The ones we particularly enjoyed where :
- Better Game Writing In A Day - Learning methods of incorporating narrative storytelling in an interactive space and the power of the Hero’s Journey.
- Bootstrapping 101 - Learning the ups and downs of Bootstrapping a startup company
- Are you a Manager or Leader? - Highlighted various approaches to leadership and how some approaches were more productive then others.
- GDC Microtalks - 10 speakers with 5 minutes each to portray their ideas on a range of game design topics and philosophies. So many great little tidbits of knowledge and insight packed in to 1 hour.
(David Dawson, Floating Man Games): The talks by Naughty Dog and Dice about the way they overcame issues and make Uncharted 3 and Battlefield 3 were excellent. Also the "Perfect Pitchable Prototypes" talk by Nathan Martz and the "Giant Toads and Zombie Bears: Technical Art Re-envisioned for Diablo 3" were fantastic, giving the audience a view into the process of making a pitchable prototype, and showing how a small group within the Diablo 3 team managed to make the game more awesome by working between the artists, designers and programmers.
The Gay Gamers Party(GGP) was fabulous and the Wargaming.net party was awesome.
(Daniel La Rocca, Evoke Method):
Matt: DirectX 11 Procedural Generation- "I found this talk inspirational, to see all of the cool procedural generation, fluid that deforms onto the environment, creating amazingly detailed objects out of a cube, however at the moment it is nothing more than a hobby."
Andrew: Hitman Absolution Crowds- "I loved this talk because it had different ways of doing things that I had not thought of before for a crowd simulation."
Tolga: Art of Diablo 3-"It was the art of Diablo 3, what more do i have to say, the troubles they went through to make the characters read well in all the hecticness, the actual progression of the concepts. Too Good."
Mus: Attention not Immersion- "This session was awesome because I learnt about how to get a players attention in games and also how to keep it using through art, story and gameplay."
Daniel: IGDA Party- "The standout thing for me was the IGDA party, it was brilliant to get together with other Aussie developers in a 'straaange, foriegn land' and it was just an awesome mix of both local developers and Aussie developers. Made me miss home a lot haha."
(Gonzalo Araya, Red Knight Games): We didn't all attend the same sessions or parties, so opinions within our team will vary depending on who you ask. From our programmers perspective, what they enjoyed was the squad based AI session as well as the postmortem of the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, talking about its AI and game design.
Our artists loved the “Learn better game writing in a day” as well as the “1 Hour, 10 People, Countless Ideas” microtalk session. The story writing session talked about the nuances of good story telling and how to convey your story for games that's compelling and believable but we also found a way to repurpose what we learnt in terms of story pacing and apply it to game pacing which extends to everything from gameplay mechanics to power ups and overall scope “Only tell the player what they need to know to complete the next task, nothing more”.
The microtalks involved 10 developers throwing out their ideas/opinions on a given subject in a short span of 5 minutes, it was an intense session filled with many different ideas and lots of fast talking with some pretty big heavy weights from within their own respective fields so it was a great source of insight as well as a bit of a mind explosion.
On a whole one of the best sessions was the “making of Atom zombie smasher” talk. It was amazing to see just how the makers of the game put themselves through hell to make such a fun game. Typically any game post-mortems provided such a massive amount of valuable insight into their processes of making the game that they turn into instant treasure-troves of insight, information and tips. Party wise the most stand out one was the wargaming.net party, which one of our team managed to suck up to the right people to get VIP entry into it!
We didn’t see him for most of the next day.....
(Alanna Mondon, Pear and Melons):
Alanna: The most interesting talk for me was the talk from the guy that designed and created the audio for Bastion. He explained how he made it all on a budget of $0 and all in his closet. He asked his roommate to do a sample of narration and it worked out that he did over 3000 lines in total for the narration of the whole game. And he didn’t go into over the top detail in his talk which helped with my attention span, and this helped me understand a whole lot more. This also makes me want to learn about how sound can lift a game off its pedestal.
Mark: The standout session for me would have to be Naughty Dog’s talk on how they did the VFX for Uncharted 3, which detailed a lot of their techniques for how they did some of the seemingly technologically impossible effects for their game. These effects ranged from a fire burning down a chateau, sand dynamically reacting to the character’s footsteps and even a huge oil fire particle system that looked close to real.
Dave: The standout party was the War Gaming event. The amount of money and effort they put in to make sure all the developers had a perfect environment to talk and mingle was amazing. It was simple to approach anyone and start up a conversation, and I’m pretty sure the open bar didn’t help. They really went out of their way to make everyone happy.
(Raymund Serrano, Couch Pixels): Adam was fortunate enough to go missing and end up partying with Wolfire Games held at the Humble Indie Bundle studio. They ate pizza, drank beers, played games and talked games. The SuperGiant talks on audio and game design of Bastion were really good.
They weren’t just about the studio’s work practices and ethics and was also really inspirational to hear that a couple of people could make an amazing game driven by passion and whatever skills they could bring to the table. As far as presentations go, the one given by Evan Skolnic was really engaging. It wasn't just about creative writing for games, but for almost all genres, and it kept the audience involved in the presentation with group activities and forum discussions. It also involved the Terminator.
(Finn Spencer, Evil Aliens): The standout session I attended was “Depth in simplicity: the making of Jetpack joyride” by Luke Muscat the lead designer / Executive Producer at Halfbrick Studios. In his speech he explained to the crowd that he was under a lot of pressure to make a game that will stand up against its predecessor success of fruit ninja.
He presented the crowd with highly detailed process in all the problems he faced during the development process, and showed off a lot of interesting solutions to these problems. His talk on Jetpack joyride keep the audience tightly glued to their notepads as it seemed that nearly every word he had to say was gold to them.
As for Parties be aware if under 21, that going to most of the parties was not legal as they where mostly in pubs and bars, this was a problem for some people we were traveling with because they were turned away at the door.
The most impressive thing you saw at the GDC?
(Chloe Parton, BigSwing Studio): The expo floor itself was pretty amazing, had never seen anything quite like it. The sheer scope of it was massive. There were so many great stalls and demos on display. The conference hall was also quite impressive in itself, it took 2 long escalator rides to reach the top floor. Just the scope of the conference and the buzz of being there with game developers from all over the world was a great thing to experience.
(David Dawson, Floating Man Games): The community. The boundless energy and enthusiasm that almost every person there had. The willingness to be open and communicate and share. I don't think any of us had a single negative experience with another developer.
(Daniel La Rocca, Evoke Method): It's hard to choose what was most impressive, one of the things we saw was a working dynamic cloth simulation demo, on a tablet, how the? Its astounding how powerful these devices are getting.
One of the standouts though was as the expo, the AMD/Recaro racing chair simulator for DIRT 3, we saw it once and when we played the first time it blew our minds, personally it was most immersive thing i've ever played, i didn't want to leave
(Gonzalo Araya, Red Knight Games): For our programmers, seeing Tri-Ace's physics based rendering(emulating photons hitting your eye to render objects)running smoothly in real time, both as a demo and as a video showing off a in-game cut-scene was very impressive and may have caused us to drool a little.
The artists were most impressed by seeing the Diablo III panels, explaining the decisions behind their art direction. They went through character silhouette, look and feel, UI, concept, and cinematic design. As a game that the team has been looking forward to playing, they were very excited to see some of the cool things the Diablo III team had come up with.
(Alanna Mondon, Pear and Melons): The art of Diablo 3 session was simply amazing. We were shown a lot of the stages of their art and their struggles on how to make it all fit into one game and how to make their art give the “Diablo” feel to the game.
(Raymund Serrano, Couch Pixels): The real-time mo-cap was pretty cool. Seeing an actor in a black and orange one-piece suit - no ping pong balls required - playing out a video game cut scene was pretty awesome. The tech demo of KARA by Quantic Dream was pretty amazing - not only was the tech (running in real-time on the PS3) visually impressive but the presentation and story was well written and quite compelling.
Something very notable was a large presence of independent games at the expo - in a large variety of genres. But by far, the most impressive part of GDC was the caliber of people sharing their knowledge to the masses. High profile developers sharing their processes and findings from their time with their projects.
(Finn Spencer, Evil Aliens): I attended a session called “Level Design in a Day: Best Practices from the Best in the Business“ which consist an entire day listening to lead designers and level designers showing the tips of the trade of making environments.
At lunch they offered to the people who stayed in the hall that they would review portfolios and give free feedback into improving them or pointing out the flaws. It was about halfway through lunch and a good 25 people have come up to the stand and get their portfolio reviewed and sat back down, when Coray Seifert the Director of Product Development at Slingo was looking at some random persons portfolio and playing a game and blurted out “Dude you want a job, this is awesome!” the owner of the portfolio was shocked for words and squeaked “re.. really?”. and Coray said “Yeah man this is sweet!”.
And that to me was the most impressive thing that I saw at GDC. The fact that he could have just went to lunch and never attempted to let them review his portfolio and he would have never gotten a job.
And what was the oddest thing you saw?
(Chloe Parton, BigSwing Studio): Nothing we saw at GDC was particularly odd, in fact everybody seemed considerably human. However outside of GDC we encountered a homeless man who asked for $900 to pay for 3 hookers!
(David Dawson, Floating Man Games): A man holding a sign saying "God Hates Game Developers" and "Thou Shalt Not Monetize Thy Neighbour", it was obviously a joke of some sort, but not exactly sure what they were trying to achieve.
(Daniel La Rocca, Evoke Method): The most odd thing we saw were these 2 people standing outside the convention centre, holding up signs saying "God Hates Game Designers" and "Thou Shalt not Monetize Thy Neighbour".
It was actually pretty hilarious, we managed to get a few pictures and snapped one with Tolga and them stamping on his GDC pass.
(Gonzalo Araya, Red Knight Games): There wasn’t really anything that struck us as odd, though there were some interesting things that happened during our time at San Fran. For example, one of our programmers Sam, who never danced in his life, actually broke out and danced, not only that but with one of the Yeti girls at the Yetizen party. Also, hearing a man on the street asking for $900 for three hookers was an interesting experience...
(Alanna Mondon, Pear and Melons): Definitely the 2 guys outside the convention asking us to repent for our sins for being game developers.
(Raymund Serrano, Couch Pixels): There was this guy, dressed as yellow Magicka wizard handing out free game keys. Later that day we walked past him again, this time his robe was tucked into his jeans. There was also a couple of guys dressed up as little skin coloured bulb mushroom type thingies - in a crowd, they looked like a walking pair of...well....
(Finn Spencer, Evil Aliens): Some of the sessions we attended were themed seemed like they where using an old outdated model on starting up an indie games business. There attitude was build up a company and IP then sell it off to gain profit. A lot of people can say otherwise and it may be better to keep a hold of your IP and continue making games as over the last couple of years indie company's are staying afloat.
What's your take on the overall state of the global games industry from the conference?
(Chloe Parton, BigSwing Studio): The gaming industry is definitely thriving. With many Indie Developers coming into the spot light. Although AAA Games are holding their place, they don't seem to be growing as rapidly as the Indie Game Scene. Which is a shame for the hard core gamers, as more content is being made for the casual iPhone gamer rather than those dedicated players that have spent many hours playing the large scale, immersive games. It would be nice to see more of a balance in the industry.
(David Dawson, Floating Man Games): The industry has gained alot of the energy it lost during the global financial crisis, alot of the developers there were very passionate and very excited about making games. Combined with other industries and forms of media taking an interest in games, its seems that the industry may be on the rise.
(Daniel La Rocca, Evoke Method): Our take on the industry was that it's a huge, friendly community, everyone wants to be friends with everyone and there is always someone who can or wants to help. This is a huge contrast to any other industry where its really a "dog eat dog world".
This is really an industry we are truly proud of, plus it beats accounting hands down.
(Gonzalo Araya, Red Knight Games): The games industry is still going strong, the triple AAA developers are closing up shop just because the costs are too high for such large teams and the customers are going elsewhere. Essentially whats happening is that developers are tired of getting screwed over and have to work for “the man” so they are disappearing and heading back to working out of garages and apartments working in small teams and most importantly making the games that THEY want to create and see people play.
The games industry is in a very exciting place at the moment where things have never been so “tense” for lack of a better word but the passionate developer has never had more freedom to create what ever he wants and never had more ways to reach his customers for a personal 1 on 1 relationship. The emergence of social gaming is also a pretty massive thing. It’s not just zynga out there!
(Alanna Mondon, Pear and Melons): It’s bigger than we thought! Just getting out and amongst it was a great feeling, and being able to talk one on one with the big guys was great. I thought AAA were in decline, but now I realise they’re as strong as ever. That said, indie games/companies are coming up in the world, so we’ll have to see how all pans out down the track.
(Raymund Serrano, Couch Pixels): From what we saw at GDC its in a great expanding shape, like after a huge christmas dinner where you have to undo a notch on your belt. Seeing a mass of people from all around the world - from indie groups, small companies to huge studios and publishers, converging for a conference, gave as quite a bit of confidence that there are idiots like us with the same dream, and taking the steps to make it happen.
(Finn Spencer, Evil Aliens): The independent scene is innovating on every level of game development and is doing well as a result. The ground has moved under the Publishers and it is apparent not all of them are fully aware of all of the changes.
For those of us thinking about attending a GDC for the first time, could you tell us: how much would it cost overall to attend a GDC's? (travel, hotel, prices & expenses etc)
(Chloe Parton, BigSwing Studio): Well we were fortunate enough to be able to attend GDC through the AIE Incubator Program which covered our costs for us. Though we would think the total cost of attending GDC would be roughly $5000 including cost of food.
