Three days ago, I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Quo Vadis Game Developer Conference, part of International Games Week Berlin in Germany. Quo Vadis, which when translated from its Latin origin means “Where are you going?”, brings together game industry professionals and students under one big roof for networking, education, sharing knowledge, and showcasing some of their work. The event, organized by Aruba Events GmbH, features industry professionals talking about their industry experience. That might sound a little dry, but the industry in question is video games! So, in case you missed it, here’s an informative recap of some of Day One’s talks…
April 18th, 2016
STATION Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Almost 6-7 talks took place each hour. Therefore, I shall cover only the talks I have managed to attend. Moreover, I blast the universe for not allowing me to clone myself and attend all of the talks.
The Last Tinker: Post Mortem – Johannes Roth (Mimimi Productions)
In this talk, Roth introduced the audience to the several misfortunes that the German developer Mimimi Productions faced during the making and release of their award-winning title The Last Tinker: City of Colors. He spoke of the rather negative experience with outsourcing to a PR Agency: bad press kits, mistranslated game info, falsities in releases. Even their long-awaited PC release, which came out the same week as Diablo III and Plants vs. Zombies 2, lacked proper marketing. In addition to the lack of trailer, press kit, or feature, it was even often miscategorized as a platformer.
Johannes ended the talk with a few tips for fellow developers in the audience, like communicating with both internal and external stakeholders and finding PR representative internally rather than partnering with a PR Agency. Johannes also revealed that Mimimi Productions’ next project will be a real time tactics game, Shadow Tactics, which is expected to launch sometime around Q4 of the year.
The Six Golden Rules of Level Design – Pascal Luban (The Game Design Studio)
Freelance game designer and creative director Pascal Luban explained the six rules he believes should apply to level design – regardless of game genre – for a high potential product.
Rule #1: Construction of the Difficulty Curve – a curve that you can use as a tool to position obstacles and challenges within levels, while identifying which in-game features could create said challenges.
Rule #2: Building the Right Game Pace – when designing levels, one should avoid them being too hectic or too dull using what is known as Rhythm and Action Density Analysis. The level designer should always ensure that level content alternates between intense action and cool-down sequences, while keeping each level unique from the others.
Rule #3: Renewal of the Player’s Experience – where the repetition of level content is unadvised, and where a variety of weapons, pickable items and equipment should be introduced throughout the game levels.
Rule #4: Animation of Levels – levels within a game must always be lively and vibrant, making the gameplay experience more and more immersive. This includes special effects, moving objects, background events, and level destruction.
Rule #5: Ease of Navigation – when designing a level, one should always question where should I go? Why should I go there? And how could I get there? Visual hints should always be added, and blended environments should be minimized, in order to smoothly guide the player towards objectives and in-game locations.
Rule #6: Presence of Wow! Moments – adding something that will make the game memorable, this could be stage-driven, gameplay-driven, or story-driven. Pascal referred to ARMA 2’s air battle sequence as what makes it memorable.
Arne Peters (ESL – Turtle Entertainment), Elmar Giglinger (Circle21 eSports & Entertainment), Tim Rittman (Freelance Journalist), Andrew Spearin (New World Interactive), Al Yang (Bigpoint GmbH)
eSports Chances and Challenges: Past, Present and Future
This diverse panel discussed the transition from laid-back to competitive gaming, which led to the evolution of eSports. eSports gives gamers an opportunity to demonstrate skill. Electronic Sports League‘s Arne Peters mentioned that for a game to be considered as an eSports candidate, it has to be 1.) remarkable at competitive multiplayer and 2.) watchable. Bigpoint‘s Al Youn highlighted the fact that “your community decides what’s eSports and what’s not” – you cannot create an eSports game, but you can work towards optimizing the competitive aspect of it, and hope the community loves it enough, since it’s the main pillar. Andrew Spearin from New World Interactive talked about their debut title Insurgency‘s path to becoming an eSports game. Insurgency started out as a Half Life 2 mod, evolving into a hardcore tactical shooter with over 2.5 million players all due to its inherent competitive potential.
When panel moderator Tim Rittman questioned the validity and lifespan of eSports, Elmar Giglinger said that there’s still plenty of empty space to fill in eSports. He has an idea of making eSports available to amateurs and having games be playable in cinemas, rather than eSports just being for hardcore professional players. The idea of partnerting with TV networks to air eSports on TV, complete with commentators, was even thrown out there. Arne also mentioned that in eSports, having an offline, live experience is much more engaging than an online, virtual experience. That’s exactly why eSports championship and tournament events take place, generating more hype than the online experience.
