devcom 2019 was the place to be for people interested in game development and everything else the game industry had to offer, and the first day on Sunday, August 18, was already full of great talks.
devcom was one of those events I’ve always planned to attend, but never found the time, or maybe it was because gamescom following shortly afterwards would be too stressful. It obviously was, but what the two days had in store was more than worth all the lack of sleep, hours of train traveling and weary feet and eyes.
The event started with the choir of volunteers who sang from/performed a variety of game soundtracks, ranging from Halo to Red Dead Redemption 2.
Stephan Reichart, the organizer of devcom, gave the introduction and clearly showed that there is more to gaming than what the wider public and media coverage usually makes it look like, i.e. full of gratuitous violence, neglecting the nuances in development and storytelling.
The first talk was Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 Production: The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful by Cristian Pana, senior producer at Ubisoft Massive, who gave some insight into the process of doing a sequel, what people expected from the game, and what one could do with the right kind of people and resources.
There was a fun video that was used for advertising the player’s options of what to do in the game… with the red stick figure and his friends, which raised a few chuckles and laughs from the audience.
Something that has been discussed recently for some time is crunch time and how some companies exploit their employees, so it was nice to see how Ubisoft Massive has tried to take care of the health and work/life balance of its people. Of course how much of it is true is another matter, but judging from the (promo) videos, people seem to be quite happy working there, especially when celebrating the game’s release with a big party.
Speaking of crunch… or rather lunch, this sandwich/apple/banana mix wasn’t particularly filling, but then again it would be more than what I would get during gamescom for a whole day…
It doesn’t happen very often that some of the most influential game designers of adventure titles share the stage, but it happened at noon with David Fox, president and co-founder of Electric Eggplant, and Noah Falstein, president of The Inspiracy, talking about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure in a Classic Post Mortem presentation.
Anyone who doesn’t know the two could have a look at their portfolios…
… or one could simply ready some of my reviews I wrote some time ago: Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure, Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis, Alan Wake, Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, and Thimbleweed Park.
The team of the entire Lucasfilm Computer Division, with only 9 being in the Games Group in 1985. Some of the people that were pointed out were Computer Division members who later went on to start Pixar when Steve Jobs bought it, including John Lasseter.
The Skywalker Ranch was where all the magic happened or is still happening behind closed doors or gates.
Located in a romantic place of nature…
… the number of the gate should be familiar to some Lucasfilm Games players, as it was used as an easter egg, for example as a code.
But so was George Lucas’ library that looked just as the one in Maniac Mansion.
The Skywalker Ranch was certainly an idyllic place to work at…
… although both Noah’s and David’s offices weren’t the biggest ones.
Of course the main focus of the talk was how the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was made into a game.
How much involvement can someone like George Lucas have on a game if he wasn’t a gamer like Steven Spielberg?
Anyway, the interesting concept of making a game adaptation of a movie was to stay true to the original, but still offer different puzzles at the same time.
Due to the technical limitations it wasn’t always easy to show everything, so some scenes had to be hinted at, e.g. when Indy arrives dripping wet after an incident on a ship, which makes the scene funnier for those who have watched it.
Of course there was always the problem with swastikas for the German version, so it had to be changed (as I already talked about in my review).
Finally there was the dilemma of the order in which the designers’ names appeared, so a random code had to be implemented.
All in all, it was a great presentation for all of those who fell in love with both the movie and the game, but also those who’ve been following David’s and Noah’s careers for so many years. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them on stage after 30 years since the game was published and is still fondly remembered even today.
The Offenbach Saal in which the former talk took place stayed retro, but with a modern touch, as Ryuichi Nishizawa, the original game creator and freelancer, Fabien Demeulenaere, studio director at Game Atelier, Tomoko Miya, marketing manager at Flamebait Games and translator, and Philipp Döschl, co-founder and executive producer at FDG Entertainment, discussed Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom in an Original meets Reboot special.
