Held at the Hilton Hotel, the Montreal International Games Summit took place over Tuesday and Wednesday (November 13-14) with jam-packed days of informative sessions spanning Business, Art and Visual Effects, Audio, Design, Production, and Technology. Originally created to service the Quebec video game industry, speakers and participants hailed from far and wide outside the provincial borders. Here is part two of the event recap.
Fortunately/unfortunately, legendary game designer Peter Molyneux was dealing with server overload issues (due to the enormous amount of traffic) for 22 Cans’ newest game, Curiosity, and was unable to attend MIGS. Instead, he delivered his presentation via Skype, and with a few technical (and entertaining) glitches, Molyneux was able to share slides from his screen and a well-received pre-recorded video tour of the 22 Cans studio. Molyneux urged the audience to be brave, to make something meaningful and to make unique use of technology available today. Molyneux talked about Curiosity being inspired by J.J. Abrams’ TED talk, and how the experimental game is about observing how far people can be driven by curiosity, tapping tiny cubes off a giant multi-layered square containing a mysterious black box. Molyneux promised affably that it was not “a dead cat, not money, not a trip on Richard Branson’s Galactic, and not Half Life 3.”
As of Wednesday, Curiosity had almost 2 million registrations with over a half a billion taps made on the cube.
Split into two talks before and after the lunch break, composer and sound designer Brian D’Oliveira of La Hacienda Creative shared his experience working on Minority Media’s Papo & Yo. Having also had a difficult childhood, D’Oliveira identified with the story, as well as its South American theme. With a backdrop of fantastical realism, D’Oliveira wanted the soundtrack to be “honest and authentic; no Latin beats.” To achieve this, he learned to play approximately 15 new instruments, did extensive field recording for ambiances, often waking in the middle of the night, and improvised with team members in exploratory sessions capturing whatever sounds available.
For “sounds in his head” that he couldn’t find, D’Oliveira created the instruments himself, showing the audience a video of building one using an old guitar, electric tape, grounding wire, and wire cutters, then playing it with a bow. During the Q&A, D’Oliveira described making drums and flutes, and in one particular instance, using a gas tank with wire strung for chords. Throughout Papo & Yo, he plays approximately 80% of the instruments used.
D’Oliveira recommended pre-strategizing and prototyping before building dynamically interactive sound designs in Wwise which, in some levels of Papo & Yo, has 30-40 layers of music, and upwards of 60-70 layers of sound effects triggered by various actions within the game. In the second presentation, D’Oliveira explained more technical aspects of working with Wwise, demonstrating one particular level of the game.
** As full disclosure, the writer of this recap is also the Community Manager/Writer for Minority Media but has never heard Brian D’Oliveira speak publicly about the music and sound design.
Delivered by Raphael van Lierop (Creative Director, HELM Studio) and Zak Kadison (Founder/CEO of Blacklight Transmedia), this presentation defined transmedia IP development as “a process of creating an ecosystem for a shared narrative experience that transcends platforms and engages the viewer/reader/player — wherever they are — in the act of creation.” Using examples of multi-billion dollar franchises such as Harry Potter and Star Wars, van Lierop and Kadison built a case for IP being seen as creative DNA, and transmedia being about storytelling, reach and participation. For game developers, van Lierop and Kadison argue that games should be at the forefront of IP creation, illustrating the plethora of films and games licenced from the other platform (e.g. Tomb Raider movie based on the game) that are frequently set up to be failures from the start because of the multitude of standard reasons due to current industry practices. While historically, games have a single revenue source, they believe that transmedia IP creation lowers investor risk and spreads it for creating multiple avenue and a longer shelf life.
Van Lierop and Kadison offered solutions such as creating a bible for transmedia franchises; seeing game and film as equally vital platforms; and seeking collaborators as opposed to licensors.
Audience members were disappointed to discover that there would not be enough time for van Lierop and Kadison to cover their material on bite-sized best practices for preparing your game IP for transmedia, but van Lierop indicated that he might be posting the related material online in the near future.
With a slight change to the presentation title, director Tom Keegan enlightened the audience as to the process of performance capture and the demands and best working practices for actors. Quoting Sandy Meisner, Keegan framed the conundrum as “Acting is being yourself but under different circumstances”, and noted that to “speak the language of the actor,” it is best to give circumstances; to shift context to get better results than if giving technical notes; and to help chart actors as to where they are in the arc of the piece.
Keegan played a video of the behind-the-scenes performance capture process to illustrate the demands on actors, especially when in face capture (as opposed to body). Face capture requires an actor to sit for hours in a brightly-lit “pod” where temperatures can rise to approximately 45oC.
As strategy pointers, Keegan recommends sending actors scripts in advance of auditions, changing key details so as to prevent leaks. He also involves the animation department in order to see key movements needed, which allows him to see an actor’s full range, if they are qualified, and enjoy what is asked. He advises that translations be done ahead of time with English as well so that actors are not left to translate without context of the greater project.
Keegan also recommends that all scenes be rehearsed so that actors can then recall visceral reactions from “lived experiences”, placing particular emphases on peak emotional moments that can set a voice for the character. Keegan started the presentation with the point that being able to create emotion leads to engagement and (hopefully) sales, providing the framework for why performance is so important.
President of The Bohle Company, Sue Bohle, led an informative and instructional session teaching attendees about best timeline practices, finding the unique marketing angle to a game, and giving reporters something different to write about. Bohle recommended that developers’ social media activities be handled in-house with a variety of suggestions for possible content, citing that it is more cost-effective than outsourcing this. She detailed the process for writing press releases and pitch letters, delving into a brief overview of etiquette.
With approximately five minutes each, this year’s MIGS Brain Dump topic was The Future Unknown. Of the most memorable presentations, Ubisoft Art Director Jonathan Jacques-Belletête made the point that “the video game industry must go to aesthetic rehab” and encouraged participants to be more original (and even crazy) so as to be more memorable. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Associate Professor Lee Sheldon’s best lines included, “If you put all of your story in cinematics, you suck” and encouraged developers to experiment with writing R&D units. With one slide, he listed 37 story delivery systems brainstormed by him and his students, and told the big players that, “if your AAA title doesn’t have half of these, it sucks!”
Ubisoft Montreal Creative Director Alex Hutchinson challenged reviewers to “stop thinking about whether you like the game or not” and rather think about what the designer or developer was trying to do, judging whether the game is a worthwhile investment. Reiterating part of his opening keynote presentation, Epic Games President Tim Sweeney told the audience that, “platform wars have divided the game industry” but will end with cloud-centric gaming. He urged developers to “expand games and make them more friendly to a wider audience. Build a great game and let the platform companies duke it out without us getting embroiled in that.”
THQ Game Designer Stéphanie Bouchard appealed to developers to tap into human emotional depth because technology will max out, suggesting customizing the game experience to enable social manipulations of other characters and being able to interact. Bouchard best ended her presentation convincingly with the line (repeated later at dinner tables post-MIGS): “I played Assassin’s Creed III and the only character that cared about me and acknowledged my presence was a dog!”
This year’s MIGS had 1690 participants. Next year’s event is currently blocked to take place between November 18 and 22.