Sunday, April 23, 2006

Supa Nova Day 2

Well Supanova has wrapped and what a weekend it was.

I didn’t get much of a chance to check out the non-gaming side of things, but I did see some cool comics and toys during my brief walk around the expo.

One of the highlights of the day was attending Tommy Tallarico’s talk. I assumed it was going to be all about Video Games Live but he actually talked about so much other cool gaming stuff - including his thoughts on the next generation of games hardware. It was a really inspiring talk and he took time out to encourage people wanting to get into the games industry with some great advice. I was impressed with how approachable he was for a guy with such an awesome gaming pedigree.

The other highlights of the day included the concept art talk by Milenko Tjunik, Milenko is one of the concept artists on Destroy All Humans! 2 and he spoke about his art influences and gave some good advice to aspiring artists.

QANTM and Griffith University both gave advice on how to get into games, with Griffith focusing on games animation.

Lach Creagh, the other DAH! 2 concept artist and lead animator gave a great talk on animating for games. He showed off lots of examples of character animation and had heaps of useful animation tips. In fact I learned so much in the 30 minutes he spoke that it should have been compulsory attendance for designers and programmers.

I hosted the “All About Game Design” panel and along with the audience got to ask a series of designers some hard-hitting questions. The panel consisted of Craig Duturbure from THQ, Arash Mohebbi from Pandemic Studios, Penny Sweetser from Creative Assembly and Joseph Hewitt from Auran. Each of these designers has worked on a variety of games on different platforms and in different genres.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with the 2nd Game Trivia Quiz. Again, the game developers just won the day despite their atrocious skills in Mario Kart on the N64. But the five audience members did an awesome job in answering some tough questions and kicked ass in Mario Kart.

And finally, we concluded the day with the prize draws. The passport competition winner scored 21 games and other collectable swag, and the Art Competition winners each won a pack of cool games.

Each Queensland games company did an awesome job contributing to the prize packs with loads of Xbox, PS2, PC and Nintendo DS games up for grabs - so a big thanks to THQ, Pandemic, Auran, Krome, Halfbrick, Creative Assembly, Fuzzy Eyes and Dimsdale and Kreozot (sorry if I missed anyone).

Oh, and a big thanks to all the people who took time out of their weekend to man the Pandemic stand - Christie, Mick, Andy, Shane, Kirsten, Kieran, Ben, Peter, Mark and Rob - great work.

Hopefully next year will be just as good.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Supanova Day 1

Supanova day 1 has come to an end - and what a day!

For those of you who don’t know what Supanova is, it’s a pop culture expo featuring comics, sci-fi movies, fantasy, anime, collectable cards and for the first big time this year, video games.

Some of the guests included Summer Glau from Serenity, Richard Taylor from Weta, Tommy Tallarico from Video Games Live and John Schneider from Smallville and The Dukes of Hazzard.

This year was the first time that Queensland game developers joined forces to show off their stuff. Pandemic Studios, THQ, Creative Assembly, Auran, Halfbrick, Fuzzy Eyes, Krome, Griffith University and QANTM all had booths at the show. And there was also representation from Dimsdale & Kreozot, Gridwerx, KaWoW, Wildfire Studios and the IGDA.

I was on the Pandemic booth for the first three hours of the show and we had so many people drop by it was just insane trying to keep up.

One of the big things that we’re achieving from being at Supanova is educating people about how big and successful the Queensland games industry is. So many people were unaware that killer games like Destroy All Humans! and Total War were made here - but not anymore.

So, on to the highlights!

The “Passport” competition was extremely popular. The rules were simple - get a stamp from each of the 10 booths at the show to enter a draw to win a bundle of 21 games donated by local developers. The pack included Destroy All Humans!, Full Spectrum Warrior, Mercenaries, Total War, Spongebob, Trainz and more.

Shainiel Deo of Halfbrick spoke about making games for handheld platforms.

Leanne Taylor of Pandemic Studios gave a talk on writing for games. She’s been working on Destroy All Humans! 2 and gave some insight into why writing for games is different to writing novels.