(David Dawson, Floating Man Games): It was roughly $2000-$3000 for airfares (travelling economy, which SUCKS), $700 for accomodation (1 week), $1500 for the GDC itself (all access pass), luckily enough we had the AIE Incubator to help cover the airfares, accomodation and conference pass.
All up it was between $4500 and $6000 depending on how much spending money you want over there (find the parties that have a tab, free drinks are the best drinks).
(Daniel La Rocca, Evoke Method): The costs were paid together with our course fees so its pretty hard to determine the cost, i personally can't tell for sure.
(Gonzalo Araya, Red Knight Games): We’re not sure about the overall cost as we were fortunate to have all this covered through the AIE Incubator program. Though we’d imagine that it would be in the $5000 to $7000 range, depending on how you plan out your trip. Staying at the $5000 point means that you’d be living on the minimum so somewhere approaching the $7000 budget will allow you to live comfortably for the week.
It really comes down to who you travel with, where you stay, how you get around, and how much you’re willing to spend on booze and food. Food will probably be the biggest expense on the trip, since we had to look for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, easily spending up to $70 a day. You should really try out a place called “Sushirrito”, they make sushi... but SUPER CHARGGGEDDDDD. It’s essentially a burrito, but made with sushi ingredients, plus a few other non-sushi-conventional things thrown in that really compliments it. Lori’s 50’s Diner is also the best diner restaurant you can go for big hearty meals for a cheap price.
(Alanna Mondon, Pear and Melons): Going to GDC for us Australians is a very expensive endeavour. Flights alone cost $1,200 return from Sydney to San Fransisco, more if you’re from elsewhere. GDC passes ranged from $2,000 for a all access pass to $75 for a student expo hall pass, though going to more things than just the expo is generally recommended. A main conference pass costs $950. Our 7 day hotel cost us around $700-800 and that was a fairly simple hotel. I’d suggest bringing $400-1000 depending on how much of a spend thrift you are.
(Raymund Serrano, Couch Pixels): Between travel, accommodation, the price for an all access pass, and some spending money, the cost of the conference would be close to AU$4000. If you want to have a bit of freedom with what you spend, we’d say to take about AU$5000, depending on the state of the $AU compared to $US.
(Finn Spencer, Evil Aliens): Not much, I received a scholarship as part of the AIE’s Incubator Program so I don’t see any of the cost. The same applies for the other 60 AIE Incubator students who attended. The All Access Pass that we had generally costs US$1,500 if you get in early but can be up to US$2,100 if you sign up at the last minute. After you add flights and accommodation the total cost is over $4,500.
The only money I spent was around about $50 a day through out the week on food at the diners that are located around the conference complex.
What preparations and advice would you suggest for first timers wanting to attend a GDC?
(Chloe Parton, BigSwing Studio):
- Sleep! Try and sleep on the plane or give yourself a few days before GDC to adjust to the timezone difference.
- Research the surrounding area your staying in so you know what areas to avoid and where certain shops are.
- Bring good walking shoes if you plan to do some sightseeing around San Fran!
- Since there are WiFi hotspots everywhere, be sure to stay in contact with IM or Facebook if you don’t opt for getting a US mobile.
- As for GDC, emailing potential contacts beforehand is a useful tip when trying to meet new contacts.
- And remember your business cards!
(David Dawson, Floating Man Games): Don't drink too much at parties, you want to be able to stay awake during the following days talks. The point is to meet people. Have buisness cards!!!! Have a website. If you have something you want to show people, make sure you can show it off easily.
(Daniel La Rocca, Evoke Method): For first timers, GET BUSINESS CARDS and a helpful thing is to design the card well. Our team got many compliments from just the card alone and it helped so much in our card standing out from the piles of cards people collected.
Secondly, DON'T PANIC, everyone is there for the exact same reason you are, to network and learn, don't be afraid to talk to people. We found this website helps immensely on how to effectively network with people.
Thirdly, prepare to be tired, you will be learning so much and talking to so many people during the day, and then there will be all these parties at night every night.
Eat well, pace yourself and don't go too hard, but don't slow down so much that you miss out.
(Gonzalo Araya, Red Knight Games): The most important thing for your safety is to make sure that you understand the area that surrounds your hotel - places to avoid, what time certain areas become more dangerous. Additionally, on the flight over, try to time your sleep so that you can adjust to the time zone differences much more easily. Make sure you also pack some medication, antibiotics are a solid all purpose choice, travel medication for motion sickness, stomach regulators for those aching, bloating stomachs, and cold and flu medicine as this is the most common illness you can contract over there. Our PR guy highly recommends a medicine called “emergen-C” for colds.
San Francisco is a very hilly area, so make sure you have comfortable shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking (unless you decide to catch public transport i.e. taxi, tram, buses). You can keep in contact with everyone if you invest in an American SIM card, though this may not be feasible since this requires your phone to be unlocked. However, this can be worked around as America is laden with free WiFi hotspots, you can keep connected via Internet with IM or Facebook.
Don’t be afraid to initiate conversation with people, as being afraid or nervous will only be detrimental to you. Talk casually, make the conversation comfortable by asking more about themselves. Remember to take business cards with you so you can exchange at later point in the conversation and keep in contact afterwards by emailing them about it.
(Alanna Mondon, Pear and Melons):
- Make sure you have something to write notes down onto. You will forget somethings if you don’t!
- Having an iPad or a tablet is great for checking twitter and seeing what people are posting about #GDC during all the various talks. A lot of the time people tweet a single quote such as: “Discovery beats distribution” - Trip Hawkins.
- Do things you wouldn’t normally do. Go out to parties if you’re invited to, start conversations with people.
- Getting enough sleep and eating properly definitely makes a huge difference on your ability to learn/stay awake at the conference. Especially when you’re surrounded by “medium” drinks.
(Raymund Serrano, Couch Pixels): GDC is based in San Francisco, so find out about the areas that will get you knee deep in donkey waste. Having said that, San Fran has lots of areas worth walking around in so dont be too scared.
Be prepared to talk a lot, even if you’re not a talker. A nice “hello there” can go a long way - and generally, its not so bad. It could even lead the start of a beautiful friendship. Or at least a useful contact in the industry. I dunno. Some people go for that sort of stuff.
Be prepared to show something. Whether its your portfolio, your personal projects, or your team/studio’s IP. Theres a massive variety of people in the conference - and you’ll never know what’ll come out of it.
(Finn Spencer, Evil Aliens):
Print Business Cards
The amount of people I met and missed out of exchanging business cards was quite high. Even if its your name & contact details scribbled onto a scrap piece of paper, its all about PR.
Check if your name/company is printed correctly on your GDC pass
This one sounds obvious to most people but I, myself came to the issue that my pass was accidentally printed with the word “student” if you are representing yourself or your company its kind of hard to explain why your tag says student and they probably wont take you seriously.
Have your game or artwork on you
It all comes down to time, you might only have 2 minutes with the person you want to pitch yourself too. If you don’t come prepared and don’t have your stuff in a physical form you can be easily over looked. Show, don’t tell, get the product into their hands and they are already 50% more likely to take it.
Pack Food or have a Big Breakfast
There where sessions where they decided to do cool stuff during lunch and I was unprepared and I should have packed lunch or ate a big breakfast. but there are restaurants everywhere but expect long queue because everyone goes to lunch at the same time.
Set up meetings
This is the tsumea GDC 2012 Breakfast Club. No, they aren't a rag tag mix-match of high school students but a carefully selected team of the finest games developers that Australia and New Zealand has to offer. And whilst these guys weren't exactly confined to the local high school library, they were instead situated somewhere more chaotic and undoubtedly more stranger.
This year, a huge contingent of local games developers made the trek overseas for the Games Developer Conference in San Francisco. As they returned, tired and suffering from severe jet-lag and post-GDC flu, we thought it would be a great opportunity to grab them each for an introspective on this year's must-go conference for all games developers.
The Managing Director and co-founder: Mario Wynards, Sidhe
Co-founding and steering a company through the rapidly changing game development space ain't easy, but Mario does it for one of, if not the largest, game studios in all of Australasia.
The Video Game Investor: Brad Giblin, Film Victoria
If you're a Melbourne games developer, you will most definitely know Brad Giblin and Film Victoria who have been essential for the growth of the Melbourne games development sector.
The Art Director: Ty Carey (prev. Torus Games, now Divisive Media)
Ty fits the bill of "Art Director" to a tee, check out his incredible work to see for yourselves.
The Composer, Sound Designer, Audio Director: Mick Gordon
The man, the myth, the legend. He's the incredible audio force behind many triple A games including multiple Need for Speed and Marvel Super Heros titles.
The Programmer: Tony Albrecht, Overbyte
Tony is the programmer's programmer. You wanna hit the hardware in the most optimal way? He's the man to talk to.
The Game Designer: Luke Muscat, Halfbrick
Luke is the genius behind Halfbrick's major hits including Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride. Enough said!
The Developer gone Indie: Andrew Goulding, Brawsome
Andrew made the move to indie-hood from the safe confines of a commercial games studio way before it was a common thing. Freeplay 2010 Award Winner in the Best Australian Game category for their Jolly Rover game.
The Indie developer: Alexander Bruce, Antichamber game
Alexander Bruce, winner of this year's GDC award for Technical Excellence for the incredible Antichamber.
The Upcoming indie: Rebecca Fernandez, Convict Interactive
Winner of the 2009 48 Hour Game Making Challenge in Brisbane and just recently successfully crowd-sourced their Triangle Man indie game, Convict Interactive is a rising indie studio worth keeping an eye out on.
How many times have you been to the GDC?
(The Managing Director, Mario Wynards): I've kind of lost count at this point. Somewhere around a dozen times.
(The Video Game Investor, Brad Giblin): Three
(The Community Manager, Sam Mayo): This year was my second year at GDC.
(The Art Director, Ty Carey): This is my second time. Last time was around 2007.
(The Composer, Sound Designer, Audio Director: Mick Gordon): This was my fifth GDC, my first was in 2006 (back when it was in San Jose!)
(The Programmer, Tony Albrecht): This was my 4th visit. My first was in 2003 and in San Jose - I find them just as inspiring now as I did back then.
(The Game Designer, Luke Muscat): Just the two, this year and last year.
(The Developer gone Indie, Andrew Goulding): 4.
(The Indie developer, Alexander Bruce): I've been to the GDC for the past 3 years, and will continue going to GDC every year that I can. About 2 days into the first GDC that I attended in 2010, I'd already decided I'd be back the next year. The cost of attending GDC is tiny compared to the benefits that you get out of it.
(The Upcoming indie, Rebecca Fernandez): This was my first year! I did go to E3 last year though, so I had some idea of what to expect.
What was your main purpose for going?
(The Managing Director, Mario Wynards): This year we had many reasons for going, so there wasn't actually a main reason as such. We got to cover off opportunities for recruitment, media coverage, publishing, development, licensing, and learning.
(The Video Game Investor, Brad Giblin): Film Victoria supports the Victorian companies in attendance (around 30 this year), we meet with companies and people looking to do business in Melbourne or relocate, catch up on industry trends and new business opportunities, and meet with governments and organisations from around the world to discuss the best industry support mechanisms for studios/indies.
(The Community Manager, Sam Mayo): Networking. Publishers are everywhere buying drinks for everyone, GDC is the perfect place to meet your game dev heroes and get drunk with them.
(The Art Director, Ty Carey): Educational purposes and networking. I've recently moved to mobile and social games development so these sessions were high on my list.
(The Composer, Sound Designer, Audio Director: Mick Gordon): I primarily go to GDC to catch up with all my friends at the same place! I work with people all around the world and everyone is often so busy for meet ups at any other time of year, so being able to spend a week with all these people at once is marvellous!
(The Programmer, Tony Albrecht): My main purpose was to network and try to drum up some contract work - and it seems to have been pretty successful too. The secondary goal was to physically meet a lot of the twitter friends I've made over the last few years (and the secondary goal supported the primary goal).
(The Game Designer, Luke Muscat): My main purpose was to actually do some talks. I enjoyed last year's GDC so much that I really wanted to be a part of it, and was lucky enough to have not one but two talks selected to be a part of the conference schedule!
Apart from that, my goals were to check out some of the other sessions, and generally network with some of the insanely talented and interesting developers who are always at GDC.
(The Developer gone Indie, Andrew Goulding): To market MacGuffin's Curse. And talk to publishers or investors about future projects that fit the kinds of games we're developing.
(The Indie developer, Alexander Bruce): I was speaking in two sessions at the Independent Games Summit at GDC this year, and also had my game Antichamber on the IGF Pavilion (where it ended up winning the award for Technical Excellence).
(The Upcoming indie, Rebecca Fernandez): My main purpose was to meet with distributors to work out a deal for our upcoming game, Triangle Man
Overall impressions of this years GDC?
(The Managing Director, Mario Wynards): GDC was pretty good this year with a real positive vibe. A stark turnaround from the sombre industry events of a few years ago.
(The Video Game Investor, Brad Giblin): The calibre of attendees and relevance for Victorian studios this year was really outstanding.
(The Community Manager, Sam Mayo): A hell of a lot of positivity.
(The Art Director, Ty Carey): I thought that the Australian presence was very healthy. Session wise, the art track was too light on - I'd have liked some deeper sessions here. I really enjoyed the Social Games Summit and felt it was well worth the trip to sit in on those talks.
(The Composer, Sound Designer, Audio Director: Mick Gordon): GDC this year was fantastic. There was so much buzz about the indie scene, monetization and alternative funding (eg: Kickstarter). People were positive and excited about the numerous changes and evolutions happening within the industry and the next 12 months look very exciting!
