In April, I had the opportunity to attend Quo Vadis Game Developers Conference as part of International Games Week Berlin 2016 – the central networking and educational hub for game industry professionals and students in Germany. In case you’ve missed my coverage of Day One, make sure you check it out here.
April 19th, 2016
STATION Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Here’s a brief recap of 6 out of Day Two’s talks for those of you who weren’t in Berlin at the time…
Leveraging eSports as a critical part of your development toolkit – Al Yang (Bigpoint GmbH)
In this talk, Young discussed how eSports is a retention feature for games, and the fact that an eSports title cannot explicitly be built, but it can be built for. Bigpoint launched their top-down shooter Shards of War in Beta early on to test its eSports potential. Bigpoint decided to cut down Quality Assurance testing costs by hosting an internal Alpha tournament and having its own team members participate in it. After post-alpha adjustments, the Beta was launched in October 2014.
Al also addressed the challenges of that Bigpoint faced when building for an eSports title. For instance, there was the negative reputation that emerged as that applied a Pay-to-Win model in Shards of War. He also mentioned when they faced a 70% rate of technical churn post-beta – where 70% of those who came across the game, registered to play it, or downloaded it never actually played it. Since the community determines whether a game is an eSports title or not, Bigpoint ensured weekly community streams to receive feedback and enhance the eSports experience. They also added leaderboards into the game to increase CCU – a.k.a. concurrent users.
At Gamescom 2015, Bigpoint went all out with marketing, hosting a Shards of War tournament with a €10K prize – which was won by the well-known Counter Strike champions, Team Epsilon. They partnered with ESL (Electronic Sports League), hired cosplayers, and used social media platforms for intensive marketing and exposure. As a result, Bigpoint earned a reputation boost for Shards of War – even while being a Free-to-Play, but a Pay-to-Win title. The game competed with the likes of Smite, League of Legends, and DOTA. Al closed the talk by advising future game developers to build and strengthen their community first, as “legitimization comes from the fans”, so that eSports comes along.
Breathing life into a generated universe – Andreas Suika (Daedalic Studio West GmbH)
In this talk, Suika shed light on the design aspect of Daedalic‘s space exploration title The Long Journey Home. He gave a shoutout to Ubisoft concept artist, Pascal Blanché, collaborated with the studio to bring the title to life. Suika’s talk centered around a cycle for creating in-game environments from his experience: layout, composition, adaptation, and evaluation. That is, create an overall basic layout for the in-game universe, compose your in-game “carpet”, adapt your environment by “breathing life” into it, and finally evaluate for further improvements.
For elaboration, Suika mentioned that they used the Voronoi algorithm for the universe layout. For generating the “carpet”, they created the assets (planets, solar systems…etc.) from smallest to biggest using the Unreal Development Kit. Then, Daedalic breathed life into the in-game universe by making it more immersive. This was achieved by using gravity as a gameplay feature, adding an intelligent and choice-based dialog system, as well as allowing the user to make deterministic choices during gameplay – such as choosing which points to traverse from and to.
King’s Quest: Then and Now – Bill Linn (Sandbox Strategies)
Sandbox Strategies‘ Bill Linn started off his talk about the classic, King’s Quest, by comparing its year of primary release with the current introduction phase of the VR life cycle. CD-ROMs in 1991 were just the same as VR headsets and consoles nowadays: too expensive to obtain, with limited presence of compatible game support. He also spoke of how voice acting has evolved ever since, where in King’s Quest V the VO cast members were Sierra employees – and it was of much poorer quality and realism as it is today. In the current, revamped, episodic King’s Quest, big names like Christoper Lloyd (Back to the Future’s Doc Brown), Josh Keaton (Disney’s Hercules), and Tom Kenny (Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants) lent their voices to the characters.
Linn then spoke of when their plan to make the 1991 point-and-click adventure game accessible to modern gamers. Interactive storytelling was the key – allowing players to affect the game’s outcome by choosing certain paths. In the new remake, players can expect characters from the original version, more puns, more humor, and a higher sense of moral obligation. Bill closed the talk with his theory on interactive theater, which he believes is highly possible due to the current boom of interactive storytelling in the video game industry.
The Quest for the Holodeck: Past, present, and future of Virtual Reality – Marc Erich Latoschik (Würzburg University)
In my opinion, this was one of the most interesting talks to attend throughout the 3 days of Quo Vadis. As previously mentioned in the Day One coverage, there’s skepticism regarding how “complete” the current VR technology is to be consumed by the public. Latoschik addressed all the doubts that have to do with the readiness and safety of Virtual Reality consoles. He said, “we have taken VR so far to the point where we cannot tell the difference between reality and VR,” a.k.a. the Perception Loop. He took the audience to a trip down memory lane, walking them through the history of Virtual Reality: the Telesphere Mask (invented by Morton Heilig), the Sword of Damocles (invented by Ivan Sutherland), Flight Simulations, and Cave Automatic Virtual Environment.
