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The Connection is Made: Developer Highlights from Game Connection 2006 (Part Two)

April 20, 2006
 

Game Connection is an event designed to build relationships between game developers and game publishers in an intimate, quiet environment. It is put together by Lyon Game, and takes place twice per year: once in December in Lyon France, and once in March, to coincide with the Game Developers Conference.

For many attendees, Game Connection is viewed as the antithesis of E3. Rather than struggling for meetings amidst the booming audio and flashing lights of the sales-driven event, Game Connection is a relaxed, intimate environment that allows attendees to have intimate meetings with potential partners they may not normally have access to.

Introduction

As American game publisher Mastiff's Bill Swartz described it, Game Connection's basic premise is "a lot like speed dating, except they look at your checkbooks and technology instead of your jewels and curves." Game developers taking part in the event reserve a modest meeting room, and request meetings with publishers via a simple online interface. The Game Connection staff then schedules the appointments accordingly, in thirty minute increments.

The Game Connection that coincided with Game Developers Conference 2006 saw increased attendance for both developers and publishers over previous years. Developers the world over came to show off their wares, introduce themselves to the world, or to simply touch base with prospective clients from the past.

Pickles Gamasutra concludes its coverage of the 2006 Game Connection at Game Developers Conference with a look at four of the more off-beat developers in attendance this year, including a game developer that owns the intellectual property rights to a major British comic franchise, secret "ninja developers" who have managed to remain anonymous through over 1,000 developed games, former Sony Computer Entertainment staffers who left their comfy offices to develop games in a co-worker's living room, and a self-starting punk rock studio in Santa Cruz pitching games about monkeys on tricycles and little girls with chainsaws.

Rebellion

UK-based developer Rebellion returned to Game Connection this year to pitch their quick-turnaround development services. "It's useful," said CTO and co-founder Chris Kingsley. "You come here to meet publishers and find out what they're looking for. Sometimes they come to us with ideas, like EA with From Russia with Love."

Rebellion developed the Sony PSP version of the James Bond-themed game, from the ground up, in just five months. "Actually, we did Dead to Rights in just three and a half months," said CEO & Creative Director Jason Kingsley, the second half of the two brothers who founded Rebellion in 1991. "The key thing is, our tools and technology allow us to do that. We had the first demo of From Russia With Love running in 24 hours. The baseline that we start from is really sophisticated. It's all about the tools and technology," he continued, referring to Rebellion's proprietary middleware, Asura.

In addition to quick PSP ports, Rebellion have also just completed Rogue Trooper, a third person adventure, starring the character introduced in the pages of the Rebellion-owned 2000 A.D. comic book property, perhaps most recognizable to those outside of the UK as the imprint responsible for Judge Dredd. The game is being published worldwide by Eidos Interactive, and launches this week in Europe.


Rogue Trooper
Rogue Trooper; developed and intellectually owned by Rebellion

The duo are at Game Connection to find new work but, like most at the event, aren't expecting to build an instant relationship on the show floor. "Nobody's going to sign a deal today," said Jason. "It's an opportunity to continue building relationships. Besides, we don't want to work with someone who doesn't know who we are and what we're all about. We're not a factory. We're a creative studio, and we're proud of what we do."

Tose Software

Founded in 1979, Tose Software is a global game developer, operating in China, Japan, and the United States. Employing over one thousand people, Tose has developed quite a few portable games as of late, including nineteen Sony PSP and seventeen Nintendo DS titles. In fact, Tose's entire back catalogue has surpassed 1,100 games, developed either in part or, in most cases, in full, with hardware ranging from arcade cabinets to classic consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, to the Japanese MSX computer, to mobile phones, and even relatively obscure portable devices, such as the Wonderswan Color. Tose is almost unarguably the largest company in the world dedicated specifically to video game developmet.

What, you've never heard of Tose? There's a good reason for that. They don't want you to.

"We're always behind the scenes," said Masa Agarida, Vice President of Tose's U.S. division. "Our policy is not to have a vision. Instead, we follow our customers' visions. Most of the time we refuse to put our name on the games, not even staff names."

"We're ninja developers!" he joked.

With only a handful of exceptions, Tose's name has never appeared in a game it has developed. One such exception is the Starfi franchise, an exclusively Japanese, Nintendo-published platform series originally for the Game Boy Advance, with a Nintendo DS sequel recently released.

"Starfi is the first game where we own the IP, we share it with Nintendo," said Agarida. "We worked together to create Starfi, and that's why we're credited."

 


Starfy
Tose and Nintendo's Legend of Starfi IV for the Nintendo DS

 

Other than the four Legend of Starfi games, the Nintendo DS title Sega Casino, and the Game Boy Advance version of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tose refused to officially acknowledge any other developed titles to Gamasutra, leaving approximately 1,094 Tose titles left unaccounted for, including titles published by such high profile corporations as Atlus, Bandai, Capcom, Electronic Arts, Koei, Namco, Sony, Square Enix and Taito.

Though Tose obviously has strong publisher relationships in China and Japan, where it is a well known company in the eastern game development spectrum, Tose's presence at Game Connection is aimed to establish relationships with western companies.

"We want to have more exposure for our U.S. office, that's why we're here," said Koichi Sawada, Tose's Director of China Sales. "And also, more exposure in France."

Machine

Wandering the halls of Game Connection with a duffle bag full of attractive promotional T-shirts, and seducing passersby into his meeting room with wine and crackers, was Geoff Houston, General Manager of a brand new start-up developer called Machine. The company employs eight people, all of them former employes of Sony Computer Entertainment America. Machine is located just outside of San Diego, in an office converted from a home. Houston's home.

"We converted my house into an office space, we love it. We're happy," said Houston, with no sign of sarcasm.

Machine was present at GDC to show off their proprietary next-gen game engine, Machinder, which uses Ageia’s PhysX for its low level physics, along with a prototypical game concept with an original IP that they're not yet ready to announce to the world.

 


Machine
An image taken from Machine's web site.

 

"We're big fans of the game connection. We brought wine, you don't bring wine to something you're not going to enjoy," joked Houston. "We really like the response we've gotten, the people we've met, and the connections we've made. For a young game developer, there's no better way to spend your money."

This Game Connection marks Machine's second appearance, with the first being at last year's Lyon, France event. "In Lyon we showed a small tech demo, with just a small portion of the basic game mechanic," said Houston. "Now we have a much larger demonstration."

"[Game Connection] is not a place to sign a deal," said Houston. "You want to come here and tell everybody everything you can about yourself, and find out about them. It's about gathering research and getting yourself into the spotlight. We've gotten tons of office visits based on our Game Connection experience."

Santa Cruz Games

"So the soldier monkeys have bombs, and the elephant shoots peanuts like a machine gun and stuff," explained Alex Neuse, Project Manager for Santa Cruz Games. "The idea is that you're stacking, and as you stack your teeter tower is toppling. This is just a tech demo, but if we could really devote some time and money into it, it could be really awesome."

Neuse was demonstrating Pickles, a game demo of Santa Cruz's own IP. While Neuse would love nothing more than to flesh Pickles out into a full game, he's not specifically pitching it to publishers. "All this is is a tech demo of us running our engine," he explained. "It also runs on Xbox, PSP, PS2, PC, and even the DS."

 


Pickles
Santa Cruz's Pickles demo

 

"I joined Santa Cruz six or seven months ago, and I've been so impressed with their tools," explained Neuse. "I've used proprietary tools in the past, but these tools that this small dev studio has are so awesome."

"All we really want to do is make great games. The reason that we're here is we're wrapping up our current project, and looking for the next thing."

Said current project is an as-of-yet unannounced movie tie-in game for the PSP, Nintendo DS, and Game Boy Advance, to be published by Electronic Arts.

Santa Cruz also had a handful of other playable demos to show, including a PSP game starring a fly-themed superhero buzzing around an open-ended city, a fishing game for the Nintendo DS that utilizes the touch screen for just about every aspect, from boat motor control to hooking a worm to casting a line, and perhaps their most ambitious demo, a game starring a little girl named Joanne taking down zombies with a chainsaw, the codename of which is How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

"It's like a survival horror game for kids," said Neuse. "This is the one we usually show when we're pitching new game ideas. I think it's every developer's dream to eventually be doing our own ideas. It's certainly ours. But we've done tons of licensed games. We know how to deal with licensors."

"I feel like we're about to really take off and become what we've always dreamed."

[04-26-2006 Addendum: Corrected PhysX implementation info for Machinder]

 

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