Gotland Game Conference 2013

This Sunday I will depart for Schiphol International Airport to catch a flight, via Stockholm, to pretty Visby Sweden on the island of Gotland. Each year, Gotland University’s game design department ‘GAME’ hosts the Gotland Game Conference, a multi-day event featuring various speakers but that’s really centered around the department’s students showing off their projects of the past year. Steadily growing in size every year, the conference plays host to a number of national and international journalists, educators and game development professionals who review and discuss projects with students and offer feedback, and function as a jury for the best-of-show competition on the final day.

Every time I attend I’m amazed by the high overall quality of the games the students manage to create. Here the difference between full-time game design faculties and more broad ‘multi-media’ educations (where, besides game design, disciplines like audio and video production and web development are offered) is really apparent. Big winner last year was a CCG-meets-towerdefense game Little Warlock, and I reckon I spent quite some time playtesting Secrets of Grindea as well, a JRPG with a big wink to the grinding mechanic in many MMO games nowadays.

Lots of support for this event comes form both Swedish companies and those abroad. This year’s conference features as many as 13 speakers, and a bunch of industry representatives, among whom the faculty’s resident game design lecturer Ernest Adams, of Twinky fame. I’ll be looking forward to joining them for some local beers, the presentations, lectures and award ceremony and the final goodbye-dinner, a grand medieval feast set in the ruins of an ancient tower.

All things considered, GGC holds its own perfectly well when compared to the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. It might not be as big but the quality and enjoyment are certainly up there.

We’ve been invited to Gotland University before to give a guest lecture about our Wii Laparoscopy training game. There’s an article on our visit on the website of GAME. If you’d like to be informed about the Gotland Game Conference you can visit the website here, or follow GGC on Twitter at @GotlandGAME.

Talk Nerdy To Me

I’ve uploaded the sheets (they’re in Dutch, mind you) for my talk at ‘Talk Nerdy To Me’, an event about advances in web-development, hosted by NHL.

Get them here.

Even though I’m not much of a web-developer, I wanted to talk about a subject that can be both interesting and useful for a large amount of IT-professionals and students alike: rapid prototyping. Titled ‘Hyperspeed Prototyping’ the presentation focussed on a number of subjects that one can improve upon in order to make the most use of the available energy and enthusiasm when starting a new project. I wanted to point out some strategies and tools that we use at Grendel Games during 10%-time (much akin to Google’s 20% time projects) and during gamejams. How is it possible that functional, entertaining and well-polished games emerge during only 48 hours, whilst some student teams seem to have difficulty getting to that same level during 5 months of development.

The TL;DR of the talk basically boiled down to this:

  • During the initial idea-phase, don’t spend most of your time discussing pros and cons. Try to make choices quickly and channel your energy into building your choices instead. It’s much more fruitful discussing stuff you can actually play and evaluate.
  • Try to get a well-balanced team together. In smallish teams of about 5 people, there’s no room for full-time game designers or project managers. Everybody should be able to contribute assets to the final product in some way. Look for roles adjacent to a person’s skills: a concept artist might be able to make 2D sprites as well; a game designer can write dialogue, etc.
  • Pick and choose technology that matches your team’s skills, but don’t stare blindly at just what you know. Sometimes new tools can be easily mastered in an hour or two that will save you tons of time in the long run.
  • Beware the desire to build everything from scratch. This generally takes lots of time and you’ll miss out on a great many available tools, libraries and assets that can do the job just as well, if not better.
  • Last but not least, keep it simple. A great game doesn’t have to bulk in features, it requires a solid and entertaining core concept, one that you can generally realize in a short timespan. Better to deliver a working and polished product than a collection of separate features.

Vasilis van Gemert, one of the other speakers at the event, posted an article on the similarities between the topics I highlighted during my talk, and his experiences in web-development. Good to see so much overlap. I hope these views can be of use during your next gamejam or hackathon.