Sunday, October 8, 2017

51. GDC Next 2013

       In November of 2013, I got the opportunity to attend the GDC Next Game Developer Conference in Los Angeles, California. It was the first big conference I had ever attended. Not only that but it was the furthest I had ever been away from home. It was both an educational and a growing experience for me as I began to network with people from a wide range of technological backgrounds. This gave me the chance to meet and hear speeches from some professional game developers working in the industry. After I had acquired my pass, a place to stay within walking distance, and other travel arrangements, I was pumped. I couldn't wait to see what resources GDC had to offer to help me further myself. I was working at GameStop at the time and it was not easy convincing my bosses to leave to in order to attend this. I promised to return them a couple of souvenirs to help convince them.

Welcome to ADC & GDC Next

       I was so psyched for my first Game Developer Conference that I left my hotel room and arrived early before things officially kicked off. To my surprise they told me at the desk that I was the first to arrive. They were kind enough to give me a discount. I knew it was going to be an amazing experience and I wanted to be as prepared as possible. 

Expo Floor
       GDC Next was a giant melting pot of people from all sorts of technological disciplines and backgrounds all coming together to network. I was beyond overwhelmed and initially shy and nervous. My nervousness instantly went away as majority of the people for the most part were very open and friendly. 

       Inside the expo, I got to witness a live demonstration on how to combine multiple projects in Visual Stuiod 2013 and test your phone application. This was a DirectX project and was mostly coded in C#.

       This next following demonstration was a great presentation about using Unity in-conjunction with Visual Studio 2013 to quickly create a game project for any Windows based phone. 


       At GDC Next 2013, it was the first time I had learned about Microtransactions and needless to say; I was not pleased with the whole idea of it initially, but I wasn’t entirely against it. Tripple-A games don’t actually cost the retail price these days. With aspects such as Season Passes and DLC, Microtransactions can all substantially increase the amount we pay for videogames. At GDC, the biggest money grabber was Microtransactions. It potentially changed the design of new videogames. In my blog post about Microtransactions, I talked about the pros and cons of them, however I didn’t explain as to how or why Microtransactions came to be. Feel free to check out my blog post to learn more about the pros and cons of Microtransactions. 

So why were Micotransactions being implemented? 

       Its not a simple answer but in short, the reason being is that videogame budgets have risen drastically throughout the years. With the advancements in technology along with an ever increasing number of people working on these games, the cost as well as development time grew enormously. Game companies have million dollar budgets just to create these games and they have to make the money back that they spent in order to break even. Microtransactions were not entirely new since they were already well known to be in MMOs. Due to increased costs publishers want to be confident they can make back their investment, so Microtransactions were implemented as a result. In one conference, developers pointed out that it takes less time to create Microtransactions than DLC content. They stated that the time required to create skins for weapons and cosmetic items was far less than the time required to create a new chapter or expansion to lengthen a story.

       Microtransactions have radically changed the design of games; some good and many well... not so much. I tell myself maybe I’m just getting old and haven’t adapted to changing times. However, I put off writing this particular blog post until now because my fears have come to fruition. Many of the most beloved games I enjoyed in the past have had sequels which didn't perform or play as well as I'd hoped; Mass Effect Andromeda being one. Some titles have crumpled under the pressure of publishers trying to release them sooner or “on-time” to the public which led to them being unfinished or rushed. I'm going to assume we all know what happened with No Man's Sky but whether or not it deserves a second chance or more, is up to you to decide. The full version of games are no longer being released at launch but rather sold in bits and pieces. Many games have failed to see the light of day; Prey 2 being one of them.  

Did you have an alternative or additional solution to Microtransactions?

       My solution I proposed was to encourage game companies to work together to lower the budget cost of creating their games. This will help to avoid unethical business decisions and practices such as selling unfinished games at launch for $60 and later charging players for the rest of the game in bits and pieces. After I left GDC 2013, I returned back home to my job at Game Stop at the time and as you can imagine, this only made my job harder and customers were not pleased. My fellow co-workers and myself not only had to convince players to place a minimum of $5 down to pre-order games. We also had to convince players to purchase DLC and expansions prior to games released, while dealing with the company pressuring us to sell 'x' amounts of Power-Up Rewards cards or we faced termination. Needless to say, this caused us a lot of stress and did not end up going so well. Game Stop found itself in a tight spot as games were moving towards an all-digital market. As time went on, more and more game companies and publishers were no longer selling hard copies of their games and making them only downloadable.

       So back to game companies working together. If the budget was 2 million for example, two game companies working together could split the cost evenly or however they decide. This would allow them to save money and invest towards things such as marketing.  If game companies partnered, it would not only reduce cost but time as well. With that said, they would have to work well together. When one game company helps out another with their game project, the other company could return the favor by doing the same for them on a future project. Just to be clear, this would not be easy whatsoever due to licenses, contract agreements, schedules and etc. As it stands, Microtransactions are hurting the reputation of many game developers. If we aren’t careful about how we handle Microtransactions in games, years from now it could potentially look something like this… 

       In-game advertising would be a great alternative to Microtransactions. We've seen this work well in past games; Rainbow Six Vegas for instance. Can you imagine how much income Grand Theft Auto 5 would bring in if real-world adds were integrated into the game's environment while playing online?