(The Programmer, Tony Albrecht): Lots of people, heaps of mobile stuff, being Indie is cool, really positive vibe, lots of hats.
(The Game Designer, Luke Muscat): In terms of sessions, this year was a little more low key when compared to the mega-star cast they pulled together for the 25th anniversary last year! The presence of mobile and indie developers was stronger than ever, which was great to see.
(The Developer gone Indie, Andrew Goulding): Seemed more distributed across the Moscone Center this year, which is kind of good, but I don't think everyone knew where some stuff was, like GDC Play. Feels like things are picking up after two years of decline/non-growth.
(The Indie developer, Alexander Bruce): Busy! Way busier than I'd have wanted, because I had quite a number of press meetings organised, had to prepare for the sessions I was speaking at, and was also at my booth exhibiting for the three expo days. I guess next year is the year that I can just kick back at sessions or hanging out with friends again.
(The Upcoming indie, Rebecca Fernandez): Very good! Everything ran very smoothly and was very professional. There was definitely something for everyone in the industry - from students to experts and from each aspect of development (programming, design, art, sound, business).
From your time at this year's GDC, what seems to be the current trend or popular thing for developers at the moment?
(The Managing Director, Mario Wynards): Indie development is definitely where it is at. The AAA console stuff is still there, and it is great to hear the stories and techniques behind it all. But it just isn't relevant to most people any more. The buzz was definitely around the indie scene.
(The Video Game Investor, Brad Giblin): The shift towards mobile and social seems to be continuing, but developers now have a greater understanding and appreciation of the pitfalls of those marketplaces.
Halfbrick also seem to be winning EVERYTHING, if that counts as a trend!
(The Community Manager, Sam Mayo): I think the newer business models and platforms are really maturing and are becoming more accepted in the development community. At last year’s GDC developers seemed genuinely scared of social and freemium games, but it felt like that was reversed at this year’s conference which is great for the progression of our industry.
(The Art Director, Ty Carey): Social games and the fremium model are high on everyone's agenda and were hotly debated and discussed.
(The Composer, Sound Designer, Audio Director: Mick Gordon): Indie, Indie, Indie! But, with regards to video game audio, there’s a real trend towards pushing the boundaries in style and artistic direction. Developers are moving away from the “big Hollywood Orchestra” sound and are more open to different sounds and textures, which was demonstrated in Battlefield 3 so well. Then, there’s games like Dear Esther and Bastion that have really shown that game audio is moving away from predictability and they have proven the importance of defining a clear stylistic direction.
(The Programmer, Tony Albrecht): The Indie scene is getting a lot of credibility now. The biggest crowd on the Expo floor had to be the IGF finalists' booths. One thing I hadn't seen before was the companies who's sole purpose it to monetise your product - my last GDC was in 2009 and even as recent as that, this was unheard of.
(The Game Designer, Luke Muscat): The rise of mobile, casual and free to play is impossible to ignore, and its effects on the industry could be seen everywhere.
(The Developer gone Indie, Andrew Goulding): Figuring out how to get their games out there without a publisher. Especially through Steam and other distribution services, and how to stand out on the App store.
(The Indie developer, Alexander Bruce): I have no idea. I didn't get to any sessions at all. See my previous answer!
(The Upcoming indie, Rebecca Fernandez): Definitely Indie games! It doesn't seem to be as widespread in the US, but that is changing. A lot of the talks involved multi-disciplines and catered to Indies.
What was the standout session or party you attended (and if it's a session, can you give us a brief summary of it)?
(The Managing Director, Mario Wynards): Well, unfortunately, I had back to back business meetings all the way through the week. My long list of talks I wanted to see gradually got whittled down to the point where I couldn't make any. I did make a few of the parties, and the likes of GREE put on great events with good atmosphere and great company. Hands down the best party of the conference was the Wargaming.net event, one of the best industry parties I have ever attended.
(The Video Game Investor, Brad Giblin): The Government Roundtable was incredibly valuable and well attended (up about 500% on our meeting last year). US states are jumping on board with incentives like tax breaks and project funding, and they’re learning from the 15 years of experience governments like Victoria have in the area. It was fascinating to hear from a Whitehouse representative how they’ve identified games as a tool to address national problems in education, policy and innovation.
Oh, and Indie Game: The Movie. It’s incredible.
(The Community Manager, Sam Mayo): Double Fine’s “Creative Panic: How Agility Turned Terror Into Triumph”. This was a fantastic look at how creating four smaller digital titles after a two week prototype session saved Double Fine. I attended this session with a colleague (SPY mouse lead programmer Josh Boggs), and we saw many similarities in how our studios operate.
(The Art Director, Ty Carey): The session "Good design, Bad design, Great design" by Raph Kosher (Playdom) was a very inspiring talk on fundamental design principles.
(The Composer, Sound Designer, Audio Director: Mick Gordon): One of the standouts for me was heading around to the Skywalker Ranch to check out the Tech Building with some groovy dudes from EA, DICE and Blizzard. I’d never been out there before and even though it strictly wasn’t a GDC thing, it was amazing to see the serene working environment that Star Wars built.
I always went to a Mass Effect 3 art gallery showing one night which was awesome. Another night we had an audio party in a bar with duelling piano players who would play any written request - I passed one of the player’s a note that said “Skrillex” and he just looked at me funny, so I settled on Kung Fu Fighting instead.
Bar hopping between the various parties is always a lot of fun and is great for bumping into people that you haven’t seen in a while. I dunno, the whole of GDC is a standout and it’s hard to explain if you’ve never been, but just being around 22,000 developers from around the world for a week in San Francisco is a hugely inspiring experience. You’re in sessions and meetings all day, then there’s dinner meetings, then there’s parties until 3am, then you’re at a breakfast meeting at 8am - it just goes non-stop!
(The Programmer, Tony Albrecht): The 4am Pixeljunk party was surprising. It was in a little store in Haight Ashbury and was packed full of developers. On the far wall was a projection of Q-Game's latest game, 4am with the music blasting though a good sound system. It just had this really good vibe.
(The Game Designer, Luke Muscat): The Game Design Challenge session was a huge highlight for me, watching 3 extremely accomplished designers attempted to tackle the task of designing a game that has a 'measurably positive impact on its players, and can be played in 60 seconds or less'. Very inspiring stuff!
(The Developer gone Indie, Andrew Goulding): Sessions and parties weren't really on my list this year. The Flash Forward was a pretty good idea, and a fun way to introduce many sessions people might not know about. I hear my talk about Steam sales of Jolly Rover went pretty well =0).
(The Indie developer, Alexander Bruce): A private party. Details shall remain secret.
(The Upcoming indie, Rebecca Fernandez): My favourite session by far was the "Pitching to Publishers" session which was run by a Sony representative. He bluntly and honestly outlined what game devs should and shouldn't do when pitching an idea to a publisher. These are the exact same things you should do when pitching to investors, so these tips were invaluable for any indie.
The most impressive thing you saw at the GDC?
(The Managing Director, Mario Wynards): To be honest, no one thing jumped out. There are a lot of great stories, games, and people out there right now. If anything, the thing that impressed me most was something a little more intangible, and that is that the camaraderie and creative joy has come back into the industry.
(The Video Game Investor, Brad Giblin): The Wargaming stand on the expo floor (makers of World of Tanks) was equal in size and position to the Sony Playstation stand. That should illustrate just how important and profitable free to play games are becoming, even in hardcore markets.
(The Community Manager, Sam Mayo): The Independent Games Festival section of the expo showfloor. Many of these indie titles were better than the stuff the console manufacturers were showing off…
(The Art Director, Ty Carey): David Cage's demonstration of Quantic Dream's Kara engine was quite impressive.
(The Composer, Sound Designer, Audio Director: Mick Gordon): The most impressive stuff is always under NDA! Mona Mur’s talk about her music on Kane & Lynch 2 was really interesting and she shared a lot of her methods on creating terror and depression through dissonant sounds. Dren McDonald’s talk on social game audio was also another standout - Facebook games have moved from 30 loops to full orchestra recordings in only 18 months!
(The Programmer, Tony Albrecht): The guy wearing 7 hats? Actually, no. On the Wednesday outside of Moscone West, on one street corner there were 3 girls giving out caffeinated soft drinks surrounded by lycra clad girls dancing while handing out invites to parties. On the next street corner was a guy shouting into a megaphone, demanding that we find god and repent. He was there, shouting, for at least 4 hours. That's impressive.
(The Game Designer, Luke Muscat): I was incredibly impressed with the level of originality, ingenuity and overall professionalism of a lot of smaller indie style development studios. There are so many new start ups with developers who have been in the industry for years, who are bringing all of their experience and knowledge to the table in new markets. I can't wait to see what the future holds for our industry!
(The Developer gone Indie, Andrew Goulding): The GDC Play area, it felt like the place where the best games were being shown!
(The Indie developer, Alexander Bruce): Standing on stage looking out at the crowd at the IGF ceremony. Very few people get to walk up there to accept an award, and the experience of actually doing that myself was certainly something I won't forget.
(The Upcoming indie, Rebecca Fernandez): I think the Indie Games Festival was fantastic. Getting to see all these indie and student games - and being able to talk to the developers was inspiring. The innovative ideas and game mechanics were a fresh change from the "blockbuster" titles.
And what was the oddest thing you saw?
(The Managing Director, Mario Wynards): A girl in a short pink dress and a Stormtrooper helmet handing out fliers. I'm sure there are photos floating around.
(The Video Game Investor, Brad Giblin): Tom Killen getting up at 6am every day? People surviving for 5 days on a diet of coffee, burgers and assorted cheese topped fried goods?
(The Community Manager, Sam Mayo): Well, the NOS tent blaring terrible music each day was pretty hard to grasp… but the oddest thing was definitely the guys holding up the ‘God hates game developers’ signs near the west hall.
(The Art Director, Ty Carey): Grown men drinking from a punch bowl with tea cups in a bar. Alright, it was us.
(The Composer, Sound Designer, Audio Director: Mick Gordon): GDC always comes with a few oddities. There was a girl outside Moscone West one afternoon dressed as a Ballerina, but she had a Stormtrooper helmet on. In the same area there was a guy with a big sign saying “God Hates Game Designers” (http://tinyurl.com/8xu5cvs).
At one audio party I walked into the Audio Director behind Battlefield 3 having a friendly argument with the Audio Director behind Modern Warfare 3 about gun sounds. That was a fascinating and hugely funny moment.
(The Programmer, Tony Albrecht): San Francisco is full of crazies. From homeless people talking to mail boxes, to loonies trying to convince you to ride with them on their UFO to visit Jesus. It's hard to pick the oddest thing that that much crazy around.
(The Game Designer, Luke Muscat): Probably a bunch of 'protestors' on the corner next to the convention centre holding up signs declaring 'God Hates Game Designers' and 'Thou Shalt Not Monetize'.
(The Developer gone Indie, Andrew Goulding): Gabe Newell's face on a pole.
(The Indie developer, Alexander Bruce): No idea. Can't give a decent answer to this at the moment.
(The Upcoming indie, Rebecca Fernandez): GDC booth babes. I really don't think they have a place at this conference. I can see why they appear at E3, but I don't think they are effective at GDC at all. One of them was a girl wearing only lingerie and a Storm-trooper helmet.
What's your take on the overall state of the global games industry from the conference?
(The Managing Director, Mario Wynards): We have bounced back as an industry from the devastation of a few years ago. It is tough as ever to make great games and break through the noise, but new platforms, distribution channels, and fresh consumers are creating new opportunities, especially for the small guys. It is the Wild West and the old rules have gone out the window.
(The Video Game Investor, Brad Giblin): The entire industry seems to be on the up. Several big console developers were hiring (Blizzard, Rockstar) and there are some incredible games being produced at all levels that are pushing the medium forward dramatically.
(The Community Manager, Sam Mayo): Game developers are incredible human beings. No matter the business model, platform, genre or whatever – there are developers out there working on amazing ideas.
(The Art Director, Ty Carey): It certainly feels healthy and a lot of people are excited about new ways to monetize their products.
(The Composer, Sound Designer, Audio Director: Mick Gordon): The Game Development industry is now in the hands of the people it should be - the game developers! There’s small teams making millions on indie smash-hits, well-known veterans being funded directly by fans, and more people are buying and playing games than ever before.
(The Programmer, Tony Albrecht): In spite of layoffs happening with painful regularity, there was still a positive vibe at this year's GDC. With some indies making it really big, there is this sense of hope. A trust that good games, creative games can still be written and you can make a living from it. Or, in some cases, get so filthy rich that you can buy your own island to live on and fill it full of robot monkey butlers.
(The Developer gone Indie, Andrew Goulding): Picking up after a few years of decline, we're moving forward as the indies that have managed to hold on and make a business of this are finding their feet and maturing.
(The Indie developer, Alexander Bruce): I don't really attend GDC to pay attention to the global games industry or trends. I go there to hang out with friends, to check out the games at the IGF pavilion and to keep advancing my own work.
(The Upcoming indie, Rebecca Fernandez): It is definitely in a state of change with the Indie uprising - but this year seems to be embracing that change rather than being confused by it. I think we'll see a lot more innovation and the big publishers changing the way they work with developers. Embracing casual games as "real games" seems to be more acceptable now too.
