Saturday, 25 January 2014

Games Britannia Industry Talks 2014

Yesterday was the Games Britannia Industry Talks, if you are now going wtf, how come I didn't know about this? Then all I will say is I did tell people. Just to rub salt in the wound it was a free event too, although limited tickets.
So yesterday I was at Sheffield Hallam University having been given a day pass from work to attend. I love events like this as they are seen by work as CPD for me ^_^
Anyway Games Britannia had done a great job of organising a range of interesting talks from industry people.
I don't know what I was expecting the audience to be for the event, but being one of the oldest in the room, and with my poor attempt at growing a beard that would compete with a dwarf, I definitely looked the oldest in the room. The majority of the audience for the event were university students I think mainly from the Hallam campus. I was a bit taken aback that there were not more teaching staff there. As I said earlier this is CPD, and I can't believe you would of chosen BETT over this. If you teach games design, games programming, then this sort of event is important for you to attend. Do I really need to argue the case for you?
The whole event was opened by author and lecturer at Hallam Jacob Habgood. Jacob introduced Games Britannia, showed a short video of last years event, demoed the winning game from last years competition, and presented the prize to the winning team. (Sorry didn't make a note of who it was but it was a team of girls, which was awesome)
The first talk of the day was by Guy Davidson from Creative Assembly on Optimising Windows Memory Management in C++. Wow I loved this talk, and to be fair I think this talk would of been way way above the heads of the majority of teachers. The amount of information that Guy managed to get over in his 45 minute slot was incredible. Did I say I loved it. I miss stuff like this at work. Sadly this sort of thing is too advanced for level 3 students at the moment. Hopefully that will change once the change in computing filters through. Well I'm basing this on the fact students moving onto level 3 will already have the basics, and we can then look at the more advanced stuff. And a quick bit of advice from Guy for students going for an interview at a games company coding in C++, make sure you know the difference between operator new and new operator.
Next up was Alex Postlethwaite from SN Systems (part of Sony). Who in his 45 minute slot talked us through the inner workings of a debugger. This was very interesting, and something I hadn't thought too much about. I think once again Alex's talk was too advanced for level 3, but certainly degree level students should be looking at this sort of thing, if nothing else it would give them a better understanding of the tools they use.
The final talk before the break was Ashley Collins-Richardson and Chris Gray from Scrapbook Development Limited. Their talk was about starting your own games company. This talk was packed full of good advice for the students, which I think would go,down well at schools and colleges as well. Well our college is big on promoting enterprise and competition, and this would be awesome as part of that. I did feel the talk lacked data/metrics and would of benefitted from that, such as sales data, how much impact various forms of marketing had on sales etc. As a side note this is what I love about Byron and his game Blast Em. Byron has been sharing stats so people can get a realistic view of what it is like to sell a game (although we haven't seen any stats about how the Steam launch impacted game sales).
After the break we were back with a talk by Peter Ellis of Guerrilla Games Cambridge about Designing Single-Player Levels for First-Person Shooters. Peter designed some of the levels of the rather marvelous (although too short single player mode) FPS Killzone Mercanery on the PS Vita. For the 45 minute slot that he had he covered so much ground (as did every speaker), but this one was so accessible, full of information, and enlightening. Peter when talking about level layout mentioned land marking and used a photo of Disneyland. Which instantly reminded me of Scott Rogers and his chapter on level design "Everything I learnt about level design I learnt from Disney" from the amazing book Level Up! (You have the book don't you? It's one of the best and most accessible books on game design I have come across). Scott has even done a talk with the exact same title, which is on Youtube, and I've embedded below.

Anyway back to Peter, I think I may of got more out of this as I was familiar with the levels he was talking about. Well I have a Vita and I have the game and have completed the single player campaign. BTW the controls on the Vita for this game are sublime. I would love Peter to give this talk to my students, it was at such a level that most students would get something out of this, and enjoy.
Peter would be a hard act to follow, however Tom Sampson and Griffin Warner from Sumo Digital did a sterling job in their 45 minute talk titled "On the inside looking out a graduate perspective of the industry". They covered an awful lot from interview advice, emphasising the need for soft skills, state of the industry, what it is like in the first few days and weeks on the job. Both gave a pretty realistic down to earth view of working in the video game industry.
Wrapping up the final session before the final break was an indie panel of Lee Hickey, Tim Cooper, Alex Amsel, Jamie Woodhouse and Jessie Venbrux discussing questions from the audience about gaming issues of the day. This was interesting, especially when free to play, freeium was discussed. The panel could I suppose be described as warm or in favour of them. Which I am fiercely opposed to. It was interesting to see their view and compare it to discussions from indies down South. These are the first ones that I have come across that are pro it (if done correctly).

After the final break Jacob Habgood was back talking Games Britannia, encouraging the students present to volunteer to help out on the game jam day! and then launching this years competition and it's theme. I'll mention the theme now but I will be going more into this in a post on Monday. The theme/character this year is the 1980's Videogame character Jack the Nipper.

The final talk of the day was from Jesse Ventrux about the Role of Constraints in Creativity. This was an entertaining talk, with lots of examples of Jesse's work. Jesse works in GameMaker, but that hasn't stop Jesse producing some 20+ games. Some have garnered coverage in the media because of the subject covered. However Jesse is an imaginative and creative person. And I was really impressed with the body of work he has produced.

At the second break and at the end I had a chance to meet and chat to Mark Hardisty a teacher in Sheffield, and part of the Games Britannia crew. It was great meeting Mark as we talk on twitter, but I was jealous of his Sumo Digital tee that he was wearing.

Final thoughts

This was a well put together set of talks from the games industry. However I did feel that 45 minutes was making the talks given a little rushed, and would of benefitted from making them an hour long.

Thinking of the audience although mostly students, it was a mostly male dominated audience, and would of been nice to have seen more girls in the audience.

I'd like to thank Games Britannia and the speakers for such a great day.


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