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Postcards from the 2005 Austin Game Conference
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Postcards from the 2005 Austin Game Conference


November 9, 2005 Article Start Page 1 of 7 Next
 

[Following the completion of the 2005 Austin Game Conference, which was held from October 27 to October 28 at the Austin Convention Center, Gamasutra is pleased to present an extended multi-author compilation of its 'postcards' from the largely MMO, mobile gaming, and game writing-focused summit.

Many of these articles previously appeared as news stories on the site, but feature here in extended versions with new photographs and information. In addition, we present the 'Casual Game Evolution Summit' write-up from Austin, displayed below, for the first time on Gamasutra.]

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Postcard From Austin:
Casual Game Evolution Summit

The session "Casual Game Evolution Summit," held at the 2005 Austin Game Conference, which was, oddly enough, categorized into the Next Generation Game Development track, covered the technical aspects of building an online casual game. Led in boisterous game show host fashion by moderator Adeo Rossi, CEO of Game Trust Inc., and with senior representatives from Sun and Macromedia on the panel, the panel discussed how their companies, applications, and programming languages fit into the grand scheme of the casual games business. However, the more interesting half of the hour focused on how Sun's Java and Macromedia's Flash web browser-based technology fit into the market space differently.

Casually Important?

Rossi began by asking the panelists to rate the importance of casual games in their business.


Tom Higgins, Macromedia

Macromedia's Tom Higgins answered seven and a half or eight for his company's business, while Chris Melissinos of Sun Microsystems rated the importance of casual games to the Java creator at a firm eight. “Most people's exposure to Java has been through casual games,” Melissinos said. “On sites like java.com, 90 percent of the content is game-related. The casual games space is vitally important to continually rolling our the Java technology,” he added.

Melissinos also affirmed that casual games were likely to drive adoption of new technologies too, and said there were two top reasons people download Java. One is for various communication tools, namely chat applications, and the other is for games. However, casual games drive the technology not directly, but indirectly via the users, who aren't necessarily the users we expect them to be.

Melissinos pointed to Runescape - a game that was mentioned repeatedly during the two-day MMOG conference - as one game that drives technology indirectly, saying the link is the player base, or the children in our homes. The youngest generation is in essence what's pushing Java and other game-playing applications, he said. “The entry to technology that kids are most receiving today is through casual games,” he said.

Higgins agreed, saying that for Macromedia's Director and Shockwave in particular, games cause the most growth of those product lines. “Shockwave is getting put on people's machines because they want to play and be entertained.”

Future Innovation?

Rossi, forever asking questions that are difficult to skirt around, bluntly asked, “What's your sales pitch?” He refined the question slightly to ask what innovations are coming down the line to give customers comfort that they're making the right decision when they purchase the product.

Higgins' answer consisted of “high-performance, interactive media” and “richness,” citing improvements to the Flash player in terms of playback media support and upcoming advances on the 3D engine. He said looking at 3D and real-time capabilities were most important, singing the old “author once, deploy anywhere” metaphor. Melissinos' answer was so forward it shocked a few audience members and the moderator: “There is no game being written today that cannot be written in Java,” teasing, “You want to do Doom 3 shaders in Java?”

“I don't think Sun knew what the hell they had. It was supposed to be used to make TV controls... Today's current Java - because it is not interpreted - is compiled at the time you actually run it and can be compiled more efficiently. Sixty-seven percent of all new PCs shipping in the market today are shipping with current Java,” said Melissinos.


Chris Melissinos, Sun Microsystems

The mention of pre-installed software tipped moved the panelists to further investigate the user experience for their respective technologies and for casual games in general. “One of the key issues in making a game is to know how many people can use it without downloading any new app,” Rossi summarized.

“I think the market has already proved that if the application is good enough, people are willing to go through a whole load of garbage to get it,” said Melissinos. “Consumers have proven this over and over again.” Still, the 67 percent pre-installed rate spoke best for him. “Ask any console manufacturer if they want 67 percent of the market,” he added with cocky assurance. Shockwave doesn't quite measure up to Melissino's number, but is slightly below “at about the 54 or 55 percent mark” according to Higgins.

Conclusion

The panel further discussed issues such as debug time, the pervasiveness of C++ as a programming language (mentioning though that the best casual games are generally not written in that language), VM overhead, and writing for cross-platform capabilities without constant re-authoring. Rossi then finished with a comparison of the technologies from his point of view, completing an interesting panel which showcased some of the minds behind the most pervasive game-capable plug-ins available on all computer desktops.

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Article Start Page 1 of 7 Next

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