Flammable Penguins

Claire Blackshaw's Forest of Fun

Develop Conference 2015 Talks

Conference Develop
Develop Conference 2015 Talks

Another Develop in stormy Brighton brought friends, drinks and catch-up on various game topics. I was fortunate enough to have Sony send me, and disappointed my talk wasn’t part of the roster. This year was different from the years before for me but that’s another blog post. Here is my summary of some talks which hit home with me.


Going Beyond Games - How VR Creates Exciting Non-games Opportunities for Developers

I shan’t speak ill of the first two speakers but I wasn't inspired and not much to say here. I do want to mention this talk because Katie Grayson from @Inition seemed to have a very interesting content packed segment. The two men overran so badly though she had only 2 minutes. It was a disgrace and a missed opportunity. I hope she gets an opportunity to do a full talk solo.

How SMITE Became a Top Global ESport Using Community, Crowdsourcing and Stupid Videos

Todd Harris @ToddAlanHarris from Hi-Rez did a great talk about Smite. I’m always talking about e-sports and Twitch as part of my job and a huge advocate of it. I’m glad to see such a different entry slowly gain traction and hopefully bring that world onto consoles.

The slow burn and building community message he brought onto stage is important. It was also encouraging to see the policy that Hi-Rez has put into place to split the winnings more evenly across the community by capping the prize pool for a given tournament at one million dollars.

User Generated Content - The Next Generation

Lee Bamber @leebambertgc gave us a brief run through the history of UGC from his early program Dark Basic to the more modern block style development like we are seeing in things like MIT Scratch programming language. I largely agree with his point that for the bulk of content creation automated tools that better understand our intent are the future. The holodeck creation process being a good target for shoot for with natural language.

Anyone interested in this should look at Little Big Planet and the upcoming Dreams project from Media Molecule. Though as Lee said we will always have programmers working at the lowest level supporting and advancing these tools. At least until AI makes it pointless ;-)

He had a good answer for the problems of children and moderation with UGC while thankfully also pushing the need for creative freedom in adult spaces. I admittedly poked that question in just to see his view on mature content.

Rest of Evolve

There were a bunch of other talks I went to. The panel had a few interesting tidbits. The groundswell in support of VR has risen to the point where people are complaining about it’s dominance so that’s a good sign. All forward on VR.

Develop Day 1

Making A Game Engine Is Easier Than You Think


Gorm Lai @gormlai gave a great talk on building your own engine based on his experience and a survey of a wide range of developers. Bearing in mind a likely code bias it was interesting to see that half of the developers who have switched away from their own tech have regretted the decision.

He spoke against frameworks which grow to envelop and tangle your engine and instead advocated libraries and tools which plug into your project. Listing a wide range of useful things to plug into your tech.

I particularly liked his suggestion of making your components elements that are compiled standalone into libraries or dll. This makes management and porting easier as you move over one component at a time but also uses the enforcement of the language to help good design practices. He recommended some solid books and sources.

He also tempered this advice saying not everyone should build their own engine and that your should try prototype using paper, or someone else's engine. Avoiding the leakage of prototyping code into development. Also you don’t need to build an scene editor you could use external tools like Sony’s ATF, Blender or Maya. One of my favourite talks.

Choice, Consequence and Complicity in Interactive Stories


Alexis Kennedy @alexiskennedy from Failbetter games are well known as narrative masters with their Fallen London world. Alexis beat the drum of the wordsmith and building stories. As anyone familiar with my work into narrative AI & semantics know I favour a more systemic approach to large scale systems though his advice was good for a team not backed by a strong AI programmer.

  • Some great writing advice
  • Don’t tell the player how they feel
  • Avoid telling the player implicitly how they feel through choice
  • Try give 3 choices or 5 or in the rare case go insane
  • Locality of consequence matters
  • “Gone pale white” or “trousers” imply caucasian and wearing pants
  • Don’t just branch, use variables

Interestingly he advised prototyping in Twine but not shipping in Twine unless you are making a “Twine Game”. He also advised against their tools because they were a bit too purpose built. I could happily kidnap Alexis into a pub and talk for hours about narrative design. I’m sure I’m not doing his nuanced talk favour with these few brief words and I hope he shares it online.

Day 2

I sadly woke up a bit late for Rami’s keynote or “Level Up Your User Interface” by Ian Plater which I was looking forward to.

Allow Them to Believe: Lessons in Creating Rich Dynamic VR Gameplay

I didn’t attend Katie Goode @Katie_TriPixels talk, full disclosure she is a friend. Though I heard from several people it was the best VR talk they attended, very content rich. I did laugh at one comment that apparently people were confused why she was sharing all her secrets. If you missed this it was live blogged by VR Focus.

Forget About VR - Designing for Believability

John Foster from Sony London gave a great talk on VR design which was very well received and one of the best design talks. Thankfully once again VR Focus did a live blog.

Lessons I Learnt as a Choreographer and Apply as a Game Designer

Richard Lord @richard_lord presented my favourite talk from the entire conference and as a friend says it was a design bible. It’s always amazing when people from different walks of life join our industry bringing their unique viewpoint.

He presented seven basic rules framed in wonderfully personal stories.

  • Know what you’re making and why
  • Always prototype
  • Your job is to make decisions
  • Stranges respond to good work
  • Don’t show off, it’s not about you
  • When an audience member tells you their experience, they are right
  • It’s all about the audience

I want to recount all the amazing personal stories which echoed with me deeply. I once wrote a play about rape and abuse, a one person play I performed well Lord’s swan song was a wonderful small piece about relationships positive and negative. Though recounting his talk would be a poor echo.

He shared personal stories and creative experiences which transcend creative genre and he is now bringing to the world of games. From touching moments with an old mentor, failed projects, harsh critics and personal trials. I eagerly await to see what this unique creative brings to our digital play space.

Closing of Develop

The parties were good and I shall write another post about how this year was different for me. This post is already far too long, while it also feels like I haven’t done these select talks justice while leaving out others for brevity.

One closing note on speakers was the rants. Michael How MrHowDesigns did a rant which he has posted on his website and you can get the PDF here.

While his points in the right light can be taken from a positive stance, all about minimizing negative attitudes and keep the energy up I had big red warning lights in my head. No one truly believes they are a villain we think we are doing the “right thing” this list of his reads like a delusional dictators handbook.

I called this out in a question, yes I was that person.

Basically this checklist in the wrong hands is about crushing dissenting voices. I’ve seen this playbook done badly. I’ve seen the vision holder gone mad not willing to explain themselves. The developers ignored. The corporate line tugged and decorated till it wraps around people’s necks and strangles them.

There may be good messages in there but always remember your talk can be taken in many ways. On that rather ominous note I shall end this brief report on a wonderful year on the beach.