On May 1st AllGames attended the 2014 Digital Media Wire L.A. Games Conference, a one day meetup of 350 of the biggest executives in gaming to network, disseminate knowledge, and discuss the next steps of the industry at the beautiful Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
Unlike E3 or PAX, you won't see boothbabes, elaborate displays or even videogames at this conference. Instead, Digital Media Wire's L.A. Games Conference is a series of panels with exciting topics like The Evolution of "Digital Pricing Models Across Consoles, PC and Mobile/Tablets" and "Social Casino Games: Know Your Users; How Predictive Data is Changing the Game". Thats not sarcasm, because behind those boring names lie the roadmap to how games will be developed and sold over the coming years.
I attended four of the more than a dozen panels offered and not once did I hear a mention of processor speed, framerates, or ‘true HD’ resolution. Which leads me to believe that the majority of the topics that gamers are currently arguing about on social media aren’t really all that important. Instead of counting lines of resolution, gaming execs are more focused on digital delivery, ip rights and partnerships with other industries.
The Future of Gaming in a F2P and Cross Platform World
Owen Mahoney, CEO & President, Nexon and Mike Vorhaus
Nexon’s CEO, Owen Mahony led a discussion on Free to Play games and as arguably the leader in the genre, Nexon is the best place to look when taking a gauge of the genre. Mahoney lamented that when it comes to F2P,we’ve had to suffer through five years of bad games filled with copycats, instead of the segment becoming a spotlight for creativity. He remarked that although the economics of F2P are all math and stats, there needs to be a resistance to making Free to Play games becoming 'Pay to Win' and how that actually shortens the lifespan of games. And while I doubt P2W games will disappear from the marketplace anytime soon, it’s good to know that companies are aware that the current status quo in Free to Play isn’t sustainable (or fun). Over the next 10 years, Nexon plans on doubling down on F2P. And seeing how their recent financial reports show a continuing rise in revenue, don’t be surprised when other companies follow suit.
Hollywood & Games: Opportunities at the Intersection of Content and Technology
Susan Cummings, Executive Producer, Doctor Who: Legacy
Jon Radoff, Founder & CEO, Disruptor Beam
Paulus Bannink, Creative Technical Director, Zoic Studios
Jean Mathews, Consultant, Strategy & Business Development, iMAGINATE
Avi Gandhi, Digital Agent, William Morris Endeavor
Moderator: Marc Graser, Senior Editor, Variety
The short name for the next big topic should simply be "Intellectual Property". While it’s possible to spend time and money to create your own characters and story, why risk it when Hollywood already has a large surplus of them waiting to be made into games? The Hollywood & Games Panel was filled with representatives from Dr. Who, Game of Thrones, iMaginate, Zoic Studios, and even the William Morris Agency. It was made clear that just tossing a big name at a game doesn’t always guarantee success. You don’t get much bigger than Beyonce’ these days, but even she wasn’t able to sell a poorly developed fashion title. According to the panel, it's dangerous for a game to depend too much on the strength of the license while failing to build up a solid about of original content. The underperforming Defiance MMO was brought up a number of times as an example of how meshing Hollywood and videogames isn’t always a slam dunk. In the end, you’re still developing a game, and once the licensed material is exhausted, you still need to continue to provide original content. It’s also important to keep in mind that companies like HBO and BBCAmerica have different metrics for considering an online title like Game of Thrones or Dr. Who:Legacy a success. They’re more interested in making sure viewers return each week and their games focus more on retaining a community than they do on getting players to buy upgrades.
Video and Game-related Content
Michael Powers, VP & GM, GameSpot, Giant Bomb, Ongamers, CBS Interactive
Matt Cohen, Director of Business Development, Machinima
Rodrigo Velloso, Director of Gaming, YouTube
Amy Cotteleer, Founder and Chief Creative Officer, A Squared Group
Matthew Patrick, Producer, Game Theory / Senior YouTube Channel Manager, Defy Media
Moderator: Phil Ranta, VP, Talent Operations, Fullscreen
TV is dead. Well, not yet, but we all see the writing on the wall. This panel featured both video content channels along with notable creators. It was fairly Youtube specific, with Twitch getting only a passing mention. It’s hard to deny that Youtube is the main platform for online gaming video, but Twitch is a major force in delivering live content. Machinima’s Matt Cohen explained the difficulty in managing a business where you need to merge high power, professional businesses with video producers that have little respect for NDAs. The panel explained how ‘small time’ youtube stars have quickly grown into accomplished production houses with budgets that can at times rival tv shows. Defy Media’s Matthey Patrick chronicled the evolution of gaming videos from ‘angry game reviews’ to special effects laden videos from Freddie Wong.
