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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 August 2006, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Reporter's log: Edinburgh games festival
Crackdown
Crackdown from the creator of the Grand Theft Auto will be screened
The global videogame industry is meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, for a conference over the next two days to discuss the future of the business.

Technology editor Darren Waters is attending the conference and will be filing updates from all the sessions.

1730 BST TUESDAY 22 AUGUST

For an industry often pilloried for being solely about guns and graphics the debates at Edinburgh proved there is lot more to games than meets the eye.

From Brain Training, the winner of the Edge award for game of the year, to EA's announcement that real-world video and audio will be merged inside their sports games the industry is showing signs of maturation.

One of the most clear pieces of evidence for this was a session with novelist Kate Pullinger who has co-written an interactive story called Inanimate Alice which mixes comic book art design with video game interaction.

Ms Pullinger together with Ian Harper and Chris Joseph have created a powerful piece of storytelling - about a videogame developer called Alice and her life as a child.

Three episodes have been completed and a further seven are planned.

Pullinger said: "We are trying to take a great story and develop it into some kind of interactive e-graphic novel."

1430 BST TUESDAY 22 AUGUST

Emotions in games; it's been the refrain of the festival so far.

How can developers prick the emotions of gamers? Is it through story-telling? Is it through animation? Or is it with more sophisticated artificial intelligence?

Computer science professor Ken Perlin has hosted a session on virtual actors. How can developers generate expressivity in their virtual creations?

"A lot of acting is expression. We tend to project into things like crazy," he said.

Giving very basic characters simple expressive capabilities, such as looking at the audience or reacting intelligently to events, imbues them with a sense of humanity, he explained.

Professor Perlin demonstrated a range of examples - from particles with sets of behaviour to incredibly expressive facial animation.

"People will read things into simple expressions."

He spent time working with Valve, producers of Half-Life 2, and his technology was used to generate emotion in characters in the game.

1130 BST TUESDAY 22 AUGUST

To my mind there has never been a great videogame based on a great film and never a great film based on a great videogame.

But the videogame industry and Hollywood continue to dance a slow tango in the hope that one day they will produce beautiful offspring.

The morning session of day two of the conference has been given over to discussing convergence - how can games and movies work, how can more literary projects marry themselves with interactive entertainment?

Film producer Rosanna Sunn worked on the Matrix films and was responsible for overseeing directors the Wachowski brothers' vision of creating a videogame experience that felt part of the Matrix universe and told a unique story in that medium.

She has now formed a company called VelvetElvis, which specialises in marrying the videogame and movie industry.

Screenshot of Enter the Matrix
The Matrix films have been turned into videogames

"The technology in videogames has gotten very sophisticated and is very close to the technology used when creating visual effects shots," said Ms Sunn.

She believes the two industries can now work closer together and share ideas, creativity and even technology to empower both sides.

"I've been talking to a lot of game publishers who want a 'Hollywood edge'," she said.

She has also been talking to directors, notably Stephen Spielberg, who she says is an avid gamer.

He wants to "push the envelope" of videogaming, she said.

Sadly she was unable to furnish more details because she is "NDA'd". ie She has signed a non-disclosure agreement.

So we will have to wait and see what Spielberg has planned.

The wider question remains though - should games and movies really be so entwined?

"It's not about a great movie or a great game; it's about a great story," said Ms Sunn.

1000 BST TUESDAY 22 AUGUST

Paul Jackson, the director general of the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers' Association (Elspa), is the man who speaks for the games industry at large in the UK.

He has just taken over at Elspa and says the organisation will be taking time to take stock of itself and ensuring that it is "fit for purpose" to face the challenges ahead.

"The industry has been moving so fast in recent years that I just want us to take a breather," he told me.

He sees the games industry as very much part of an overall digital explosion - with digital TV and broadband changing the way people consume content.

With new consoles, the growth in mobile gaming and the challenge of broadening the gaming market he has got quite a few challenges ahead.

0930 BST TUESDAY 22 AUGUST

Edinburgh is awash with festivals at this time of year - from the all-consuming, ubiquitous Fringe festival to the more serious International festival, the respected film festival and the talking shop that is the TV festival.

Nestled amid these is the games festival, passing practically unnoticed to most people in the city. One senior journalist at BBC Scotland had no idea there even was a games festival in Edinburgh.