For those of us thinking about attending a GDC for the first time, could you tell us: how much would it cost overall to attend a GDC's? (travel, hotel, prices & expenses etc)
(The Managing Director, Mario Wynards): we expect to spend about NZ$5k on average per person we are sending over by the time you include flights and accommodation. It can be above or below that depending on what kind of pass you get, and how cheap you can get flights and accommodation.
(The Video Game Investor, Brad Giblin): The Victorian Government supports people to attend the market if they’re a registered company and have a clear export strategy. The funding available ($2,500 and up) can significantly offset the cost to attend the market. I’d estimate the minimum cost for the 5 days is around $3,500.
(The Community Manager, Sam Mayo): The exchange rate is great for Aussie tourists right now, but who knows what it’ll be like in a year. You can get a fairly decent hotel for around US$100 a night right in the middle of San Francisco through wotif.com. There are quite a few hostels around too, which are cheap… but you might not get a great night sleep. Food and alcohol are fairly affordable, though prices aren’t usually listed with tax – and don’t forget to tip. Probably a good idea to budget at least US$100 per day for food/shopping/transport etc.
(The Art Director, Ty Carey): I was lucky enough to have my trip paid for, but if you're in Melbourne and you have a legitimate business reason, Screen Victoria has a grant that really helps get you over. There's quite a financial difference between staying in a Hostel and Hotel - a hotel room around Union Square will cost you around $200 a night. A Hostel might cost about a quarter of this price. Food is quite reasonably priced - I got around with $400 in my pocket for seven days, and that included all of my expenses (taxis, late night drinking sessions, gifts, tips etc).
(The Composer, Sound Designer, Audio Director: Mick Gordon): The first bit of advice is to find a travel partner to share costs with. Splitting a hotel will save you a lot of money, and GDC is a lot more enjoyable when you’re sharing the experience with someone else. Hotels can be anywhere from $100 a night to $1,000 a night - just depends on how well you’re latest game is going I guess?
Flights to San Francisco range from $1,000 - $1,500 return, which is really quite good. On top of that you probably want around $50 - $100 a day for food and drinks. GDC usually costs me around $2,500, and if you’re operating as a business you can claim a lot of it against tax. There’s also various Government funding based on where you are which is definitely worth checking out too!
A lot of it comes down to how much you’re willing to spend and what you want out of GDC. If you’re just looking for some networking and to enjoy some sessions, your GDC pass for the week will be around $500 - $1,000. If you’re a developer and you want to show off your new project then you can do GDC Play or Game Connection, which can be a few thousands more. If you’re a smaller developer though, you can get a basic pass and simply cruise the halls showing your demo to anyone who is willing to check it out.
(The Programmer, Tony Albrecht): Flights from $1500 to $2000, accom around $800, registration $950, daily expenses ~$70
(The Developer gone Indie, Andrew Goulding): Travel and accommodation will set you back around $2,000, if you're sharing cheap accommodation and can find very cheap flights you may be able to scrape in for $1,500, but that's a very big *may*. Passes go for around $600 for Summits and Tutorials and a few hundred for an expo pass, the full passes are $1000+. If you can commit to going at least 3 months in advance you'll save hundreds of dollars on everything.
(The Indie developer, Alexander Bruce): This really depends on how you do it. Flights outside Australia always seem to be around $1600 or more every time I do it. For the passes, I'd recommend whatever is the cheapest way to cover the Independent Games Summit and the Expo floor. I only ever really go to the IGS and then hang out around the IGF Pavilion, so this year most people just bought the Independent Games Summit passes for like $325. For accommodation, there's Hostelling International Downtown San Francisco, which is where a whole bunch of indies stay. Gather a group of 4 friends and book a shared room there and you're set.
It's pretty easy to spend a bunch of money quickly at GDC on partying with friends and exploring San Francisco. It's not necessarily cheap, but it's the most useful event of the year, most of the good networking happens outside the conference itself (at parties / meals / drinks with friends), and the benefits of going far outweigh the costs of attending. It can be difficult to quantify the benefits of having attended GDC, as how much you get out of the event really depends on how much you put yourself out there and talk to people, but it has always been pretty invaluable to me.
(The Upcoming indie, Rebecca Fernandez): I bought an all access pass which set me back about $1300 (that was with an IGDA discount). My flights were about $1300 return (I recommend flying Delta - they are great). I stayed at a hostel which was less than $300 for the whole week. I probably spent about $500 on food, drinks and transport during my stay - you could definitely spend less if you didn't drink any alcohol.
What preparations and advice would you suggest for first timers wanting to attend a GDC?
(The Managing Director, Mario Wynards): It depends on what you want to achieve, but the best approach is to run a tight ship so you can get the most out of the show. Make sure you have a mobile phone and a way to check your email. Plan your meetings well in advance by reaching out to those you want to meet at least several weeks before the event, but bear in mind you may pick up a few meetings at the show so be flexible. Work out what talks you want to see before you go, not at the show, though don't be afraid to change around on the day. Print out your schedule and keep it with you. If you are meeting with people, make sure you have their phone numbers in case there is an issue, and send them your photo ahead of time if you have never met before and are meeting in some public area. You'll be tired, you'll get hungry, but push through to get the most out of it as you can always have a long sleep on the plane on the way back down under.
(The Video Game Investor, Brad Giblin): Relationships are everything. Try to meet with fellow local studios to determine your approach, and get a few solid meetings set up early in the week. Identify your five key targets (publishers, press, etc) and pursue them above all else. Talk to Film Victoria or Multimedia Victoria beforehand and we’ll help you get there and make the most use out of the market.
(The Community Manager, Sam Mayo): Arrive a few days early to adjust, take comfortable shoes, and enjoy your time in beautiful San Francisco! Oh and go to all of the parties, they’re great.
(The Art Director, Ty Carey): Orientate yourself as much as possible with the layout of the conference halls, and the immediate city before heading down there. Do some early thinking on what sessions you really want to attend - there's often some really hard choices. If you want to attend parties, look into these as early as possible as tickets become hard to find or expensive. Everyone's there to mingle - don't be afraid to approach and talk to people.
(The Composer, Sound Designer, Audio Director: Mick Gordon): Again, find a travel partner - someone to share costs with, and share GDC with! For networking purposes it’s a good idea to go with someone who works in a different field - if you’re an artist, go with a programmer. If you’re a designer, go with an audio engineer, etc. This will help you both with networking because you’ll be able to introduce each other to people who you may not necessary meet. Furthermore, two heads are better than one, especially when trying to search out the various “secret” parties that happen during GDC!
Secondly, make sure you’ve got your business cards, website and demos ready-to-go. You want to make sure people can easily contact you after GDC, and good self-promotional materials definitely help.
Lastly, go to make friends. Not to make clients, not to find business partners, not to find a job - go to make good friends. The game industry is incredibly tight-knit and people work with who they know - I’ve been working with the same people for years!
(The Programmer, Tony Albrecht): Work out why you are going, then plan everything around that. If you are pimping your game, make sure you have meetings set up with publishers and other people of importance. If you're going there to educate and inspire yourself, make sure you have all the sessions sorted out that you want to attend (and don't get so hammered at the parties that you fall asleep in the sessions). And in both cases, pick the parties that you want to attend and make sure you get invites. The parties are a fantastic place to meet people that you'd never bump into normally, giving you a great opportunity to chat with studio heads and swap business cards.
To me, GDC is about networking. Be polite, talk to lots people, don't get too drunk, have fun.
(The Game Designer, Luke Muscat): The more preparation you put in, the more you will get out of the week! Reach out to developers that you want to meet and get in touch with, you will be surprised how many of them will be at GDC and happy to meet up and chat. Figure out which sessions you want to see and which ones you simple cannot miss. There is always more to do at GDC than time allows, so being prepared and having your priorities straight will help you get the most out of an incredible week!
(The Developer gone Indie, Andrew Goulding): Start planning 3 months before the event, to start reaching out to people you'd like to meet over there, and follow up with those that are going to be the busiest regularly leading up to the conference. Make sure you have your passport and ESTA filled in. Make sure you have comfortable shoes, and cold and flu tablets and pain killers, because it can be a generally grueling experience if you're making the most of it. And I know it might sound silly, but double and triple check your dates and times! And if you're planning on a calendar, make sure it's on San Francisco time.
(The Indie developer, Alexander Bruce): Don't be shy. If you attend GDC and only go to sessions and then return to your hotel, you'll get next to nothing out of it. If you talk to as many people as you can and spend a lot of time being a friendly person, you'll meet a hell of a lot of interesting and incredibly useful people.
(The Upcoming indie, Rebecca Fernandez): Take lots of business cards!
Don't stand up during question time of a session just to tell the speaker how much you loved their game - there is time for this privately afterwards and someone behind you probably has a burning question that actually relates to the session topic.
Wear comfortable shoes - you will be doing lots of walking.
Don't acknowledge the homeless people. It sounds horrible but as soon as you give in to (or even look at) one, you will be swarmed by many of them.
If a developer is talking to the media then don't interrupt!
Smile and don't be scared to talk to people - everyone has a story to tell.
Australians are the best people to hang out with - take the opportunity of everyone being in one place to get to know your fellow countrymen!
With a career spanning over twenty years in the games industry and a highly impressive body of work behind him, Adrian Moore is without a doubt one of most experienced and highly respected games developers in Australia. He also boasts an impressive track record in the commercial recording industry working with artists such as Sade, Seal and Pearl Jam. Adrian has just recently gone independent and is opening up the wealth of knowledge and decades of experience as a games designer and musician for fellow games developers.
We thought we'd send some questions to Adrian on his extraordinary career and his new direction in indie development where he desires to help and mentor the next generation of Australian games developers...
You've worked at quite a few UK games studios, but you got your first start at Bullfrog with legendary game designer, Peter Molyneux. How did you manage to score that particular gig and what was it like working with Molyneux and on such iconic titles like Populous, Theme Hospital, and Syndicate Wars?
Adrian Moore: I was very lucky. I was a 15 year old school kid doing a Saturday job in a shop in Guildford. It was 1987. My Mum was doing the bookkeeping for Peter, at his previous company, Taurus Impex. She told me Taurus were looking for beta testers for their new business software and I was very into computers at the time and wondered if I could do that instead of work in the shop. I went to meet Peter and his business partner Les Edgar. They seemed to think I'd be an adequate tester so gave me the job. So then I found myself working Saturdays, some afternoons after school, and during my school holidays, with Peter. We always got on well, he's an inspiring character. He tends to think of things originally, and is hugely ambitious. He has something about him which I can't quite put my finger on, but it's a kind of knowing.
Peter and Les then formed Bullfrog. There was Peter and Kevin Donkin on code and Glenn Corpes doing art, developing Amiga games, starting out with a port of Dene Carter and Andrew Bailey's Commodore 64 game Druid 2. I was actually Bullfrog's first dedicated game designer! While Peter, Kevin and Glenn did real work in an upstairs room above the hi-fi shop, I was sat downstairs by myself on Saturdays and during school holidays, with pencil and sketchpad, dreaming up new games. I will never forget I was paid £2.80 an hour to sit alone and work like that - I was in my element and getting paid for it! To this day I still work like that - I sit with a sketchpad and just think things through.
We actually started making one of my games in those days at Bullfrog. I would come in to the office after school and be trying to direct Glenn on the art side and talking to Peter about the game design. I was a 15 year old school kid and these was grown men with a full time jobs, which was kind of ridiculous looking back. I guess I just believed in myself and Peter seemed to, too. The game we starting making didn't get completed. In the meantime Glenn had taken up coding, mixed that discipline with his considerable art talents and created the Populous landscape engine. Peter got a brainwave for a new type of game using this engine and the rest is history. I playtested this amazingly original game with them and chimed in with a few ideas of my own but of course I was the kid and they were the creators of that. It was very nice for Peter to credit me on Populous.
Later, in 1995, after I had spent many years working in music and had then gotten a testing/design/audio role at SCi, Peter had me back at Bullfrog when it was the ultra-sucessful, creative powerhouse that it was. It was amazing what Peter achieved then (and still achieves now). I created the sound effects for Theme Hospital and Syndicate Wars, which was a brilliant experience, being the first time I'd been given the opportunity to bring games to life with audio. I was always somewhat frustrated, though. I always felt I could design games, it was my driving passion back then, and I desperately wanted to be a lead designer. I remember Mark Webley, producer/designer of Theme Hospital, getting frustrated with me trying to stick my beak into the details of his game all the time. "Just get your bloody sound effects done!" he would say to me. Really, I wanted to do both thing; I wanted to do both audio and game design. I did do some design and level design, there. I loved working as a designer on Magic Carpet 2, for example.
I didn't really work closely with Peter during those mid-nineties Bullfrog years, I was quite green and he was in upper management, doing big league things. It was later, at Lionhead, where he and I collaborated as designers.
What are your thoughts on the Syndicate reboot and the different direction they took with it?
Adrian: I think it's great to reboot old games. I haven't played the new Syndicate but I think it's interesting to mix up the genres; to make a shooter when the original game was an isometric strategy game. I would like to see more games be "rebooted".
You were the lead designer of The Movies, a Lionhead title which went on to win Best Simulation Game at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Video Games Awards. It was quite an ambitious title, took four years to develop, and it certainly went further than what was expected from simulation games at the time. It even included the capability to make Machinima videos. What can you tell us about working on such a big title, and do you have any interesting anecdotes and stories behind its production?
Adrian: Oh my. The Movies for me was both heaven and hell. Peter contacted me while I was happily working at Small Rockets, about a new game he wanted me to help make at Lionhead. He told me the idea was "Theme Park mixed with Hollywood" and as much as I loved Small Rockets and the people there, I couldn't resist this incredible opportunity to go to Lionhead and head up this project that appealed to me so much. The game sounded like the perfect idea for me and I felt it was practically guaranteed to be successful with Peter involved. I was very honoured to be asked to do it.
