Last night I got back from a trip to Game Forum Germany (GFG) in Hannover, Germany. GFG is a small game developer conference that got started in 2007 and that I've been somewhat involved in in various ways ever since. In 2008 I was responsible for finding the speakers and designing the program, and this year I did so again together with Noah Falstein.
It worked out very well. Every talk exceeded my expectations, and all of the feedback I've gotten so far has been very positive. The organizers did a great job in making sure everyone had a great time, and the mood during the conference was very good.
I either had no time or no Internet connection, or I would have tweeted my head off. But the upside is that I now have a very good reason to blow the dust off of my blog and write something longer than 140 characters.
Here are my impressions of the talks at GFG 2010:
Industry legend RJ Mical opened the conference with a look at the history of video game hardware and how hardware has affected the games we play and vice versa. RJ worked on the Commodore Amiga, a home computer which was very popular in Germany in the 80s and 90s. This, together with a rumor that RJ would reveal juicy details about the PlayStation 4, meant the room was packed. RJ is an incredibly charismatic person and his talk was great. (This page gives you an impression of his personality.)
RJ was followed by Raphael Lacoste, an incredibly talented artist, who explained in detail how he approached the art direction of Assassin's Creed. He showed the paintings that had inspired him, including many by Caspar David Friedrich, then analyzed various shots from Assassin's Creed to show how he had used contrast, silhouettes, filters and other techniques to create the game's look.
Jason Gregory from Naughty Dog (author of Game Engine Architecture) explained how to set up game loops in AAA console games (especially in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, of course) so that they run efficiently on multiple processors. He succeeded in making this somewhat esoteric subject accessible, even to non-programmers. And he discussed the Uncharted 2's awesome train level in great detail.
Risa Cohen, Jane Corden and Térence Mosca held a very slick presentation about the business side of games, talking in depth about the marketing of digitally distributed games and the use of completion bonding in games. This was followed by a panel discussion (moderated by myself), where we were joined by Mary Matthews from Blitz Games Studios and Stefan Weyl from Namco Bandai Partners. We touched on a lot of (perhaps too much) interesting subjects, ranging from marketing to finance to new platforms.
Steve Ince closed the first day by giving an inspiring talk about aspects of characters in games.
On the second day, Darius Kazemi presented a structured approach for convincing people (going back to Aristotle!) and how you can mine data at work to support your arguments. The room was not that full, but that was due to the excellent party the night before, and not because of Darius' talk. (Darius also transcribed RJ's talk here.)
Jeff Lander described in detail what it takes to develop very high quality character animation systems, where the pitfalls are, and where middleware will let you down. Like Jason Gregory, he did an excellent job of presenting a very complex topic so that it was accessible even to people unfamiliar with the subject.
Chris Foster from Harmonix Music Systems gave a very inspiring talk about collaboration and how it is central to game design, giving concrete examples from the development of The Beatles: Rock Band.
Matias Myllyrinne from Remedy talked about their company philosophy and how they use playtests and usability tests. He also showed us footage from Alan Wake, including some clips that had never been shown before.
Finally, Thomas Bidaux from ICO Partners talked about the state of the free to play games market in Europe. He seemed a bit worried that page after page of business statistics would bore his audience of mostly developers and students, but he did a great job of conveying what makes these games interesting, and how big they are, especially in Germany.
(Videos from all the sessions will be put online soon. You can see videos from previous years here. There's a little German here and there, but the talks are all in English.)
I had a great time. The conference was not too big, the people were nice, the food was good, the party was great, the lectures rocked, I met old friends and made new ones, and I had lots of time to chat with other developers, which is one of my favorite things to do in the games industry. This time I had the additional pleasure of sharing the experience with my wonderful fiancée. It was her first time at a development conference. She wrote about her impressions here.