Top 10 Boston Area Game Conferences, Festivals and Symposia You Should Know About for 2013

January 10th, 2013 by Elliott Mitchell

PAX East Indie Megabooth Developers - Photo Courtesy Ichiro Lambe

1 ) Pax East
Spawned from Washington State based Penny Arcade Conference, Boston’s three day PAX East Conference is debatably the largest game conference in the United States. Boasting over 70K attendees in 2011 and even more in 2012, PAX East has much to offer game enthusiasts, developers, students and the press. Some highlights of PAX East are: The indie Megabooth, panel talks, the expo floor and the multitudes of game enthusiasts.  http://east.paxsite.com/

2 ) Boston Festival of Indie Games
A vibrant offspring of the Boston Indies Group, the Boston Festival of Indie Games (Boston FIG) held it’s first event in 2012 at MIT in Cambridge, MA. Several thousand attendees from across the the region comprised of game enthusiasts, all manner of game developers, tech startups, students and supportive parents enjoyed the day long festival. Highlights include:  prominent industry speakers, playing local indie games while having many opportunities to talk to the game developers, cutting edge tech demos, screening films like Indie Game the Movie, participating in a game jam, local industry art show and amazing networking opportunities. http://bostonfig.com/

3 ) Games for Health
Established 9 years ago in Boston, MA, Games for Health is an unique conference focused on non-traditional uses of game technology and motivational game mechanics utilized to facilitate healing, healthy practices and gathering data. The conference is attended by a wide range of professional game designers, tech startups, researchers, educators, healthcare providers and more. http://www.gamesforhealth.org/

4 ) MIT Business in Gaming
Originating in 2009, the MIT BIG conference was conceived as an event to bring together the best and brightest business leaders around Massachusetts to talk about succeeding in the business of making games. High profile panels and industry focused topics make this conference unique. Attendees range from entrepreneurs, publishers, investors, AAA studios, students and indie developers. http://www.mitbig.com/

5 ) Mass Digi Game Challenge
Initiated in 2012, the Mass DiDI Game Challenge is an annual games industry event and competition focused on mentoring aspiring game development teams. The goal of the conference is to boost the odds of new startups in Massachusetts to pitch, fund, create and publish successful games. Winners receive prizes, valuable mentorship, new industry connections and lots of publicity. http://www.massdigi.org/gamechallenge/

6 ) Boston GameLoop
Established back in 2008, Boston GameLoop is an amazing unConference where all walks of game industry people unite for an afternoon or self organizing talks, debates, presentations and networking opportunities. Indies, Students and AAA industry folks come together for a day of inspiration. http://www.bostongameloop.com/

7 ) MIT Game Lab Symposium
First held in 2012, The MIT Game Lab Symposium is a fascinating event focused on game research, education and non-traditional use cases of game mechanics and technologies. The all day event is highlighted with expert panel discussions and amazing networking opportunities. Attendees include industry leaders, top researchers, indies, students and other interested people from various external disciplines and industries.
http://gamelab.mit.edu/symposium/

8 ) 3D Stimulus Day
Conceived in 2009, 3D Stimulus Day is unique because it is the only all-day 3D game related event around Boston. Attendees network, watch professional’s speak, learn about new technologies, demo games, receive vital information on how to get jobs as well as show off their portfolios. 3D artists ranging from industry veterans to students unite for a day dedicated to 3D for games. http://greateasterntech.com/events-a-news/22-3d-stimulus-day

9 ) No Show Conference
Initiated in 2012, the self described goal of the two day No Show Conference is “to give game industry professionals a space to explore our skillsets, our motivations, and our limits as developers”. The conference is comprised in part by highly pertinent industry related presentations, networking opportunities, a demo hall showcasing local indie game developers and a game jam.
http://noshowconf.com/

10 ) MassTLC Innovation Unconference
This annual event held by the Mass Technology Leadership Council for C-level executives, young entrepreneurs, investors and students is not solely focused on the games industry. The Innovation Unconference is a great forum to network, exchange ideas, learn from the pros and gather fresh ideas from new innovators.  Although the conference is not solely focused on games, a high percentage of attendees with connections to the game industry do attend. http://www.masstlc.org/?page=unConference

Elliott Mitchell
Technical Director @ Infrared5.com
Indie Game Developer
Twitter: @mrt3d

, , ,

Top 10 Prominent Boston Area Game Developer Groups and Organizations That You Should Pay Attention To

December 14th, 2012 by Elliott Mitchell

Top 10 Prominent Boston Area Game Developer Groups and Organizations That You Should Pay Attention To:

Scott Macmillan (co-founder Boston Indies), Darius Kazemi (co-organizer Boston Post Mortem) and Alex Schwartz (co-founder Boston Unity Group) preparing for a Boston Post Mortem presentation July 2011. (Photo- Elliott Mitchell co-founder Boston Unity Group)

The Boston area game developer scene has a generous and open community that nurtures indies, startups, students and AAA game studios alike. The evidence of this is more than abundant. On almost any given day one can find a game industry event ranging from casual meet-ups, demo nights and intense panel discussions. As I am an indie game developer and technical director, I will focus more closely on groups that are indie game developer related. One thing can be assured, all of these groups are prominent, worthwhile and you should check them out if you haven’t already done so!

1 ) International Game Developers Association (IDGA) – Boston Post Mortem (BPM)

The Boston based chapter of the IDGA was founded in 1997 by Kent Quirk, Steve Meretzk & Rick Goodman at John Harvard’s Brewhouse. Boston Post Mortem is internationally renowned as an example of how to grow and nurture a game developer community. BPM is the seminal game developer organization in the Boston area. Currently held at The Skellig in Waltham, MA, BPM is a monthly IDGA chapter meeting focused around industry related topics. BPM hosts expert speakers, industry panels, great networking opportunities and grog.

