May 29, 2012

A Good Time Was Had at the Ottawa Game Conference

I just got back from the first annual Ottawa Game Conference and I couldn't be happier.

Anyone who knows Ottawa may wonder what such a conference could even offer. Heck, I was totally wondering that myself before today. Turns out the old saying "If you build it, they will come." rang true for this little endeavor. The scene here in town is small but growing and I think an event like this really did wonders for legitimizing the Ottawa gaming industry in many people's minds. I really have to give it to the organizers for pulling in some surprisingly great speakers to fill the day with informative and relevant talks.

You can check out the web site for a list of all the speakers and the subjects they covered but a few stood out to me personally.

After a nice breakfast, the show was kicked off with an energetic and inspirational keynote address by Jason Della Rocca, former executive director of the IGDA. His talk touched on a little of everything and concentrated on the importance of fostering strong clusters of creative people and of creating and maintaining original intelectual property.

After the keynote was a thought provoking talk by Ernest Adams of "Twinkie Denial" fame. His talk had nothing to do with snack goods though and centered, instead, around the challenges of adding meaningful story elements to massively multiplayer games. Now, these games are not usually my cup of tea, but the project he is currently proposing to adress the issues he brought up in his talk seems really interesting. The game would be set durring the blitz bombing of London durring WWII and have users playing different support roles for keeping the city standing and its citizens alive with no role allowing the player to perpetrate violence of his or her own. Really neat stuff. I hope this project has legs cuz I would love to play it some day.

Patrick Plourde, game designer at Ubisoft Montréal, gave another thought provoking talk, not about the AA games he's worked on, of which their are many, but on alternative game design. The titled of his talk was "New Horizons to Game Design" and touched on thinking outside the sphere of blockbuster games and exploring themes and concepts many might call impossible to turn into a game. He then outlined his involvement with local Montréal schools Université de Montréal and École Polytechnique de Montréal in creating a game based on speed dating where your only modes of interfacing with the game are through voice recognition and a camera tracking your facial expression. Some cool experimental stuff.

And finally Gabriel Leblanc from Eidos Montréal outlined the cool animation driven character movement technology being developed for their upcoming title Hitman Absolution. I love this kind of nerdy mariage of art and tech. The gist of the technique is that all AI character movement is governed by animations rather than animations playing on top of computer defined motion. This technique presents some serious challenges but also allows the characters to move through the scene in a much more believable fashion while also making it possible for animators to imbue a character's motion with much more emotion and personality. I was really glad to see such bleeding edge tech stuff being discussed at our little Ottawa show.

All in all, I would say the conference was quite the success! It was cool to see so many like-minded people from the Ottawa area gathered together in one place. It really brought home that the Capital Region really does have an active games industry and that's a cool thing to be part of. I look forward to next year's conference being even bigger and better!

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