Develop Conference 2013: One Man’s Journey

So this is a rather long write up of my first experience of the annual gaming nirvana that takes place in Brighton (a gaming hotspot of the UK filled with developer studios and educational institutions).

I was extremely excited to attend as, for most people in the Industry, it’s a highlight of the year and offers unmissable chances to get your name out there and network with the right sort of people in order to sell a game or find work within the industry.

My day started bright and early on July 10th, a Wednesday and the 2nd day of the Annual Develop conference in Brighton

The fantastic view of Brighton I managed to capture during the brief moment I had outside the Expo

The fantastic view of Brighton I managed to capture during the brief moment I had outside the Expo

…..unfortunately, this poor intrepid Expansive writer hails from the small valley town of Caerphilly, just outside of Cardiff in South Wales. So I was forced to wake up at the crack of dawn (7am is what my alarm said) and set off as soon as possible (a good two hours later… I’m not a morning person)

I had a long journey ahead of me…. 

After many hours of travel across the breadth of the country, during which we faced the many perils of infuriating traffic jams and bewildering road diversions I eventually arrived at the prestigious Hilton Hotel (the host venue for this year’s Develop) on the coast of Brighton. I was only a few hours late, but the conference had been going for a good few hours prior to my arrival. Nonetheless, I quickly gripped free promotional copies of both Edge and Develop magazine and as much free water as I could carry. Then I hit the expo hall. There was a lot on offer so here’s a brief overview and some things I think are worth mentioning… 

The main intention of the Develop conference is networking, meeting and greeting the right people. If you’re looking for work in the games industry, I really can’t recommend this event enough for creating connections and gaining advice…

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend any of the conferences, keynote speeches or workshops (if you’re seeking further information on these events, I’d refer you to the Develop website itself where write ups on all the events are available and valuable)

I was, however, able to browse the expo floor and consume as many complimentary teas, coffees and Brighton Stick-o-Rocks as I could lay my hands on.

Indie Dev DayFirstly, i’d like to talk about the Indie Developer showcase sponsored by the open-source game maker, Unity. The showcase enables these indie developers to show off their games while the public can vote on which they thought showed the best of indie development. Personally, I felt this was the most interesting part of the expo as I had a chance to play some of the most exciting and intriguing upcoming indie titles.

TENGAMI

The first game I played was a very simple and therapeutic puzzle/platformer entitled Tengami. Developed by a three man team called NyamAm, based both in the Midlands and on the other side of the world in Japan. It was quite enjoyable to play with a therapeutic soundtrack; it carried a popup book style aesthetic and was one of the more creative titles on show.

That Dragon, Cancer

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Next up was possibly my favorite game. ‘That Dragon Cancer’ has been developed by a two man team in the US made up of Ryan Green and Josh Larson. The game is based on the very personal battle that Ryan Green and his son are currently having with cancer, a battle that you’ll all be glad to know his son is winning. You can keep up to date with Ryan’s sons fight against cancer over at his updates on his blog.

The game takes place in the hospital room Ryan spent much of his time in whilst his son was receiving care. More of an interactive story that a game per-say, it’s extremely narrative driven as you use a simple control interface to navigate through the room, interacting with objects such as phones, juice boxes and his sons’ crib. With each object you touch, your character (voiced by Ryan Green himself) through an internal monologue, divulges more memories of the emotional highs and lows one experiences when dealing with this kind of situation.

It was an incredibly emotional experience, one I hadn’t anticipated experiencing on an expo floor of the Hilton. The fact that the game managed to grip me, even in such a crowded environment, is a testament to its quality.

 Gunpoint

The third game I managed to play is a title you may have already heard about. Gunpoint has been receiving much critical acclaim since its release on Steam; however this was my first chance to get hands-on with it. Developed by one-man team Tom Francis, formally of PC Gamer magazine.

Gunpoint is a fun platformer, portraying many varied and intuitive game play mechanics. There was too many to fully get to grips with during the short time I had with the game. However, what I did play hinted at a game world carrying much depth both in game-play and story.

 ‘Momanga – Pinball Adventures

Retuning to the much en-vogue gaming format of simple, cheap games that offer quick gaming satisfaction via 5-10 minute bursts, I played Paladin Studios’ (a small IOS developer based in the Netherlands) ‘Momanga – Pinball Adventures’. As the title suggests, yes, it’s a pinball game. However it does carry a novel twist, connecting your advancement between tables with short platforming sections, requiring you to guide your small squirrel character through various skill-based sections.

A clever idea, but it may intrude on the market of players who are simply looking for their pinball fix. If you’re looking for an alternate take on the Pinball formula, Pinball Adventures is available for download on the IOS store now. 

Drop Candy

Drop Candy

Another of my personal favorites from the show was ‘Drop Candy’ carrying a visual aesthetic similar to popular iOS and Android title, Cut the Rope. The game requires you to connect three candies of the same color by pressing on other candies and deleting them so they no longer block the connection of matching colors’. Later levels in the game include physics based puzzles.

It came across as a game that could become very addictive and suited the ‘freemium’ payment model well. Drop Candy is being developed by a two-man team called Green Fly Studios who are based in Manchester. The game will release in 2014.

 Epic Eric

The final game I managed to get my hands on was ‘Epic Eric’ a one touch platform that borrows much in game play design to the classic Mario titles. The game pits you as a brave cartoon knight tasked with swinging and jumping your way through the multiple levels via a one touch jump system in order to save a princess. A classic tale, but hey, if it works for Mario, why not Eric?

The game had a slightly tongue in cheek aesthetic with nods to classic Nintendo titles, Zelda and Mario. It was very enjoyable and possibly one of the most impressive titles on show considering it was developed byone-man house 232 Studios.