Latoschik then spoke of how current Virtual Reality is used in therapy, since it changes the state of mind, and how it affects our senses. Aside from affecting 2 out of the 5 classical senses (sight and hearing), VR affects our senses of balance and acceleration. He transitioned to the challenges and potential harms of VR to its users, now that it’s out in the market. Challenges include motion sickness, transmissions of false signals to the brain – since what you see in VR is not reality. Latoschik encouraged the use of Hololens over VR headsets, as it does not harm eye convergence – since it is directly projected into the center of the eye.
Unravel: Looking back and forward – Martin Sahlin (Coldwood Interactive)
This talk was a passion-driven one by Coldwood Interactive‘s creative director. Sahlin spoke of how their loved puzzle game Unravel was about creative joy and interactive storytelling. He talked about how Coldwood Interactive suffered from “creative death” before they came up with Unravel – where they were always the underdog that never had a fair deal, and as a result suffered from occasional burnouts. “In your worst moments, you could have your best insights,” said Martin. After their worst moments, Sahlin started figuring out what’s important: making games with heart, deeper meaning, and purpose. Unravel was Coldwood’s shot to make something without burning out.
Coldwood decided to make a game that feels like home with a beautiful melancholy – where you live in a beautiful place, but it’s losing life. So, they made Unravel about loneliness, a parent’s connection to her children, and patching up holes in one’s life. The developers also created the game such that the player, game world, and music are allowed to tell the story during gameplay. They also focused on directing emotions and creating a bond between themselves and the players. Sahlin ended the talk saying that normally games sell for killing time – however, time is finite, and people should be demanding more depth and meaningfulness from games. He advising aspiring game developers and designers to use empathy as a game mechanic, where they can increase visibility on important topics and teach life lessons through their games.
Don Daglow (4thRing LLC), Luc Baghadoust (DONTNOD Entertainment), Kate Edwards (IGDA), Raoul Barbet (DONTNOD Entertainment), Alexander Hutchinson (Ubisoft Montreal), Gunnar Lott (Visibility Communications)
Ask us anything (on living game development): open discussion!
At the beginning of this open discussion panel, I had the opportunity to ask DONTNOD Entertainment‘s Barbet and Baghadoust about my favorite game of 2015, Life Is Strange.
Q: As fans of Life Is Strange, we see all aspects of it as unique – from the music, to the character development, the art, and so on. But from your perspective as makers of the game, what was the core unique element that you focused on perfecting during the process of development?
A: At the beginning, we focused on identifying what’s important and what’s not important (for the gameplay experience). We had a small budget, so our effort went mostly into making Life Is Strange a story-driven game. So we mainly focused on the characters and voice acting.
Then, the panelists discussed how to make sure that the development team stays on the same page with the change of vision over time. Hutchinson advised that finding the love of the experience and pushing forward, along with relentless communication were key. Daglow highlighted the importance of recording the vision, as well as every change and decision, and referring back to it whenever any potential argument or confusion ensues. The panelists also addressed the 80-hour-workload per week, where Badaghoust mentioned that he never asked anyone to stay longer hours, as the DONTNOD team was motivated enough to stay on the right direction. His teammate, Barbet, said that saying no to extra working hours is sometimes the right thing to do – the game will get better in the future either way, even with less working hours. Edwards stressed on the importance of planning ahead, and that performing an evaluation of the opportunity cost of burning out game developers versus ROI (return on investment) could be clarifying. Daglow also advised using the Agile development and planning method as it cuts down crunch time.
IGDA‘s Kate Edwards was asked about the level of aggressiveness received from game developers in the industry. She mentioned that she understands the creative process, and her role is to help game developers maximize their reach and profit. Even if anyone gets aggressive, she still tells them which road to take for their own welfare. Next up, the panelists talked about the importance of social media and staying connected to their community. “Sometimes you have to say things explicitly to the audience – but sometimes the audience reacts angrily when all you mean to do is clarify, not offend,” said Hutchinson. Daglow shifted it to the strong presence of community managers, who are capable of building relationships with the community to deal with issues before they escalate – “it pays off for what it does for the team’s time,” he said.
A game design student addressed the panel with a question regarding the availability of a network or platform for problem solving. DONTNOD’s Barbet and Baghadoust recommended attending conferences, as well as holding internal meetings. Edwards replied, “the IGDA was created for sharing knowledge that is platform-agnostic – regarding how to do the craft, how to get better at what you do, crunch time issues…etc.” Finally, the moderator Gunnar Lott raised the concern of how project budgets are escalating, and how top-selling games are not consistent in terms of quality – “is the industry reaching a point where it’s crashing?” Hutchinson and Daglow both disagreed and mentioned how optimistic about the industry now more than ever. How the video game industry is growing as an entertainment industry, art form, and electronic medium is keeping them ecstatic for its future.
GoTD (Game of the Day) Shoutout!
Replaced – developed by School for Games (S4G)
I have had the absolute delight of trying out S4G’s Replaced – a bewildering, and not to mention gorgeous-looking, first person puzzle game. Graphically, it was extremely impressive. The mechanics were a bit confusing at first, but once you get used to it, you get sucked right into it. The mechanics of the game involve teleportation using a gun that launches blue and orange orbs – which, if you’re a big Portal fan, will grow on you. The game is currently on Steam Greenlight, and has been greenlit by the community, so make sure to check it out!