It began at the start of 2002. We originally intended for it to be a quick game to develop - 18 months, approximately. Ironically it was me that kept expanding it's scope at first, with Peter trying to reign it in. Then Peter had the idea for the game to actually export films and allow players to be really creative inside the game as filmmakers. Suddenly it had became a massively ambitious epic.
I loved the early days. I built the team up from two (myself and engineer/designer James Brown) to about 30 people, through hiring from outside. One of Lionhead's existing engineering geniuses, Jean Claude-Cottier, joined our team quite early on, from the inside. But it soon became incredibly stressful, with pressure from all sides. It's probably the most stress I have ever experienced in my life. Gary Carr came in to replace me as studio head, as the team continued to expand and publisher relations required better management. This left me free to focus on the design.
Developing the game was fascinating, really. I don't think many of the team had been involved with something so ambitious. So many things needed to come together at the same time. The simulation side of the game was one aspect, the movie-making another, and they had to work together to make a cohesive whole that didn't expect any effort from players (making films in reality is hard work!) but would allow them to enter into a light version of the world of filmmaking if they chose to. The film sets, the costumes and the characters, the buildings around the studio lot - they all had to be planned and created as art assets in a production pipeline but the game itself was in a state of flux. Every aspect of the game design was a great challenge. To top it all off, we had decided to track the history of hollywood inside the game, beginning in the early 1900s and progressing through the present day, into the future. I can imagine any designer/producer reading this feeling quite stressed by the very thought of it!
It was a long project, and so many things happened during those years, it's quite tricky to pick out just a few stories. I do recall some funny things, like demoing a version of the game with quite risque content, to the press, and to the rest of Lionhead. At that time it was possible to grab a slider during a love scene and drag it from "mild" to "intense". The intense setting was pretty pornographic. We should have left that in the game.
You've also spent many years honing your skills as a musician and audio engineer at a recording studio. You have quite an impressive list of engineers and artists that you've collaborated with. What was it like working with such notable talents like Geoff Emerick (The Beatles' engineer), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), as well as artists/bands like Tin Machine, Seal, Pearl Jam, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Black Sabbath?
Adrian: Well, there were a lot of artists, bands, producers and engineers coming through the studio, at that time. I was mostly working at a residential UK studio Ridge Farm, in the early nineties. I did some freelance engineering work later but mostly my time was spent there.
Having just spoken about the intensity of The Movies project, the recording industry generally makes the game development industry seem like a walk in the park! It was a case of working 12-18 hours a day, 7 days a week, on the whole. I was the resident engineer in the studio and the artistes would come through and each have their own special time making their record. For them it was a once-a-year experience or even once-in-a-lifetime thing so it tended to be quite full-on, but for residents in studios of course you're experiencing that intensity continuously!
There were times when the hair on the back of my neck stood up, such is the nature of music. We were making an All About Eve record, for example, when David Gilmour came to the studio for a day of guest guitar work. He plugged his legendary Fender Stratocaster into his Fender amp. and began jamming along to the track, and the Pink Floyd guitar sound flowed out through the speakers. All of us in the control room kind of went silent as if we were witnessing something religious. David was incredibly modest to talk to. For such a great player, steeped in the history of Pink Floyd, he was incredibly polite and humble. That really stuck with me.
Hearing Seal sing was awesome. I was a fan of his already, and Crazy was on rotation on MTV, when he came in. It was a real buzz setting up his microphone and hearing him sing, followed by watching the Crazy video on TV with him and asking him about how it was made. Trevor Horn was producing (Seal's first album) so it was a pretty special time. Again, hard work, long hours, but Trevor's demanding nature seemed ok under the circumstances. We were wrapping up the recording of Seal's first album. I remember some pretty magical late nights as Seal got his vocals down on tape. I think he's a very emotional and unique singer.
Helping Tim Palmer mix Pearl Jam's TEN was an interesting one because they were a new band, and although I liked the music, I wasn't blown away at the time. So it was just another day in the office really, only later to find you've been involved with something truly musically historical. I keep in touch with Tim a little, to this day. He's an incredible producer and mix engineer. Very positive, very inspiring. He really taught me about self-belief and that anything is possible. During that session the band were rehearsing for a new drummer so I would walk through the studio area to be treated to a live Pearl Jam show of my own - even then, they were tight! Beautiful people too. I am so happy for them that they became so successful.
The Tin Machine session I worked on was also with Tim Palmer, and Reeves Gabrels, an awesome guitar player. It was just those two guys recording guitars, with me assisting. One day the phone rang. I picked up and a voice asked for Tim. I said "sure, I'll just get him. Who is it please?". It was a quite a strange experience when the voice on the other end of the phone said "David Bowie".
Echo and the Bunnymen were the sweetest people you could hope to meet. Recording their album was a summer of love! Geoff Emerick was producing the record and we all picked his brains. I mean, come on! He recorded Sgt Pepper and Revolver! We often wanted to know how it felt to hear John Lennon sing into the mic. or how the dynamic was between the fab four and George Martin. It was a case of all of us on the session not wanting to continuously be asking him questions about The Beatles! We adopted some really interesting recording techniques from the sixties during that time, things I had never seen up until then such as running half-inch tape around the control room, wrapped around microphone stands, playing loops in that way. We recorded sitar players that had played on Beatles tracks. It was a very happy session for me, that one.
Black Sabbath were very sweet too actually! It was an interesting session - it never really came together because the producer and band weren't happy with the sound they were getting but it was another fascinating time. I found out first-hand how guitarist Tony Iommi lost a finger just days before he was to quit his factory job to pursue the band full time. I really found it interesting how lovely the band were, considering the nature of their music.
The Sade session I was on was probably my favourite memory really - all four of the band and Mike the producer were generous souls and it was all very civilised. They were extremely good to me and and it was wonderful to have a calm time with great musicians, who were successful and confident. On a couple of occasions Sade asked my opinion about verses she was writing, for example. I remember dancing around the control room with her late one night, to Jimi Hendrix's Crosstown Traffic. Some of these memories stick with you forever. I've had some blessed experiences.
Depending on the session, and the year, my role was different. At the start I would make tea and set up microphones exclusively, as I knew nothing, but later on I got onto the meaty stuff of working on sounds, mixing, and working more closely with the artists. It was amazing to go from knowing nothing to knowing a recording studio like the back of your hand, within a few intense years. The audio engineering skills I learned are very useful to me today, and it's amazing to see how an entire studio can now be condensed into a laptop, effectively, such as with Propellerhead's Reason software.
Being able to compose music and designing games are certainly two distinctly different areas of expertise. Which field do you enjoy more or find more challenging? What genre of music do you like, and are there any game designers and musicians in the industry that you admire?
Adrian: I admire too many designers and musicians! Right now, I am loving Jetpack Joyride by Halfbrick. I met Luke Muscat one time but I didn't really get to talk to him much about his design methods. I feel we're quite similar in that we like fun-for-the-sake-of-fun games, it seems. On the music side, Laura Shigihara did a great job with Plants vs Zombies; it's really great game music and the pieces work very well together. As you can see, I've been playing iOS games recently. Other game musicians I hugely admire are Richard Beddow and Scott Marcussen. I have worked with both of these guys and I aspire to their level of musicianship. A game designer I've always greatly admired is Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto.
I find both game design and game audio very interesting in their own ways, and I enjoy them both immensely. Recently I went through a spate of writing music and it was so good to be self-contained, just me and my piano, guitar and sequencer. I love the way that music inspires emotion. Game design, on the other hand, to me at least, is pure invention. That is partly what attracted me to it in the first place. The theory of games is up for grabs, it's about individual thinking, and creating games comes purely from the imagination. Sound design is a lot of fun. I remember creating the minigun sound for Syndicate Wars from the sound of a washing machine mixed with a looping tank shot, for example. It's about exploration and fitting the sounds together to match the game. I enjoy both design and audio but if I absolutely had to pick one discipline over all others I would have to say game design is my favourite. Sitting in a cafe with a sketchpad, dreaming up new inventions, or toying with some tools inside a game that's in development or inventing a set of solutions to transform a game demo into a releasable game - these really satisfy the inventor in me.
You worked under the wing of audio legend, Russell Shaw, who has produced some of the most notable soundtracks ever in games. Shaw has been quoted as saying:
"I would not want to go back to the early days of game audio design. We can all remember the time when audio was very much the afterthought. Nowadays, I need to be in on the early conceptual stages of game design if the game is going to sound any good. The audio designer can bring as much to the early game design as anyone else can."
Do you feel game audio has received the recognition and the level of importance it deserves in games development today?
Adrian: No, I don't. It's probably getting better but it still feels like a secondary consideration to game art, and that's a shame. I hear many audio designers express this same sentiment. I think Russell is right; I think developers would be wise to be developing a game's audio early on, and being more inventive, too.
After a long stint at Lionhead studios, you made the move to migrate to Australia in 2006. What prompted you to make such a life changing decision? What were a few of the things you had to adjust to when you first arrived here?
Adrian: The sun made me do it (laughs). As much as I miss my friends and family in the UK, I don't miss the British climate. I find the winters there very gloomy and what is more important than happiness, right? I adore the sun and like a solar battery, I require it as fuel. It was a lifelong dream of mine to live somewhere sunny; I chose Australia as my Brother and family live here and having visited them years ago, I fell in love with Australia's climate, people, and nature.
The major adjustment coming to Australia was really the lack of freedom. Being born in the UK, I had rights there that I still have denied to me here in Australia. At first the system wouldn't let me work anywhere. I had to stick in an awful job that was making me sick, or be forcefully returned to the UK - great choice! Thankfully I made it through those hard times in one piece and got to a more friendly studio (Firemint). The way I feel is that we're all born of nature, on the same planet, and we're all born free to live as we wish, to journey to where we want to go, do whatever work we want, as long as we do others no harm. We all have our inalienable rights. It was an incredible shock for me to feel first-hand how this global central banking network and it's front-groups known as "governments" had risen up into such a forceful power, treating human beings like cattle, and brainwashing the population that it's normal to be treated this way. Don't get me started.
Other than that, the other shock was the heat! I had wanted sunshine so badly but it was so hot all of the time up in Brisbane, where I started, it was quite overwhelming.
You've worked on a fair number of titles for Firemint during your four year tenure there, the most notable of which is perhaps the critically acclaimed SPY Mouse which you worked on as a lead designer. It retains an incredible 87 score on Metacritic as well as receiving many accolades. What was it like steering the direction of that particular title? Did you have any personal pressure to follow up on the success of a break out title like Flight Control?
Adrian: SPY mouse remains one of my favourite experiences in the industry so-far. I was such a fan of Rob Murray's Flight Control, and so lucky to be one of his cheerleaders before he released that, that it was amazing to be able to work on SPY mouse as a follow-up. I wasn't involved in it's birth; a previous team had given rise to the concept, art style and some inventions such as the teleporting coloured mouse holes and mouse traps. So there was a great little demo kicking around in the studio already. It just needed further content invented, levels designed to create a cool progression to deliver the new content, and all the balancing, love and attention that a dedicated designer brings. I still feel very grateful that I got to be that designer.
I was given the time, and free reign, to do my thing, and with a small team including the very talented engineer/co-designer Joshua Boggs, we carved out the content for SPY mouse. I got to do what I thought it needed, which was to plan ahead, then implement, then evaluate and re-plan, and re-implement, until the game was really well balanced and polished, in my eyes anyway. Reviewers and gamers seemed to largely agree that the game has a nice pace and has some charm and polish, so it was very satisfying experience all around.
I wasn't really under too much pressure, such was the excellence of Firemint's management. Once I was given the project they really understood I needed time to cook it up. At the very end there was pressure to get it finished and out, but we grew the team to help achieve that. Design-wise, I didn't really feel any pressure regarding following up Flight Control. I imagine Rob Murray and the other directors may have! SPY mouse represented their 3rd original IP after all.
You've worked on a large number of titles in your career. What game are you most proud of, and which did you find most challenging to work on and why?
Adrian: Actually I am very proud of Star Monkey, a Small Rockets game I did. Much like I did with Josh Boggs on SPY mouse, I collaborated closely with a very talented engineer/co-designer called James Brown, on that one. Paul Boulden did the art and Richard Beddow wrote the music. It was a scrolling shoot-em-up that we made very quickly; from start to finish in around 8 months. I was given free reign by Jonathan Small, the head of the company, to make this game, and I was very proud of what we achieved. I felt it was a classic little shooter with some nice ideas and well balanced. To this day I still meet people who say they loved that game, which always surprises me because it wasn't very high profile.
The Movies at Lionhead was by far the most challenging game I worked on that came out, although I did spend some time working at Pandemic on a 3rd person action game (eventually cancelled) which was also incredibly stressful. I guess it was a bad match for me; and the senior management wouldn't listen to me yet I was given the blame and responsibility for how things were shaping up; I was kind of made to feel inadequate. That was no fun at all - as a designer it's important to find a good match with who you work with, I've found. Sometimes things just don't gel. What you're good at isn't what's needed and what is needed isn't what you're good at.
I am probably most proud of my most recent iOS game, SPY mouse, though. I reckon we made a classic original little handheld game there at Firemint. For anyone wanting a Mario-esque type experience (levels, hidden levels, themed worlds and boss battles) fused with the interface simplicity of Flight Control, I recommend checking it out!
