Tuesday, March 17, 2015

GDC'15 - Summary and Highlights

The recuperation week after GDC in San Francisco has ended. I'm back in Malta, and back in my routine.  Now I am mulling over what was most important during the GDC week. What stuck?

For me, the highlights of the week were:
  • Seeing the hype and hope around VR and AR,
  • seeing that the ARG Ingress has become massive, 
  • seeing so many good resources for indie developers, and
  • the general focus on inclusivity and diversity that permeated the conference.

On a personal note, it was good to get to talk with others who have been through similar journeys, now that I am starting my own indie studio.

Post GDC15 notes, from the plane

I wrote about VR and AR in [another post], thinking that the time for these technologies might actually be here now, and I'd like to get my hands on the Project Tango dev kit and play around with it.

The same might be true for ARGs, alternate reality games. There was a talk in the narrative summit about the ARG Ingress, and I was amazed to realise that it is played in more than 200 countries now. People search for clues, sometimes travelling far to do it, and have impact on the development of the story. The talk by John Hanke was fascinating, describing clever story telling methods, multiple modalities and channels for telling the narrative, and structures for the different voices/roles who tell the stories. I remember the game Majestic from the early 2000 - so cool, but before its time. And now, here we are. (Note to self: download Ingress and play.)

This year I went to GDC in a new capacity - as an indie developer, and there were lots and lots of talks that seemed to be geared *just* perfectly for me. Talks on how to go about making a game, and how to reach an audience with it. A roundtable on how to do it on low cost - i.e how to make the startup-time last as long as possible. And at the same time there were nice announcements from Unity and from Unreal proving them to have models suitable for indies. (Unity 5 for free, with great features, and the power of the Unreal engine against a 5% cut in profits.) I'll summarise the most useful resources and talks later and post it on [Otter Play].

GDC 2015 Games are for everyone

In the wake of the awful threats that has been made towards women in the game industry it was good to sense that inclusivity and acceptance for diversity permeated the conference. There were talks on the very subject, and this year it was even possible for parents attendees to get help with baby sitting.
The talk that resonated most strongly with me was when Amy Henning, as part of the #1Reason session said "The water is fine, come on in." directed to those who may not feel welcome. When she said this, she had the weight of 30 years as game developer behind her. Its a powerful message, and one that I would echo to anyone who doesn't fit the bill of game-developer stereotype. Its not the game industry that is toxic, as a community. The waters are fine. And if you meet a shark, shout, and the rest of us will come to the rescue, men and women alike. Or shark, I don't know. Jellyfish.

Perhaps the things that were most important though, in retrospect, were the personal conversations. It was wonderful to meet old friends, and get encouragement for this new path I am taking now.

I uploaded photos from the GDC week to Flickr, you find them [here]. I made more notes in my photo-diary. Links to these are to the left, under 2015-> March. 


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

GDC'15: New hope for VR and AR

There is a new wave of hype for VR, and there seems to be hope as well. Word of mouth is that Valve's [Vive headset] for VR for  is the most convincing one, even more so than the Occulus. Those are devices that allows you to be completely in another world so to speak, letting you see another three dimensional world than the one that surrounds you. On the expo floor a saw a device: Virtuix Omni, that make it possible to move around and walk and do actions in such a world, putting the user on a walking platform wearing special shoes.

GDC 2015 Omni

AR, Augmented reality is when one augments the actual existing reality  in different ways, by for example adding a layer of information to it such as the Google Glasses do. It will be very interesting to follow what comes out of [MagicLeap] in Florida, they are creating a type of glasses too, but having a sort of light projected into the eye of the user with what they call a Digital Lightfield. I had lunch with my friend Brian S who just moved there to work with the games and AI parts of it, and he seemed happy enough. ...no honestly, it will be awesome. I look forward to see what will come out of that in the coming few years.

GDC 2015 tango reality mix

On the first day of GDC i ran into Noah Fahlstien in the speaker lounge and he showed me a tablet running Googles new [Project Tango]. This is possible to play with now, no need to wait for five years. It is possible to fix a 3D environment to a specific point in real space and navigate around it. At least this is what I think happened, because Noah first pointed the device onto the carpet, and then we could move around a 3D architectural structure that we could see in the device as we moved around the room. The Tango can also scan an a room, adding a 3D environment on the fly to the device. Imagine to be able to create games using that, procedurally adding items into peoples actual environment where they live. The design affordances opening up are to me, mind boggling. I signed up for the development kit. I really hope they will be able to ship it to Malta (the google glasses weren't available outside the US). 

GDC'15 Day 5 - Photo diary

Day 5 - in which I have breakfast with Magy, go to the Expo, and to a talk on making and self publishing a game in 12 months,  and to the Experimental Game Play Workshop, and have dinner with Richard, Michael, Ian, Mike T, and Bron.

