Sunday, June 22, 2008

Visiting the NLGD Festival of Games

The videogame industry is ever growing and, like many others, The Netherlands wants a bigger piece of the videogame pie. The NLGD Festival of Games, formerly known as the Nederlandse Game Dagen, is basically set up to pursue this goal. As I did some advisory thingamajigs for a workshop for videogame and filmmakers I was invited to join this celebration of burgeoning Dutch game development.

The workshop itself, a co-operation with the Nederlands Film Festival, was fun and interesting but troubled too. The aim of the organisation was to provide a platform for videogame developers and filmmakers to exchange their skills and knowledge - or at least to probe each other to see if such possibilities would even exist. Enthusiasm filled the room, but like always when these two media meet, not everyone was talking about the same things when discussing stuff like emotion, interaction, playing/viewing, story writing and so on.

The biggest hurdle to take was that the videogame makers present were mostly coming from big budget, internationally-operating developers like Triumph Studios or Guerilla Games, while the filmmakers have to do the low-budget, often arthouse-oriented nature of the Dutch film system. Understandably, the second group isn’t really that interested in grand scale first-person shooter extravaganzas for their own work (and vice-versa). There will be a second round of the workshop in September during the film festival, so 'to be continued'…

The real gems of the NLGD Festival of Games were to be found in the keynotes and other talks, the biggest draw being the venerable godfather of the industry Ralph H. Baer, creator of the Magnavox Odyssey. It was a pleasure to see this golden oldie carve his own spot in videogame history, for example by sneakily avoiding references to his long-running feud with Atari’s Bushnell about Pong.

Following Baer, Edge Magazine’s Margaret Robertson took the stage, trying to show both how much and how little the game industry’s has innovated itself since Baer introduced his first console almost 40 years ago. Her main point was a solid one. The industry has to stop hiding behind the supposedly puberty-like start-up problems of the medium. They should have been long beyond this point (and are, if you look at the right games). Grow up and act accordingly, please.

One more speaker I want to mention is Chaim Gingold, lead designed of the Spore Creature Creator. He had a big, nice talk about how to overlap the spheres of the possible, the probable and the desirable in creating tools like the creature creator. The morning before his talk, I happened to read about players using the ‘possible’ to create their ‘desirable’ content, like walking penis creatures. As we can see, being immature is not only the industry's vice. More interestingly, in some cases players were being threatened with an account ban for doing so.

So I asked Gingold about what can best be described as the impossible and undesirable as a result of launching such design tools in a participatory framework. As expected, all he could reply with was they he did not know about the legal games being played in the upper echelons of the company, and that he as a developer doesn’t mind such user creativity. Well, apparantly, publishers EA and/or Maxis do mind. At least the issue gave me the questionable honour of saying ‘wobbly penises’ through a mic at an international conference without anyone even blinking an eye. You gotta love the game industry…

No comments: