[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 26 July 2007, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
Reporter's log: Develop games conference
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Develop games conference
Leading games developers are heading to Brighton
The Develop games conference is being held in Brighton, in the UK, with hundreds of game creators assembled to discuss and debate the future of the industry.

The two-day event will include keynote speeches from Tsutomu Kouno, the creator of LocoRoco, and Richard Garriott, the man behind the Ultima series of videogames, one of the most popular in the history of the industry.

THURSDAY, 1530 BST

Support the casual gamer but reinforce the hardcore gamer: that was the message from developer Peter Molyneux, at the closing stages of the Develop conference.

Concept art for Fable 2, Lionhead
Even grandmothers can excel at combat in Fable 2
His team at Lionhead is hard at work on role playing game Fable 2, for Xbox 360.

"We make casual gamers feel dumb and stupid," he said during his talk on a new combat system for Fable 2.

Molyneux said fighting inside the role playing game should "be easily understandable but it should be deep enough for us die-hard gamers".

To that end Lionhead has developed a combat system called crescendo mechanics, in which all fighting is done with a single button press.

The fighting is contextual so the character acts according to his experience and the environment he is in - using objects, furniture etc.

The combat certainly looks spectacular and Molyneux said it was so simple even a grandmother could play.

The depth comes with timing - the more accurate and contextual the timing of the button push the more sophisticated the combat.

The new combat system is part of Molyneux's push for a next generation experience in Fable 2.

And how long do we have to wait for the title? It looks like it could be at least a year.

Molyneux said: "There's over a year left. But we will be using that year for polish."

THURSDAY, 1400 BST

David Braben, co-creator of classic game Elite and the head of studio Frontier Developments, has just delivered a fascinating speech - the highlight of the conference so far.

Screenshot from The Outsider, Frontier
Frontier hopes The Outsider will make the most of current consoles
I'm interviewing him later and will be writing a longer piece on his thoughts, but I thought I'd mention some of his key points.

The thrust of his presentation was a challenge to the industry to make true next generation games which elevate the industry from a second tier entertainment producer to first tier - alongside films and TV.

"We need to start making fifth generation games," he said, referring to the latest round of console hardware.

"Microsoft and Sony have stuck their necks out to make these next generation machines. Most games really don't push them."

Mr Braben's firm is developing a title called The Outsider, which is trying to address many of the barriers to immersive, realistic experiences in gaming.

"We have a much more powerful medium in many ways than the movie industry," he said.

He also expressed his frustration at the way the industry is presented to the general public.

"The last three months have been a disaster from a PR perspective for the industry," he said, referring to the furore around the use of Manchester cathedral in Sony's Resistance: Fall of Man, the ban on Manhunt 2, and the use of an image of murdered child James Bulger in Law and Order: Double or Nothing.

"This incidents help build an image of our industry as a negative one. We have got to put up spokespeople defending why we do things," he said, without condoning any of the incidents which provoked controversy.

THURSDAY, 1030 BST

In an industry of identikit titles, rollover franchises the arrival of Locoroco on PSP last year was a breath of fresh air.

Locoroco was a beguiling title which saw the players tilt the landscape to keep a gaggle of cute characters rolling on to new levels. It was simple, addictive and had a soundtrack which got inside your head.

Screenshot of Locoroco, Sony
The simplicity of Locoroco has won it many fans
Often you had to pinch yourself that it was on a PSP and not on a Nintendo DS, which is high praise indeed.

It is one of the few games to justify the purchase of a PSP.

The game's creator Tsutomu Kouno has been explaining the development process to the audience.

He revealed that the game almost did not get made. After two failed pitches to Sony in Japan with a Powerpoint presentation he realised he needed to show executives how it played, not how he hoped it would play.

So he built a simple demo version.

"Everyone's reaction changed considerably," he said.

The design impulses for Locoroco were, he said, to make it simple, easy to play and understandable to a global audience.

"I thought there were too many complex games and I wanted to make a game that would even appeal to someone who doesn't normally play, like women and children."

He added: "I wanted dramatic visuals. I wanted to make it different from other products; something no-one has seen before."

He is now working on Locoroco for the PlayStation 3 and showed a brief movie of the work in progress.

It looks like he has stuck to his design principles and kept the game accessible and addictive and not tried to layer on high definition effects for the sake of it.