Frequency: Monthly
Membership Required: No, but IDGA membership is encouraged
Admission to Meetings: Usually free
Web: http://www.bostonpostmortem.org/
Twitter: @BosPostMortem

2 ) Boston Indies (BI)

Boston Indies is, as the name would indicate, a Boston based group for indie game developers. BI was founded in 2009 by Scott Macmillan and Jim Buck as an indie game developer alternative to the large Boston Post Mortem group.  Boston Indies featured indie developer presentations, BYOB and chipping in for pizza. Meet-ups were hosted at the Betahouse co-working space at MIT in Cambridge, MA. BI quickly grew larger and moved locations to The Asgard and settling most recently at the Bocoup Loft in South Boston. At BI meetups, indie developers present on relevant topics, hold game demo nights and network. Boston Indies is notable because it spawned the very successful Boston Festival of Indie Games in the fall of 2012.

Frequency: Monthly
Membership Required: No
Admission to Meetings: Free
Web: www.bostonindies.com
Twitter: @BostonIndies

3 ) The Boston Unity Group (BUG)

Founded in 2012 by Alex Schwartz and Elliott Mitchell, The Boston Unity User Group (BUG) is a bi-monthly gathering of Unity developers in the Boston area. Born from the inspiration and traditions of Boston Post Mortem and Boston Indies, BUG events are Unity game development related meetups where members ranging from professionals to hobbyist unite to learn from presentations, demo their projects, network and continue to build bridges in the Boston area game development community and beyond. BUG is renowned by local and international developers, as well as by Unity Technologies, as one of the first and largest Unity user groups in the world. Meetings have been frequently held at the Microsoft New England Research Center, Meadhall and the Asgard in Cambridge, MA.

Frequency:  Bi-Monthly
Membership Required:  Meetup.com registration required
Admission to Meetings:  Free
Web:  http://www.meetup.com/B-U-G-Boston-Unity-Group/
Twitter:  @BosUnityGroup

4 ) Women In Games (WIG)

Founded by Courtney Stanton in 2010, Women in Games Boston is the official Boston chapter of the International Game Developers Association’s Women in Games Special Interest Group. Renown industry speakers present on relevant game development topics but what differentiates WIG is the it’s predominately female perspective and unique industry support. WIG meets monthly at The Asgard in Cambridge. Developers from AAA, indie studios and students regularly attend. WIG is an event open to women and their allies to attend.

Frequency: Monthly
Membership Required: No
Admission to Meetings: Free
Web: http://wigboston.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @WIGboston

5 ) Boston HTML5 Game Development Group

The Boston HTML5 Game Developer Group was founded in 2010 by Pascal Rettig. On the group’s meetup webpage, the description reads  “A gathering of the minds on tips, tricks and best practices for using HTML5 as a platform for developing highly-interactive in-browser applications (with a focus on Game Development)”. The HTML5 game development Group in Boston boasts an impressive roster of members and speakers. Attended and led by prominent industry leaders and innovators, the Boston HTML5 Game Developer Group is a monthly meetup held at Bocoup Loft in Boston, MA.

Membership Required: Meetup membership encouraged
Admission to Meetings: Free
Web: http://www.meetup.com/Boston-HTML5-Game-Development/
Twitter: #Boston #HTML5

6 ) MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge  - New England Games Community Circle (NEGamesSIG)

Originally founded in 2007 by Michael Cavaretta as The New England Game SIG, newly renamed New England Games Community Cirle  is a group rooted in greater MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge. NEGCC focuses on being a hub for dynamic games and interactive entertainment industries throughout New England.  NEGCC events are predictably very good and well attended with their professional panel discussions featuring a mix of innovative leaders from across the business of games. Events regularly are held in various locations around Cambridge, MA including the MIT Stata Center and the Microsoft New England Research Center.

Frequency: Regularly dispersed throughout the year
Membership Required: Not Always / Membership encouraged with worthwhile benefits.
Admission to Meetings: Depends on event and if you’re a member
Web: http://gamescircle.org/
Twitter: #NEGCC #NEGamesSIG

7 ) The Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI)

The Massachusetts Digital Games Institute was founded in 2010 by Timothy Loew and Robert E. Johnson, Ph. D.  This is a unique group focused on building pathways between academia and industry, while nurturing entrepreneurship and economic development within the game industry across Massachusetts. MassDiGI holds game industry related events not only in the Boston area but across the entire Commonwealth. MassDiGI also runs some larger events and programs like the MassDiGI Game Challenge, where prominent industry experts mentor competing game development teams. Mass DiGI also holds a Summer of Innovation Program where students are mentored by industry experts while they form teams and develop marketable games over the summer. Mass DiGI is headquartered at Becker College in Worcester, MA.

Frequency: Slightly Random
Membership Required: No Membership
Admission to Meetings: Mostly free / Some events and programs cost money
Web: http://www.massdigi.org/
Twitter: @mass_digi

8 ) Mass Technology Leadership Council – Digital Games Cluster (MassTLC)

MassTLC is a large organization that encompasses much more than games. The MassTLC Digital Games Cluster is led by the likes of Tom Hopcroft and Christine Nolan, among others, who work diligently to raise awareness about the region’s game industry and build support for a breadth of Massachusetts game developers.  MassTLC holds regular events benefit startups, midsized companies and large corporations across Massachusetts. With a focus on economic development, MassTLC helps those those looking to network, find mentors, funding and other resources vital to a game studio of any scale. One of my favorite MassTLC events is the MassTLC PAX East – Made in MA Party. The Party serves to highlight hundreds of Massachusetts game developers to the media as well as out of state industry folks on the evening before the the massive PAX East game developer conference begins. MassTLC Events are frequently held at the Microsoft New England Research Center.

