Wednesday, November 2, 2011

MIGS 2011: Day One

After fortifying my body and soul with poutine (whoa, my spellcheck doesn't know what poutine is) and beer, it was time to tackle the 2011 Montreal International Games Summit.   I go up about every other year with a group of my students from Champlain College.  Our game development program believes it's important to expose our students to professional events like MIGS, and sure enough there were plenty of things to chew on.

I attended several talks during the first day and while I haven't had a lot of time to process everything, here are some highlights.

Keynote with Richard Lemarchand from Naughty Dog on how the culture and practices at their company led to the successful Uncharted series.
Friendly enough speaker.  Most of the keynote felt like a giant advertisement for the Uncharted Series.  I would have liked to hear more about what makes their company tick.  To be fair, Lemarchand did spend time talking about the relatively flat hierarchy and how contant communication between the people on the team is key.  But is that really any big revelation in this day and age?

Brain Dump (7 or 8 rapid-fire talks/rants)
A pretty funny way to start the rest of the day after the keynote.  Not all of them were direct hits, but I really liked Raphael Van Lierop's premise that game designers really need to read more books.  Drawing on nothing but other video games for your inspiration leads to crap games.  While he did sound a little too alarmist (Seriously, dude.  Print is not dead) his position supports my belief that you can probably make a game out of anything.  Why aren't we trying harder to do this?  I mean, I love Space Marines and Elves, but come on.

A short Interlude...
I did notice a couple of themes emerging from the talk.  One of them was the Waterfall vs Agile debate.  There's not really much of a debate anymore as most developers feel that Agile is the production method that works best.  But there was definitely a feeling that developers should never adhire to one specific methodology because teams are their own organic thing.  A good lead has to figure out the way their team works best and not try to impose something just because it's the "best way to do it."  Sometimes waterfall might be the way to go.

The Great Divide, Cord Smith, Director of Marketing for Square-Enix on Developer/Publisher relations.
This was a great talk on how each side sees the other.  Smith comes from both backgrounds and he believes that both sides could learn a lot from one another.   Marketing folks should learn some game development tools and 3D art tools (hell, even a little Photoshop couldn't hurt) to get a feel for just what it takes to make a game.   Game devs should shadow a marketing team to see what it is they do all day.   Above all else, both side should show repect and most importantly empathy for the other.  On one want's their game to suck.  Really.

The last talk of note was from Lee Perry of Epic Games in protoyping gameplay for the Gears of War series.
An awesome and inspiring talk that reinforced my belief that game designers really need to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.   With today's tools, there is no reason a game designer can't sit down and build working prototypes of gameplay.   It used to be that a designer would write up a spec for the feature (which no one would read) and then expect some artists and programmers to accurately interpret what he or she wanted.   Perry said designers need to be more like Chefs and less like Food Critics.  Don't just order up a meal and criticize what's put in front of your.  Get your ass in the kitchen and whip of that souffle yourself.  He showed a bunch of prototypes of features he cooked up for the Gears of War games.  Some of them made it into the full game.  Many of them were cut.  The point was that the team was able to play his ideas within a day or two of him coming up with it instead of the weeks it would take had he written a ponderous design spec.  Loved this talk.  

Day Two Awaits...

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