Develop Conference 2010 Day 2

July 14, 2010

This is the first of the 2 main days of the Develop Conference. All my notes were typed into the laptop today, so I’m going to be a lazy bum and just copy & paste it…You’ll probably notice the amount of notes for each session gets smaller as the day progresses.

Session 1:

Creative Game Development:
How we do it at BioWare (Dr Greg Zeschuk – GM, Bioware etc)

Making games is hard/
The environment for making games has only become more diff over time. The people in your group are the solution, but you need to unlock their potential.

This talk is largely about culture and making decisions consistent with you culture; this is one of our secret weapons.

(Defined culture from wiki)
(Listed a bunch of their early games and pointed out all of them combined was 1 modern warfare 2)

Secrets to success:
Gather a group of talented individuals
engage them with a worthy project
Support them in achieving the collective goals
don’t compromise the long term for short term gain

(Management should be supporting, not controlling.)

The challenge is putting this into practice, it’s not really a secret in itself.

Find people that fit your existing studio culture once it’s developed.
Know what the core values of your studio.

Structure, people, systems (policies, rules, etc.)
These elements build the culture which exists in an environment.

How do you change the culture? When you change the culture people will often change.
There’s a point where your culture might have changed enough that you need to re-evaluate where your company culture is.

BioWare’s Core Values – Quality in workplace, quality in products, entrepreneurship, all in a context of humility and integrity.

Workplace
Qual of work/life balance
engaged employees in a high performance workforce
best place for team oriented talent
-Primary benefit for employees

products
Deliver the best story driven games in the world
even products, community and a trusted brand
-Primary benefit for fans

Entrepreneurship
Achieving and exceeding our studio metric targets
financial success and profitability
creativity, quality, predictability, and productivity
The best financial investment in our industry
-Primary benefit for investors

All in a context of humility and integrity
Tricky to exp & understand. (I’d argue breeds respect between devs)

Cultural consistency

Balancing resources & time versus quality & scope.
Scope considered a problem (well, risk)

Bioware uses a matrix structure.

Everything affects culture! Be vigilant of anything that might damage or destroy your culture.

Joining EA was an interesting cultural challenge.
Merging cultures and building an interface between the companies was challenging, but rewarding.
It’s an onging exercise where both groups need to actively manage the relationship.

In forming our Austin studio we gained an entirely different set of experiences starting a new studio in a new location, the key point for us was finding the right local partners.

Bioware Mythic merge
Another new and different experience was adding a pre-existing studio to the BioWare family. Opportunity to see things from the other side of the table.

Building culture

1 – Take inventory on your culture – understand what you are and be honest!
If you’re a new start up, wait until (next step).
2 – Decide what kind of culture you want, there are a lot of options.
3 – Think about your structures and processes – are they consistent with your cultural goals?
4 – Start adjusting processes, policies and structures so they align with your cultural goals. Be aware that you may also need different people (Or to change people).
5 – Be vigilant and continually recheck how you’re doing.
Asking people what they think of the company is key.

Why bother?
Our primary thesis: happy and engaged game devs make better games.
If the team is happy they do better work.
There isn’t actually a “best culture” – it’s all about fit.
Good game devs are very mobile – they will select for teams that fit their disposition.
This is on reason why consistency is important. People like to pick a culture and stick with it.

There are a few things we’ve done over the years that worked out pretty well
-balanced needs of individuals and the group
Long term view rather than short term focus (never compromise)
Super-consistent (probably a bit boring as a result) – People like a familiar environment, changes should happen gradually.
Drive individual responsibility and autonomy
Require true teamwork (scrum is interesting in that regard)

Decision making
We use our core values to drive our decisions; they’re a valuable guide to ensure we’re culturally consistent.
-Assigning people based on project preference
-Picking projects based on team preference and passion
-Performance management with compassion
-Striving to always be the best investment

They go a little bit easy on performance management, don’t assume that if people perform badly it’s because they are bad workers. Helping some through rough patches and turning them into valuable staff members.

Doing the right thing! Setting the right goals.

A corollary to culture and values is setting the right goals
-the current development climate is simult dangerous and full of opportunity – it depends on your goals.
-If you’ve got the wrong goals, you’ll likely fail
-striving to do AAA console dev right now is the wrong goal for most developers.

-the market is getting increasingly hit driven, with greater competition than ever before
-the top of the retail market is still there, but the middle is gone
-It’s very wise to look at diff opportunities.

So what’s working?
Going direct to consumers rather than going to retail
-Retail still works, but not a panacea
-offline games less likely to succeed than online games
-online games come in all types of shapes and sizes, lots of opps
-diff typers of games provide lots of diff opps to create unique companies and cultures.

What have wqe done at BioWare?
-we’ve been exploring all diff kinds of games
-we’ve done a mass effet iPhone game, a facebook game and are exploring lots of other opps
-Why? because that’s the future
-We’ll continue to do AAA console but still exploring new opportunities

Different games = different teams = new cultures
-one of the cooler developments in recent years is the opportunity to do thigns differently
-smaller and more intimate teames are a real opportunity
-even better, these groups are making games at a sustainable scale
(missed content)

Overall this session has been about the importance of culture in game dev.