Frequency: Regularly / Slightly Random
Membership Required: Not Always / Membership encouraged with worthwhile benefits.
Admission to Meetings: Depends on event and if you’re a member
Web: http://www.masstlc.org/?page=DigitalGames
Twitter: @MassTLC

9 ) Boston Game Jams

Founded in 2011 by Darren Torpey, Boston Game Jams is a unique group. Modeled after the Nordic Game Jam, IGDA Global Game Jam and others less  known game jams, Boston Game Jams is an ongoing series of ad-hoc game jams held in the Boston area. As Darren States on the Boston Game Jam’s website, “It is not a formal organization of any kind, but rather it’s more of a grassroots community that is growing out of a shared desire to learn and create games together in an open, fun, and highly collaborative environment.” Boston Game Jams is a great venue for people of all skill levels to come together and collaboratively create games around given themes within a very short period of time. Participants range from professionals to novices. Boston Game Jams have historically been held at the innovative Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab which has recently morphed into the new MIT Game Lab.

Frequency: Random
Membership Required: No
Admission to Meetings: Free / Food Donations Welcome
Web: http://bostongamejams.com/
Twitter: @bostongamejams

10 ) Boston Autodesk Animation User Group Association (BostonAAUGA)

BostonAAUGA is an official Autodesk User Group. Founded in 2008, BostonAAUGA joined forces in June 2012 with the The Boston Maya User Group (bMug) which was founded in 2010 by Tereza Flaxman. United into one 3D powerhouse, BostonAAUGA and mBug serve as a forum for 3D artists and animators seeking professional training, community engagement and networking opportunities. BostonAAUGA hosts outstanding industry speakers and panelists. It should be noted that not all of their events are game industry specific hence their number 10 slot ranking. BostonAAUGA is regularly hosted at Neoscape in Boston, MA.

Membership Required: No Membership
Admission to Meetings: Free

Web: http://www.aaugaboston.com/

Twitter: @BostonAAUGA

Get out there!

—-

Elliott Mitchell
Technical Director @ Infrared5.com
Indie Game Developer
Twitter: @mrt3d

, , , , , , , ,

GameDraw: 3D Power in Unity

October 5th, 2012 by Elliott Mitchell


At Infrared5, we are continuously seeking ways to improve the quality of our craft while increasing our efficiency in developing games for our clients. Our Unity engineers and creatives are ninjas, masters of their trade, and yet there are situations when leveraging the Unity’s Asset Store is extremely advantageous. Why reinvent the wheel by creating extra custom tools when there are relatively inexpensive, pre-existing tools in the Asset Store? GameDraw, by Mixed Dimensions, is one of those indispensable tools available on the Unity Asset Store.

I had the pleasure of evaluating a few pre-release builds of GameDraw after meeting the Mixed Dimensions team at GDC 2012 and more recently at Unite 2012. I was super impressed on both occasions. As stated by Mixed Dimensions, ‘The purpose of GameDraw is to make the life of designers easier by giving them possibilities inside Unity itself and cutting down time and cost.’’ GameDraw is not exactly a single tool, perhaps better described as an expansive suite of 3D tools for the Unity Editor.  Within GameDraw, one can actually manipulate pre-existing models, create new 3D assets, optimize 3D assets and a whole lot more.


Key Features Are:

Polygonal Modeling, Sculpting, Generation and Optimization Tools
UV Editor
City Generator
Runtime API
Character Customizer

Each of these features individually are worth the cost of GameDraw on the Asset Store. Drilling down deeper, GameDraw offers much more. It’s pretty amazing to see the degree of power GameDraw unleashes in the Unity Editor, offering features such as:

Mesh Editing ( Vertex, Edge, Triangle, Element)
Mesh manipulation functions (Extrude, Weld, Subdivide, Delete, Smooth,…etc)
Assigning new Materials
Mesh Optimization
UV editing
Primitives (25 basic model)
Sculpting
Boolean operations
Node based mesh generation
2D tools (Geometry painting, 2D to 3D image tracing)
Character customizer (NEXT UPDATE V 0,87)
City Generator (NEXT UPDATE V 0.87)
Warehouse “hundreds of free assets” (NEXT UPDATE V 0.87)

As a Beta product, GameDraw is slightly more functional on the PC than the Mac computers at the moment. Even though I primarily use a Mac in my daily routine, I was very impressed with GameDraw’s functionality on the Mac.


Being a hardcore Maya artist, I can’t see GameDraw eliminating my need for Maya anytime soon. I use Maya for more than creating Unity assets. However, I happily purchased the GameDraw from the Asset Store and use it on projects. I see a significant number of  instances when I want the ability to make changes to models, create new models, generate a cities, animate morph targets…all within Unity. For any of these tasks alone, GameDraw is a must have and very worth the cost.

-Elliott Mitchell

TD Infrared5
Co-Founder Boston Unity Group

Follow us on Twitter! @infrared5

, , , , , ,

Unite 2012 – The Unity Developer Conference

September 7th, 2012 by Elliott Mitchell

Unite 2012

Last week, Unity Technologies held their 6th annual Unite developer’s conference in Amsterdam, Holland. Approximately 4.5 thousand miles from last year’s venue in San Francisco, Unite was attended by developers from 26 nations along with Unity’s 200+ amazing employees!

The conference featured several excellent keynote talks, a look at some exciting things to come for Unity, and an opportunity to engage in an exciting community. The following is an overview of my time at Unite 2012.

