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Old 11-17-2005, 02:36 PM
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Default M.I.G.S (The Montreal International Video Game Summit)

I just recently came back from an educational 2-day journey to Montreal. The reason for this trip was primarily to immerse myself in an environment conducive to a greater understanding of the current state of the video game industry in Canada. During my 2-day stay I got the chance to attend the M.I.G.S (The Montreal International Video Game Summit). During my time at the conference I had the chance to meet various industry professionals. It was a great oppourtunity to network and socialize with them, gain a greater understanding of conceptual and theoretical game design elements, and I got a chance to develop my understanding of the video game industry’s future. I was also able to get an idea of the types of jobs available to people like me in this industry and details concerning many of the big name employers such as EA and Ubisoft. Probably the most important thing I gained from this experience was a more solidified schema in which I will build my thesis research on.

One thing I noticed at the conference was the turmoil that the industry is currently in. Corperations have full capitalistic grasp of the industry as a whole. Behemoths, EA and Ubisoft, have moved large portions of their studios to Montreal. Thus their employees dominated the crowds. The majority of developers, designers, art directors, programmers and the like walked around outfitted with EA, Ubisoft, or Activision labels on their nametags. This is important to consider because it is directly impacting the future of the industry. These corperations have predominantly concerned themselves with selling games in the highest volume possible. It was very much apparent that these companies are only now realizing the importance of theoretical study of the medium in which their industry depends on. There was a lot of talk specifically from the keynote speakers of how important it is to take into consideration the demographic that they are shooting to please. There was talk about what a game means and is. Ludological and Narratological debates and lectures dominated the game design landscape of the conference.next gen unreal

I question Neil Young, Vice President and General Manager of Electronic Arts. He made a very business and corporate presentation during his keynote speech. He was a very energetic and bold personality which is not surprising considering his career standing. The man has signed deals with Spielburg for an example. He’s the definition of an industry big-shot and it showed. He talked a lot about the future of video games in the wake of next gen systems and critized some of the other Keynote speakers for pointing fingers. I felt that his speech was largely meant to sell EA to the development community as a company that cares about the future of games. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if he knew nothing about the underlying theoretical concepts conveyed through much of the research me and Heeduk have done. Some of the other keynote speakers were much more impressive to me. Warren Spector, for one, is a character of smaller industry stature and he talked in a more down to earth tone. He’s been in the industry for somewhere around 20 years so it was very interesting to hear what the guy who did Wing Commander way way back thought about the Next Gen tsunami about to hit our continent.

Clint Hocking, creative director at Ubisoft, had some very interesting things to say during his lecture, “Next… The Game Designer’s Generation”. Clint talked about how the big name companies are spending all their time and money creating larger development teams for bigger-than-life games that will feature photo-realistic graphics. The question he raises is, “Is the industry ready for Next Gen?”. Support to development teams is much less now then it used to be. With every new system it becomes more and more difficult for developers to manage and train their teams to effectively produce quality games. As a result much of what has come out recently for the current generation of game systems has proven to be nearly satisfactory. Many of the games are simply sequels and clones of previous games. There isn’t a lot of room for innovation and creativity in the current industry when development teams are so large that it becomes hard to unify anything. Also there is almost no support for independant development teams which I hope to change in the future because it’s important, much like in film to have an independant presence under the treads of the major corporations.Montreal convention

By far I was most impressed with Nintendo. Nintendo had the largest presence in terms of self-promotion and creativity/innovation. Hideki Konno of Japan’s Nintendo Software Development Team No. 1 gave a very interesting keynote speech about the cultural impact of his Nintendogs game on Japan. He also presented the new Nintendo Revolution controller to the audience. At first I was skeptical about Nintendo’s place in the console wars but it’s very apparent to me now that Nintendo is by far the most innovative and creative developer in the world. Microsoft and Sony may have power and financial strength in thier systems but as Clint Hocking would put it, Nintendo has agility. Nintendo is looking at what Playstation and Xbox are ignoring, demographic. Nintendo is trying to revolutionize the industry (hence the name “Nintendo Revolution”). They are trying to bring a much larger age range, including senior citizens into the gaming market by creating a controller that is instantly accessible to the public at large. A controller that resembles a television remote control is much more accesible then the 3 pronged N64 controller released years back, or the analog stick controller Sony has been promoting for years. Also Nintendo has taken into account coroporeal accessibility by integrating gyroscopic technology into their small and easy to hold model. This means that instead of having to learn how to use too many buttons and analog sticks a user can simply wave the controller around like a wand and the system will detect the exact spacial position of the controller in the room. This consideration of spatial domain will surely score Nintendo an almost historical position in the game design industry if their risk-taking pays off. It’s not the first time Nintendo has made such an innovation. Their strong relationship to the history of gaming as well as their historical mario characters have earned them a lot of money that they are focusing in a not-so-capitalistic sense. The Nintendo DS has been a huge advantage to creativity in the industry as it introduced the idea of tactile input in which the player can directly interact with game elements via a touch screen. Hideki Konno’s translated speech put a lot of my faith back into Nintendo as one of our key innovators in the Video Game medium.

It is because of these issues that I’ve outlined above that I’ve chosen to focus my thesis on the importance of the interface in the immersion and engagement of the targeted player demographic. There isn’t enough reserach on this sort of thing. People don’t seem to realize the importance of the controller in the gamer equation. As well I want to focus on some of the other important aspects of the game experience such as characterization. I don’t think it’s fluke that there was only one female presenter who happend to focus her presentation on a psychological perspective of Next Gen Character Design. I found Katherine Isbister’s presentation to be one of the most interesting of the entire conference because she was one of the few who really wanted to talk about the psychological impact that strong character design has on games. Montreal convention

If theres one thing I learned from this conference it would be that it’s time for game developers to take responsiblity for their medium. We need to stop focusing on games as a cheap means for an adreniline rush and start focusing on what it is that makes this medium so much more potent then film. Why interactivity, characterization, interfaces, etc. are so important. What it is that makes the controller such an important link between the spatial planes of physical reality and the virtual plane (discussed briefly in Laurie Taylor’s paper “When Seams Fall Apart”). Why players react more readily to a smiling face then just plain text. How characterization makes a game into more of a narratological performance instead of a ludological experience. Such questions are very interesting to me and I will explore these in my upcoming research.

Source Nintendo Revolution
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