Continuing my posts about the Austin Game Conference…
Friday was kicked off with a keynote by Dr. Richard Bartle, the co-creator of the original MUD (multi-user dungeon), and a professor at the University of Essex. Bartle is an exceedingly charming Englishman whose humor appealed to the geek crowd, without going overboard. Hopefully someone was recording a video of the keynote, because I want to see it again. Bartle titled his talk, “Why Are We Here?”. He informed us that “You are all going to die”, and with that knowledge of our own mortality, why did we find it so important to be there, in Austin, right then?
Bartle talked about MMOs (or “virtual worlds”, as he termed such games) as a powerful means of self-expression. MMOs empower players with a very strong sense of self, as their interaction with the world revolves around their created character. Also, their actions in the world primary effect the player’s character (generally, you don’t cause rapid changes in the game world through your actions - instead, the changes happen to your character). He also drew a parallel between MMO development and the old-school hackers of the ‘60s and '70s. He claimed MMO developers largely subscribed to the same ethos as the old hackers - freedom of access, the right to be judged by your actions in the technology instead of outside of it, etc. Some of it was a bit of a stretch, but it was interesting nonetheless. It sounded a lot more plausible coming from him, I assure you.
The first session I attended was Microsoft’s “Introduction to XNA Studio”. Microsoft appears to be doing some great things with the development pipeline. One thing they’re trying to do is provide the same kind of content control to art assets as version control systems provide code. The XNA toolchain tracks the use of art resources, so that you’ll know exactly what is relying on a certain model or texture, and will therefore be able to tell what changing that model or texture would affect. This has not traditionally been easy, and many developers have created in-house solutions to deal with problems like this. They also announced that an XNA beta will be made available at GDC in March 2006.
I only attended one other session on Friday, and that was the “Casual Game Evolution Summit: Tech Today for Tomorrowâ€™s Hit”. Basically, this panel included people from Sun and Macromedia, and talked up the usefulness of Java and Flash/Shockwave for the development of “casual” games. The Sun guy insisted that Java need not be relegated only to small, lightweight games - with Java’s hooks into OpenGL, he stated that DOOM III could easily be written in Java. The discussion was focused on “casual game” development, though. Honestly, there wasn’t a lot of meat in this session. Basically, each side told us about how much more widespread their technologies are than in the past (and it’s true - Java and Flash and Shockwave penetration on home PCs is certainly up - especially Java, with the whole Microsoft VM deal behind them, and more and more Windows machines getting true Sun JRE installs). If you knew nothing about casual game development, you’d leave knowing that Java and Shockwave are good platforms for such games. Probably not news to most people at the conference.
The rest of my time at the conference was spent at the tech pavilion. Here’s a couple photo highlights:
Microsoft had a separate “casual games” booth set up, where they displayed Xbox 360s playing some of the casual games that will be available on Xbox Live Arcade. Frankly, some of the stuff looked really neat, and I could easily see myself purchasing a few casual games to keep on my 360. I know Stacey will enjoy some of them:
Next conference, I will be certain to have a decent camera with me. Too many of my pictures came out blurry, and even worse were the ones that I had to delete.