WEDNESDAY, 1800 BST

The games industry is grappling with the web 2.0 phenomenon around user generated content and trying to think of ways to incorporate this wave into the industry.

Gamers playing Xbox game
Should gamers become developers?
Chris Satchell, from Microsoft, told the conference that the web 2.0 movement was pointing the way to broadening the creativity of the industry.

He said it was about delivering components, services, experiences and not about packaged software.

"The really big one is having to trust users as co-developers.

"It's about a two-way process and inviting community to create content with us and creating a two-way conversation."

So does he mean gamers should be developers? Not at the moment. But he does feel that gamers have a powerful amount of knowledge about games which can be tapped by the industry.

"If you really trust wisdom of the crowd they can give you very very good results," he said.

I have a feeling that part of this belief stems from wanting to crow bar the web 2.0 wave into game development whether it fits or not.

But Satchell went even further, talking about web 3.0 in which people move from sharing content to creating new content from the tools they are given.

"It's about everybody building these core experiences that others can build on top of," he said.

He gave several examples of web 2.0 and the games industry, such as designing car logos and skins for videogames and sharing them with friends within games.

In the 3.0 world he said gamers were creating games through tools such as XNA, which Microsoft offers for free to universities.

"If you give creative freedom and the opportunities to build things to people, they will get involved," he said.

WEDNESDAY, 1515 BST

Earlier I had a bit of a dig at videogame writers.

Well, now it's their turn to dig back.

Here are the top 10 writers' whinge list about working in the games industry, as drawn-up by writers Rhianna Prachett, James Swallow and Andrew Walsh

  • 1. Everyone else thinks they should be doing the writing
  • 2. You don't integrate me into the team
  • 3. You've hired me too late
  • 4. Why can't you let me have my creative freedom (I'm from Hollywood, you know!)
  • 5. I'm never given enough information about the game
  • 6. I'm never given enough time
  • 7. You've hired me. Why won't you listen?
  • 8. Why are you slashing my script to pieces?
  • 9. Why don't I get a proper credit?
  • 10. They rewrote my stuff!

But to be fair - the writers also included the top 10 developers' whinges about writers.

  • 1. You don't know about games
  • 2. You don't understand how games are developed
  • 3. You won't work in house and we have to have you in house
  • 4. I've had a brilliant idea. You just need to write it
  • 5. Design comes first. You don't need story in games
  • 6. You're writing too much
  • 7. Writers are expensive
  • 8. Why can't writers work to the same kind of schedule as other team members
  • 9 You are not delivering what we want and we don't know what to do about it
  • 10. Where the hell do you find a writer anyway?

WEDNESDAY, 1400 BST

One of the speakers at this year's Develop is David Braben, whose name will inspire misty-eyed nostalgia in gamers of a certain age.

BBC Micro
The 3D graphics of Elite pushed the limits of the BBC Micro

Braben, along with Ian Bell, developed the space adventure game Elite, on the BBC Micro in the 1980s.

Elite was a revolutionary title, a 3D game that utilised every spare bit and CPU cycle of the BBC Micro and broke new ground in the industry.

It was one of the games that helped establish the UK as a hotbed of developer talent and, two decades on, Braben is still in the industry, running Frontier developments.

Frontier has produced titles such as RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 and Dog's Life and is working on The Outsider, which is being billed as a "true next generation game".

Braben is at Develop to spell out exactly what makes a game "next generation".

If you have any questions for Braben, then let me know.

I'm also sitting down to speak with Richard Garriott, creator of the Ultima series of titles. Again, let me know, if there are any pressing questions.

WEDNESDAY, 1145 BST

Have you ever wondered why videogames are often the poor relation of TV programmes and films?

I think I know why.

Katie Ellwood from Sony just delivered a session called Beyond The Cutscene, discussing writing for videogames and improving game narratives.

Screenshot from The Getaway 2, Sony
The developers for the Getaway have been on a screenwriting course
She works as the "guardian of the narrative" on The Getaway games, someone who looks after dialogue and character development.

Videogames have long struggled with narrative because they are not strictly linear experiences and even those that are more closed than others traditionally use pre-scripted cut scenes to move story on.

I always feel short changed by cut scenes because often they are scripted - sub-Hollywood quality - and because they are usually fixed points in the game, which have the effect of rendering all my efforts prior to the scene worthless.

If my actions had any meaning, then I wouldn't be directed to a linear cutscene.

