GIC 2016, Poznań - day two

This was the longest day of the conference for me, and also the most exciting one, since I had the chance to listen to two of my personal gurus of Polish indie gamedev - Michał Marcinkowski from Transhuman Design and Kornel Kisielewicz from ChaosForge. But let's not get too far ahead...

Since there's so much to cover, I'm splitting this day into two parts.

Here's day 1 if you missed it.

Advices on getting into the gaming industry

Attilio Carotenuto from Himeki Games opened the day with a hour of wisdom targeted towards developers who would like to get some visibility and start working in a gamedev studio. I'm happy that this perspective was also covered on GIC alongside the usual "build a company around your idea" concept.

Here's the gist:

  • Visibility is important! Always have something to show. Be a great passive candidate - someone who can be discovered online by a recruiter.

  • Publish things wherever it makes sense for you - play store, deviantart, soundcloud, indiedb... Attilio said that his submissions to Kongregrate and Newgrounds landed him his first job.

  • When preparing your folio, only show off your best work. Time and attention of your audience are limited, plus things of lower quality are likely to be remembered better and thus affect your whole image negatively.

  • Specialize! Find something that you like and improve there. If you're a coder, you can focus on graphics, physics, tools... As a graphics artist you can specialize in any of modelling, sculpting, rigging, concept art, marketing art or you name it. I imagine that if your experience has a visible shape and focus, then a recruiter will more easily identify you as a good match for a vacant position in their team. And then you can start exploring other niches...

I noticed that Attilio seems to be focus on the shmup genre, working on An Oath to the Stars, greenlit on Steam a few months back. I just had to ask about how is it like to work in a niche genre with a small number of loyal players and I really enjoyed his answer. He pointed out that it's really hard to compete with huge studios that specialize in popular things like match-3, so a niche like this is actually a fantastic opportunity for a developer to achieve a lot.

Music: from master to slave and back

Around this time, there was a talk on automatic testing which I was thrilled about, but I changed my mind at the last moment because I couldn't leave the con without attending at least one talk about music. And I admit - Arnold Nesis did not disappoint at all!

The first half of the talk was a trip to the past, during which I learned how the role of music in various forms of art oscillated between two polar states:

  • the master, the main point for the audience (like the opera, musicals, video clips)
  • the slave, or support for a different medium (most importantly cinema and, er, games)

Now that I think of it, it is quite curious that music is never the main point of a computer game! And before you bring up Guitar Hero and such, Arnold summed that genre up as "doing correct actions at correct time" which sounds closer in spirit to dancing than gaming, especially if you count in the lack of any space for the player to make choices.

One could bring up plenty of hybrid game/musical experiences like Audiosurf, Thumper, Bit.Trip Runner or, say, Patapon, but I agree that the concept of "a game about music" is still raw and not explored enough and full of potential. I'd add that the overwhelming success of Crypt of the Necrodancer (go play it now!) proves it well enough. I'm very excited by the sneak peek of The Birdcage that Arnold was kind enough to present. I really hope that more developers explore this exciting field more - personally I find music games much more exciting than, say, the whole VR bandwagon.

(Oh, Birdcage is on Patreon too!)

On a closing note, I'm still disappointed by the show of hands when Arnold asked how many people in the audience listen to metal music. I mean the count was really high, but... Seriously, people? Raising a hand instead of metal horns? \m/ This was an one-of-a-kind opportunity, come on...

Evolution of a modular vehicle system

I found myself quite surprised by how effective I was in avoiding technical speeches up till now, so Piotr Trochim's presentation was my next choice. There was not so much said about either evolution or modular vehicles, but the talk itself was really packed with information that will make me appreciate vehicle-centered games MUCH more.

Let's take this example - a game has a complex physics engine that can realistically simulate a car. How do you make an AI driver for this car who can follow a path and interact with traffic? Turns out, you don't. The designer-friendly approach is "no physics, no problem". Cars in game like GTA would actually be likely to be controlled by a path planner that doesn't care about physics simulation and just works with linear and angular velocities rather than forces. You'd also see a variant of algorithm like ORCA for avoidance of other objects.

There's a good bunch of approaches possible, each with its own merits and costs. A modern game would actually switch between them on the fly, depending on the distance from the player (or players) using path planning when far away, collision avoidance when the player is nearby, and finally switching to full blast physics simulation the moment it's needed (say, car crash).

Next time I fire up GTA, I'll just look at the traffic, then mess with it and try to figure out what happens under the hood...

How to survive the indieapocalypse

Michał Marcinkowski has the rare ability to educate while entertaining. This talk continues his tradition of wrapping his points with breathtaking art.

One of best parts about Michał's talks is that you never know if you'll see Schwarzenegger or Bosch...

The indieapocalypse is defined by the dropping average playtime and copies sold per title on Steam. There's lot of releases, but most of them don't sell well. Michał did his homework and backed this point with data from SteamSpy and a ton of cases.

Is this a bad thing, though? Turns out this isn't so negative after all: it's all because the game industry starts to resemble what happens with photos and music - everyone can be a creator and the market is full with choices! As a consumer, I cannot say I have a problem with that. However, the technology for making games is very easily available nowadays, and so are assets and knowledge. All this contributes to more titles being released and audience's expectations growing higher and higher!

Another point that Marcin very strongly defended was that demand is essential for your game's success. He showed examples of games that have great quality and great marketing, but failed because of lack of demand. Markets are tricky... He also argued that the converse is true - given enough demand for what you're doing, your game can succeed even when it has no marketing or (sic!) if it lacks in quality.

There's no recipe for demand. Learning from the market is possible but tricky. You could observe that Minecraft is a huge hit, but that doesn't say that your "Minecraft with cars" idea will be a huge hit too. The demand was there but it's gone now. Accept the unknown, experiment a lot, do early releases and look for something that sticks. Marcin advises to make short games quickly and to minimise losses. If there's no demand for the game you're building, better move on earlier than later.

There was one more fantastic takeaway from this presentation:

"You're not abandoning your game, you're just finishing early"

This was a huge eye-opener for me because it just sounds completely opposite to what I always assumed. "You shouldn't abandon your projects! If you quit before finishing your game, it means you're lazy and indisciplined!" Every time I left a toy project unfinished, I'd feel bad about it, fearing the stigma of someone who doesn't get the job done.

Thing is, there's no "done" in areas like experimental gamedev. If you see that your project works, you continue working on it and make it even better. But if you learn that it doesn't, then that's a valid observation too. It's perfectly rational to move on, and the sooner you realize that, the more time you save for your next thing.

Day 2 continues in the next post.