Its relative anonymity reflects gaming's status within a larger cultural backdrop. The industry may be worth $25bn year but its status as something of cultural value is still under discussion.

The industry is desperate to be taken seriously and get away from its image of "boys' toys" and events like the festival offer a rare chance to discuss games in an intelligent environment.

But as one speaker pointed out on Monday, the age demographic may be getting broader but more 17-year-olds own PlayStation 2 consoles than any other age group.

There's a long road ahead for the industry before it really can say it has matured.

0830 BST TUESDAY 22 AUGUST

You have voted and we will respond.

The debate on photorealism and standards in videogames was your choice of sessions to cover at Edinburgh - almost one-third of the 2,400 people who voted asked for more information on this.

I will be examining issues such as age-ratings, violence and sex in computer games, and reporting back with a feature later on Tuesday.

As the debate itself says: "As computer game graphics and HDTV lead to photorealism, this will almost inevitably change the way the censors rate game content."

0800 BST TUESDAY 22 AUGUST

Brain Training on the Nintendo DS was the winner of the Edge Award at the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival on Monday night.

Nintendo DS lite
Brain Training has been a hit on the Nintendo DS

Edge editor Margaret Robinson said: "Nintendo has managed to make mental arithmetic fun.

"We were looking for games that challenged people's expectations of what games can do - and Brain Training certainly does that."

Brain Training has been an enormous hit on the DS around the world, encouraging people to sharpen their mental skills through simple games.

David Yarnton, general manager of Nintendo UK, said: "At Nintendo we are trying to go down a different route from the rest of the industry. We think this could be positive for the whole industry."

The winner of the People's Choice mobile game award was Dirty Sanchez Party Games.

1830 BST MONDAY 21 AUGUST

Margaret Robertson, the editor of respected games magazine, ended day one of the conference with a discussion of "games that make me cry".

"I'm here to try and put paid to a myth; a myth that is very pervasive - that games aren't art because games can't make you cry.

"I know it's not true. It's so patently untrue."

Robertson went through a list of games that had reduced her to tears but often her reasons were not about narrative or character but about something intangible.

She said videogames makers had to stop trying to work out how to put emotions into games.

"Instead they should be looking at the emotions inside gamers themselves," she said.

She added: "Everybody has little bit of their gaming history that game them a single tear. That clutch in the throat."

1800 BST MONDAY 21 AUGUST

What would the future be like if the games industry was funded to make "public service" videogames and forms of interactive entertainment?

That was the question posed during the session on Ofcom and its plans for a Public Service Publisher (PSP).

Super regulator Ofcom is planning to offer up to 300m a year from 2012 for a new model of public service content, based around interactivity, and designed to complement the work of the BBC.

Peter Phillips, from Ofcom, told delegates that the videogame industry already had many of the characteristics that it felt were necessary to be part of the PSP

The industry was about interactivity, individual experiences, linking people together and portability and mobility, he said.

He added: "There is a real opportunity that people here (in the games industry) could supply PSP and even form parts of the groups to run it."

But there were concerns from the floor that a new publicly-funded body supplying forms of interactive entertainment and e-learning could threaten the commercial viability of smaller companies providing similar services.

One delegate said it could lead to "huge problems".

"I find it frightening, an almost Orwellian prospect," he said.

Anthony Lilley, who runs interactive entertainment firm Magic Lantern and is working with Ofcom to draw up plans for PSP, said: "The central question at every session I've attended is: "Should we do this?"

"Is there enough money out there to fund all the whacky, innovative ideas? If there is, we might as well pack up.

"But I don't believe there is."

1730 BST MONDAY 21 AUGUST

One of the most entertaining sessions of the day was an interactive discussion with industry analyst Nick Parker.

He put questions to the audience about the videogame industry, undermined assumptions and misplaced beliefs, and made some predictions about the future of the business.

"The size of market will be bigger than previous generations. There will be more homes playing games," he said.

Close-up of Xbox 360 controller, Microsoft
New consoles want to be media hubs not just game hardware
But he predicted that the next round of consoles - the PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360 - would have slower growth than the previous generation.

He said there enough distinction between the machines to help grow the market.

Nintendo, he said, was "becoming a lifestyle brand" while the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were pitching themselves as multimedia hubs.

"Nintendo is about gaming and fun and that will stand them in good stead. They won't try to steal market share from competitors.

"Hopefully we will all be the winners - there will be a more equitable share of market spread."