Unite 2012 Jack Lumber talk

The conference was spread over 4 days and 3 venues:

Day 1 – Training Day and Unity Mixer
Day 2 – Keynote & Main Conference
Day 3 – Main Conference, Unity Awards & Unity Party
Day 4 – Main Conference & Sad Goodbyes

Amsterdam was a great choice for Unite 2012. The international nature of the city, it’s rich cultural identity, excellent public transportation and welcoming nature of the people all synergize to elevate the conference to a new level.

The bulk of the conference was filled with interesting sessions on topics such as: art pipelines, rendering pipelines, virtual worlds, running an indie studio, advanced editor scripting, super cool simulators, creating universes, making tools for Unity, using Flash and Unity together, animation systems and so on. You can view video recordings of many of the talks on Unity’s website. Hopefully, all the talks will be added in the near future.

Between sessions, meetings, and meals, time was allocated for developers and artists to network, catch up, drink, play J.S. Joust and talk shop. This time was truly priceless.

J. S. Jousting at Unite 2012 (Photo and J. S. Joust courtesy of Julie Heyde)

I was honored to participate on a panel geared towards organizing and supporting user group communities with folks from Unity (Joe Robbins, Will Goldstone, Mark Martin, Russ Morris, Carl Carth ) and a few other fellow user group organizers (Grant Viklund, Brandon Wu and Robert Brackenridge). We had good turnout, great pointers, super questions from the audience and momentum moving forward in a more organized manner.

Unite featured keynotes by Unity founders David Helgason, Joachim Ante, Nicholas Francis and infamous Game Designer Peter Molyneux.  All the speakers delivered fascinating keynotes. You can watch the official video of the Unite 2012 Keynote here.


My Short List of Unity 4 Keynote Announcements:

  • Mecanim – next generation character animation system
  • Shuriken Particle Engine – Collision with Particles
  • Mobile Shadows
  • Bumpmap Terrain
  • New Project Browser
  • Improved Lightmaps
  • DirectX 11 Rendering
  • Ship Unity 4 Beta to Prepaid Customers
  • Adobe Partnership for Flash Export
  • New Unity GUI!!
  • Linux Support
  • Future Windows 8 Export
  • Future Windows Phone 8 Export

I thought the most impressive keynote highlight was the 3 minute short “Butterfly Effect” created by Passion Pictures and Unity technologies.  Not only is it visually stunning, the film is real-time rendered in DirectX 11. Butterfly Effect is completely filmic with SSS Shaders, stunning procedural explosions, high quality animation and rendering. Butterfly Effect is a work of art to behold!

David Helgason (Unity) & Elliott Mitchell (Infrared5) Unite 2012 Party

As always, the Unity Awards and Unity Party celebrated so many great Unity games and projects in the wild at the Muziekgebouw. See the award winners here.

I’m looking forward to Unite 2013 rumored to be held in San Francisco. If your a Unity developer or interested in making games with Unity, then Unite it’s a must attend event! Hopefully, I’ll be speaking at Unite again next year. See you there!

——–>

-Elliott Mitchell

Technical Director Infrared5

Co-founder of the Boston Unity Group

@MrT.3D on Twitter

, , ,

It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Steff Kelsey

June 8th, 2012 by Elliott Mitchell

Steff Kelsey

Today I’d like to introduce you all Steff Kelsey, Infrared5′s most recent full time employee. Steff has worked for Infrared5 as a contractor the past few months and this week leveled-up to an All-Star team member! I have personally worked with Steff on a particularly challenging project recently and have been very impressed by his skills, attitude and beard. I had the pleasure to interview Steff this week with the goal of uncovering some more details about his background, goals and ambitions.

1) How did you first learn of Infrared5?

I had worked on a few projects that used the Red5 streaming server in 2008, so I guess I knew about the group from that.  For whatever reason, I did not realize that Infrared was in the Boston area until I met Michael Oldham performing a demo for the ad agency I was working at last April or May.  After meeting Michael, I took a closer look at who was in the group and the kind of work they were doing.  I really wanted to be a part of it.

2) What is your professional skill set?

I have a BS in Mechanical Engineering and that brings a lot of math with it.  I started off doing animation for broadcast, so my first pipeline centered around After Effects, Illustrator, and Photoshop.  I had experience coding in High School and college, so it didn’t take long for me to start scripting animation in AE and 3ds Max (rather than keyframing everything) and also get into developing software for kiosk and the web.  Then I read my first design patterns book and I was hooked.  Now, most of my time on the job is spent writing code.

3) Do you have a favorite programming language and why?

I think its important for developers to get exposed to as many different languages as they can.  As far as favorites go, I prefer languages that are strongly typed.  I like getting quick feedback when I code.  When working with strong typing, your IDE lets you know right away if you have done something wrong.  If you’re working with a compiled language, compiler errors and warnings are you’re next layer of feedback.  And unit tests are the next round.  In an uncompiled language without strong typing, unit tests can be your first feedback loop from the system, rather than giving an error right in the IDE.  I like tools that help you, so I guess my language preferences are really about the toolset.

Steff Kelsey Pugs

4) What is your favorite 3D tool and why?

I have spent the most time in 3ds Max and once you get comfortable in a package it can be hard to switch.  I really like rigging with CAT and I got  very familiar with their particle system and with RenderMan.  At this point, I just feel good about the pipeline.

5) Are there any development platforms or languages you’d like to work with more?