To Live and Indie in LA: Indie Game Development in the Southland
Kellee Santiago, Head of Developer Relations, OUYA / Co-Founder,thatgamecompany
Spencer Yip, Director & Founder, YummyYummyTummy
James Liu, Founder, CEO, Writer, Developer, BoxCat Games
Brendon Chung, Founder, Blendo Games
Mariel Cartwright, Lead Animator, Lab Zero
Moderator: Jamison Selby, VP, Games bspot and Board Member, IGDA Los Angeles
My final panel of the day was one of the most informative. It was outwardly about the rigors of being an indie developer in Los Angeles, but I found it to be more about the easily overlooked facets of being a game creator. When the panel was asked what their biggest challenge was, it wasn't deadlines, or hardware contraints. It was traffic. Just being able to move about the city was so much of a struggle that it's impacting game development. Another issue was simple communication. It's ironic that in a tech based industry with dozens of near instantaneous messaging services, being able to communicate with other developers and the city itself seemed to be a hardship. For example, all of the panelists noted that a tax break for small developers would be a big help. Only to find out from the L.A. CTO who was in attendance, that tax incentives have been available for years. The same CTO, Peter Marx, also informed us that he wasn't made aware that the conference was even being held until a few days prior. Communication, it's important.
In all, I found this year's DMW L.A. Games Conference an insightful experience. It's a fascinating look behind the scenes of the games industry and an invaluable opportunity to mix and mingle with gaming giants. The $500 ticket price may be prohibitive, but if you can swing it, it'll be money well spent.
Kickstarter is certainly becoming a hotbed for video game developers to bring their gaming visions to life without the yoke of a big publisher interfering. One of the latest video games to get fully funded and developed is Monochroma. It was developed by Nowhere Studios, a small studio in Istanbul, Turkey,who wants to take the spirit and fun of classic video games and create next-gen games for all types of systems. Monochroma is their first game towards that goal.
Monochroma tells a bittersweet tale of two brothers. Set in alternative dystopian 1950 it starts with the boys near their ramshackle home doing typical young boy things; climbing, jumping, swinging, and flying a kite. While the youngest brother is flying the kite a strong breeze comes up and takes the kite away from him. The boys chase the kite to a railway barn where it gets caught on the roof. They climb up onto the roof and just as they get close to it the roof caves in. The older brother comes through fine, but his younger brother injures his leg in the fall. With a little determination the big brother carries his little brother out of the railway barn into the connected robot factory only to learn it holds a dark secret. Their journey now becomes one of, not only looking for help, but survival.
It's a well told story especially given the fact that there is no dialog. The animation and "acting" of its characters are combined with a well-crafted soundtrack to convey all the story and emotion. The soundtrack was created by Gevende, a Turkish psychedelic rock band. Gevende manage to capture wonder, adventure, and yet a slight sad dystopian feel that gives Monochroma an emotional boost.
The animation art is made up of stark grayscale that outlines positive and negative space, highlighted only by the splashes of red that point out items of importance. It's hauntingly beautiful. Little details certainly speak well. For example, the first time you try to set your brother down in the game in a place that's not brightly lit. The way he shakes his head and sort of hides his face at the same time perfectly conveys that childhood fear of the dark.
While the art and music of Monochroma present so much, it's a disappointment that the controls are not up quite up to snuff. For a 2D puzzle platforming game they are loose enough that you will experience more than a few untimely deaths. Part of the core controls is the fact that your movement speed and jumping height are affected by whether or not you are carrying your brother. You can move faster and jump higher without him, but you cannot go very far without him either. The game doesn't always seem to realize you are not carrying him. This issue comes into focus mostly while jumping. In later sections of the game this really matters because you are racing against a clock.The controls aren't completely horrible and if you remember to take the looseness into account, they are playable.
The only other problem I had with Monochroma has more to do with my own muscle memory than any problem with the game. Jump is the up arrow or "W" if you use "WASD" controls and the Space Bar is used to pick up and put down your brother. Years of playing other PC games that use the Space Bar as jump has led to a few “oops” moments. Again this really isn’t a problem with game; it's more a problem if you're so ingrained in one way of playing.
Overall Monochroma is a very good story. The game rises above its problems and tells the sweet and sad tale of childhood, growing up, and family bonds. It stands out as one of the better Kickstarter games and Nowhere Studios should be very proud of it. I would like to see what they do next; in the meantime though I have some hidden flowers to find in Monochroma so I can finish an achievement.
