Game Developers Conference Europe 2009 – Day 2

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We missed the keynote by CCP`s boss today, so I actually only learned about the announcement of Dust 514 from kotaku… Fun fact: After the global economic downturn (with banks going out of business), CCP is contributing 40 % of Iceland`s export.

Simon Mack – Authoring Runtime Animation and Character Physics with Morpheme

I missed the first half of this presentation and got there in the middle when some examples were shown. Among the things that were demoed was the visual editor (something pretty much everyone does these days) in which a state machine for animations is created. The example was a state maching with a “running” state and a “dead” state, in which the character was turned to ragdoll physics after the death. They then showed the reverse “resurrection” with the character getting up again. It showed relatively well that they`re also only cooking with water, since without any additional animations, the character just morphed from the bone configuration from the ragdoll to the standing animation again. The good thing was that when two “getting up” animations were added, the blending of animations looked well.

Steve Hughes & Steve McCalla – SIMD Programming with Larrabee

There was a first presentation on the Larrabee the first day which I missed, so I was a bit in the dark about the basics and the details of the Larrabbee. The presenter had a funny way of handling the session, asking questions himself and throwing mouse pads around when the answer was correct. About the Larrabbe itself, it`s both got a substantial number of cores, as well as offering good SIMD extensions. Also, there will be a driver which allows programming it via DirectX, another step Intel takes towards the clash between CPU and GPU that`s clear to see all throughout the conference.

This session was also techie heaven, there were only programmers in the audience.

Sascha Gundlach – Building a Level in 45 minutes in the CryEngine

This was a demo of the Sandbox editor, which is extremely nice and allows very fast level building. Extrude the land from an ocean, put randomized textures on (using e.g. the steepness of the ground to choose textures), add vegetation (really impressive, immediately boosts the detail incredibly with the shadow algorithms and everything of the CryEngine) and add gameplay elements. Among them were AIs as well as the trigger system, which (again) uses a visual programming system which links input events to certain outcomes (e.g. a physical impulse to trigger a trap). Everything ideally suited to creating the typical CryTek fare (e.g. Far Cry, Crysis, …) I wonder what would be required to change the gameplay, e.g. make something like an RPG akin to Gothic with it. Probably would require some modding by writing plugins, then the interesting question is if it is possible to also augment the editor, e.g. for a quest system.

I also thought about how the editor and engine could be used in teaching programmers/computer scientists, since everything is already implemented.

Ivan Nevraev & Steve Hughes – Bringing “Empire: Total War” to the masses with Intel`s Graphics Performance Analyzer

This session was presented by Ivan Nevraev  from a team at SEGA which goes into projects at the end of their development and helps in fixing the last bugs or write patches. They were called to help optimize Empire: Total War for Intel Integrated Graphics chips. It`s a bit unrealistic, they set the goal of making it run relatively good on a beefy Core 2 CPU but without a GPU, and the Intel chips appear to be pretty limited. The overall outcome of the session however also included some optimizations which make sense in general contexts when programming game graphics. Interesting was the use of the Intel Graphics Performance Analyzer, which can capture for example all draw calls in a frame and exchange things like the textures to find if problems are related to memory bandwidth (the source of many problems with the Intel chips) or shader complexity.

It was a bit funny that the outcome was that the chip is pretty crappy (still better than the predecessors, which also seemed to have bugs…), when Intel`s tactic is to get much more into graphics programming.

David Cage – Writing Interactive Narrative for a Mature Audience

The definite highlight of the day and even the whole conference. David Cage had excellent slides and is a very good speaker. He got rounds of applause for remarks several times during the presentation (“never let a management person interfere with the creative process”).

His message was basically that at the current state, computer games are more like toys and less an art form (toy -> think Wii…). Also, when looking at emotions that are used and conjured in games, he pointed out that current games target mostly the primitive emotions. Primitive emotions are those that appeared first in our evolution which were central for survival in the old days, such as fear, anger, surprise, … These emotions are easy to evoke: put someone in a dark room and make a loud noise -> shock, fear. On the other side are the social emotions, which are far more fine-grained and arose due to the intricacies of living in a society. Among them are empathy, sadness, love, and so on. They are far less easy to evoke, and often require (in the context of games) storytelling to a large degree. David pointed out that in current games, we almost always just evoke the primitive emotions. We have Resident Evil, Gears of War, and so on, which just rely on shocking effects and competition.

Another factor to take into account is the fact that the average gamer nowadays is 35 years old and 40 percent of them are female, yet we continue to make (and buy) games targeted at 15-year old boys with jokes and references fit for puberty but not people 30+. In that respect, games are like comics, which continue to have a steady niche market for young people. The result is that we should make games fit for the new, older audience, which expects mature stories and not immature jokes. Also, David is really fed up with the way adult content (except violence in most cases in handled). He still has to cope with the repercussions of the Hot Coffee incident, and applauded Bioware for handling the gay alien sex story from Mass Effect as they did. He pointed out that the games are already 17+, so the gamers can buy pornography and everything, so they should also be allowed to mature representations of sex (such as that in Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy).

He offered a set of rules to follow to bring games forward, among them to not rely on technology, to have a strainght line and to stay on your path even when looking for a publisher, and a lot more.

A lot of the points he brought up could be argued against in details, but that`s a good think about his keynote, since he brought the main problems out sharply. He himself pointed out that there are compelling counter-examples, among them Ico, Rez, and Shadow of the Collossus. I would also argue (see below in the context of Steve Meretzky`s talk) that the adventure genre is relatively far into the agenda of making mature games. One example is Dreamfall which really brought me to tears with it`s end.


Steve Meretzky – Designing Social Games

Another one of the legends (for me at least) of game development, Steve Meretzky was behind the really early grand (interactive fiction) games such as the Hitchhiker`s Guide to the Galaxy (ah, the Babelfish riddle…) or A Mind Forever Voyaging. You could argue, with David Cage`s keynote in mind, that some of the titles from that time were deep and storytelling-based and for adults and everything. If we would see this as the antique of computer games, then that probably would place us in the dark ages (at least from a certain viewpoint).

However, Steve Meretzky is now working on social games (e.g. on Facebook), and offered his inside look on the mechanics of the market. The main result would be that you have to do a game about mobsters or farming, everything else fails (to a certain degree at least). Other interesting results were the ways how to get players hooked (and to pay you) and how to re-engage them. For example, some games allow to brag automatically on your profile or give you items you can give to other players. Yet other games require you to get a certain number of friends to play with you. It`s really going into a diabolical direction with everything any casino owner or drug dealer ever thought about ;-)

Tactics for re-engagement are for example having your game character or your farm or some game element go to a bad state when you don`t play enough, e.g. the crop on a field going bad when you don`t collect it in time.

Crytek Party

This party was at the Rheinterrassen restaurant/lounge directly at the Rhein. This location is pretty exclusive and the food and drink were also really good, so that was far superior to the party at the first day. Also, the mood was a lot better because it offered far more space that the Ivory Lounge and you actually had the opportunity to talk with people without shouting in their ears.


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