I am getting into Unity3D and am very excited about it.  It’s a great end point for someone who is into motion math, creating 3d assets, and creating simulations.  I also got exposed to GPU programming on my last project and want to explore that more.  I really want to harness the GPU as an implicit solver of systems of linear equations.  Once you get a framework in place, you can simulate a variety of things from more complex realtime physics to fluids and also geometry processing and image filtering.  I am also interested in using Python to write plugins/scripts for Maya, but would have to break my bias toward 3ds Max to do so.

6) What are a few of your hobbies?

I run, draw, and have recently been getting into

woodworking (mocking everything up in 3ds Max before cutting any wood).  I have a piano I used to bang on that I need to get back to.  Honestly, most of my spare time is spent trying to keep up with things in the field.  Everything changes so fast in the tech world and there is always so much to learn.  It is both awesome and terrifying!

7) What super hero do you most identify with and why?

I have a Batman keychain, but who doesn’t want to be Superman?

8) What one nugget of advice would you give an individual thinking of getting into either game or web development?
Work hard.  Work hard.  Work hard.  And never stop learning.  Being able to teach yourself new things is an invaluable skill.  And don’t worry if you’re not a rock star right away.  Just keep churning out work and the quality will come with experience.  Take time after each project to review what went well and what didn’t.  Make a lot of mistakes and then recognize them and learn how to not fall into the same traps on your next sprint.

,

To plug in, or not to plug in: that is the question! 

May 17th, 2012 by Elliott Mitchell

In recent years, we have seen a tremendous amount of attention to what can only be described as a debate between browser based plugins and their more standards based equivalent technologies, HTML & Javascript. Granted, even plugin providers can argue that they have open standards, but HTML definitely has its roots originating by a standards processes like W3C which is widely accepted by the web community. While we don’t want to go down the route of arguing for either side, it’s quite interesting to consider some of the available information freely circulating on the web.

Let’s start off first by examining some of the requirements of a plugin based deployment. If a webpage requires a plugin, often the end user will be prompted to install or update before they can proceed. This prompt is often met with resistance by users who either don’t know what the plugins are, have a slow Internet connection or receive security warnings about installing the plugin. While there are steps to install browser based plugins and these may present difficulties for some, most online statistics show that this hasn’t really affected adoption rates.

To address this, I thought it would be helpful to take a peek at the current trajectory of plugin usage, plugin alternatives like HTML5, and browser usage as to better inform developers to decide whether or not to create plugin dependent content for the web browser. Let’s first take a look at desktop web browser plugin usage between September 2008 and January 2012 as measured by statowl.com:

Flash – 95.74%
Java Support 75.63%
SilverLight Support 67.37%
Quicktime Support 53.99%
Window Media Player Support 53.12%

Unity – ?% (numbers not available, estimated at 120 million installs as of May 2012)

Flash has been holding strong and is steadily installed on a more than 95% of all desktop computers. Flash is fortunate that two years after it’s launch, deals were made with all the major browsers to ship with Flash pre-installed. Pre-installs, YouTube, Facebook and 15 years on the market have made Flash the giant it is. Flash updates require user permission and a browser reboot.

Java Support updates for browsers have been holding steady for the past four years between 75% and 80%. Some of these updates can be hundreds of megabytes to download as system updates. At least on Windows systems, Java Support updates sometime require a system reboot. Apple has depreciated Java as of the release of OSX 10.6 Update 3 and is hinting of not supporting it in the future, at which time Java would rely on manual installation.

Interestingly enough, Microsoft Silverlight’s plugin install base has been steadily rising over the past four years from under 20% to almost 70% of browsers. Silverlight requires a browser reboot as well.

Both Windows Media support and Apple’s Quicktime support have seen installs drop steadily over the past four years, down from between 70% – 75% to a little more than 50%. It is worth pointing out that both these plugins are limited in their functionality when compared to the previously discussed plugins and Unity, mentioned below. Quicktime updates for OSX are handled through system updates. Windows Media Player updates are handled by Windows Systems updates. Both Windows and OSX require rebooting after updates.

Unity web player plugin has been on the rise over the past four years, although numbers are difficult to come by. The unofficial word from Unity is it has approximately 120 million installs. This is impressive due to Unity emerging from relative obscurity four years ago. Unity provides advanced capabilities and rich experiences. Unity MMO’s, like Battlestar Galactica, have over 10 million users. Social game portals like Facebook, Brass Monkey and Kongregate are seeing a rise in Unity content. Unity now targets the Flash player to leverage Flash’s install base. *The Unity plugin doesn’t require rebooting anything (See below).

So what about rich content on the desktop browser without a plugin? There are currently two options for that. The first option is HTML5 on supported browsers. HTML5 is very promising and open source but not every browser fully supports it. HTML5 runs best on Marathon & Chrome at the moment. Take a peek at html5test.com to see how desktop browsers score on supporting HTLM5 features.

The second option for a plugin free rich media content experience in the browser is Unity running natively in Chrome. That’s a great move for Chrome and Unity. How pervasive is Chrome? Check out these desktop browser statistics from around the world ranging between May 2011 to April 2012 according to StatCounter:

IE 34.07% – Steadily Decreasing
Chrome 31.23% – Steadily Increasing
Firefox 24.8% – Slightly Decreasing
Safari 7.3% – Very Slightly increasing
Opera 1.7% – Holding steady

Chrome installs are on the rise and IE is falling. At this time, Chrome’s rapid adoption rates are great for both Unity and HTML5. A big question is when will Unity run natively in IE, Firefox and/or Safari?

We’ve now covered the adoption statistics of many popular browser based plugins and the support for HTML5 provided by the top browsers. There may not really be a debate at all. It appears that there are plenty of uses for each technology at this point. It is my opinion that if the web content is spectacularly engaging, innovative and has inherent viral social marketing hooks integrated, you can proceed on either side of the divide.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is It All Fun and Games?