Started Scrum in Dragon Age and other teams (Eg Mass Effect noticed it was working for them).
They have guidelines for crunch to help manage it. But there’s still that emphasis on a good work/life balance.
Limits on amount per week. Sympathetic crunch (Crunching because other people are crunching) viewed as very harmful.

Session 1.5:

Ed Vaizey (Culture Minister)
Being covered by the Daily Politics Show.
(So far pretty much stated the obvious, info on gaming demographics, explosion of casual games)
Going on about taxation changes (the main corporation tax rate, etc.)
IP rules and research around tax being relaxed
NI – reduce cost of hiring and retaining staff
Support of R&D tax credits (Consultation relating to this in Autumn)
(This is pretty much what I was expecting – up to this point)

EIS scheme?

Technology Strategy Board (4 mil pounds into games related projects since 2k4)
NESTA – Announcing something on making original IP more easier to make

Attempting to provide additional support for games related start ups (Being run by Abertay Uni).
Talks up Skillset and the desire to see accreditation rise.

BBC News is here as well

Session 2:

The Future of Controller-Free gaming  – Nick Burton Natal Director, RARE
25 years of innovation/challenges. Sold over 100 million units (4mil a year, not bad).

Talks about how 360 controllers have lots of buttons (too many) and are a barrier to entry.
Prototyped some tech for a wand like device, also a few other prototypes.
Then started to hear rumours in Microsoft for some motion tracking ‘thing’ which didn’t have a name yet which became Natal, then Kinect.

“The rules changed…”
The way games are tested had to change
They had to make room in the office for motion games, lots of desk space and so on, not much open office space for the games. They found that people being able to gather around and watch someone playing with the tech helped to excite/inspire people working on it. Sports game chosen because it’s seen as something that anybody can play. Different people move in different ways. Which affects how people are able to play the game. The game needs to be able to percieve these differences so that the game can be balanced based on the limitations of some of the users.

They were having trouble with running mechanics in a football game, eventually they concluded that it would be better to take running away from the player, to make passing/kicking the focus and have AI move players around. By taking running away they made the game tested much better.

A lot of the things that are difficult/processor intensive to do on webcams is far easier to do on Kinect.

Session 3:

How to get great drama and performances in video games
-Georg Backer, Lionhead Studios (Audio associate producer)

1. Non Interactive vs interactive drama

Non
Passive (story telling) vs Active (story experiencing
Author has total control over execution vs Author shares control over execution with participators
Over time established languages to convey emotions/motivations vs still very young compared to books & films, no real established language yet.
Evoke passive emotions vs evoking active emotions
Immersion on a non-participational level vs immersion as participant is key
Return of investment earlier, simpler, passive vs return of investment later, harder, active, very different
Drama often because patterns & rule sets are broken vs video games & game mechanics are fundamentally based on rule sets and patterns.

2. Creating interactive immersive dramatic experiences, the short version.

The right approach
Drama, gameplay, drama, gameplay (Switching between interactive & non interactive)
Approaching drama – Understanding, deconstructing, adapting & (re)creating

Layers of coherent story experiencing
-Story & char design * writing
-Setting
-Art & Animation
-Audio (speech, sfx, music)
-Levels/Environment
-Game-Mechanics

Game mechanics – Fable 3 AI (gives hints on quests and other in world events going on in game), Fable 3 GUI ROOM (basically a 3D gui for higher level elements, changing clothes, teleporting to other locations, etc.)

2 – THe right people
All the usuals, including voice over director, consulting & out sourcing.
Staging drama & performance

Utilise all elements of a game (story, game mechanics, art, audio, writing) to ensure a cherent immersive exp that evokes emote and motivational connection to the player and fuel his desire to progress through the game.

The painful process of iteration, imagine ahead and don’t iterate to the left or to the right – iterate forward.

3 Casting and recording
Fable 3 dialogue recording
over 80 actors (English vers)
460000 recorded words, over 47 hours of final speech in the game, dedicated combat & vocal foley for most characters.

How to best approach casting
How to best work in the recording studio
Ensure the correct execution of different types of content
Importance of trust & flexibility

Try to get as much info available for the actors to look at, including concept art for characters, a working build of the game, design docs, etc.

Session 4:

The Edge Panel – Character Building: Avatars for a User Generated World
-Alex Wiltshire, Edge Online & panel

Alex Wiltshire – editor, edge website
Jorge Sanchez – Lead artist, Lionhead Studios
Jack Oakman – senior artist, RealTimeWorlds

Give players freedom to tell their own story, character. Ownership of something they care about rather than something they’re being told to care about. In APB it’s more about putting their own identity out towards other people.

Session 5:

Working with WiiWare: From student developers to swords and soldiers
Jasper Koning

It’s interesting to see how lacking the use of tools was at first, notepad, basically. Seems they learned a lot over a fairly short period of time and are taking those learnings forward in future projects. Particularly the idea that building decent tools early on will save the designers a huge amount of time.

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