The PS4 has distinguished itself as one of all time most friendly platforms for independent developers to release their games. There are some really brilliant indie games showing great creativity that you’ll never find from a mainstream game. There are others that are as amateurish as it gets that probably shouldn’t have seen the light of day. We look at the latest independent game to come out on Sony’s PlayStation 4, In Space We Brawl.
In Space We Brawl has to be one the easiest games to review because honestly there’s barely a game. Take some basic twin shooter controls, add in some slightly different spaceships and weapons and you’ve got In Space We Brawl. The games is almost totally a multiplayer game and there isn’t all that much depth to these battles. The only thing the game has you do is to shoot your weapons while moving around with your left stick. You hope you’re the last person standing taking less weapon fire damage than your ship can stand and avoiding the few obstacles littering the map. There’s eight maps in the game and the only thing that even makes them even slightly different is the textures they use in each and the amount of asteroids you can hit, otherwise there’s absolutely no difference.
There is what can be considered a single player mode, called the “Challenge” mode. As far as I could tell instead of programming bots for single player arena matches they just put a bunch of forced scenarios for you to play through that feels like tutorial missions rather than anything that could be remotely fun. You get to experience terribly boring goals like avoid the asteroid or travelling to difference waypoints on a tiny map. Honestly if you thought the multiplayer was lacking then the single player takes it to a whole new level.
The sound effects are atrocious, the developers discovered the Dual Shock 4 had a speaker and decided to use to deliver ear crushing sound effects on an all too frequent basis. That’s not to say sound effects coming from your TV is any better, the voice acting has to be the worst I’ve heard in any game and that’s with the option to pick from a handful of equally bad voice actors with none being even passable. The graphics are the nicest part of the game as they the ships are adequate, the background graphics are plain but look nice enough and the character designs are well done.
In Space We Brawl is currently selling on the PSN for $11.99 in an PS3/PS4 crossbuy. I can’t recommend you buy this game at this price. There’s maybe two minutes of fun and then the game slowly evaporates into boredom and disappointment.
Personally, I was excited to hear about an event that would bring over 150 talented programmers, developers and others together in a 48-hour time span with the goal to create a video game with a strong female protagonist. The I Am a Gamer Jam was held in Vancouver, Canada during the weekend of July 12-14, 2013. Due to the popularity of this event, satellite operations were set up in various North American locations and others participated remotely around the world. The event was the brainchild of Kimberly Voll, a professor of software engineering and gaming design at the Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver, Canada. She stated she was stunned to hear that major video game companies were of the mindset that games with female protagonists would not succeed. Her answer? -- The I Am a Gamer Jam 48-hour video game jam development marathon.
The question is, did this event that actually sold out in Canada serve its purpose to convince major video game companies to feature more female protagonists in video games, or did it do the exact opposite? From most reports, the event was well attended; however, in my opinion, some of the video game submissions were not of the highest calibre.
First of all, when I found out about this event, I was under the impression the participants would collaborate and develop a video game with a female lead that would garner lots of attention after the event was over, and go on to become a huge success. In other words, I thought that with all these great minds working together, the results would be stellar, culminating in a video game that not only had a realistic main female protagonist, but a game that would prove to be a financial success as well.
After the event was over, I was eager to learn of the game that could possibly propel and convince major gaming companies that video games with a strong female protagonists could actually succeed. The resulting video game would be a sort of a "See, I told you it could be done and here's the proof." Did this happen? You tell me.
Here's what I found out. First of all, the developers worked on separate games that supposedly cast a female character as the main protagonist. This was my initial surprise -- Multiple video games would be created instead of one. Maybe it is unlikely that so many people could collaborate and come up with one magnificent game after only 48 hours, but at least this would have been a good start, in my opinion.
My second surprise was that most of the games were cartoonish, simplistic and lacked imagination of any kind, in my opinion.
Yes, the above picture of a banana was one of the more than 40 submissions of video games with a female protagonist. By the way, when you clicked on this game, nothing happened, so apparently it may have, thankfully, been taken down. One of the statement made by a commenter was he or she would not have played this game anyway -- even if the game did not have a banana as cover art.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. I got the impression the developers were determined to steer away from actually showing a female as a graphic. Of course some of the submissions showed females, some as stick figures, some as unattractive cartoon figures or other images that were not appealing to the eye -- in my opinion. Some of the submissions veered off the topic at hand and brought in social issues, and even religion.