May 2nd, 2012 by Elliott Mitchell

Tommy Refenes of Team Meat in Indie Game: The Movie

Think making games is all fun? Watch Indie Game: The Movie and you’ll think twice about those leisurely indie game developers sometimes thought of as slackers. Although game design and development can be quite enjoyable, it also can be high-stress and difficult work. Many indies crunch long hours to design and build new and innovative video games. Making independent games is a labor of love.

Indie Game: The Movie Directors Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky Photo Credit: Ian MacCausland

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch Indie Game: The Movie at the historic Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA. Adobe generously sponsored the film’s tour and gave away seats of Adobe’s full Master Collection of content creation tools. Local showings of the film were sold out to enthusiast audiences filled with local indies, AAA developers and their significant others. The award winning Canadian filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky were on location to meet and greet the ecstatic crowds. Lisanee and James also treated the  game developer populated audience to time for Q & A at the end of the film.

Indie Game: The Movie paints a compelling montage of independent game developers as struggling artistic creators in a manner never before witnessed by the video game consuming public. Whether you make games, play games, are close to anyone who makes games or wants to make games, you must see Indie Game: The Movie. It’s truly a successful film about, by and for underdogs.

, , ,

GDC12 – Game Developer Conference 2012: a Post-Mortem

March 30th, 2012 by Elliott Mitchell

GDC12- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Force = Mass x Acceleration) by Dejoban Games and Owlchemy Labs, played by Oleg Pridiuk (Unity Technologies) as Ichiro Lambe (Dejobaan Games) and Deniz Opal (Cerebral Fix) watch - Photo Elliott Mitchell (Infrared5)

This year’s Game Developer Conference (GDC) 2012 was networking, networking and more networking.

Within a one mile proximity of the San Francisco Moscone Center, hordes of game developers and artists could be seen in the streets, cafes, bars, mall food courts, and hotel lobbies and heard talking shop, showing off their games, catching up with friends, debating the ethics of cloning social games from indies, shopping to find publishers, contractors and jobs. It was an intense meeting of the minds of people who make games in the streets of San Francisco.

Google Huddle chats, Google Groups email, shared Google Calendars and Twitter were all utilized very effectively to make the most of GDC. Multitudes of varied networking opportunities streamed in real-time through my iPhone 24/7. The level of my success at GDC was determined by how much networking I could possibly handle. With the help of my friends and the social/mobile networks,  success was at my fingertips.

In addition to the obsessive networking, there were many other valuable aspects of GDC. I’ll briefly highlight a few:

Jeff Ward’s Pre-GDC Board Game Night

GDC12- Elliott Mitchell (Infrared5), John Romero (Loot Drop), Brenda Garno Brathwaite (Loot Drop) & Elizabeth Sampat (Loot Drop) playing games at Jeff Ward's (Fire Hose Games) 3rd Annual Pre-GDC Board Game Night - Photo Drew Sikora

Jeff Ward (Fire Hose Games) knows how to get an amazing collection of game designers and developers together for a night playing board games. This was one of my favorite events of GDC. When else would I ever be able to play board games with John Romero (Loot Drop) and Brenda Garno Brathwaite (Loot Drop) while enjoying hors d’oeuvre and spirits? The crowd was a rich blend of artists, game developers, game designers, indies, students and superstars. There were so many new and classic games to play. I personally played Family Business and a really fun indie game prototype about operating a successful co-operative restaurant. Walking around after playing my games, I observed a host of other cool games being played and pitched. I’ll definitely be back for this event next year.

Independent Games Summit and Main Conference Sessions

GDC12 Ryan Creighton (Untold Entertainment) presenting Ponycorns: Catching Lightning in a Jar- Photo Elliott Mitchell (Infrared5)

Many session topics were super interesting but it wasn’t possible to attend all of them. Luckily, those with a GDC All-Access pass have access to the GDC Vault filled with recorded sessions. Here are a few sessions I saw which I found useful and interesting:

*Perhaps a Time of Miracles Was at Hand: The Business & Development of #Sworcery (Nathan Vella – Capy Games)

*The Pursuit of Indie Happiness: Making Great Games without Going Crazy (Aaron Isaksen – Indie Fund LLC)

*Ponycorns: Catching Lightning in a Jar (Ryan Creighton – Untold Entertainment)

*Light Probe Interpolation Using Tetrahedral Tessellations (Robert Cupisz – Unity Technologies)

Independent Game Festival Contestants on the Expo Floor

I played a bunch of the Independent Games Festival contestants’ games on the Expo floor

GDC12 - Alex Schwartz (Owlchemy Labs) playing Johann Sebastian Joust (Die Gute Fabrik) - Photo Elliott Mitchell (Infrared5)

before the festival winners are announced. There was a whole lot of innovation on display from this group. I particularly loved Johann Sebastian Joust (Die Gute Fabrik), a game without graphics, and Dear Esther (thechineseroom) which is stunning eye candy. Check out all the games here.

12th Annual Game Developer Choice Awards

I was super stoked to see two indies win big!

Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery EP (Capy Games/Superbrothers) took the Best Handheld/Mobile Game award.

Johann Sebastian Joust (Die Gute Fabrik) won the Innovation Award.  Johann Sebastian Joust is worthy of it’s own blog post in the future.