Signs of Disruption: or how I learned to stop worrying and love uncertainty – Andrew Spearin (New World Interactive)
Andrew Spearin, Creative Director behind Insurgency, gave a talk heavily-inspired by Clayton M. Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, which posits a way to enable creativity is by fusing or finding a gap between two elements. For instance, there used to be a gap between customers and game creators until it was closed by bridges such as Steam and Twitch.
Spearin also talked about Insurgency, and how it’s not just another shooter. It basically had no marketing due to the lack of budget, but it was highly successful as one of the earliest Early Access games to be released on Steam. Insurgency‘s minimalist design helped increase immersion and tension during gameplay. It also has a modding platfrom with Steam Workshop support, which appeals to lots of players. New World Interactive even collaborated with the Insurgency community to create the game’s World War II mod named Day of Infamy. Insurgency is constantly compared to Rainbow Six Seige, Counter Strike, and ARMA. As for New World Interactive’s future plans, they include publishing Insurgency for Steam in 2017, rebuilding it with Unreal Engine 4 to match up with the current eSports era.
Animation in Assassin’s Creed Identity – Martin Fiedler, Martin Weusten (Ubisoft Blue Byte)
In this dyad talk, Logic and Gameplay Programmer Martin Weusten and Art Director Martin Fiedler briefly introduced Assassin’s Creed Identity – Ubisoft Blue Byte‘s 3rd person RPG mobile game – before switching to a technical demo of the animation tools used in creating the game. In Assassin’s Creed Identity, up to 850 animations were created and applied into the game based on coded conditions. The duo also mentioned various technical difficulties that they face in animation, the simplest to understand being the challenge of having various in-game characters on screen at the same time, be they playable or NPCs.
Games Journalism by the Numbers – Heiko Klinge (Webedia Gaming)
Heiko Klinge’s (Webedia Gaming) talk shed light on the issue of how to get a mainstream blog or site to showcase or feature a game developer’s project, and how to raise a journalist’s interest in your game. Usually, mainstream sites cover films or games they know the audience loves, even if the pieces cover weird or simple clickbait topics like “This achievement has been unlocked only once on Steam.” Since the game industry itself is growing more mainstream by the day, Klinge advises future and current game industry professionals to be more cunning when attempting to peak a journalist’s interest. “Think headlines when you’re communicating your game,” said Klinge, who advised using headline-like descriptions when conversing with a journalist (e.g. “Shadow Tactics” = “Commandos with Ninjas”).
Twitch Performance and Analytics: How to Survive in the Age of Live Streaming – Marc Fühnen (Loots)
The final talk of the day I’ve attended was refreshing, since it revolved around the booming people-watching-other-people-play-games trend. In this talk, Marc Fühnen gave a brief on the history of Twitch, the renowned live-streaming platform acquired by Amazon in 2012. Twitch is the second largest video platform after YouTube. In 2007, Twitch started out as Justin.tv, a coverage catch-all, but in 2011 focused on gaming only as the re-dubbed Twitch. YouTube happens to be 8x bigger than Twitch, which happens to be significantly larger than YouTube Gaming. When Fühnen contrasted Twitch and YouTube, he mentioned that Twitch takes less time to deal with new content uploads than YouTube; since it’s all live content, there is no montage or editing required, hence much more time and effort is saved.
As for the nature of streamers on Twitch, Marc split them into two groups: competitive and storytelling. Competitive streamers are those who are more into hardcore eSports, MOBAs, and the viewers are normally interested in the games itself and how to strategically play them. Meanwhile, storytelling streamers are those who are more laid-back, mostly play and stream open-world and sandbox games, and whose viewers are not interested in the game as much as they are interested in the streamers themselves. Marc also brought up the AAA vs MOBA topic on Twitch, where he believes that MOBA streams on Twitch will live on due to the perpetual presence of new game content, which is exactly why AAAs have no long lifespans on Twitch. Fühnen ends his talk with one piece of advice: “never give your game early to Twitch” – he reflects on Firewatch as an example, where a great 6-hour game is played and streamed fully before its release date on Twitch, which in turn reduces sales immensely.
A Quo Vadis volunteer loses herself inside the world of Runes: The Forgotten Path
GoTD (Game of the Day) Shoutout!
Since Virtual Reality is one of the most exciting technologies at the moment, I had the chance to try this one out myself. Runes: The Forgotten Path is a VR project brought to life by Stormborn Studio in cooperation with Vive and Oculus. It uses the Vive VR headset and controllers for in-game interactions. It was my first time trying VR, and the technology got me quite excited – the plot of the game seemed quite promising as well. It was so immersive that a sequence got me challenging my fear of heights – my heartbeats were going faster than usual. I genuinely cannot wait till I experience the finished game using the much more complete VR technology. What do I mean by “complete”? Wait for the following Quo Vadis days’ posts for more on VR. If you’re interested in more about Stormborn Studio’s work, check out their website.