Fabien’s company was originally interested in doing a Flying Hamster sequel, but they had the idea to contact the creator of the Wonderboy series who helped them with a Kickstarter video.
All of the participants were obviously on good terms when they discussed the 5-year long development of the title.
The original character designs were already pretty good, but the new ones were definitely an improvement.
The same held true for the in-game graphics which looked lovely.
Presenting the final game to the general public in a booth was obviously as if a heavy weight was lifted from the shoulders of everyone involved.
There was still time for some Q&A at the end and hopefully this won’t be the last time a Wonderboy or Monsterboy game will see the light of day, as I already reviewed the Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap remake and previewed Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom. Thanks to Phillip I had a really nice chat with, I was also provided with a review code for the full game, so there might be some other article coming… not too soon, but it’s coming!
Business simulations are usually not my kind of thing, but when it comes to humorous ones or some that are a bit on the weird side, then I’m all for them. Unfortunately I haven’t played any of the Tropico games yet, but the time should be right to give them a go after I had a nice chat with Johannes Reithmann, design director at Limbic Entertainment, who would later give a talk about Player Dreams: Designing the Dictator Fantasy in Tropico 6.
Being a dictator is obviously a bad thing, but playing with the concept of empowering the player has always been fascinating in games.
There was clearly a difference between the more relaxed building in an Anno game compared to the oppressive fantasy in Tropico.
As always, it was the player who took center stage in Tropico, deciding what kind of dictator he or she wanted to be.
Anyone who had some ideas to bring himself or herself into game design could still apply for a job at the German company.
Pia Jacqmart, lead narrative designer at Cyanide, talked about something very differently with Adapting Call of Cthulhu into a Video Game without losing your Sanity, although the player’s role in the 2018 horror game Call of Cthulhu was still very important.
Cyanide, the company responsible for the game, was obviously a little bit weird but fun and most prominently French, a perfect fit for a development team.
Essential questions one has to ask before diving into the adaptation of a well-known work of fiction.
A short overview of what makes H.P. Lovecraft so interesting as a writer and personality.
As Call of Cthulhu is not only based on a book, but also on an RPG, developing a game becomes even more complicated.
The player is still the most important part(icipant) in a game.
But the player character isn’t to be neglected, either.
Being a game about madness, portraying madness isn’t an easy thing to do (something that not only Edgar Allen Poe knew).
Dynamic dialogues with fast decision-making might not be for everyone, but they certainly add to immersion.
More tips from a professional writer/game designer.
Pia certainly knew how to write pulpy lines, but that was what Lovecraft also did.
Changing characters and points of views in a game can be just as difficult as in books.
Some final words from a writer for new writers that is so true for all kinds of writing, not just games. After this talk I had a chat with the very charismatic Pia and I hopefully can review “her” game in the near future, as I’ve been planning a Cthulhu gaming/movie special for some time…
The final panel/talk I attended was Organizing Dialogue in Games – it’s just Text, right? featuring Falko Löffler, writer and translator, David Fox (see Indy 3 special above), Marcus Bäumer, game designer, writer and programmer at Backwoods Entertainment, and Jehanne Rousseau, CEO at Spiders.
Having different backgrounds but still sharing the same love for the written word, it was great to listen to these writers, especially when it came to translating from very different languages and also how difficult it is to convey humor.
David might have been in the industry for a very long time, but it was amazing to see him being interested in new tools of scriptwriting.
I’ve known Falko since the beginning of my Adventure-Treff editor days, and it’s always a pleasure to talk to him and listen to him with his openness, kindness, and sense of humor. So even if this might have been a very long day with lots of talks, an aching back, and feet that hurt and strained eyes plus a stomach rumbling, this talk was definitely a highlight of devcom so far.
To be continued…
… but let’s not forget the goodies for the first day!
Sunglasses, (magnetic) bottle openers, and… something I still haven’t figured out… oh yes, it’s a fancy pen as a keychain.