With over 20 years experience in the games industry, you must've seen and experienced a whole lot of ups and downs during your time. What are some of your personal highlights in the industry so far, and what aspects of games development you wish you could've done without? (e.g crunch time, high expectations etc).
Adrian: My highlights have really been whenever I've felt comfortable, able to express my creativity, and see the ideas come to fruition. It's a leap of faith, game design. You have to have self-belief. People like Jonathan Small, Peter Molyneux and Robert Murray supported me by giving me a platform, and I will always be eternally grateful to them. There are many people out there just as talented as I, and more so, who are wishing for nothing more than a lucky break. The ups are really when you hear someone say they're enjoying your game, or reading a glowing review when it's released. But also the processes can be a high in themselves - getting an idea can be beautiful. Seeing the idea become a reality. Creation is a wonderful thing.
The down times have been harder than I care to express! Not being very technical, it's hard dealing with computers sometimes. I can't code very well, I'm not good with advanced tools. I tend to think about the end result and rely on others to make it happen, giving me relatively basic tools to use. On a number of occasions I have been given amazingly powerful tools and have felt very shy in saying "sorry, I'm not up to using this thing you've just slaved over creating for me. I'm not a programmer." Stress has been the main one. It's not easy to be involved in massive teams, working on massive designs, pressure from publishers and management. The stress compounds because before you know it you're not relaxed enough to be creative or think clearly. This is why I generally try to stick with smaller games these days where I can, games I can dream up on a sketch pad like the old days. Music and sound effects I can create in isolated peace. As a freelancer now, I have a choice over what I'm involved in at any given time, which is a long-time dream come true.
Having been through many studios working on big console and PC titles, what are your thoughts on the rise of independent games development, working on smaller games, and depending less on publishers?
Adrian: I love it. I am extremely excited about what's happening now. I love every story of independent success and the feeling of possible success. I talk to a lot of independent studios these days and they all excite me. Recently I was fortunate enough to be involved with a local indie studio, Twiitch, working on their cool new game Coco Loco. Nothing would make me happier than seeing that game and studio succeed, for example. Really, I would love to see every studio remaining independent. These large corporate takeovers do tend to suck the life out of studios, from what I've seen and experienced, and it's very sad to me that they do that. I've seen it happen on a number of occasions which is why I especially love the indies.
Publishers have their place and can offer great services. I have seen some great examples of developer - publisher relations.
You've moved on from Firemint and have gone independent yourself. Can you tell us a bit about your range of services?
Adrian: Well really it's a case of wanting to be flexible with my own time and work, and wanting to be involved with many projects, and to try to help people with the experience I have gained. The services I offer are a culmination of all the things I have experience of and have always loved to do:
Firstly, design consultation. Developers show me their pitch documents, game design documents, or games that are in mid-development and I evaluate them from an unbiased perspective. They get some fresh ideas from an experienced viewpoint which they can pick and choose from to improve their game. I have found such services useful to me in the past when I was working in studios myself. Sometimes the smallest changes can make all the difference. For example, difficulty curve - games can sometimes be ramped up to be a challenge to the development team who are extremely close to the project but end up being too hard for general public consumption. That's just one tiny example of where an independent evaluation can help find areas for improvement that are sometimes pretty trivial to rectify, actually.
Game design - something I've been doing for almost 25 years now, I create game designs from scratch using my trusty sketchpad and pen (with a healthy dose of written documentation). If a developer wants a new design or one of their existing ideas/designs expanded upon - a "treatment", I offer that service.
Then with levels - I use proprietary tools to build game levels, and also can design levels on paper to give to development studios to turn into working levels, if that's what they're after. I can also create level plans; an overview for a game's levels rather than the actual levels themselves.
I compose original music for games, using piano, guitar, and a range of samples running in a sequencers. Because I tend to understand games quite well, I can write to accentuate certain moods in a game and compose pieces that fit together well for different parts of the game. I have a lot of sound engineering experience so this helps with the recording and mixing of my compositions.
And I also create sound effects, using my own field recordings, library samples and sounds generated with my synthesisers. Again, I've done this enough to have a feel for how sounds should compliment games, and iterate the sounds as they're implemented (where possible) as opposed to simply providing sound effects and hoping they work in-game.
My rates are competitive and sometimes I do some work for free if I can, if there's not much money around, because I want to help developers. Like anyone, I want to thrive, but I am thinking about the bigger picture; I really want to offer services of value to my fellow game developers.
Anyone interested in talking to me about game or level design can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For the audio side, I am contactable at www.adrianmooremusic.com where there is also a selection of some of my most recent music to listen to.
What are your thoughts on community efforts such as IGDA Melbourne and the need for collaboration, helping, and mentoring of others, particularly when students and newcomers to games development have such a limited opportunity to be mentored, hone and nurture their skills on large commercial games in a studio environment?
Adrian: I am so impressed whenever I see someone, or an organisation, genuinely helping others. I am very grateful for what Giselle Rosman is doing here in Melbourne, with IGDA, for example. I can see she helps puts people together, spreads encouragement and much more I am sure I don't know about but I know first hand how she's been helping me get connected. I am sure there are other people - yourself, Souri, for example, with your excellent website Tsumea. That's a great service for the Aus/NZ scene. I applaud all collaboration and mentoring. I recently hooked up with another great guy, Adam Parker, who works at Qantm college. He is passionate about helping newcomers develop their game development skills and in fact runs classes to emulate a studio environment, I believe. It's all very heart-warming and important stuff. I would love to be involved more in mentoring and nurturing young people, myself.
Recently, we've seen your name prominently listed in a new collaboration with Andy Coates and Paul Mitchell who are coincidentally fellow UK expat games veterans like yourself with multiple decades of experience. How did this all come about, and where did you guys come up with Ninth Ninja as the name? Can you tell us anything about the secret original title you're working on or will we be hearing more about it at the GDC in the next few weeks?
Adrian: This is something I'm involved in that I'm extremely happy about. Andy, Paul and I met at Firemint. I worked with both of those guys there on various projects over the years and they are both extremely talented veterans, as you say. Paul's actually Australian but lived and worked in the UK for a good while. Andy, like me, came to Australia from the UK.
The name Ninth Ninja is actually something Andy came up with. As for our projects, well, I can't really say too much yet but what I will say is that the secret original title is based on an idea I had a long time ago, before I set foot in a game studio actually. I suddenly remembered this idea recently and showed it to Andy and Paul who agreed it's worth us developing. It's the most accessible and immediate, joyful, playful game I've been involved with. Andy will be at GDC so maybe you will hear more about it then.
Thanks for your time in answering these questions for tsumea, Adrian!!
Adrian: The pleasure was all mine Souri. Thank you.
You can also read the press release on Adrian's services on tsumea here..
Hi Chris, can you tell us what your role is at Fraktalvoid and what aspects of the game were you directly involved with for your new game, Speed Blazers?
Chris: I am the director and owner of Fraktalvoid. I was basically involved in most aspects in the development of Speed Blazers. I was the game designer, art director, 3D artist, concept artist, cinematics, producer, marketer and a bunch of other things to help realise Speed Blazers.
Fraktalvoid is generally more well known as a company that provides art outsourcing services. When and why did you decide to delve into the games development, and is this the new direction for Fraktalvoid?
Chris: Fraktalvoid was generally focused on art outsourcing at the start. We developed a number of art assets for a number of great companies. While we enjoyed making the art assets there was still a massive pressure of our Australian dollar rising and a number of companies cutting costs. There was also the mass competition from a number of art outsourcing companies from China and India offering cheap services.
Therefore searching for work was getting very hard to score. So as a team we decided to create Speed Blazers in 2010 and try taking on the mobile scene since it has become quite a popular platforms for start up companies. Fraktalvoid will continue to move forward to this direction because we now know it is a great and fun platform to develop on, with small teams and the freedom of creating our very own game for the public.
How big was the team for Speed Blazers, and how long did it take to develop?
Chris: There were 5 people in the initial team. We have a programmer, 3D artist, character concept artist, music and sound and including myself. We recently got a another talented level designer to finish off the next coming level updates.
Speed Blazers took a year of development. Half a year was spent on creating tools concepts and game play content that can easily be merged to the next games we are creating. We were basically experimenting with the mobile and the awesome engine we are using (UNITY3D) to see how much we can push the devices. Half the year was spent on building Speed Blazers and adding mechanics to it and also making it visually appealing.
What would you say were most challenging aspects in developing a title like Speed Blazers?
Chris: Speed Blazers was quite challenging especially seeing how far we can push the mobile devices. We did a lot of experiments and creating lots of tools that help the artists build the levels. Since we were also new to creating mobile content, we had a massive learning curve, training and experiencing the limitations on different devices. There was also dealing with unknown crashes that are hard to debug or no errors come up. "It just crashes without warnings or logs" this is so challenging because we had to strip every part to see what was crashing.
Was there anything you'd do differently a second time around? Any lessons learnt?
Chris: There were a lot of things that we would like done differently if we have a second chance at speed blazers.
It especially came down to planning and prioritizing the right tools needed early into the production, instead we built some a couple of months before the release.
Next to that is marketing. This is more than a full time job and very hard to manage since I was managing and creating assets for the game still. It was also fun at the same time experiencing feedback apart from our testers and knowing what the public really wants. I had help from a couple of people and one of them was Chris Wright from Surprise Attack who was an awesome help during his beta stage in launching his company and services. I would totally recommend him to market your game, whoever is new or experienced in the indie scene.
There was also articles that I missed with great advice such as the article from Binary Mill's director Ingmar Lak interview here in Tsumea, which showed the real hard side of the App Store and the marketing techniques and planning involved to get their games recognized. It is something that I will never forget because there will be a lot of points that new developers such us will miss and new ideas will sprout in marketing our games.
There are moments in Speed Blazers that gave me a great sense of the game Sonic - the speed, loops, and the clinking of the lines of coins as you collect them. What games inspire you the most and what would you say were the inspirations for Speed Blazers?
Chris: There were a lot of games, mainly platform games like the Super Mario series and a number of achievement based games that are out on the app store that we had used as an inspiration. Since Speed Blazers is highly based on collecting achievements and winning races. We thought that making use of achievements and leaderboards would be a nice touch to this racer game.
The track racing single lane platform idea came from the old Super Nintendo games like Excite Bike where you do tricks while jumping on ramps. Sonic was also part of the inspiration, but we did not implement the idea of moving super fast like sonic does.
Speed Blazers has just been released for the iPhone and iPad. What sales observations, feedback, and responses have you seen and received so far?
Chris: Speed Blazers has had great release sales and great feedback from most top reviewers and the public in the last couple of days. Sales will continue to build up in the next few weeks with next phase of marketing taking place. Since we are new to marketing it is a great way to see, experiment and implement what we have learnt from research and help from people. There will be times we know that sales will be weak, but knowing where that weakness is a great experience.
We also had great feedback from the people that got the game early and took their time to comment on what they love and problems with the release. Therefore we already know the problems early and able to fix it with a new updates from their response. Obviously we will continue updating, fixing bugs and optimizing the game and support the people that are having problems with it.
Do you have plans to release it for Android systems, or any further plans for updates?
Chris: We do plan to release Speed Blazers on Android platforms in the next coming weeks.
There will be a total of 4 updates of new levels, characters to come with it for FREE for our fans. There is also additional bug updates and fixes that cause a lot of problems for users.
The art style is great and the gameplay is solid and very fun. The overall polish on this title is really well worth mentioning too. What aspect of Speed Blazers did you put of most importance to, development wise?
Chris: The most important aspect we focused on is programming, second is gameplay and third is art.
Programming is complicated and produced a lot of bugs and problems even till now. Not all apps are perfect even if it has passed the hard testing phase. Since the game is completely evolving with new game elements and game play being introduced, a lot was breaking and crashing. We are very lucky we have a good programmer (Andrew) who was able to put up with the amount of changes and his fast fixes into problems and awesome solutions in creating tools for the artists.
Gameplay was very hard to comprehend. We did a lot of experiments, especially with controls and interacting with obstacles. Not knowing whether the game is easy or hard is the most challenging bit in the design. Next thing is limiting the gameplay. We had lots of ideas we would have loved put in there, but in reality we could not pack all that in a lot at once. Therefore we decided to put a bit of variety in gameplay on the next updates to see peoples responses and see how challenging it is.
Art was a very important part of this game. It is what blew everyone away. The reason this is third to being most important apart from programming and gameplay is because the art team is ridiculously talented. We got Clayton who is a super talented 2D and 3D character artist and Scyfon who was responsible for the awesome character designs and images for Speed Blazers. There is also Kristian who was responsible for some of the awesome level design.
Without these guys Speed Blazers would be very hard to realize and would have taken a long time to put together. Obviously there where the testers who are the past and present Victoria University students and friends that helped us create this awesome game.
You've mentioned that you have some big plans to expand Fraktalvoid to Japan as well as moving the studio to Brisbane. Why are you moving the company interstate, and why have you chosen Japan as a place for future expansion?
Chris: It has always been my future plan to be based back in Tokyo where I used to work. Japan is a great country with super talented people, hard working and dedicated.
It will take a while to expand there but we are determined for it to happen. We plan to move to Brisbane because it offers a good relaxed environment. There is a lot of great talent, active gaming community and a number of great developers such as the great Half Brick and my awesome old work place SEGA.
What advice do you have for others beginning out on their own first independently developed game?
Chris: Some advice I can give is be determined and work hard. Do lots of research and get help and talk from people that have been in the same situation. There is a lot of great people and indie developers that are out there, active and willing to talk.
