Here are my impressions of the talks I saw at Game Focus Germany:
Greg Costikyan, "The Independent Developer Shall Rise Again".
I could not have asked for a better keynote. My secret theme for the conference was "Thinking outside of the box of the core games industry", i.e. outside of multi-million PC / console projects developed for publishers, a topic I find particularly interesting for the German industry. Greg covered pretty much every way you can make games without dealing with publishers, and tied it all together into a coherent whole. You can download the slides here and read his detailed thoughts on the English talks at GFG here.
Jonathan Blow, "Programming is easy, Production is harder, Design is hardest".
And once people were open to the idea that maybe they didn't need to work with publishers, there was Jon Blow to ask them why they were making games at all. He read Molley Rocket's mission statement in its entirety, and got applause.
Ironically, Jon asked the same question that Bruce McMillan, former executive VP at EA asked at GDC in 2003: What is worth spending 3 precious years of your life on? Only Mr. McMillan asked whether you'd want to work on something that sells less than a million copies, while Jon asked whether it is worth spending 3 years coding (and dealing with Microsoft's certification team), rather than, say, feeding starving kids in Africa.
Every conference needs an inspiring talk reminding people why they are in this business, and this was it. And yes, the title made total sense in the context of the talk. (Slides and audio can be found here.)
Stéphane Bura, "Inside-Out Game Design".
Stéphane blew people's minds with a Will-Wright-grade talk on design theory. I need to chew on the slides (all 200+) for a bit - I may also need to read a dozen books - before I can really comment on the theory, but I applaud him for thinking very big. Also, kudos for being able to answer every question with another 10 slides, and having a great answer to the question "How do I use this when I go back to my project tomorrow?" (His answer was: "Please wait 25 years," but he made it sound convincing.)
Risa Cohen, "Zen and the Art of Production Maintenance".
Risa described the things she looks at when auditing game projects and, being who she is, made the process sound like a nice long hug. Very interesting because it was very much from the core of the traditional games industry.
Noel Llopis, "Pragmatic game development practices for small (and not so small) companies".
Noel explained why you need to be pragmatic when picking your working methods and used the example of his current two man company, Power Of Two Games (I forgot to ask him what they plan to do when they hire a third person). I recognized a lot from the internet development I did last summer (which I should really blog about). Hopefully it made people in the audience question some of their assumptions about which tools and practices they use.
Doug Church, "Player Expression: Central to Gaming".
In this great talk Doug went back to the core of interactive entertainment and talked about how we should give players more means to express themselves. I totally agree with him, and this is something I want to explore in more detail in a future blog post. (Greg's write-up of Doug's talk explains why: I love the concept, but I disagree with the term player expression.)
Mike McShaffry, "The Third Person Camera For Thief: Deadly Shadows".
I know Mike as an experienced game programmer, but he is actually more involved in production these days. And when I say 'these days' I mean 'the last eight years'. Still, he gave a super-detailed presentation about the third person camera in Thief: Deadly Shadows, full of videos and diagrams. Third-person cameras are notoriously tricky and it was great to see it explained so clearly.
Kevin McGinnis, "MetaRock! The Creation of Interface Art in Rock Band".
Kevin had the talk with the best graphics, but well, that's his job. He gave an in-depth look at the user interface graphics of Rock Band. I couldn't watch all of it as Thad's talk was on at the same time, but I now know that making good head-up displays take a long time and that Rock Band is taking wayyy too long to be released here in Europe.
Robin Hunicke, "Collaboration FTW: What Game Studios and Game Studies can Learn from each other".
Robin's talk presented the history of academia-industry relations from 1995 till now, from her experience as an AI researcher who is now designing and producing at EA. It came from a very different point of view which I hope broadened some horizons about what game development is about.
Stéphane Adamiak, "Core Casual Gaming : how soccer moms came to play RTS games".
Stéphane presented an overview of the casual games market, including casual MMOs, virtual worlds and widgets, from the point of view of Goa, France Telecom's online gaming arm. He also won the prize for working for the biggest company: France Telecom's 200.000 people makes EA look like a startup.
Thaddaeus Frogley, "Inside the Unreal Networking Model".
Thad gave a detailed talk about how the Unreal engine handles networking. Ironically, it appears few people in Germany use the Unreal engine. Even though I only saw half of it, I came out with a clearer understanding of how to do real-time synchronization in games. I particularly liked the communication patterns he presented.
Matt Miles Griffiths, "Tell me another one: Why the importance of story-telling in games is over-stated".
I was only able to catch half of Matt's talk. I actually disagreed much less than I thought I might: Matt presented an idea somewhat similar to Chris Crawford's process intensity versus data intensity, and he had the sales numbers to back up why process intensity is better.
Erik Simon and Oliver Staude-Müller, "Kooperation statt Kleinkrieg: Gute Beziehungen zwischen Publisher und Entwickler als Grundlage zum Projekterfolg am Beispiel von Anno 1701".
Yes, that talk was in German. Oliver was the project manager on Anno 1701, which was one of the few AAA games to be developed in Germany recently (OK, I guess Crysis counts). Erik was the head of development at Sunflowers, the publisher. They described in detail how the developer-publisher relationship they built allowed them to finish a big title on time and under budget. They made it sound easy, but it is amazing that they were able to work this way.
And that's it! All in all I am incredibly pleased with how it all turned out. I got to schmooze and listen to great talks, and everyone seemed happy about the results.
This post will be updated as more slides become available, and I will write an additional post or two about some other aspects of the conference.
Update 1: Added a link to the slides and audio of Jon's talk.