miércoles, 17 de diciembre de 2014

Saturday at Granada Gaming

Hi all!

As I promised, here is my story and impressions at Granada Gaming, the first edition of this series of events where videogames professionals and small indie studios come together to celebrate their passion for games. 

I arrived by 10:30 a.m (doors opened half an hour earlier) and after lining up for half an hour, I got into the Congress Palace of Granada, where the event was held. 

Figure 1. A long line of people waiting to get into the Congress Palace

As soon as you passed through the doorstep, you could see gift shops populated with game-related stuff, stands where companies showed their last products, and long tables filled with laptops where the audience could play games developed by small studios. 

I headed directly (well, after a quick snack at the cafeteria) to the second talk of the day: Once Upon a Time: The Development of Videogames, where Mario García, from Mercury Steam (responsible for Castlevania Lord of Shadows, among others), discussed the process of creating games. In particular, the speaker is involved in the creation of game mechanics and gameplay experience in general. After his talk, I asked him whether they, at Mercury Steam, used some scripting language for this task. He answered that the most sensitive part of the code (the code that must run fast) is hard-coded in the game itself, whereas the rest is outsourced to Lua. The answer did not surprise given the increasing trend of using this scripting language in the industry.

Figure 2. A bunch of people around DriveClub.

Then, I took some time off the conference room to have a walk around. I could play several games, including Street Fighter x Tekken, which was actually pretty fun. There was also a retro area where you could enjoy jewels of old times, such as Alex Kidd. I also took the opportunity to hand out some Chubby Buddy flyers :).

But in my deepest heart, what I really wanted was trying the so-much wanted Oculus glasses. So I lined up again, and after other thirty minutes, the long-awaited moment arrived. A member of the staff was helping me wearing the glasses, and I could feel how I was transported into a miniaturized  roller-coaster. Moving your head around the room provided an impressive immersive feeling, since you could feel as if you were really there: the movement and turns of the head were really accurate and there were no lags at all. 

Figure 3. The line to try Oculus.

But the weirdest thing happened when the coach started to move. At that point, I felt something strange, neither too bad nor too good, but strange. I could feel what was actually happening: my brain was interpreting that I was moving, but my body was still, sitting and even aware of the noise that the headphones tried to vanish. However, a tickling sensation emerged from my stomach as the coach was moving faster and faster, and especially during the first descent. I even grabbed my chair because for a moment I thought that I could fall off. However, this sensation only lasted for some small fraction of time, and I really enjoyed the trip. 

I think it is not easy to envision the acceptance of this device in the near future by the games community. I'd really like to try them in a more interactive scenario before judging. But the immersive experience is out of discussion. The question is: would many people be able to wear the glasses in a horror game like Silent Hill P.T.? Mmm... I'm not sure I could play for more than 5 minutes... :) See below (after the end of this post) for opinions about the Oculus experience made by two persons that came with me.

Video: me looking through the Oculus... And yes, I really grabbed the chair.

The next talk I attended was about games marketing, which is a hot topic given the high saturation of the market. Basically, one of the main takeaways was that marketing should start long before the release of the game, and that Youtubers are playing an ever-increasing role in promoting the success of many independent games. 

In the next talk, the people behind the development of Randals Monday (one of the big lures of the event) described their experience while designing a graphic adventure. The designers wanted, from the very first moment, to pay tribute to old graphic adventures that are considered masterpieces today, such as Day of the Tentacle or Fate of Atlantis. The game, which is implemented around Unity, faced several technical challenges given that the engine is mainly designed for 3d games. However,  after seeing the game by myself, I can attest that developers made a great job at faking 2d. I asked the speaker personally for advices on designing the puzzles, and he answered that lots of paper-made drafts are required to make sure that the player cannot miss an important object for continuing the game, likely the biggest challenge in this type of games.

Figure 4. The conference room during the last talk I attended.

The last talk I could turn up was about marketing again. The speaker discussed the importance of making your game different from others, and of selling this difference. I asked about the impact of prices in the App Store in the selling opportunities. In particular, I wanted to know the speaker's opinion on my personal observation that a lower price does not guarantee more sales, or more benefits, since once the potential buyer is willing to pay, he or she would not mind to pay more. The speaker agreed with this observation and concluded that prices around 5 € are more than reasonable for well-designed mobile games.

And that's all. The festival continued on Sunday, but I could not be there. However, I'm delighted with the increasing number of games conferences initiatives in Spain (see more about Gamepolis in Malaga). Let's hope this is just the starting point for a 2015 full with videogames events.

See you!

Oliver's experience with Oculus

While I was lining up, I was facing the traditional dilemma of those who are going to test something for the first time: enjoy or analyze? I chose the analysis, trusting that if the experience was worth it, I wouldn't forsake the emotions. And so it was.

When it was my turn, another question arose: should I take my glasses off? Fortunately, the staff member in charge told me that I could keep them on. The first thing that came to my attention was the possibility to look all around me; the immersive feeling was awesome, above all considering that graphics were a bit poor. Next thing I noticed was that my body really reacted as if I was in a real roller-coaster, especially during the descents. However, I got the knack in the end: in order to get the tickling sensation during descents, you need to look downwards. Otherwise (if you look up), you won't feel anything. In my opinion, a complete immersion experience requires further elements, such as a moving chair, but of course that would make the product more expensive. Another drawback of the demo was the poor quality headphones. As a musician and sound technician, I really advocate the use of good quality, closed design headphones to provide a real 3d experience. To sum up, although Oculus glasses are an innovative and interesting product, the provided experience is still limited. We'll have to wait until more polished designs and cheaper components, but I encourage companies and people to bet on this kind of technology, which will surely shape the future of interactive media.

Just as a side note, even when the obvious application of Oculus are videogames, I think it would be worthy exploring its application to other scenarios, such as immersive cinema, where you can walk around a scene as if you were a ghost.

Manuela's experience with Oculus

I have little to add to Oliver's comprehensive review, with which I mostly agree. First, I think that graphics were poor, which is a pity because the immersive feeling (which was really high) could have been absolutely staggering with a better design. Second, moving your head around the room gave the real impression of being in that room. Finally, the feeling of the brain being tricked was fantastic at first, although later you get used to the feeling. In general, I think it was a good experience, and I'm looking forward to seeing what developers achieve with this device.

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