GDC 2015 Magy GDC 2015 pancakes at the Intercontinental

I had breakfast with Magy Seif El-Nasr at the Intercontinental, and this time I had sense enough to photograph the pancakes. Going back to the West Hall to listen to more talks, I ran into Dan Cook, who was, while wearing his orange shoes, chatting a despairing friend. We giggled for quite a while, and Danc told me he had given Richard Dansky a yeti in exchange for a book. Going into the speaker lounge to grab a coffee I found this:
GDC 2015 Richard united with Yeti - a family complete

I then went to a talk titled "How to make and self publish a game in 12 months" and it delivered exactly that. It was most useful. Here are some notes I scribbled.

GDC 2015 note on 'How to make and self publish a game in 12 months'

I went to the expo, and three things caught my fancy:

  • the Virtuix Omni VR system,
  • Cinder Solutions offering custom made hardware, and
  • SandboxR 3D printing on demand.

GDC 2015 Omni GDC 2015 SanboxR 3D printing on demand Cinderi Solutions offering custom made harware

Then, it was time for the Experimental Game Play Workshop - the room was huge, and that was good, because I think at least half of all the attendees assembled for this one. It was an inspiring line-up of games - I particularly liked the Parable of the Polygons, as a systemic illustration of the mechanisms of segregation.

GDC 2015 Experimental game play workshop GDC 2015 - EGP - Parable of the Polygons

Robin had arranged for donuts for everyone, and I was munching on one with Julian when I spotted Squirrel. Since they have been writing and talking about topics on industry-and-research cooperation it seemed a good opportunity to introduce them to each other. Seeing them next to each other, being so alike, i realised i needed to collect them into a selfie.

GDC 2015 Julian and Squirrel GDC 2015 Julian and Squirrel and me

I had been a bit distracted about signing up for Neil Kirby's AI dinner, but it all turned out nicely anyway - Richard Evans came into town from Mountain-view, and had food with Michael, Ian, Mike T, Bron, and me. We wanted to go to that place that had tall rabbit sculptures in it, but it was closed for renovation. We ended the evening with a drink at the View at Marriott.

GDC 2015 Ian and Richard and Michael GDC 2015 Ian's belief and mind control thing he is working on GDC 2015 Bron and Mike

Monday, March 09, 2015

GDC'15 Day 4 - Photo diary

Day 4, in which I went to the micro talks,  to the #1reason to be, had breakfast with Ron, lunch with Brian, dinner with 2 mikes and Ian, and met Yoda in the form of Bob at the speaker party.

I ran out of water colour business cards mid week, but luckily my luggage arrived from London. Having my stamp, some paper, brushes and colors  I could make new ones at the hotel room in the morning.

GDC 2015 watercolour notes day 4 GDC 2015 first washes for new batch of business cards

I let the paper dry on my way to meet with Ron Meiners for breakfast. As I stamped and cut them out, we missed Patricia Pizer together, who didn't make it to the conference this year. Then we talked about our respective work, and I think we both got the strong sense of serendipity. I very much hope to get Ron's views on the first, and currently most important, game I am making. We meet especially when it comes to how to add elements that aids players in processing emotion, in order to understand, change perspective, and move forward. (With humour)

GDC 2015 me and Ron GDC 2015 Linda and Scott

I went to check out the Expo hall, and immediately ran into Linda Law and Scott Snyder. We talked about how great it would be if we could have a shared online space where we could put together 'bands'  when making games. Ask each other if they would like to be drummer/singer/guitar on an album, concert, or just sit in on a song. But when making games. It would be so awesome.

GDC 2015 Microtalks presented by Richard Lemarchand Emily's slide on story games

Then, I went to the micro-talks session that Richard Lemarchand had put together. It was really good. I especially appreciated that Emily short brought story making games to attention, there is such huge potential in that design space. Celia Pearce talked about interesting approaches from art that are applicable to game design. All the talks were excellent - I recommend checking them out when they appear in the GDC Vault.

Indian food with Brian

I met Brian Schwab for lunch. We had indian food, caught up; I got to ask what life is like at MagicLeap - he just moved to Florida with his family to work with their augmented reality tech. We agreed that I am entitled to take pictures of all the food I eat since I started doing it when the digital cameras were new as a consumer product and no one had started to complain yet. So there.

GDC 2015 Neil Kirby and I in line for the #1reason session GDC 2015 Line to #1reason session

After lunch I saw a talk on input devices, and then went to get in line for #1reason to be. Neil Kirby had too made sure to be early and to secure a spot in the room. This, and the experimental game play workshop are the two ones that I wanted to make sure I caught on site instead of watching it in the Vault. It was gratifying to see how long the line was. (very long)

One of the panelists was were Amy Henning, and she sent a strong message to all other women who are in the games industry, or about to join it: "The water is fine. Come on in." She described how she, in her career, had met support and friendship from male and female colleagues alike. She said, "sure, I can make you a sandwich - and a AAA franchise too."  
GDC 2015 Brenda Romero Introducing #1Reason panel
 The toxic stuff that has been happening lately is not from within the industry - and this was the general feel I got from the whole conference, in many different small ways: games are for everyone. Brenda Romero said "The mountain lion is not going away, but the fear has to." So we soldier on. All of us, no matter gender, race or whatever category our context places us in.