1600 BST MONDAY 21 AUGUST

The news that Sony is to cut the price of its PlayStation 2 console is swirling around the conference. The move has been widely welcomed by delegates.

One senior games executive told me that he expected the PlayStation 2 to be more important in terms of sales at Christmas than the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.

"Dropping the price could help boost the penetration of consoles in homes," he said.

Chris Deering, former head of Sony Europe, said: "It will significantly boost volume of the PS2 - perhaps as replacement models or a second console."

1500 BST MONDAY 21 AUGUST

The second day of the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival features a wide range of debates and sessions and I want your help in picking one key session to attend and write about.

Which session do you want to learn more about? I've chosen a shortlist of four and want you to vote.

The options are:

Convergence - how to use films, games, books and the web to create "new paradigms of creative expression".

Ubiquity - how wireless connectivity will change handheld gaming

Machinima - How film-makers are using games to make movies, including a world premiere of a new short film from the creators of Red vs Blue, the Halo-inspired Machinima series

Standards - What impact will photo-realism have on age ratings and censorship in video games?

The debate you choose will become a feature on the BBC News website on Tuesday.

1430 BST MONDAY 21 AUGUST

EA has announced a series of plans to integrate the "real world" of sport inside its sport games.

EA's David Gardner told the audience at Edinburgh that gamers were used to multi-tasking in the real world and that videogames had to capitalise on this behaviour.

Screenshot from NBA Live 06, EA
The next version of NBA Live will take input from real sport
The next version of basketball title NBA will include live radio broadcast updates from US sport broadcaster ESPN delivered directly to the console - as well as live scores, and ESPN basketball podcasts.

Gamers will also be able to watch clips of ESPN broadcasts - including interviews with players and analysis of games directly on their consoles.

EA wants to capitalise on the You Tube phenomenon of "clip culture", it would seem.

A similar arrangement for the Fifa football is expected to be announced in the coming days with clips from broadcasters in respective countries being accessible on consoles while playing the game.

1400 BST MONDAY 21 AUGUST

Former Sony Europe head Chris Deering welcomed delegates with a call to collaborate and put aside competition for the course of the conference.

He said the industry was at a "demarcation point" with new hardware on the horizon and said there was a sense of exhilaration in the air.

He described mobile gaming as the "big kahuna" and said there were one billion mobile phones waiting to be plugged into the games industry each year.

The first speaker David Gardner, of Electronic Arts, began his speech with seven predictions for the industry but his session was cut short when the building had to be evacuated because of a fire alarm.

1140 BST MONDAY 21 AUGUST

The conference starts in an hour but I've just managed to grab 10 minutes with the opening keynote speaker - David Gardner, executive vice president and chief operating officer of worldwide studios for Electronic Arts (EA).

EA is the world's biggest games publisher - a behemoth that makes most other game publishers look like mere gnats. The firm publishes the Fifa series of games, the Madden sports titles as well as titles such as SSX and The Lord of the Rings series.

Wii controllers, Nintendo
Nintendo's console uses a motion-sensitive controller
His keynote will be on the "challenge of next gen" and he had some interesting points to make to me, not least the admission that the strong, positive reception to Nintendo's Wii console had taken EA by surprise.

"Some of the excitement about the Wii caught us off guard and we reacted to that by increasing our Wii portfolio," he said.

Nintendo is taking a vastly different approach to next generation from Sony and Microsoft and is focusing more on gaming as fun - games can be controlled using a motion sensitive wand, encouraging gamer participation.

The firm's current console, the GameCube, is largely considered to be a failure, trailing the success of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. One of the reasons for its failure was the lack of support from third party companies like EA.

But with EA now on board, the prospect's for Nintendo's Wii suddenly look a lot brighter.

1000 BST MONDAY 21 AUGUST

Lord of the Rings online
Lord of the Rings will be on show at Edinburgh

Games conventions are traditionally loud, spectacular affairs but in Edinburgh the focus is a little more highbrow.

Speaker sessions over the next two days include a discussion on the medicinal properties of interactive software, games that make you cry and public service programming.

For the gamers there are screenings of forthcoming games including Lord of the Rings Online and Reservoir Dogs.

The industry is at a pivotal stage as new consoles are about to be unleashed and the mobile gaming sector begins to get serious.

It will be interesting to see what the developers and creative talent feel about the industry at this crucial point.




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