Tommy Tallarico was showing off cool footage of Video Games Live, a great event that will be coming to Australia this year.

The concept art competition was a huge success with dozens of entries in all age categories. The winning entries were judged by artists from Pandemic Studios, THQ and Creative Assembly and each received a cool prize pack of games. The ultimate winner got an extra special prize - time with one of Destroy All Humans! 2 concept artists to learn the secrets of the trade.

The afternoon also saw the Developers vs. The Audience video game quiz in which members of Pandemic, Auran, Krome, Creative Assembly and Halfbrick battled it out with audience members in a game of Mario Kart and some video game trivia. It was a close call, but the developers won by a single point! We knew the color of all of Pacman’s ghosts. But we sucked at Mario Kart.

Well, tomorrow is another big day. We have a designer panel, a discussion on game audio, how to get into games talsk, as well as presentations from concept artists and animators. Plus we have day 2 of the Concept Art competition and the Games Trivia Quiz.

Should be awesome!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Casual Games On The Go

If you’re a casual gamer and want to play some great games on the go then look no further than the Nintendo DS. Out of all the consoles the DS is shaping up as the ideal casual gamer machine.

But if you don’t have one yet then wait until the DS Lite is released in the next few months. It comes in 3 colors, including iPod white, and has been physically redesigned so that it looks less like a toy and more like a “grown up” accessory. You won’t feel embarrassed pulling one of these out of your briefcase or handbag. It’s also slightly smaller and lighter plus it has an awesome screen that is so amazingly vibrant when compared to the original DS. Oh, and it uses a touch screen so it’s second nature to anyone who uses a mouse - so don’t worry about having to learn to use a joypad.

But the hardware is secondary, what makes this a great machine is the games. And for the casual gamer you’ll find a huge collection of stuff with lots of appeal.

First up is the granddaddy of puzzle games, Tetris. The DS has built in wi-fi, which means you can play against people in the same room, or if you have net access, against people from around the world. In fact a lot of the games have some form of wi-fi multiplayer functionality that really enhances the gameplay.

Next up is Nintendogs, the virtual puppy simulator that inspired the casual game Puppy Luv. It’s a simple concept - you look after a virtual puppy teaching it to do tricks and taking it for walks. Because it uses a touch screen you can pat the puppy on screen with your finger or stylus. The DS also has a built in microphone so you can also give your puppy commands by voice.

For fans of match-3 games you can choose Zoo Keeper or Pokemon Trozei. And because the DS uses a touch screen these games are right at home on the machine - just drag and swap your jewels using the stylus.

If you’re a Zuma, Luxor, Tumblebugs, et al, fan then the upcoming Magnetica will keep you happy. This is an update on the classic 1998 Puzz Loop game that inspired the current batch of match-3 looping ball games.

And if you want something a little different, then check out Animal Crossing. A whimsical game in which you spend your time growing fruit, catching insects, buying furniture and running errands in a small town populated by animals.

Then of course there’s Brain Age. Full of tons of mind-bending puzzles to test your intelligence it also features Sudoku. The idea is that by doing quick reading and mathematic exercises everyday you’ll stimulate your brain and reduce your “brain age”.

I’ve only touched on a number of games on offer and there are many more that are so different to what we’re used to seeing. A few examples are Phoenix Wright in which you play a lawyer, Trauma Center where you play a doctor performing surgery, Electroplankton where you stimulate plankton to make music, and Rub Rabbits where you try and find true love.

Like casual games, all of these titles are great for people with limited time who don’t want to delve into a 20 hour game experience. You can play for ten minutes a day and still feel like you’ve achieved something. And the best part is if the phone rings, or the bus arrives, or the baby cries - you can just close the case and the machine goes to sleep - ready to keep playing when you return. Incredibly convenient!

But what I’m really interested in is whether there will be much of an exchange between the Nintendo DS and the casual games market. There are so many interesting things being done in both spaces that could easily transfer between the two. Here’s hoping.