Last thing is do not be afraid to show your game to people even to try out a demo. From their feedback you will know what to fix and improve in your game and learn to put up with very harsh feedbacks.
Finally, congratulations on the release of Speed Blazers. What's next for Fraktalvoid?
Chris: Fraktalvoid is currently still finishing off Speed Blazers adding new tracks and characters for our fans. We have also started developing 2 unannounced mobile and browser platform titles. These 2 titles are visually stunning to look at and hopefully game play will be a lot of fun as well.
We are a young studio and have a lot to look forward to and learn a lot of things. We are surely looking forward to see the next products we will create and how much we can improve and learn from the community.
Please follow us for more news, updates and dev diaries !
Speed Blazers site : http://www.fraktalvoid.com/speedblazers
Thanks to Chris for the interview. Grab Speed Blazers now at the iTunes store here for your iPhone and iPad!!
Runner up entrants for the Unity Flash in Flash Creation Contest is a two man team consisting of Brendan Watts (Programmer) and Shawn Eustace (Artist). While the Grand Master prize of $20,000 went to fellow Brisbane developer, Cameron Owen, the team achieved the next best placement as runner ups with their highly addictive game, Ski Safari. For their efforts, Brendan and Shawn receive $1,000, full licenses for Unity Pro with iOS Pro worth $3,000 (USD), and an iPad 2.
If you haven't tried out Ski Safari yet, you're doing yourself a real disservice as it is one of those simple yet insanely fun games that's simply hard to put down because you just want to have "just one more go". Check it out here to try it out and be prepared to lose a few hours.
We wanted to know what plans the developers had for Ski Safari so I was lucky enough to get some questions answered by their programmer Brendan Watts...
Congratulations on making the runner up list for the Unity Flash in a Flash Creation Contest with Ski Safari! How long did it take you guys to develop it, and what would you say was the most challenging part of designing and developing a game like this?
Brendan Watts: Ski Safari started as a tech prototype back in October last year, one of several I was poking around with. But it was the one that caught Shawn's eye and made him spend half an hour coasting down an infinite ski slope with a "programmer art" skier. It had no gameplay to speak of besides trying to angle the skier just right to match the next slope.
So I spent some hobby time developing the tech demo into a game over the next couple of months with the help of Shawn for the prop and character art. Once we had a penguin you could use for skis we knew the tone of the game was cranked up to "crazy". The yeti soon followed, and was originally going to eat the player but ended up being too lovable in a whacky kind of way. We pushed on and added challenges and levelling up in a vain attempt to get it released for the holiday rush. Shawn has an eye for quality (and a knack for feature creep) that helped to push the release date into this year.
You worked with the Unity 3.5 beta release and its new Flash feature to export as a Flash project. How did you find this procedure? Were there any limitations or anything you had to do drastically differently than your typical Unity project to make this work?
Brendan: We've been working with Unity for a couple of years, so prototyping new features has a pretty quick turnaround. The biggest challenge has been tweaking all the dials for the camera zooming, terrain curves, animal and hazard spawning, and the speed of the relentless avalanche to get it to feel just right. The terrain needed custom physics too to work at the crazy speeds the player can travel.
The Flash in a Flash Creation Contest popped up and it seemed like our game, with the one-button gameplay, would work nicely enough in a browser too. We had been on a break for a few weeks so it was a good kickstart to the new year. There were some bumps in the porting process due to some early beta ActionScript conversion strangeness, some audio glitches, and some performance problems related to generating dynamic mesh. The conversion problems and audio glitches appear to have been addressed in later versions of Unity 3.5.
There were some pretty slick entries into the contest but we were glad to see a fellow Brisbanite, Cameron Owen, take the first place.
Ski Safari is coming soon for both the iPhone App Store and Android marketplace. Can you give us a rough estimate on a release date, and what new features or parts of the game you're planning to expand on, polish, or change before final release? Are you grabbing more people on board to help finish this game?
Brendan: We've already added a bunch of new stuff since the contest including underground caves, updated graphics, new challenges, and game center leaderboards for the iOS version. There's been a lot of testing by friends and family to help iron out the kinks too, and some rivalry for the best scores. We're applying the finishing touches to the game now and hoping for a release very soon.
I've got to say, I absolutely enjoyed playing Ski Safari and I can't wait for it to come out. It's a whole lot of fun, and the achievements and levelling system allows for a whole lot of replayability. What's your own personal record for distance and score? What hints and tips can you offer to get the maximum score or the furthest distance?
Brendan: For the flash preview version of Ski Safari, I've received a report of a whopping 797,000 top score from an employee at Unity. He said, "Man, I can see the snowmobile doing backflips with the whole gang on board when I close my eyes now." That's the trick to getting the big scores - try and ride as many animals as possible until you find a snowmobile, or level up so you start on one, and keep gliding and backflipping to maintain the boost!
Thanks to Brendan for answering our queries on Ski Safari. Keep your eyes peel for a release for Ski Safari on iOS and Android later this year!!
During the end of December, last year, Unity Technologies released the Unity 3.5 open beta which included the anticipated preview of the Flash deployment add-on. The new feature gave Unity developers the ability to deploy their 3D projects onto the web through the widely adopted Adobe Flash Player. Flash Player 11, released a few months earlier, included the highly touted Stage3D technology which meant fast, hardware accelerated 3D graphics was now possible via Flash for desktops.
For Unity Technologies, this meant a timely opportunity to use the Unity open beta release for a fast-paced competition to showcase the game engine's new Flash deployment feature. The Unity Flash in a Flash Creation Contest was held between December 22, 2011 and January 5, 2012 with a Grand Prize of $20,000 (USD) for the winning entry, as well as additional prices for the nine runner ups. More than 500 teams completed the mad dash over the Christmas holidays to submit a game, and most incredibly for our little island nation, two of the top four winning entries came from Brisbane.
The highly addictive Ski Safari from Brendan Watts and Shawn Eustace made runner-up placement, and Tail Drift, the beautifully looking, stomach churning, and unique aero-racer by one-man-team, Cameron Owen took the coveted number one spot. These titles are available for play right now in your browser on the Unity competition winners showcase page, so check them out right away if you haven't done so already! (There is an updated version of Tail Drift in Cameron's dropbox, so check that out here!)
We wanted to find out a bit more about Tail Drift so we were fortunate to grab Cameron for a few quick questions about his winning entry...
Congratulations on winning the Unity Flash in a Flash Creation Contest with Tail Drift!
Cameron Owen: Thanks, it came as quite a surprise. I knew I was up against a lot of great entries by other solo developers and indie teams. I was secretly hoping for a top 10 finish but was genuinely speechless for a while once I found out. I was also happy to see Ski Safari by Brendan Watts and Shawn Eustace also in the top 10. Their game is wickedly addictive too.
How long did it take to develop Tail Drift?
Cameron Owen: About 10 days start to finish. I heard about the contest on Christmas Eve and started that day, except for spending Xmas day with my fabulous family every waking hour from then till the 5th of January was spent working on the game.
I slept about 4 hours a night for the last week and not at all during the last 36 hours. Not the healthiest method of game development but overall is was quite a rush. I'm not sure what that says about me but, well, moving on.
What are you planning to do with the $20,000 cash prize?
Cameron: Most of it will go back into developing the game further and upgrading my dinosaur of a computer. I'm light of work right now so it couldn't have come at a better time.
You're credited as doing all the programming, artwork, and even the game design for Tail Drift. Which area do you find most fun developing in, and what was the most challenging aspect of developing Tail Drift?
Cameron: The most enjoyable part of making any game is always the design. I don't think anything can compare to the journey a game designer travels as she explores, collects and formulates new concepts. The moment when part of your game is just a squishy ball of potential awesome, after you've wrestled the idea into something concrete but right before you cut the code for it (and it all breaks) it's like candy-floss for the soul.
By far the most challenging aspect was not getting carried away with any one thing. The deadline was so tight every hour counted. At one point I started modelling clouds and they looked superbly plush and fluffy in game but creating enough variations to break up the repetition was too time consuming so I cut them.
At times specific gameplay features were buggy or too performance heavy in the final flash build so they'd be stripped out after two or three iterations if I hadn't managed to resolve them. Some assets were fully modelled and textured but I simply didn't have time to place them or to tweak the AI to compensate which would mean retesting so they were ommited. Cutting stuff always sucks, it's like losing a part of yourself, but the result of not cutting is that you're never going to finish so it's the lesser of two evils.
The initial visual concept I had in mind was also a lot different to the final submission. I first imagined a stark minimalist abstract environment and you would fly something that looked more like a paper airplane but that turned out to be too abstract. It just didn't look or feel right in motion. After a feverish youtube session reliving memories of Outrun and Wipeout I decided to make something that simply looked damn fun to explore and race through which seemed to be my missing ingredient.
What are your thoughts on Unity as a game development tool as well as its potential for Flash development now that you've produced a Flash product out of it?
Cameron: I really like the underpinning philosophy that Unity Technology appears to adopt with their tools. It's approachable and smartly structured yet powerful and flexible which are difficult qualities to balance. I come from a background of making games and interactive installations with Flash and before that Macromedia Director and I love the way Unity treats code like assets. Director has a similar way of working and I missed it dearly when switching to Flash as Director's plugin popularity declined.
Also, I haven't been a fan of the direction Adobe has taken with flash over the past few years. I preferred the earlier versions where you could open the program, hash out a few lines of code and have a working demo up in a matter of minutes. Flash isn't like that any more, the programming side is a lot more rigid, not as free-form or hack-friendly as I like my interactive environments to be. That may be the teacher in me talking though. Flash development was joy to teach a few years back, now it's just painful.
So yeah, it's great to see Unity has a Flash publishing path along with everything else. It almost feels like Macromedia Director has been reincarnated.
Do you have any plans on taking this title any further and finishing it off, or publishing for web or mobile platforms? If so, what areas would you expand on to make it a more complete game?
Cameron: Further development is defiantly on the table. As I mentioned earlier a lot of things were cut during the initial development sprint but for every asset or feature I started there were at least 10 ideas that didn't even make my short-list. My biggest regret of the demo level is that apart form the lighthouse and hot air balloons the world I presented is a bit lifeless and the track is somewhat divorced from the environment.
Adding actual characters, extravagant vehicles and environments that are much more dynamic and inhabited are the main things I want to explore moving forward. Such as having parts of the track broken up and strapped back together or loosely anchored onto the environment so they move about as you race across them and generally dialing up the crazy a few more notches.
I'm leaning more towards a mobile platform release as Tail Drift is undeniably an arcade racer which I think fits that platform well. My game is currently a solo project so I'm also very wary of the overall development scope. The last thing I want is to burn out half way through therefore focusing on a single platform seems to be the most sensible path.
What are your thoughts on indie games development now that you've seen many aspects of the local games industry, from a teacher, indie developer, as well as a developer working on console games?
Cameron: I'm an optimist so I think indie game development has a very bright future. At the ground level, tools like Unity and UDK make game development more approachable than it ever has been. The past few years has finally seen a massive ground swell in development communities all over which seems to be doing the same thing for indie game developers as it did for web developers and designers at the turn of the millennium - fostering a higher level of independent work. I think seeing solo, duo or small teams of developers self producing well polished games is inspiring, at least it has been for me as both a teacher and developer.
There's also been a shift towards more mobile and social orientated gaming experiences in recent years. Perhaps that's a natural evolution of technology in general, the tools developers have access too or something else but it means you don't need to be building massive budget blockbusters every x years and can instead be more creative, take more risks and just have more fun with it. Defiantly an exciting time to be an indie developer.
A big thanks to Cameron for his time on answering these questions for us. You can contact Cameron for networking, development opportunities, and job offers at the following links!!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background in games, and your role at The Binary Mill? What is it about games that has kept you involved with them for so long?Ingmar: Sure. I'm currently the Director at The Binary Mill. I've always loved videogames since my first C64. I started working in videogames about 14 years ago running an import company called Extreme Imports. We'd import all manner of crazy game related products, many of which would never make it to Australian shores. Part of the service we offered was to create video promos of the games we'd import, since many people didn't know what the games were about. This is in the days when IGN wasn't around yet and Snowball were only just emerging. So since info was relatively scarce our videos became increasingly more popular and we transitioned into creating video content of games via NextGenVideos.com. During this time we started covering the major gaming expos such as E3 and TGS creating their official show DVDs to sell onto consumers hungry for the content of these industry-only shows. But slowly (or was it light speed?) the internet phenomenon raged through the videogame industry and DVD coverage of these shows went the way of the dodo. Unfortunately being based in Australia, is was very difficult to capitalise on the headstart we had on most in terms of production value and contacts having made the DVDs. So it was either move to the US and transition into something like GameTrailers.com or stay in Oz and continue on the path of video post production and 3D animation, targeted at the videogame industry. We decided to stay put and continue on with the later, producing promotional videos, trailers & TV commercials for the likes of companies such as EA, Take 2, EB Games etc. Fast forward 5 or so years from there, we saw the opportunity in the market to finally materialise our collective dream of actually making videogames. Weapon showcase & excerpt from Combat Shotgun 3D
When was The Binary Mill established and how many do you have currently working on games there?Ingmar: The Binary Mill was established in June of 2009. We currently have 10 employees, but we're growing at a fairly quick pace right now.