EXPO FLOOR

* Unity booth – Cool tech from Unity and development venders partners showing off their wares
* Google Booth – Go Home Dinosaurs (Fire Hose Games) on Google Chrome
* Autodesk Booth (Maya and Mudbox)
* Indie Game Festival area ( All of it)

GDC12 - Chris Allen (Brass Monkey) and Andrew Kostuik (Brass Monkey) at the Unity Booth - Photo by Elliott Mitchell (Infrared5)

GDC PLAY

Lots of cool tech at the 1st Annual GDC Play. Our sister company, Brass Monkey, impressed onlookers with their Brass Monkey Controller for mobile devices and Play Brass Monkey web portal for both 2d and 3d games.

UNITY FTW!

Last but not least, the most useful and pleasurable highlight of GDC was face time with the Unity Technology engineers and management. Sure, I’m on email, Skype, Twitter and Facebook with these guys but nothing is like face to face time with this crew. Time and access to Unity’s founders, engineers, evangelists and management is worth the price of GDC admission. Can’t wait until Unite 2012 in Amsterdam and GDC13 next March!

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Win for Boston Video Game Industry: PAX East Commits 10 years in Boston and $325K to Fund Mass DiGI

February 16th, 2012 by Elliott Mitchell

Video game industry leaders, higher education institutions and the press were all in for a big surprise when summoned to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) for a big announcement Wednesday, February 15, 2012. Penny Arcade’s PAX East conference has committed to hold their annual video game conference for 10 more years in Boston at the BCEC. Last year, PAX East boasted 68,000 attendees over three days of digital gaming bliss. Numbers of future attendees may reach 100,000 translating into lots of revenue for local businesses and further establishing Boston as a central hub of game development.

PAX East also pledged $325K to the Massachusetts Digital Game Institute (Mass DiGI) over the next ten years to support and nurture a sustainable cycle of industry growth with the coordination between game studios, educational institutions and the government.

Among the speakers at the press conference were Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray along with Tom Hopcroft (President and CEO at Mass Technology Leadership Council), Tim Lowe and Monty Sharma (Mass DiGI), Ken Surdan (VP Turbine) and a few other tech industry leaders.

See the WGBH news broadcast here.

Read about the announcement here.

, , ,

Gaming Ouroboros at the Global Game Jam 2012

February 6th, 2012 by Elliott Mitchell

Now and then, as a professional 3D technical artist and game designer, I find it’s helpful to step out of my usual routine and make a game over a weekend. Why? Because it keeps life fresh and exciting while providing a rare sense of instant gratification in the crazy world of video game development. Making a video game over a weekend isn’t easy for one person alone. For this, Global Game Jam was created.

This year’s Global Game Jam was held last January 27 – 29, 2012. I registered with was the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here is the lowdown of my experience.

Global Game Jam 2012 - Photo Courtesy Michael Carriere

The Global Game Jam (GGJ) is an annual International Game Developer Association (IGDA) game creation event. The event unites people from across the globe to make games in under 48 hours. Anyone is welcome to participate in the game jam. Jammers range from industry professionals to hobbyists and students. The primary framework is that under common constraints, each team completes a game, without preconceived ideas or preformed teams, in under 48 hours. This is intended to encourage creativity, experimentation and collaboration resulting in small but innovative games. To support this endeavor, schools, businesses and organizations volunteer to serve as official host sites. Several prominent sponsors such as Loot Drop, Autodesk, Microsoft and Brass Monkey also helped foot the bill.

HOW IT WENT DOWN

Keynote -

Brenda Brathwaite and John Romero addressing the Global Game Jammers 2012 - Photo courtesy Michael Carriere

GGJ site facilitators kicked off the Jam with a pre-recorded video from the IGDA website titled How to Build A Game in Less Than 48 Hours. The speakers in the video were Gordon Bellamy, the  Executive Director of the IGDA, John Romero (Quake) and Brenda Brathwaite (Wizardry) both co-founders of Loot Drop, Gonzalo Frasca (Ludology.org) the co-founder of Powerful Robot Games and Will Wright (The Simms) co-founder of Maxis. They speakers all gave excellent advice on creativity, leadership, scope and collaboration within a game jam.

Global Constraint -

Ouroboros

Our primary constraint was revealed after the keynote video. It was an image of a snake eating it’s own tail. The snake represented Ouroboros, a Greek mythological immortal. Variations of the symbol span across time and space from the modern day back to antiquity. The snake, or dragon in some instances, while eating it’s own tail has made appearances in ancient Egypt, Greece, India, Mexico, West Africa, Europe, South America and elsewhere under a host of names. It’s meaning can be interpreted as opposites merging in an a unifying act of cyclical creation and destruction, immortal for eternity. To alchemists the Ouroboros symbolized the Philosopher’s Stone.

Group Brainstorming –

Brainstorming Global Game Jam 2012

After the keynote game jammers arbitrarily split into 5 or 6 groups of 11 or so and went into different labs to brainstorm Ouroboros game pitches. After an amusing ricochet of thoughts, references, revisions, personalities and passions each room crafted 6 pitches which were mostly within the scope of the 48 hour Game Jam.

Pitch and Choose -

When the groups reassembled into the main room it was time to pitch.

The Rules-

  • Pitches needed to be under a minute
  • Title is 3 words or less
  • Theme related to the Ouroboros
  • The person pitching a game did not necessarily need to be on that potential team

There were about 30 or so pitches, after which each jammer had to choose a role on a game / team that appealed to them. Each Jammer had a single piece of colored coded paper with their name, skill level and intended role.

The Roles-

Choose Your Team - Global Game Jam 2012- Photo courtesy Michael Carriere

  • Programmer
  • Artist
  • Game Design
  • Audio
  • Producer

Games with too many team members were pruned and others lacking members for roles such as programmer were either augmented or eliminated. Eventually semi-balanced teams of 4-6 members were formed around the 11 most popular pitches.

My team decided to develop our game for the Commodore 64 computer using Ethan Fenn’s Comma8 framework. We thought the game narrative and technology married well.

Time to Jam - Photo Courtesy Michael Carriere

Time to Jam -

Post team formation, clusters of lab space were claimed. Even though most of us also brought our personal laptops, the labs were stocked with sweet dual boot Windows 7 & OS X systems with cinema displays. The lab computers were pre-installed with industry standard software such as Unity3d, Maya, Photoshop… We were also provided peripherals such as stylus tablets and keyboards. Ironically, I was most excited by the real world prototyping materials like blocks and graph paper which were also provided by or host.

First Things First –

Our space at Global Game Jam 2012 at Singapore - MIT GAMBIT Game Lab

After claiming a lab with another awesome team we immediately setup:

  • Version control (SVN)
  • Installed custom tools for Comma8 (Python, Java, Spite Pad, Tiles and more)
  • Confirmed the initial scope of the game
  • Set up collaborative project management system with a team Google Group and Google Doc

Cut That Out –

We needed to refine the scope once we were all aware of all the technical limitations such as:

  • Commodore 64 from 1982 is old
  • 64 kb of RAM for system not much
  • 8 bit
  • Programed in Assembly Language
  • 300 X 200 pixels
  • 16 pre-determined crappy colors
  • 3 Oscillators
  • Rectangular pixels
  • Screen Space
  • Developing in emulation on a network
  • Loading and testing a playable on legacy Commodore 64 hardware
  • Less than 48 hours to get it all working
  • Our scope was too big, too many levels
  • Other factors causing us to consider limiting the scope further included:
  • None of us had made games for C 64 before
  • Comma8 is an experimental engine that was untested in a game jam situation and is currently in development by Ethan
  • Tools such as Sprite Pad and Tiles are very archaic and limiting apps for art creation
  • Build process would do strange things to art after build time which required constant iteration

Rapid Iterative Prototyping -

Walking Backwards Prototype Global Game Jam 2012 - Photo Courtesy Michael Carriere

Physical prototyping was employed to reduce the scope before we went too far down any rabbit holes. We used the following materials to prototype:

  • Glass white board
  • Markers
  • Masking tape on the walls
  • Paper notes tacked to the walls
  • Graph paper
  • Wooden blocks
  • Pens

Results of Physical Prototyping-

  • Cut down scope from 9 levels to 5 levels as the minimum to carry the Ouroboros circular theme of our narrative far enough
  • Nailed the key mechanics
  • Refined the narrative
  • Determined scale and placement of graphical elements
  • Limited overall scope

Naturally we ran into design roadblocks and need to revise and adapt a few times. Physical prototyping once again sped up that process and move us along to completion.

QA-

Global Game Jam 2012 - Photo Courtesy Michael Carriere

We enlisted a few play testers on the second night and final hours of the game jam to help us gauge the following:

  • Playability
  • Comprehension of the narrative
  • Recognition of the lo-res art assets
  • Overall player experiences
  • Feelings about the game
  • Suggestions
  • Bugs

We did wind up having to revise the art, level design and narrative slightly to reach a better balance and game after play testing.

Deadline -

Walking Backwards - C64 - Global Game Jam 2012

1.5 hours before the game jam was to end it was pencilsdown. Time to upload to the IDGA Global Game Jam website, any other host servers and on to the site presentation computer. Out of the total 48 hours allotted to the game jam, we

only had about 25 working lab hours. Much time was spent on logistics like the keynote video, brainstorming, pitching, uploading and presenting. Our site also was only open from 9 am to midnight so there was not 24 hour access. With 25 hours of lab time all 11 games at my site were uploaded and ready for presentation.

Presentations -

Global Game Jam - Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab Games

The best part ever! The presentations were so exciting. Many of the jammers were so focused on their work they were not aware of what other teams were up to. One by one teams went up and presented their games in whatever the current game state was at the deadline.

Most were pretty innovative, experimental and funny. Titles such as The Ouroboros Hangover and Hoop Snake had the jammers in stitches. Fire farting dragons, Hoop Snakes, drunk Ouroboros and so on were big hits. Unity, HTML 5, Flash, Flex, XNA, Comma8 and Flixel were used to create the great games in under 48 hours.

Take Aways -

My teammates and I consider the game we made, Walking Backwards, to be a success.   We accomplished our goals:

Walking Backwards Team - Global Game Jam 2012- Photo courtesy Michael Carriere

  • Experimental game
  • A compelling narrative
  • Awesome audio composition
  • Most functionality we wanted we achieved
  • Runs on an original Commodore 64 with Joysticks
  • Can be played with a Java emulator
  • Got to work together under pressure and have a blast

Would have liked-

  • Avatar to animate properly (we had bi-directional sprites made but not implemented)
  • More audio for sound effects

The final take away I had, besides feeling simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted, is how essential networking at the game jam is for greater success. Beyond just meeting new people, networking at the jam made or broke some games. Some teams didn’t take time to walk around and talk to other teams. In one instance, a team didn’t figure out a essential ghost mechanic by the end of the jam. They realized at presentation time another team had implemented the same mechanic they failed to nail down in the same engine. Networking also provided mutual feedback, play testing, critique, advise, friendships and rounds of beer after the event ended. Many of the jammers now have a better sense of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, their performance under stress, their abilities to collaborate, lead and follow.

I, for one, will be a life long game jammer, ready to collaborate while pushing into both familiar and new territories of game development with various teams, themes and dreams.

Follow this link to see all the games created at my site hosted by the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Labs

——

Elliott Mitchell

Technical Director- Infrared5

Twitter: @ Mrt3d

, , , , ,

« Previous Entries