Could it be that some of the developers at this jam were not quite the best and brightest the video game community has to offer? Believe it or not, I "played" one of the games, that essentially was a story about someone's relatives. You advance through the story by clicking on a link, which brought you to another page with a picture of someone and a story line that went nowhere. Where is the creativity in that?
Another question I have is where were the imaginative, talented developers that create those big block-buster type games such as Call of Duty, Mass Effect and other creative games that are saturated with video game playing excitement? Based on the results of some of these elementary video games submitted, they definitely were not at this jam.
This is another game that supposedly advances the cause of having female video game protagonists. A game with a grotesque looking bee, no less.
There were other games that showed pictures or illustrations of buildings, etc. with nary a female character in sight. With over 40 percent of the particpants female, it makes me wonder if they also veered away from showing an actual female as cover art for their video game.
To be fair, Ms. Voll, did mention that these were mostly independent developers; however, in my opinion, independent developers can be just as talented and creative as those who work for the major video game companies.
I believe that, unfortunately, the I Am A Gamer Jam may have done the cause a disservice by trying to cram creativity in video game development in a 48-hour period. Sometimes it may taker over 48 hours to come up with a good idea for a video game -- much less to actually have one finished by that time. Maybe a week's time span would have given the developers more time to get their creative juices flowing and come up with a plausible video game with a strong female protagonist.
Regarding the publicity for this event -- I recommend that Ms. Voll be mindful of the comments she makes which can be miscontrued or misinterpreted. For example, what would you think if you heard her say that "Independent developers are the ones that can come forward and try crazy ideas." Was she inferring that having a video game with a strong female protagonist, is a "crazy idea?" Also she further stated, "What defines the industry is the big, production companies...On one hand I respect what they are doing." She's entitled to her opinion, however, did she mean she respects that some of these companies shun having a female protagonist in their video games?
Of course, sometimes things and situations seem differently from the outside looking in, and maybe those participating thought they were really doing something positive to promote having female protagonists in video games. I think organizing this event was probably a huge effort on Ms. Voll's part; however, it remains to be seen if any positive actions in the video game industry will result from this jam.
It is possible a message was sent to the video game industry that they need to step it up relative to featuring female protagonists in their video games. In order for this effort to have any affect on the video game industry, regardless of how insignificant-- they must look deeper into the overall idea of this 48-hour jam, rather than the actual substance, which unfortunately, in my opinion, left a lot to be desired.
Have you ever played a video game and thought that if only the location or setting of the game was designed differently, it would be a more exciting game to play? Or maybe you thought that if the video gameplay was tweaked just a little, you would have a better chance at winning or getting a high score, depending on the type video game you were playing. Enter Project Spark. Now that the formerly closed beta version of Project Spark is available to all video game players-- you can do a lot more than just think about how you would like to change video games. Tapping into your imagination and creativity, you will be able to actually create your own video games, including the world the video game characters designed by you can explore. Maybe you prefer not to design a video game from scratch. No problem. You can simply play unique video games that were created by other video game players if you like.
Project Spark is a video “gamemaker”, developed by Team Dakota, where you can build your own video game experiences including the backdrop of the gameplay. You create your video game on a digital canvas that can be a blank sheet or one that has already been started for you. You can edit, change, design, modify and create aspects of the video game with just a push of the controls on your controller, choosing from the wide selection of terrains and environments available to you. You are not limited in using only the controller when creating your video games -- You may also use the Kinect and even Microsoft's SmartGlass.
This game has been compared to Minecraft and Terraria by some; however, in my opinion, this game gives you so much more in the way of creativity. For example, unlike Minecraft, you are not carving your video game environment, but you are designing one that is attuned to a video game that you created yourself. In other words, you are not just building an environment from one that is already there, but you are creating one from the ground up -- so to speak. As mentioned earlier, you also have the option to get a headstart on your video game as well as the environment by choosing from those that have already been designed for you. Also, the graphics, vivid color terrains, and other elements of video game designs are, in my opinion, levels up from what is available on Minecraft, Terraria, and other similar type games. Additionally, there is the social element of Project Spark where you can share your video game creations.
With the above being said, you may ask, "What is the catch?" Well, even though the download of Project Spark is free, you will have to pay for some of the content for your video games. Depending on how you look at it, this may not be a drawback, if you look at this from the standpoint that once your video game is completed, it will be a true original -- which in some ways can be considered priceless.
Project Spark beta is available now and is playable on the Xbox One, and Windows 8.