I've long believed the game writing had to find its own voice, its own structure but it seems the industry's obsession with TV and film remains.

"Things are moving towards much more episodic content. Everyone's attention is drawn to TV, programmes such as Lost and Prison Break.

"They have a very intelligent narrative structure with arcs running over years and stories over a few episodes."

There's no doubt that game developers can learn a lot from successful TV shows, especially around character development. And I was pleased to hear that the developers of the The Getaway on PS3 had been sent on a screenwriting course.

"It gave us a common language," explained the Sony developer.

But should videogames ape the structure of movies? Ms Ellwood seemed to think so.

She advocated the hoary old three-act structure - exposition, climax and resolution - that has underpinned the Hollywood machine for decades.

To be fair, the three-act structure was not created by Hollywood and in fact has its roots in Aristotle's Poetics, but when a game designer starts to talk about plot turning points and "falling action" within such a structure, I begin to worry.

Games offer the most exciting potential for story-telling because they offer potentially limitless freedoms.

No more does the story have to convey the illusion of choice, there is real choice in a videogame as defined by the player.

Do we want future videogames to be like Lost?

Better story-telling, definitely. But don't copy Hollywood, please.

WEDNESDAY, 1100 BST

A packed room has just been listening to Richard Garriott, the creator of the Ultima series of games, and by his own admission he has "the dubious honour of being one of the oldest developers in the industry".

He spelled out his thoughts on the past, present and future of massively multiplayer online games, a genre he helped define with the release of Ultima Online in 1997.

Screenshot from Tabula Rasa, NC Soft
Tabula Rasa aims to bust some industry stereotypes
His involvement in games started with a paper card teletype machine in school but he effectively became a professional when a game he developed after school hours, called Akalabeth, sold to a local games store and then was picked up by a distributor.

"I got $5 for every copy sold and it sold 30,000 copies. The return on investment for Aklabeth was infinite and it was downhill ever since.

"The industry has become tougher and tougher year after year."

But he said the risks were greater, as were the rewards.

An MMO game, he said, can now cost more than $20m and take up to six years to complete. His team at NCSoft has been working on Tabula Rasa since 2001, and it has still not been released.

"If you manage to get a single big success in online gaming space you are set for life," he said.

NCSoft is responsible for the hugely successful Lineage games, which have millions of subscribers in South Korea.

"We spend less on developing new products than we make on profits," he added.

But he argued that game design in the genre had stagnated over the last 10 years.

"Fundamentally the game play is unchanged since Ultima Online and EverQuest were released. Games since have merely refined that initial model.

"There are certain things which have become standards... I don't think they are right for the future."

Too many MMOs, he said, had little story-telling, bad artificial intelligence and were centred on statistics not play.

"It quits becoming an immersive world and becomes a data management game," he said.

Better graphics, improved AI and more inventive missions are the touchstones of Tabula Rasa, so-called because, as the Latin phrase states, it was a "blank slate".

Garriott said his team were hoping to redefine the MMO game.

So is he right? Have MMOs stagnated over the last 10 years? If you're a MMO player, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the present and future of the genre.

WEDNESDAY, 0900 BST

For anyone wanting to take the pulse of an industry then a conference like Develop is the place to be. Forget E3, or Leipzig, this is not a conference of showmanship but of craftsmanship.

From sessions on Textures and Shaders in the HD Era and Deferred Rendering in Killzone, to Getting The Best out of Writers, Develop is the place where the creative and technical challenges meet in a death match of epic proportions.

The keynotes this year are excellent: Richard Garriott, or Lord British as he is known, helped define computer role-playing games and online worlds, while Tsutomu Kouno will be explaining the genius that is LocoRoco.

Chris Satchell, who works for Microsoft, will also be discussing how the growth in web 2.0 communities is impacting on the games industry. What does it mean for the industry when players want to become content creators?





SEE ALSO
Develop conference: Your comments
25 Jul 07 |  Technology
Halo aims for epic end to trilogy
14 Jul 06 |  Technology
Game industry faces serial killer
12 Jul 06 |  Technology
Beating Warcraft at its own game
07 May 07 |  Technology
Making money from virtually nothing
11 Aug 03 |  Technology
MMO games on the rise
20 Mar 07 |  Technology
Virtual world, real millions
01 Jun 07 |  Business

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific