Resolution at Develop - 15th/16th July 2009

Develop Opinion JamDevelop

Posted by Lewis Denby Thu, July 16, 2009 21:47:31

Resolution got its turn on the podium tonight, as we (read: I) ranted about the evils of the word "gameplay" in the Develop Opinion Jam.

Part of a group of ten-or-so, I discussed how the imprecision of the term leads to a diminished understanding and appreciation of the individual building blocks that go into the creation of a game.

Ste Curran (Zoƫ Mode, ex-Edge editor) and Simon Byron (Barrington Harvey PR, Develop columnist) compered the evening, summarising each rant before inviting the audience to respond. Their One Life Left radio show co-host Ann Scantlebury kept a record of audience response.

Unfortunately, the majority of the audience weren't too taken by my impromptu two-minute presentation, and although around 30% of the audience agreed, the rest gave me the thumbs down, putting me out of the race for Develop Rant Leadership.

Of all the speakers, it was Matt Kumar (Gamasutra, Edge) who left the biggest impressipon on us. Talking about moral decisions, he screamed at the audience for "having an abortion," which lost them 5 morality points - except for if the baby would have been Hitler. His point, of course, was that the morality of games is in the developers' hands, defined by their own impression of right or wrong, and neglecting the grey area of real life.

But the prize went to Ernest Adams, founder of the IGDA, for a passionate plea for game development teams to employ better writers. "Most videogame scripts wouldn't even make it on to Saturday morning television," he said.

Denis Dyack on games as an artformDevelop

Posted by Lewis Denby Thu, July 16, 2009 13:17:14

"To me, it's quite obvious. I think videogames are art."

That's how Silicon Knights' Denis Dyack began his talk at Develop this morning. It was an interesting talk, and one I'm still struggling to form a solid opinion on.

Just to break the flow, I don't want to report back on this in a standard fashion. Dyack's views often conflicted so strongly with my own, despite our agreeing on the fundamental point that games are an artform, that I feel it necessary to let it sit a little before saying too much about it.

Quickly, though: there seemed to be an odd conflict between two of Dyack's main points. On the one hand, he spoke of how game developers need to look towards film theory in the delievery of expressive elements. He repeatedly referenced the history of the film industry throughout the talk, citing various elements of movie construction as influences on his own work.

And he claimed that, though gameplay is an important aspect of design, it needn't be the focus, when other building blocks, often considered smaller, can help elevate the videogame experience into something more artistic.

Yet at the same time, he stated his belief that emergence and non-linearity are the future of videogames, and the best way to create an artform that is distinctly our own.

Dyack's reference to established film theory, and his claim that developers need to be more careful with their methodology of creating games, seemed at odds with the emotional, experiential side to games he commended so greatly.

More on this to follow, we suspect - but it's very much food for thought.

Jenova Chen (Flower) & Masaya Matsuura (PaRappa The Rapper) talk innovationDevelop

Posted by Lewis Denby Thu, July 16, 2009 10:36:18

"When thatgamecompany introduced Flower to me, I was so moved," says Masaya Matsuura, creator of PaRappa The Rapper. "It was the first time I'd had these sorts of feelings when playing a game."

Speaking at the Develop Conference, he spoke of his distaste for the action-based orientation of most games. "I don't want to play with that kind of thing," he said, "going to the battlefields and shooting other countries' armies. I don't like these feelings."

Matsuura sat with Flower designer Jenova Chen and industry expert Ste Curran, playing through thatgamecompany's seminally artistic title. Though Flower and PaRappa The Rapper are cosmetically very different games, the two developers shared similar experiences when creating their respective titles, and in working on games that went against the grain of their eras.

Chen described Flower's design theory. "It's kind of like a secret back yard that you can enter through your living room," he mused. "We wanted to create a space that feels happy and warm to visit."

But he didn't want to create a game that promoted nature and condemned the industrial and commercial nature of modern society. "We didn't want to make an eco-terrorist game," he said, "because that's not what we believe in." But Chen still wanted to make a strong statement with his game and evoke emotions rarely seen in the medium, as we revealed yesterday.

Curran asked Matsuura for his thoughts on Flower's control mechanism. Pondering for a moment, he said "The Wii controller lets game designers focus on physical actions. But [the PS3 sixaxis] is about more subtle movement."

"There's almost zero feedback " said Chen, "and it means the players almost forget they're even holding a controller."

//Hip-hop, skip and jump

"I must apologise to Masaya," said Jenova Chen, "because I didn't get the chance to play PaRappa The Rapper until probably last year. I grew up in China, where people can't really afford to buy games consoles and things. So this game completely passed me by."

"The story of PaRappa really got me invested in the character straight away," reminisced Chen. "It's so much about American culture, but the art is very Japanese. So it's almost like a fusion. But [the the game's subject matter] is very relevant."

"Four or five people were having a weekly meeting to talk about the story," said Mastuura.

Chen dropped into the role of interviewer, asking Matsuura how he and his team managed to convince a publisher to take on a game that was so different from the rest of the gaming market at the time. Music games may have experienced a recent popularity explosion, but at the time, there was nothing else like it.

"The prototype was actually very different," Matsuura said, "but Sony still said 'is this a game, or is it some sort of music experience?' Originally, Sony only made 30,000 copies, as they didn't have confidence in this sort of title. But the reaction from the market was surprising. No one said 'this is not a game'."

Asked by Ste Curran about similarities between Flower and PaRappa, Chen said: "Our scopes were similar. We were both trying to do something new."

Develop Industry Excellence AwardsDevelop

Posted by Lewis Denby Thu, July 16, 2009 08:29:48

Media Molecule took home the big prizes at last night's Industry Excellence awards. They, and their game LittleBigPlanet, received five awards: Best New IP, Visual Arts, Technical Innovation, Best New Studio and Best Independent Developer. Crikey!

Good old Rockstar Leeds were named the best handheld developer, and Rockstar North were said to collectively have the best in-house development team.

The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Jaqui Lyons, and Codemasters walked away with the prestigious Grand Prix.

(Because they won it, we can only assume.)

DrinkingDevelop

Posted by Lewis Denby Wed, July 15, 2009 23:10:44

Drinks and Chinese food were enjoyable. Ste Curran told a funny story about someone's propane-smelling food nearly getting an aircraft evacuated. Gillen knocked the pub's advertising sign over. Now, bedtime, and trying not to wake up with a hangover tomorrow.

At the end of the day...Develop

Posted by Lewis Denby Wed, July 15, 2009 16:38:16

...And that concludes today's frantic blogging!

Tune in tomorrow for more updates from the Develop Conference.

Highlight of the day? APB, undoubtedly. Much of the footage was shown at GDC, but it remains spectacular, and the additional bits we were treated to were almost beyond belief. J.D. Richardson will be a very happy man.

See you tomorrow... wait, actually...

Anyone in Brighton?

It's the Develop Awards tonight, but we're not invited. So our pals at Rock, Paper, Shotgun have organised an impromptu awards night for those who haven't bagged a prestigious seat at the ceremony. In the words of RPS editor Kieron Gillen: "we'll award each other with drinks."

It'll kick off at 6:15pm in the Brighton Metropole hotel bar, then move on somewhere else by about quarter to 7. Gillen asked me to spread the word, so there. It's done. Hope to see a face or two there.

Trending topics: digital distributionDevelop

Posted by Lewis Denby Wed, July 15, 2009 16:29:03

One of the more widespread topics at this year's Develop Conference is digital distribution. Getting down to the core of the subject today was an elite panel of developers and industry experts.

Among the crew was Mark Morris, Introversion's Managing Director, who spoke of the importance of such sales to his company - after they almost turned down a deal with Steam. "Thank fuck we didn't," he said.

But he also noted that, particularly for new development houses, selling products directly through their own company website is essential. "Closing a deal with Steam takes a long time," he said, "and at the end of all that they might say no." In the meantime, he stressed, it is important to have some sort of income ticking over.

Dorian Bloch from ChartTrack had opened the discussion, with a slideshow of stats and figures that posed questions about the PC's commercial viability for the games industry. His presentation showed that retail sales of PC games have been steadily declining for some time, and that there has been a 15% drop since 2006.

But he noted that among the biggest trends of 2008 were the rise of online distribution and micro-transactions. And Charlie Barrett of Kalypso Media Digital commented on how quickly such distribution methods are on the rise. "Trust me - it's more than 15%," he said.

Indeed, Broch noted that the profits for leading digital distributors is predicted to have increased more than twofold in the past year.

"Don't drop the PC," said Barrett. "It's certainly viable."

Clifford behind GTA controversyDevelop

Posted by Lewis Denby Wed, July 15, 2009 14:21:31

Grand Theft Auto and Elite's designers (David Jones and David Braben respectively) spent some time today playing and comparing each other's famed games.

Jones struggled to get to grips with Elite's control mechanism, while Braben furiously mowed down a group of Hare Krishnas at Jones' request.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of information to emerge from the session was that infamous PR guru Max Clifford was the brain behind Grand Theft Auto's marketing campaign. In a period of ten days, Jones told the audience, Clifford had managed to get the game an hour-long feature on GMTV, after describing the controversial concept to a number of politicians.