The second week of devcom digital 2020 was full of great presentations by gaming industry veterans and even more to write about.
August 25 started off with Videogames and High Culture – Multidisciplinary Reflections and Connections by Fabio Belsanti, CEO, founder and Lead Game Designer at P.M. Studios, Elisa Lorenzo, Co-Founder and CEO at Untold Games, Roberto Talamo, Literary Theorist and Teacher at the University of Bari, Matteo Sosso, Co-Founder and Lead Game Designer at Untold Games, Fabrizia Maglieri, Researcher and Teacher at IULM University of Milan, Elda Perlino, First Researcher at CNR-ITB Bari, Spartaco Albertarelli, Professional Game Designer and Founder at Kaleidos Publishing, Paolo Paglianti, Global PR Manager at Slitherine, and Franco Forte, Director and Writer at Urania Mondadori & Delos Books. What sounds like too much content with various speakers involved was a lot to digest (so much so that I didn’t make any screenshots this time). Considering that this is an ongoing project, it’s understandable that it was a bit disorganized, having so many people from various branches of the industry but also academia talk about games as art. It’s certainly an important endeavor, and having various fields of academia involved makes it even more interesting, but this would have better worked as a panel than a presentation.
The next and final talk of the day was How 3,5 years of Arizona Sunshine paved the way for Vertigo Games’ future VR projects by John Coleman, Director of Business Development at Vertigo Games. As VR is still a niche product in the living room environment, it was interesting to see how it fares in selected arcades. Taking into account that the zombie shooter would make both crowds happy and still create revenue, DLCs were essential parts of the development and marketing process. What is maybe most important is that the talk showcased VR as something more than just a fad, as something that is an experience that can’t be had anywhere else (in and outside arcades).
August 26 kicked off with Video Games as a Subversive Art by Limpho Moeti, Producer and Business Developer at Nyamakop, which was another example of the ongoing discussion if games are art. Compared to the information overload of the previous day with too many people involved, this was a refreshingly personal opinion with recommended games. These might not necessarily reach mainstream players or the general public (although I loved that she included Spec Ops: The Line, a game I already discussed in the Humble Bundle free game and GOG release news articles), but as a starting point for discussion and especially the very appealing way how Moeti presented it all made this talk very enjoyable to watch.
The next talk was Creating meaningful stories in a system driven game by Marie Rouzié, Narrative Designer at Ubisoft Mainz. As one would usually associate storytelling with RPGs or adventure games, it was a surprisingly different approach to discuss the strategy title Anno 1800 in that context. With multiple characters one could choose to play as or get in contact with, characterization became as much part of the building, trading, warfare gameplay as the world itself that was obviously connected to real-world historical events. What was probably the most interesting problem was that the more the player was confronted by text via quests and decision-making, the more it became a choose-your-own-adventure and less a strategy game, making it especially tricky to find the right balance.
The final talk of the day was Desperados III: Designing a Level – the Mimimi Way by Felix Friedlein, Level Designer, Dorian Kirschstein, Environment Artist, Mathias Neukam, Level Designer, and Martin Hamberger, Lead Writer at Mimimi Games. This was a very technical presentation about game design, although its structure was easy to follow and there were a few funny moments, e.g. when a speed-run video showed how some people even surprised the level designers by solving problems in unexpected ways. Despite having four separate parts, these would all somehow gel together, creating a homogenous experience for the player. What it also achieved was that I want to play/review the game I shortly had a hands-on session with during gamescom 2019 even more.
August 27 had a very special first talk with Colorful: Project INFINITO 2 – Japanese and Italian students step into the mind of an artist by Marco Rickards, Executive Director at Fondazione Vigamus, Goichi Suda, CEO at Grasshopper Manufacture, and Hiromi Ishikawa, Chairman at Vantan Game Academy. Anyone familiar with Suda (or Suda 51)’s games knows that he’s very much into pop culture and experimental gaming, having a kind of punk rock attitude towards the industry, which means that everything he does stands out from the crowd. This time he was more like a supervisor for the student project Colourful that makes the player dive into the mind of an artist. While there wasn’t any gameplay on display, the most interesting aspect was probably how different cultures, i.e. students from Japan and Italy, worked together to create the title, making this something that brings people and ideas together, while also learning from each other and working in a team.
The next re-play talk was Maximizing the feeling of Comfort in VR by Minimizing Fatigue by Thorsten Leimann, Game Designer at Ubisoft Düsseldorf. Being a fan of VR myself but often struggling with nausea, this was a very interesting topic presented with in-depth and still easy-to-understand explanations of why people feel discomfort and how this can be addressed. As VR games usually have an effect on both body and mind, it wasn’t difficult to see why developing VR titles isn’t an easy task. With all the biological background information, one finally learned how Ubisoft made Prince of Persia: The Dagger of Time, a VR game that is only experienced in an Escape Room environment with other people, something that requires more comfort options to be immersed without becoming sick of playing it.
August 28 was the final day of my devcom 2020 experience and I watched the re-play of Cris Tales Design: Between Innovation and Nostalgia by Carlos Rocha, CEO at Dreams Uncorporated. I already saw this game in action during gamescom 2019 in the business area and loved both the art style as well as the past/present/future timelines seen on one screen. So it might not have been a lot of new information, but this didn’t mean that there wasn’t something that could be taken from the talk, namely how the small company started with experimental Words Warrior or Haimrik and is now in all sorts of media outlets, representing the indie spirit and also promoting the Colombian development scene.
Two weeks full of interesting talks and it’s still possible to watch replays. The only regret I have is that I didn’t have the time to attend the devcom Developer Night – Developers Against Violence, Anti-Semitism, Racism, Fascism, Sexism and Discrimination, presented and organized by Destructive Creations, which ended with an exclusive 1-hour rock show by metalcore band Caliban that took place on Friday, August 28 with its official stage destruction beginning at 9 pm CET. Fingers crossed that something like this can be experienced next year live in front of a real crowd, in addition to meeting all speakers and attendees in person, of course.