Did you like GDC overall? 
       Overall I enjoyed GDC and I had my share of ups and downs. The industry is evolving both for better and worse. I was not against the idea of tools such as Unity to help make it easier on people by cutting down time to create games. I was upset because they were encouraging people to solely heavily rely on certain tools such as Unity, Unreal Engine and Cry Engine. I was shocked as I sat in some presentations in which they saw learning certain skills as a waste of time.

“Why waste time learning the skills to program or 3D model when you can just purchase art assets online from the Unity asset store, buy a starter kit and merge stuff together to create a game?” 

       This was the game developer’s conference and they tried to make it sound as if programmers’ jobs were becoming obsolete and somehow an unnecessary skill to learn. I wasn’t against buying art assets however many indie game developers create their own to save costs. Also, they simply can't just purchase them because well; in many cases they don't exist. They don't exist primarily because many art assets are created from their imagination. To me, that's the beauty if making games. Its the closest thing to manifesting my imaginations into reality and express myself. Dare to be different. Many talks were strictly centered around money making strategies and less about actually making games and what barriers to overcome to my disappointment. However, I’m not against making money; no, not at all!

       Later throughout the week on the show floor, I recognized an increase in the same recycled starter kits for their cell phone games. It was an over-saturated market of similar games using the same if not similar starter kits and only a handful of games actually stood out. Some were unique and original. To summarize, I became sort of saddened because the vast majority were creating these games strictly for profit rather than out of passion. Few were making something that they enjoy that’s unique, different and makes them feel a since of pride and accomplishment for their efforts. As soon as I mentioned I was creating my own engine, most people turned the other cheek. However, I was aware that making a game engine this day in age is not very popular. Especially when so many engines are readily available and considering how extraordinarily difficult and overbearing it can be to create an engine. At the time, they were unaware of my accomplishments and that figured out a way to import my source-code into Unity. I realized right then and there that I would have to show off my work or bring in a finished game project for the next time I attended GDC. On the plus side, I enjoyed GDC for the most part because I came across some awesome resources;  mainly books, to help me further develop my game engine.

       At GDC Next, I was often asked which engine is the best one to use. I often scratched my head in confusion because its not a question of which is better but a matter of preference. It depends on your needs for your game and there are hundreds of tools out there game developers utilize. Everyone's needs and preferences varies greatly. I prefer middle-ware stuff such as the JigLibX, BEPU and Jitter physics libraries. Open source can be a gamble at times and from my experience you are more prone to encountering more issues. Engines work great and can be a tremendous undertaking and once taken, many people find it hard turning away from them. I am for the most part open to learning about new engines because I find it fascinating. So I encourage you not to limit yourself to simply one tool.

       This MOGA stand was the first thing that caught my attention when I first walked inside the building. MOGA is an awesome device that transforms your phone or mobile device into a diverse mobile gaming system. Its hard to play many 3D games like a first-person shooters for instance on phones because your fingers get in the way of the gameplay and complex controls would be difficult. This device has the comfortablitity of a gaming controller like Xbox 360 controller. It comes equipped with a full set of console-style controls such as dual clickable analog sticks, L1/R1 shoulder buttons, L2/R2 shoulder triggers, a D-pad... everything you need. MOGA actually comes in a variety of controller types. This devices also comes equipped with a mounting system to secure your phone. It fits phones up to 3.2 in/82mm wide—even many phones with a case on.

Hari Hatinen 
       Hari Hatinen was the Lead Graphics Programmer for the iOS game Supernauts. I learned a lot about Ambient Occlusion techniques and ways to overcome some challenges with a 3D model's geometry. I have a couple of samples working and look forward to implementing Screen Space Ambient Occlusion into the Cyclone Game Engine.

Nick Beliaeff 
       Nick Beliaeff was the head of development at Trion Worlds and helped with the hit videogame Defiance. 

Technical Illusion's
3D Augmented Reality Game System

       This is Technical Illusions' 3D Augmented Reality System. I got to try it out and it was pretty awesome! It places you inside the game in firs-person. You look around the world by moving your head and you moved forward, backward and strafe using the controller. You can actually physically jump in the game with Technical Illusion's Augmented Reality headset.It was still a work-in-progress at the time but nothing short of amazing.

       XSENS Animation System was absolutely amazing. I learned through nice demonstration on how fast and simple it was to create an animation, export the information and apply it in MotionBuilder and Maya.

       XSENS Motion Capture Demonstration was incredible! Its very intuitive and quick to setup. 

Richard Lemarchand
       I was honored to get the opportunity to meet Richard Lemarchand. He was the Lead or the Co-Lead Game Designer of all three Uncharted games. His speech about creativity, games as an art and storytelling techniques was very fascinating. 

The GameStop there was... BIG!!

   I think Kareem Abdul Jabbar is actually as tall as this statue of him.

Welcome to Staple Center!

       I was grateful for my time at GDC Next 2013 overall since I came across some awesome books to help further my education in game art and development. There is always so much more to learn. The hardest part was figuring out how to fit all of these books in my suitcase when I departed. 

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