You've chosen the iPhone as your primary platform for development. Was the iPhone and the App Store an influential reason for you to move towards games development? Did you ever suspect that it would open up such a big market and opportunity for independent games developers?Ingmar: The App Store was fundamental in our decision to finally move into game development. It was such an exciting prospect -- the wild wild west of development -- where anyone could come along and have a go. Gone was the need for publishers, bloated development budgets, physical media & distribution costs, development kits etc. Here was an opportunity for a good idea that was well executed to have great chance at success. No middle men, just developer to consumer with Apple faciliating at a reasonable cost. I'm not sure anyone actually realised the opportunity would become what it has for many. We had hopes, but saw it as being a little risky, albeit largely mitigated by the positive factors mentioned. But we certainly didn't think the App Store would turn the industry up on it's head and become such a revolutionary opportunity.
What are the challenges of running an indie games company like The Binary Mill?Ingmar: I guess starting out is always the toughest. Untill you have at least one moderately successful title, it's hard. You're probably self-funding everything and working insane hours in the hopes that you're working on something that will become that success. Venture capital is an option for some, but while it can make the start less stressful, down the line can turn just as bad, if not worse. Speaking from the perspective of where The Binary Mill is today, the challenge is really keeping the agile small team model while still expanding to capitalise on existing IP, create new brands and expand on to other platforms. The bigger we get, the greater the need for middle management and before you know it your visions can fast begin to dilute from where you intended things to go. Of course as the team grows, so do the overheads so more pressure is on to ensure that a successful product is consistently produced. So we're opting to grow at a steady, manageable rate so that we can adapt to maintain the core structure that's enabled the success we have today. Assault Squadron, developed by The Binary Mill and published by Chillingo
How did you manage to hook up with legendary Leisure Suit Larry creator, Al Lowe, for the Cyberjoke 3000 app?Ingmar: Leisure Suit Larry was one of my all time favorite Sierra point and click franchises and meeting the genius behind that lovable, leisure suit wearing 'looser' was on my bucket list. It just so happened that we had a project in mind that needed some sharp wit and comedic timing, so I went for gold. I reached out to him and being the wonderfully kind and friendly human being that he is, was keen to work together. The project that actually eventuated from the partnership was not actually the project that I set out to pitch. We both agreed that Al's Comedy Club would be a great way to see how we work together, and with Al having run Al Lowe's Cyberjoke 3000™ since the days of Larry, we weren't short on material! I highly recommend people sign up to that free email @ www.allowe.com by the way! /shameless plug
The Gun Club apps seems to have gained somewhat of a hardcore niche following with its comprehensive selection of weaponry, each containing detailed actions and sounds. What spurred on the creation of weaponry focussed apps?Ingmar: Indeed they have. Who would have thought that Americans liked guns so much?
You actually have quite a diverse range of games and apps under your belt. What has been most popular, sales wise? What strategies do you have in marketing and promoting your products?Ingmar: Gun Club is our big earner, but we've done very well with games like Assault Squadron, Bloody Fun Day and Fruit Boom. We've learnt so much about marketing on the App Store. It's a different beast than traditional marketing, and that's about as understated as a statement can be. We've developed many ways to promote our titles; coverage on iPhone websites & blogs, cross promotion in social networks such as Open Feint, targeted paid advertising via various non-traditional channels and of course promoting to our existing fan base. The key is convergence of your promotion. You need for everything to hit hard at once, preferably on your launch date. Currently in production, Mini Motor Racing
You've worked with other companies on some of your past iPhone titles. Can you explain the relationship and benefits you have from partnering up with publishers like Chillingo over self publishing yourselves?Ingmar: Partnering with a publisher can be very beneficial to a developer that's starting up and trying to make a name for themselves. It gives some security that all of the hard work that's been put into development will have a legitimate chance to garner some exposure thanks to the publisher's existing network & marketing dollars. It can also act as a badge of honour for future negotiations as most publishers such as Chillingo won't just take anything on. It needs to be a quality title and the industry recognises that. It's also a great opportunity to build relationships with press, as they're far more willing to give coverage to a published title (i.e. a title of perceived quality) over say the 10,000 daily requests they get from unknown developers looking for coverage of their game. The down side to that of course is that the publisher will want a cut, and there are usually a few terms and conditions in the contract that you'd prefer were absent. Self-publishing is obviously the ideal scenario if you can get away with it, but it can be a huge gamble for a start-up as many of the keys to marketing the product are restricted when you a) have no exiting user base and b) no reputation for quality or service. If your marketing efforts are poor, and your release doesn't take hold (i.e. chart your baby into the top100 somewhere) you're pretty much done. I'm certainly not saying it can't be done this way, but it's harder & riskier when you're not established.
We're eagerly anticipating the release of the recently announced Mini Motor Racing game. The visuals look quite spectacular, and the game looks to be the most ambitious title so far from The Binary Mill. Can you give us a rundown on some of the features it will be offering? What are you most excited about Mini Motor Racing?Ingmar: Thanks! At the risk of sounding like a broken record for those that do know about the game, Mini Motor Racing is a 3D isometric top down racer made for iPhone and iPad. The game spans a variety of richly detailed locations, offers players upgrade paths for each vehicle and rewards the player for every nitro-fuelled race they complete. We're also incorporating 4 player local multiplayer so there will be plenty to keep coming back to. We're still really coming to grips with the iOS platform and see so much potential. It's frustrating in a way as we have so many (what we think are) great ideas, but with limited development bandwidth we need to pick and choose what projects we take on. MMR was developed with the inspiration of a personal favourite racing game of mine - Super Offroad. I'm most excited that I think we've captured a lot of what made that game so amazing back then, while really giving it a coat of 2011 graphical polish.
What kind of response did you receive from showing Mini Motor Racing at the GDC this year?Ingmar: To be honest, we were blown away with the response. We hadn't shown this game to anyone and nobody even had a clue that we were working on it. The press where happy to meet with us due to the quality of Assault Squadron but they didn't know what we were going to show. The build we had to show was early too, so we were nervous and were expecting to receive quite a bit of criticism on the game since it was still so incomplete. But the press loved it and the response was better than we could have ever hoped for. We're now getting harassed a lot for the preview builds we promised!
You have a forum for fans of your games on The Binary Mill website, and you're quite active in responding to enquiries and comments concerning your titles at various other games forums. How important do you think it is it to communicate and reach out to gamers this way?Ingmar: I think this is key. I cannot stress how much the community appreciate it when you join in and let them know that you're not a faceless giant corporate douche (which is an uphill battle for someone like me
As an entrepreneur and business owner, what tips and advice do you have for anyone considering starting up their own indie games studio, particularly graduates coming straight out of uni or game courses?Ingmar: Well hopefully some of the points I've touched on here will help guide fresh start-ups on their path to global domination, but I can't stress enough how important passion for what you do is. You're not going to get very far if you're expecting to work a 9 to 5 when starting out. Pick what it is you'd like to do, what your strengths are, and build on them. Finding a job in the industry is a good idea to help learn the ropes but it can be tough to find work. While looking for work, keep honing your craft and build up that port folio. Ultimately studios are looking for people that are excellent at what they do. Repetition is the mother of skill as they say so stick with it. And if you think you can jump right in and launch a start up, go for it! Speaking as an entrepreneur I have two philosophies. 1) Never give up and 2) when you fail, and you will (and I'm speaking generally here), learn from your mistakes and come at it from a new angle with your new found experience. Success is but a series of failures.
I have the Playstation, Xbox, and Nintendo DVD's from the NextGenVideo E3 2003 collection on my shelf which I thoroughly enjoyed viewing. The covers share the same title: "The Future of Videogames". What do you see as the future of video games now?Ingmar: Boy, if you had asked me this question 5 years ago I would have gotten it SO wrong. I dare say I'm in the same position now. I think we're seeing a shift from epically huge big budget titles to more mobile oriented / social experiences but will that continue? Will there be another shift when the next generation of hardware hits? I can't really say but I'm super excited to be a part of it! Huge thanks to Ingmar for his time with the interview. Keep an eye out on The Binary Mill and Mini Motor Racing by following the social links below! The Binary Mill - http://www.thebinarymill.com Twitter - https://twitter.com/TheBinaryMill Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Binary-Mill/107165549317008 Youtube - http://www.youtube.com/binarymill
So just to start of with, can you tell us a bit about yourself? What's your professional background, and how long have you been programming?Matt: Well, I'm based in Perth, I have a degree in Computer Science and I've been developing software for about 8 years. My first job out of University was in embedded C and C++ doing cool things like signal processing to track boats and submarines. My second job was in, would you believe, Windows and C#. That job involved real-time monitoring software for the mining and oil and gas industry. I bought my first Mac, (a 15" Powerbook) in 2005. My company, Big Bucket Software (http://bigbucketsoftware.com) had it's first formal release in 2007: the TV Forecast Dashboard Widget (http://bigbucketsoftware.com/tv). Since then I've made a variety of Dashboard widgets, iPhone web apps and native iPhone apps for myself and clients. All of this was done on weekends and after hours. Big Bucket became my full time gig after the release of The Incident in August of last year.
What's the idea behind the name "Big Bucket Software"?Matt: The name is meant to express the broad scope of my projects; I didn't want the name to pigeonhole me in anyway. When I first coined it in 2005 I didn't really know what I'd be working on. Games, apps, widgets, whatever.
Before you developed The Incident, you made a physics puzzler called Pocketball. What did you learn from making that game?Matt: Oh wow, a lot. Pocketball had some really dedicated fans and it received some glowing reviews. It also received some not so great reviews; for many people, it was a very hard game. So from a marketing perspective, I came to the conclusion that if many adults find your game difficult, then you're going to have trouble selling it. I like making (and playing) niche games, but I think Pocketball was too niche. A lot of The Incident's codebase started its life in Pocketball. Most of the graphics and sound framework comes from Pocketball as does the Objective-C wrapper around the Box2D ( http://www.box2d.org/ ) physics engine and my next game project will no doubt inherit code from The Incident. Pocketball, released 2009.
Can you give us the basic premise of The Incident?Matt: You first meet the hero of the game, Frank Solway as he heads out on his way to work one eerily quiet morning. He hails a taxi. Nothing. He looks up - a taxi is falling from the sky! The Incident is a game where you have to dodge and climb completely random things as they fall on top of you. A little like being trapped inside a game of Tetris. My original pitch ended there. During development, Neven Mrgan and I elaborated on the concept. We came up with the idea of levels, checkpoints, powerups and even an explanation for what the "Incident" was.
For those who don't know the story, can you tell us how you teamed up with an artist in the States to work on The Incident?Matt: The first official release from Big Bucket Software was the TV Forecast dashboard widget. (http://bigbucketsoftware.com/tv) That was back in 2007. I would watch my Google Analytics very closely then, visiting many of the referring sites. Neven Mrgan's blog was one of them. Neven had nice things to say about TV Forecast and so I thanked him in an email. A couple of months later, Neven released the world's first iPhone web app, OneTrip. (http://onetrip.org/) I got in touch again to pass on my congratulations. Soon after that, I started work on a iPhone web app version of TV Forecast. Since Australia didn't get the iPhone until 2008 (we never got the first gen!), Neven was kind enough to test it for me. From there, we worked together on contract jobs and became internet buddies. In December 2009 I asked him if he wanted to work on a game about stuff that falls from the sky. He was into it and that was that.
Where did you get the inspiration for the game, and what sort of challenges (technical or otherwise) did you face when developing it?Matt: The original idea was so simple, I can't really say it came from anywhere. I remember turning to a colleague at the office and asking what he thought of a game where you dodge and climb things that are falling from the sky. He thought it was cool. I imagined it would take 2 or 3 months and honestly, that probably would've been true if it weren't for all the details we packed into it. Ultimately, it took Neven and I about 9 months. We both had day jobs so, there's that. A major technical challenge I faced was to come up with a way to make it seem as though items were piling up forever when really, the first gen iPhone could barely manage to process a single screen of items. I came up with this idea of a "freezer" area. The freezer is a rectangular region that occupies an area just below the player. The freezer moves up and down with the player and camera. Once an item enters the freezer, it becomes static. A static object can float and doesn't respond to collisions. As the freezer moves upwards, it will eventually leave the static item behind. Once this occurs, the static item is deleted. These frozen items provide a solid base for the items that are falling from the sky. Also, during development, the iPad was announced. We knew we had to get in on that. To make that possible Neven had to widen the artwork to fit the new screen proportions and I had to figure out all of that "universal binary" stuff. The Incident, released August 2010.
"...the developers have made all the right decisions, and the result is a game you pick up quickly, but can't put back down." - EngadgetIn terms of gameplay, we had to deal with the issue of getting stuck under a pile. We went through quite a few iterations before ultimately settling on making Frank super strong and making an escape bubble. You "shake to escape" a little like the bubble in Mario Brothers Wii. The escape bubble required a lot of tweaking; first of all, we knew it should only be possible to activate it when trapped. But how do we prevent people from deliberately becoming trapped? For that, we thought to send up a curse balloon (an anti-power-up) simultaneous to the "shake to escape" indicator. This worked pretty well, but we found that people were playing chicken with the curse balloon. For this, we added a bubble recharge indicator. Sound and music is another challenge. I sourced many of the sound effects from sounddogs.com and produced the 8-bit effects using cfxr ( http://thirdcog.eu/apps/cfxr ). In May or thereabouts, Neven and I started discussing what to do about music. It all seemed too hard to me and so I said that I would be happy to release without music. Neven mentioned that there was "this guy" who might be available to do the soundtrack for us, but no promises. I eventually learnt that this guy was Cabel Sasser ( http://cabel.name ) of Panic fame ( http://panic.com ). As it turns out, Cabel is an extremely talented musician! His soundtrack really became the final piece of The Incident puzzle. I can't imagine The Incident without it.