 

There were simply too many great games on show and if I was to experience what else the expo had to offer, I had to leave the Unity Indie Developer showcase with some titles un-played.

In order not to cast any bias, I refrained from casting a vote on which I believed to be the best title. However, I encourage those of you who have an interest in the up and coming indie talent in our industry to seek out some of the titles I’ve discussed here.

After a brief pit stop in the Unreal sponsored and swankily lit ‘Networking Bar’

The bean Bags were not as comfortable as they looked :(

The bean Bags were not as comfortable as they looked 🙁

I’d like to thank the organisers who provided much joviality in the evening when free teas and coffees were replaced with free beer!

From there, I hit the show floor once again and, like any sensible gaming fan, took the first opportunity I could to get my hands on Oculus Rift for my very first time. If you get the opportunity, every gamer should at least have a go.

Hopefully there will be a much sleeker design come release

Hopefully there will be a much sleeker design come release

Oculus Rift.VR

In a year that features a whole new console generation, with both systems boasting a plethora of invasive new features meant to revolutionize the future of home gaming, nothing can quite compare to the vertigo-inducing experience I suffered whilst playing the game ‘Undercurrent’.

The game places you in a small, submissile and allows you to explore the depths of the ocean bed. Undercurrent is being developed by a small team at the University of Middlesbrough called Hammer Head Studios and is intended to release alongside Oculus Rift when it launches… if it ever does, that is.

For better or for worse, I couldn’t deny that Oculus Rift really is the future of gaming. I’m just not sure whether I’m ready for it.

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Game Stick

From one piece 0f very exciting tech to one that I found to be a little less inspiring.

The Game Stick was also being featured on the show floor. I inevitably got cornered by an ARM representative trying to sell the concept of the GameStick to me… let’s just say I’m still not sold.

I fail to see its place in the market, especially when there are more capable Android-based home console systems such as the Ouya already available. When I raised this point, I was told the idea of the GameStick is intended as a portable Android console….Why, because my tablet and phone aren’t portable?

After playing, I still wasn’t convinced. The controller is cheap and quite flimsy. On top of that, the library available from launch is little more than ports from the current Google Play store. Let’s just say the games haven’t carried over well. For instance, the Wipeout clone I played looked mightily ugly and controlled as such.

That said, things may improve. ARM intend to carry over more SEGA and Gameloft titles in the future. The ARM GameStick will go on sale in early August, retailing for 79 pounds and will come pre-installed with a copy of Shadowgun. This may present some challenge to the Ouya’s 100 pound price tag, although I very much doubt it.

100 indie

100% Indie 

Next on my list was a discussion with a very interesting company called 100% Indie. They seemed extremely intent on dousing all expo attendee’s with as many free t-shirts as they could carry. The company were there advertising a very appealing partnership between Samsung and Chillingo for Indie developers who wish to develop apps and games for Samsung systems on Android. Excitingly, they can expect to keep 100% of the revenue (hence the project name).

It’s very promising to see technological giants such as Samsung supporting Indie developers in such a way. It seems like Sony may have competition in seeking out the next Jonathan Blow if initiatives like this keep up.

 

This wasn’t all the show floor had to offer, though. Many of the big name developers were in attendance offering up some recruitment opportunities. Some notable names being Reflection Studios currently working on the new Tom Clancy title and one of the more promising titles to come from E3 The Division.

I was impressed by the guys Ubisoft sent down to represent the face of their company. They were more than willing to spare a few words of invaluable advice when it came to finding work in the games industry. It was greatly appreciated.

Another notable company at the expo was ‘King‘ makers of the Facebook cash-cow phenomenon, Candy Crush Saga. Unsurprisingly, they’re a company very much in growth and on the hunt for fresh talent.

There was also a nice surprise for myself as I, like many others, believed the game dead in the water, but APB was in attendance under the helm of developer and publisher Reloaded studios, based in Edinburgh . They were even kind enough to offer me a chance to visit their studios should I want to get a feel for how the games development process works (something which I may end up taking them up on).

Microsoft were also there to promote Project Biz-spark , an initiative focused on getting fresh new developers working on the Windows 8 Phone platform. 

There were countless other opportunities available for areas of the industry beyond that of games development, such as full motion body tracking and cloud file storage.

game-maker-logo

On a final note, it was nice to see start up initiative game making engines ‘Game Maker‘ and Unity in such strong attendance. As a person who uses both systems regularly, it was nice to get the chance to discuss their engines in more detail and gain invaluable advice on how to use them more effectively.

I’d also like to highlight the attendance of a fantastic privately funded company via Industry big names such as Andy Payne and Nick Morris, called ‘Special Effect’ They were established in order to make gaming more accessible to people suffering with disabilities, rendering them unable to use conventional control methods such as a keyboard and mouse or even a typical Xbox controller.

I personally got the chance to experience Journey via this device…

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The hardware was designed and intended for those suffering from Motor Neuron diseases (meaning they have difficulty using their hands.) Special Effect were also showing off control interfaces that could be used entirely through your eyes.

It was extremely heart-warming to see these efforts come to life, bringing gaming to all types of people.

Conclusion

So, that was Develop. This may not be the most in-depth write up you can find on the show, but this was my personal journey of the whole experience. As a first time attendee, I found Develop to be thoroughly inspiring, overwhelming and eye-opening, but mostly extremely enjoyable.

I cannot recommend it enough as a tool for breaking into the industry and making all-important connections (something I hope I managed to achieve) but its also just a fantastic day out for any games enthusiast/hobbyist.

For now, this poor, intrepid reporter is faced with a journey that could rival Frodo’s own trek. From Brighton back to my small valley retreat in Wales. Good thing I’ve got my Lord of The Rings audio book at the ready!