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MIGS 2011: Devs Get Blunt On Best, Worst Parts Of Games Industry

MIGS 2011: Devs Get Blunt On Best, Worst Parts Of Games Industry

November 1, 2011 | By Kris Graft

Game developers at the Montreal International Game Summit on Tuesday shot off short bursts of knowledge, introspection and criticisms about the games industry in a series of micro-talks.

It was a collage of personal, candid, insider perspectives on the industry offered in five-minute increments, mainly focusing on some of the best and worst aspects of games and game development.

Mainstream Troubles

Raphael van Lierop, a consultant who most recently worked on THQ and Relic's Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, said the best and worst part of the game industry are one and the same: the industry's mainstream success.

New platforms, genres and methods of delivery have facilitated great growth in the industry, both from a cash perspective and demographically. On the other hand, van Lierop lamented, "All decisions are about money, money, money."

While van Lierop said he realized he might sound like The Simpsons' "Comic Book Guy," complaining that about games as a pop phenomenon, the overall effect of the change is that "we've lost a sense of connection to the games we're making."

"This has really become a sequel driven industry," he explained, referencing Uncharted 3, Resistance 3 and Killzone 3, all big-budget console sequels in recent times. "We still have 18 months till the next console comes out -- where do we go from here?" he asked.

"That's ok, we can go to four," he said as he flashed an image of Halo 4 box art, as attendees in unison exclaimed "Ooooooooh!"

"Yes, ‘Oooooooh,'" he laughed. "My point is that we have lost our balance along the way."

The Well-Read Developer

David Sears, former creative director on the SOCOM shooter series, and currently at work at Ubisoft on an unannounced title, used his five minutes to encourage developers to find time to read more books.

Often, reading gets put to the side, because game developers are busy people. They're smart too, but that's not enough " they need to be well-informed.

"It's about being well-rounded," said Sears. "…But being clever is not enough. It's about being informed. About everything we know as a species is in books, but we actually have to take time to find it, which is annoying," he joked.

Sears suggested that game developers read "widely instead of deeply," consuming a broad range of books.

Among children, there is a lower emphasis on reading books today. "Did video games kill reading?" Sears asked rhetorically, perhaps they have, to an extent, so game developers have a big responsibility.

"If you don't [read] for your careers, your brains or [to be] elite, please do it for the kids. Your game may be the only book the kids read. Books -- they're the best game design superweapon ever."

Guiding A Team

Heather Alekson, director of developer operations at EA's Visceral studio, changed gears with tips from the production and management side of the industry.

She offered three principles for managing a creative team:
- Set a clear vision for your team. Define what success looks like, give them a goal.
- Invest in your team. "My team is my product. At the end of the day, they're the ones making everyone successful, so the happier and more efficient I can make them, the better."
- Get out of the way. Give the team the resources to be successful, and don't hinder their process; facilitate it. "Your job there is a custodian to them," she said.

Enough With The Scream!

Lee Perry, lead designer at Epic Games, had a simple request: Stop using the infamously overused Wilhelm Scream, which he called "The worst inside joke ever."

"It's ancient," he said. "'Your mom' jokes are older than this. ...Frickin' Game of Thrones threw the Wilhem Scream in the middle of an awesome fight scene. Augh! Die in fire!"

"I may be overreacting … [but] this is not super underground brandy-swizzling stuff," he continued. "Quit it. If I can stop one of you from putting it your game, this is worth it."

Camera Criticism

Chris Pruett from Robot Invader, and formerly of Google, gave his personal opinion on camera control and cinematography in horror games, showing good and bad examples of how cinematography and camera control can stomp on one another.

For him, the best use of a camera that cuts between scenes with a third-person control scheme is the Resident Evil remake for GameCube. The worst? Deep Fear for Sega Saturn, in which you could hold one direction and get stuck between two changing screens, as each screen change re-calibrates the directions of the control stick.

Wild Pitches

Persist Music composer Tom Salta, who's worked on games including From Dust and Halo Anniversary, showed off some of the worst pitches he's ever encountered.

One was an email that read, "My name is Antonio Begelli [named changed 'slightly,' Salta said]. I am a composer and a genius. My friends call me 'Be-genius.' I want you to get me a job in the games industry." Salta said the arrogance and presumptuousness blew him away. "It was so bad, it almost got me to respond."

Another pitch was an audio demo " handed to him as a CD wrapped in a napkin.

He also lamented a lack of risk-taking in the games industry. "How many times are we going to hear the Inception-inspired cruise ship blast [‘brummmmm']. If I hear that again in another trailer or game trailer, I'm going to rip someone's throat out."

"We need more visionaries, trendsetters and risk-takers," he said. "That's what some of these decisions need to be based on."

Perspective From A Year Away

Patrice Desilets, ex-Ubisoft creative director on Assassin's Creed and now head of the new THQ Montreal studio, took the podium to explain some of the best and worst things that happened during his year off from the games industry, a year off that was required by a Ubisoft non-compete clause.

The best parts? He watched all of the World Cup games, he said, traveled Canada extensively with his girlfriend and two small daughters in a Mini Cooper Clubman. Even visited a real place called Dildo, Canada ("It exists for real!" he exclaimed.)

He spent time in Costa Rica, played hidden object games on the iPad, and discovered a gluten intolerance.

The worst part, he said, wasn't going to E3 to see a dearth of creativity. "Maybe it's time the industry take a year off," he said. "Final Fantasy XIII-2?! Is that the best we can do?"

Upon his return, though, Desilets said he realized the worst part was being away from an industry that gives him a creative outlet; an industry that he said picked him.

The Eyes Of A Child

Showing off a series of drawings of video games made by his young son, Perimeter Partners game industry consultant Jason Della Rocca said he felt bad that his son was a "crap gamer."

His child's drawings included depictions of Borderlands, Assassin's Creed and Castle Crashers (he insisted his son doesn't watch the M-rated content). But despite that enthusiasm for games, his son was just bad at them.

"It's hard to educate them on game playing," said Della Rocca, who felt it's his responsibility as a parent to inform his kid on the basics of playing games. "If you think back, many or most of us grew up with games … so I learned how to play games as I changed, and the industry created the language of gameplay," he said, whereas new games are just handed a controller and expected to have at it.

"The best part is that those opportunities are there... to connect with kids through games," he said. "The worst is that there are no games with training wheels out there. … There really aren't any games that teach you how to play games."

Ubisoft Montreal's Richard Rouse III, game designer and author of Game Design: Theory & Practice, gave another personal account of his game playing and game making experiences, but this time from the perspective of the child.

"[My parents] let me get into video games…. They saw that I was really inspired by them," he said. "…They really supported what I wanted to do, even if it wasn't their plan for me, and even though they didn't' understand it."

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