29 July 2007

Casual Connect 2007

It’s been over a week since Casual Connect (the flagship conference for the casual game business) in Seattle, but I thought I’d post some of my notes.

“Everything Looks Like a Nail” — Josh Welber, Large Animal Games

They used a customized version of Torque Game Builder for Snapshot Adventure. They need to merge with the official version about twice a year.

They build a lot of tools, like a configurable level editor.

Playfirst’s Playground engine is now open source.

Snapshot Adventure was an 11-month project.

I had dinner with a group of Indie gamers, and also Reflexive folk. One guy was getting out of the casual game business because his game had done so poorly. However, he was doing so well running an affiliate (of both Big Fish and Reflexive) that he bought dinner for something like 20 people. (I gave him a spare VIP party invite in thanks.)

The creator of Betty’s Beer Bar was there, all the way from Uruguay.

Keynote — Microsoft

Microsoft’s idea of cross-platform is a lot different than mine! I guess running on Windows and Xbox is technically cross-platform, but...

“Secrets of Casual Game Development” — me

I had fun, and there were a few good questions. One person wanted to know what personality I looked for when hiring QA, and I didn’t really have an answer. Attention to detail is a hallmark of QA, but other than that, I think having a wide variety of skills in your QA department is a plus.

“Virtual Villagers” — Arthur Humphrey, Last Day of Work

People at GameHouse all seemed to pick up on his “Castro” slide — a single person in charge. I guess since he was giving the talk he agreed with the dictator model, but it would be interesting to hear from his team.

They made changes and additions even in beta.

Their interactive tutorial was easy to derail.

The ending of VV1 was the biggest complaint. It hit users by surprise (and was also the least tested area of the game). For VV2 they tried to make progress towards the goal more obvious, and not distract with multiple goals.

Localization was a pain, due to their “emergent story algorithms” (which from the sound of it was much like what I did in King of Dragon Pass, also a pain to localize).

He felt that a game driven by story was hard to clone, since you couldn’t clone the story.

VV1 took 5 months, VV2 20.

They use 10-page design documents, with sections customized to roles. For example, the art section is full of adjectives.


Eric Tams, PopCap

Prototyping drives preproduction

Jason Rober

Human brains think order = priority. So be careful in your prototyping/brainstorming. He said PopCap was big on mind mapping, in part to avoid this. (I’m happy using a hierarchical outliner, since it’s so easy to reorganize.)

He talked about using system dynamics to model your game system. I’d played with this about 30 years ago, but the tools are a bit more advanced now (one is Stella). The idea here is that you can sort of weigh the checks and balances in your game. His example was a classic prey/predator population curve. If you have it set up wrong, the wolves eat all the sheep. You can tune your parameters until you get a more normal boom/bust cycle. This would obviously be faster than trying to play out your game, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how applicable this would be to a lot of game styles.

He showed off his prototyping toolkit: legos, printable business cards, etc.

“Brainstorming” — David Nixon

Ideas, Evaluation, Elimination

He ran an entertaining brainstorming session on how to brainstorm. Lots of audience participation.

Steve Youngwood, MTVN

Apparently “demo” is the in buzzword. It means demographic (or audience?), not a game demo.

He said addictinggames.com was targeted to teen boys, which amused me because my 10-year-old granddaughter has shown me games on the site a couple times. (And the daughter of a friend also frequents the site.)

MTVN is investing $100M in casual games.

I found them scary — all big corporation, no sense of art.

“Return to Fun” — Greg Schaffer, Bernie Stolar, and an unindentified helper

Google is doing in-game advertising. Nothing else.

“Games” is a top search at Google.

Google said almost nothing. I think they really weren’t ready. At the press lunch after this, a number of reporters kept trying to pry info out of them (a woman who didn’t present was answering for Google), and they couldn’t say anything. Since they were there to do an announcement, I don’t think it’s because they were being secretive. I think they don’t have any answers yet.

“PuzzleQuest DS” — Colin Wilkinson

It was challenging making a 90 MB installer on a PC into a 16 MB ROM!

He claimed that PC development was faster and cheaper than DS.

They had a shared code base (which is apparently rare in this sort of port).

“Casual Games Industry” — John Vechey, PopCap

PopCap’s mistakes:

- PopCap is the center of the universe

- Hold onto the PC downloadable space for dear life

- We should be like everyone else

- Everything is the next big thing

- Good business and good game design cannot coexist

“What’s Holding Us Back”

This was a panel, mostly about community in games / community around games.

I argued with the Microsoft guy, who was saying that lack of a single login held us back. I HATE having to give any kind of info to try a game. Just let me try! Get my name / e-mail when I’m hooked and want to save.

Oh, the parties were fun too! I ran into my friend Tony Mann, who was playing keyboards for one of the bands.

Maybe I’ll be able to give my talk in Amsterdam or Kyiv!

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