For dinner I met with Michael Mateas, Ian Horsewill, and Mike Sellers for Japanese food.

GDC 2015 some Japanese food with Michael, Ian, and Mike GDC 2015 Mike and I GDC 2015 an asparagus cube

Then, we went on to the speaker party. It was nice, I had entertaining short conversations until I ran into Bob Bates: then we had an in depth conversation about writing linear narratives, moments of truth, and ways to relate to important life choices. Bob is yoda.

Bob is yoda

GDC'15 Day 3 photo diary

Day 4 - In which I had breakfast with Susan, lunch with Jane,  a meeting with the VICE board, drinks with Lina, and went to dinner with Julian + EIS reunion.

Day 3 GDC 2015 watercolour notesI had breakfast with Susan Gold, but mysteriously didn't take any photos of it despite that the breakfast buffet at Marriott which we enjoyed was beautiful. 

I caught a talk on by Tobiah Marks about indie development, and got some good tidbits from it. For example, it can take time to make an indie endeavour profitable, so don't give up.

Marks slide - don't expect instant profit

When I passed the IGDA booth, Anne was there, checking in on her hearts. They were doing well.
GDC 2015 Games are for everyone Anne Sullivan and the hearts

Gillian was there too, and had already made extensions to the ribbons on her badge.

I had lunch with Jane Pinckard in the park, but again, strangely, did not photograph her, nor the food.

Lunch Lunch. Kim and also Dancs friend. Jane is to the left, outside the image.

In the afternoon I had planned to check out the LostLevels event, but suddenly all the founding members of VICE (Virtual Institute of Computational Expression)  that was on site converged, so we decided to have a meeting. Here we are, all except Mark Nelson and Mike Cook, who weren't at the conference:
GDC 2015 VICE group photo

Then I met up with Lina Eklund, who is doing a guest researcher stint at Berkley, and came into town. She had been at LostLevels, and said that the first hour had been excellent, when those who hade prepared their 5-minute spiels had presented.

GDC 2015 Lina Eklund

We all needed more margaritas, so after having popped into the GuildHall Mixer we went back to Chevy's. The silliness of the selfie stand  there was irresistible to Ben and Mike T:

GDC 2015 Ben Weber GDC 2015 Mike Treanor

We also had food.

GDC 2015

GDC'15 Day 2 - Photo Diary

Day 2 - in which I gave my talk, learned about Ingress and about Project Tango, and met old friends at the View.

Day 2 GDC 2015 watercolour notes

Josh McCoy was kind enough to come earlier to the conference in the morning so that I could practice the talk with him one last time before giving it. When done, we went to listen to Gillian and Jane who were giving a run-through of how one can make sure to be inclusive and allow for diversity when teaching games. It was a great talk, both practically showing how one can go about it, and reasoning about it.

GDC 2015 Jane and Gillian giving talk

My talk was about how to use AI based Game Design in teaching [Description of talk]. I have put resources connected to the talk, as well as the slides, on a Google site: [Computational Expression 5 ECTS]. It felt particularly nice to be able to show examples of games made by my excellent students.

In the afternoon I saw two talks that in retrospect were some of the more interesting this time around at GDC. John Hanke gave a talk on the alternate reality game (ARG) Ingress, showing how it is now played in more than 200 countries. It was interesting to see how they cleverly assembled various streams of narratives through different channels, and to se that now, finally, it seems like ARGs are becoming massive.

GDC 2015 John Hanke on the narrative in the ARG Ingress GDC 2015

 There was a similar notion of 'Finally' when Noah Fahlstein presented project Tango and other AR and VT technologies in his talk on Transmogrified Realities. It appears that we can look to develop things for VR that can actually be presentable to users within the next five year period. I signed up for the Project Tango dev kit. It felt wonderful to be able to do so, that I now will have a kind of life where I can carve out time to play with new technologies. I would like to just make a simple experiment: populate our house with huge sleeping cats. One can only see them through a device, but once seen, one knows that they are there, and one can nap in proximity.

GDC 2015 Real-time 3D Room Capture with Tango GDC 2015 tango reality mix

In the evening I checked out the Maltese Falcon display at John's Grill, which is close to the hotel where I am staying. Dashiell Hammet did some of the writing of the famous novel right there. Later in the evening I met a large group of friends. Some of them played a board game about quilts.  They earned  buttons.

GDC 2015 The Maltese Falcon at John's Grill in San Francisco GDC 2015 Another Quilting game