Nordic Game 2016: Day 1 Round Up

Ah conferences in Scandinavia. There’s nothing quite like getting to a event early, chucking three over strength coffees down your throat before the talks have started and spending the rest of your days jiggling your knees due to an uncontrollable caffeine high.

Nevertheless, even with this considerable impediment to my concentration, I still sat down in front of my computer to capture my thoughts in word form for this Nordic Game 2016 Day 1 round up post. How considerate of me.

Metaverse madness with Tim Sweeney

First up, and kicking the conference off, was Tim Sweeney from Epic Games. As one of the industry’s Big Names TM, he was given an entire hour to talk about games, graphics and the future of the industry because, y’know, stuff.

Anyway, according to Sweeney the future of games will be shaped by the continued pursuit of photo realistic graphics. Arguing that photo realism is both a necessity for successful VR experiences and for making game engines viable for use outside the games industry, Sweeney believes this pursuit will help developers to make increasingly immersive games and create the conditions for a virtual reality metaverse in which we all happily interact together by ignoring everyone else physically around us.

As patronising as it is for a 26 year old piece of journalistic bum fluff to critique his talk, there were plenty of things that I disagreed with. Sure, I agree that photo realism will help game engines like Unreal attract car designers and architects needing cost effective mock ups. And VR will definitely change the way we create, interact and enjoy our games.

Nordic Game Theatre

Sitting at the back like a cool kid

But a few things jarred for me in the talk. In particular, the stuff about the metaverse didn’t work for me for two reasons. First, it felt as if we had taken a dreamy detour into the pages of personal sci-fi fantasies rather than something grounded in research. I appreciate keynote speakers need to take the odd moon shot, but this felt like an odd moon shot (if you catch my drift).

Second, it also ignored the fact that what Sweeney considered a metaverse, where people can interact in real time with other people across the world in a virtual space, already exists. To paraphrase Bill Clinton – it’s the social networking sites, stupid. You might not be able to physically interact with people, but you certainly can live out a digitally enabled meta life already via Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or a combination of all the above. The metaverse is here man – embrace it.

And when you combined it to the fact that Sweeney appeared to briefly imply that mobile games have held back graphical evolution and that stylisation in graphics was a cop out by developers, it’s fair to say I had my complaints.

All that said though a good opening talk to a conference should at least get your brain whirring and, in fairness to Sweeney, it did. So well done, I guess.

Sociable Soccer, sociable games

During the rest of the day, I found my time to duck my head into a couple of other talks. One of them was given by Jon Hare, in which he spoke about how his love of football has shaped his successful stint in the games industry.

The main thing I took from the talk, aside from Jon’s obvious love of sponsoring grass roots football team, was the big thing the team got right when developing Sensible Soccer from a mechanical perspective.

By giving players lots of options for passing, shooting or movement at any particular moment – but barely any time to think of which to use – Hare and co recreated the stressful fun of a rapid flowing football match without the physical exhaustion. Football is as much a game played in the brain as it is in the feet, meaning that a lot of Sensi’s success is down to how well it captured that and communicated it to people who don’t even like football anyway.

On the flip side, physical exhaustion may well result if you played any of the games Holly Gramazio was talking about during her talk. Discussing games played in actual real life cities, Gramazio drilled a few interesting thoughts squarely into my noggin.

IMG_0425

Why games in cities act as a pillar of the community

In particular, I felt Gramazio made a really good case about the role of these sorts of games in identity politics. Whether discussing an app like Zombies, Run! or the village wide battle of mob football, Gramazio made a convincing argument that games played in a city give people a sense of ownership over their local area, foster community and happen to be ruddy fun too. Excellent stuff.

Game of the day – Starborne

As I left Gramazio’s talk, the community manager of Solid Clouds very politely invited me to his hotel to play with him.

After walking into the lobby and sitting in the cafe*, I ended up getting to take a quick look at Starborne – a new MMO game that mixes Master of Orion, Civilization and the back stabbing fun of legendary board game Diplomacy.

With games lasting 6 months and featuring 20,000 players, the key to success in Starbone appears to be forging alliances with your neighbours and finding a role for yourself to ensure that you stay useful/alive in the long term. It’s going into alpha in August and this game looks like the kind of thing that Subterfuge players will absolutely lap up.

*No, you’re the one with the problem.

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