In November 2010 it took place another edition of the Montreal International Game Summit, and it was a great event.
There was a good variation of talks covering different aspects of gaming:
- The first keynote was Ed Fries who gave a very inspiring, motivating talk on the beauty achieved through constrains. He started with a metaphor between the evolution of ancient base crafting and the game industry, he pointed out how the limitations in the crafting were setting the foundation of styles in the production of such beautiful pieces. The key point is that for creating beauty it is necessary to understand the limitations of the medium. In order to exemplify how comprehending limitations are critical for producing games, he showed his own work “Halo 2600”(click on the link to play it). It’s a version of Halo that he wrote for running on an Atari 2600.
- Greg Boyd is an attorney who specializes in the digital media field. He gave a presentation on intellectual property, trademarks, and copyrights; neat content about how to protect your content, when to use and not to use others’ material. He even condensed the info into a chart, and he would smack anyone who would yawn during the lecture. Even after such announcement, someone yawn :-O
- I’m an avid RTS player, and there is an upcoming game that promises to challenge how RTSs are played: Achron. The new aspect that this game brings is time travelling, yes, time travel in an RTS game. That’s twisted! Chris Hazard gave a talk on mathematical aspects on balancing games while keeping in mind that the game still have to be fun.
- Andrée-Anne Boisvert from Ubisoft Quebec on gave a talk on playtesting. She explained the importance of in-house playtesting, and quick turn-around to the development team. They employed the concept of persona to define a fictional end user, and rapid playtest with only 1 or 2 objectives; this approach helps to keep the focus on the most urgent matters, and refresh updates with the new data. Playtesting is done by the usability people themselves or others (developers, tester, end users), the number of ‘testers’ is kept low for fast data processing, and because for usability purposes 5 participants are enough for identifying usability problems (see Nielsen). The problems identified are hypothesis that are confirmed or rejected.
- With all the buzz around Kinect, Ryan Challinor from Harmonix presented the UI adventure they went through for the game “Dance Central”. It was really interesting to hear how UI designers working on Kinect products need to change the way they assumed people interact with devices. The gestural input changes a lot of the assumed rules. “Pushing air doesn’t feel good”. The UI work at Harmonix dealt with menu navigation, list of song, and selections. They also have the challenge of working with a new device that was still under development, thus glichty. Ryan showed different prototypes of the UI, pointing out to strength and weaknesses of each iteration.
- Todd Northcutt from Gamespy talked about leaderboards and (pretty much) how you feel about you position on the leaderboards ;) He covered how ‘high scores’ were actually a local competition, for instance at the arcades or your family early consoles. At home you would know and recognize whose those three letters were, and that was an incentive to beat your brother, your cousin or the neighbour. With the pass of time and the millions of gamers, some leaderboards became absurd: you’re # 3,526,489! :-/ So, the point is how leaderboards are changing to be meaningful again, which is going back to its origins. For instance, in StarCraft your rank is segmented into small clusters with people or similar skills, you can make your way through the ladder. Other strategies involve to track multiple aspect of the player, for instance areas explored, guns own, skills levels, pets collected, etc, the idea is that then you can have multiple leaderboards on multiple aspects, and users have more chances of being first at something. It sounds a little bit cruel but it’s the true. We want to be number one, at something, at anything! So, it’s a way of giving recognition to players on diverse aspects of the game. Another leaderboard trend is to provide context, such as a leaderboard of only your friends, or of those in your same physical location (this is again going back to the origins), those who you know, which increases your interest on the leaderboard, and your desire to beat them! Lastly, Todd mentioned that leaderboards shouldn’t be kept forever, they need to be flushed out to keep the competition fresh.
- I presented the work done at Electronic Arts on user experience using psychophysiological techniques. Using sensors that measure facial muscle activity and galvanic skin response, it is possible to translate the data into emotions. Plus, by employing eye tracking, you can see where players look at on the screen.
As you’ve read the summit had different interesting talks, there was also an expo floor.
Montreal is an outstanding city. It’s amazing from multiple points of view: culturally alive, great public transport, friendly locals, excellent food, and a motivated game industry. You can’t go wrong with Montreal!
Last week I went to the Penny Arcade eXpo (PAX 2010) which is a fest for the gaming lovers. It was a great trip!
PAX lasted three day (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), there were talks, panels, workshops, rooms for gaming, and the expo floor where hundreds of companies were featuring their latest games. All this took place in Seattle, Washington, USA.
PAX ’10 sold out all badges a couple of weeks before the event, and it was indeed very crowded. People would queue for hours in order to have a spot for the keynote, or play one of the hottest games. Talking with other PAX attendees who have been at several PAX editions, it was noticed that the number of people have rocketed. The Washington Convention Center seemed small for all the flocks swarming the floors. The ‘big’ events such as keynote, concert, and closing ceremony happened at the Benaroya Hall but there was not enough space for all the PAX attendees, and a lot of people were left out. It seems that PAX organizers need to resolve the ratio of people-available space.
Panels and talks covered different topics, always leaving time for Q&A which made things more dynamic, hearing the avid geeks’ thoughts and creating a more intimate atmosphere. From all the panesl, I’ll highlight “We Study Games…Professionally: Academic Research and Game Studies”. I was really happy that such panel took place at PAX. Christopher Paul (Seattle University), Mark Chen (University of Washington), Nathan Dutton (Ohio University), Todd Harper (Ohio University), and Shawna Kelly (University of Southern California) presented on overview of their work and talked about how the game studies field is evolving. The room was completely full, and people were eager to know more about how studying games works.
Volunteers at PAX kind, cheerful and willing to help, they are called “Enforcers” which makes things even more hilarious. Wearing kilts was quite popular at PAX.
The expo floor was full of games ready to be played (plus your willingness for queuing), demos were also given often, flashy lights and music. It is a truly a never-ending source of data for us, the game user experience folks. It was really interesting to see how fast or slow people would pick up a game and be able to start playing, if they would stay there until the exhibition staff will kick them out or if they would sneak out while trying to be polite. I’ve to run a study there next year!
The final for the Omegathon was duelled with the Claw, a very exciting ending. :)
As a person who has been part of the Scout movement and is part of the gaming research community, I’m really excited to see that the Boy Scouts of America have added the video game badge.
This is a great step towards de-demonizing the video game activity by youth. I believe that it’ll help to educate parents and other adults on games since they have to be involved in the some of the requirements to get the badge. It’ll bring for sure more awareness about selecting games and how they fit kids’ life.
Here are the requirements as they appear in the official site of Scouts of America:
Complete these three requirements:
- Explain why it is important to have a rating system for video games. Check your video games to be sure they are right for your age.
- With an adult, create a schedule for you to do things that includes your chores, homework, and video gaming. Do your best to follow this schedule.
- Learn to play a new video game that is approved by your parent, guardian, or teacher.
Earn the Video Games belt loop and complete five of the following requirements:
- With your parents, create a plan to buy a video game that is right for your age group.
- Compare two game systems (for example, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii, and so on). Explain some of the differences between the two. List good reasons to purchase or use a game system.
- Play a video game with family members in a family tournament.
- Teach an adult or a friend how to play a video game.
- List at least five tips that would help someone who was learning how to play your favorite video game.
- Play an appropriate video game with a friend for one hour.
- Play a video game that will help you practice your math, spelling, or another skill that helps you in your schoolwork.
- Choose a game you might like to purchase. Compare the price for this game at three different stores. Decide which store has the best deal. In your decision, be sure to consider things like the store return policy and manufacturer’s warranty.
- With an adult’s supervision, install a gaming system.