MEDMI 2019

MEDMI 2019 – A conference on technology and digital marketing, November 16, 2019, at Medellín, Colombia.

Sergio Roldán kicked off the event discussing the growth of Medellín from a spot in the valley to a mostly unplanned big city, and the strategies it has taken to transform into a growing technology hub, investing in the citizens, including improving education facilities in the most troubled zones.

med2

Natalia Silva and Daniel Arbelaez talked about Service Design, the importance of understanding the elements that are really relevant to the persons in a process, including the people participating behind the scenes, not just the final clients.

med3

Diego Noriega thinks “How” to make a company grow is not as important as “Why”, and with “Who”. Having a lot of money brings the need to spend it and may accelerate failure. Moments of failure, however, can be the biggest moments of learning.

med4

Andres Ramírez, a director from Asobancaria, shared a history of innovation in the financing and banking sector in Colombia, and the latest advancements in fintech and ePayments.

med5

Maria Camila Muñoz, Pablo Santos and Juan Esteban Saldarriaga, discussed the interaction between fintech companies and banks; instead of competing, fintech providers provide access to resources via improved user experiences and lower barriers.

med6

Ivan Obando shared the process of producing his movie “Me llevarás en ti”, including ideation, planning and financing, and some of the elements that have aided its success (local historical hero, romance, involving local celebs).

He also voiced his concerns for national productions to have proper exposition, and how he’s working with government agencies on this topic, proposing incentives for cinemas for keeping national pictures on the billboards for longer times.

med7

A representative from GRIN Colombia said the company hopes to transform cities by improving mobility, increasing employment, making people value public property and creating safe spaces.

med8

In the Innovation panel, Monica Zuluaga and Andres Ramirez discussed how, from their corresponding perspectives in media and banking, large traditional companies are adapting to the consumption habits of born-digital consumers, by distributing content through different channels and by creating alternative means to access services for people for which things such as going to a physical bank are extraneous concepts.

Companies need to move quicker in modern times since even small companies or startups can now compete directly with bigger ones via a greater understanding of their users or audiences.

med9

Eduardo Guizar shared how he wound up working in the Curiosity project in the NASA, following his childhood dream of making robots, after watching a Star Wars movie. He never abandoned his far-fetched dream, secretly developing robotic engines at his home in Mexico.

med1

JSConf 2019

JSConf Colombia 2019, October 18 and 19 at Medellín, Colombia. I was a speaker there for the first time. Here is a brief summary from the talks I was able to check out, based on my live-tweeting. The full talks will soon be available at JSConf youtube channel.

Day 1

First off, the opening live coding show by algo0ritmos, led by Celeste Betancur. An electronic music and video visualization show where 3 coders connected to a server to manipulate different aspects of the audio and video in realtime.

1

Constanza Yáñez, from Argentina, opened the talks sharing and live testing her implementation of an automatic cat feeder using JavaScript and a Raspberry Pi, and how it made one of her childhood dreams become a reality.

2

Sergio Quintero, a local, discussed skimming data hacking via malicious scripts injected into legitimate websites to steal information, and how it can be prevented by intercepting XHR calls using a client-side firewall.

3

Luis Alejandro Vega, from New York, shared his experience building a career at Bloomberg, as well as how adding “pet characters” to the in-house projects helped increase the ownership of the team over them as well as the visibility for other departments of the company.

4

Mayra Rodriguez, from Bogotá, discussed the reactive app architecture and shared some tips to achieve good performance in your web app using RXJS stores.

5

Irina Shestak, from Germany, shared her experiences with Rust and WASM, with lots of tips to make coding, debugging and deploying easier, which she learned thru her quest of learning on the go.

6

Melina Mejía, a local, spoke about web accessibility being critical to reaching all audiences, and how to implement an accessible interface using ARIA.

7

Santiago Zapata, a local, did an amazing talk about procedural generation, including an introduction to it, where it can be useful, and a break down of his procedural castle generator.

8

Missed talk by Anton McConville, from Canada. “Personality hacking: using Node, WebAudio and Houdini to visualize psychology of song lyrics“:(

Vanessa Marely, a local,  talked about the power of storytelling as a way to better communicate ideas, and gave some tips for good, effective storytelling.

9

Lucas Aragno, from Argentina, shared some of his knowledge on Neural Networks and using JavaScript libraries like Tensorflow.JS and SynapticJS to implement them.

10

Jennifer Wong, from California, discussed the weirdness of time handling in JavaScript, how the Date object and MomentJS came to be and when to use one or the other.

11

Day 2

Missed talk from Kate Beard, from England, “Learn How to Play the Theremin* Today, Guaranteed!” 😦

Missed talk from Alejandro Oviedo, from Argentina, “A codex for the web” 😦

12

Maris Botero, a local, gave a very colorful explanation of machine learning, neural networks and her project, The Time Machine, and how Javascript, tensorflow and the ml5 library made it possible. Awesome transformation of old pics into colorful child drawings

13

Adrian Bolonio, from Austria, dug deeper into the issue of web accessibility, focusing on the tools to test it over different aspects of a webapp (code, DOM and final appearance in the browser), including simulating visual impairments of different degrees with NoCoffee.

14

Jerome Hardaway, from Tennesee, talked about how to make it easier for people to jump into existing software projects. Remove ego from your code, code for the others. Design the onboarding process seriously around building the confidence of new team members. Document and refactor.

15

Daniel Rico, a local, briefed on how container-baser deployment enables horizontal auto-scaling, and shared the results of his experiments to find degradation points in NodeJS vs Tomcat, which can help finding out the number of nodejs instances required for your app.

16

The experts’ panel had Alejandro Oviedo, Santiago Zapata, Celeste Betancur, and Vanessa Amarely discussed different aspects of the present and future of JavaScript, their frustrations with development, and what features of the language have affected their individual fields the most (Backend, Game Development, Live Coding and Frontend Development, respectively). It was moderated by Juliana Gomez, co-organizer of the event, (Picture by co_constanza)

17

Colin Ihrig, from Pennsylvania, gave a very useful walkthru of some diagnostics and debugging tools included in nodejs out of the box, when and how to use them.

18

Jessica Lord, from New York, shared the history of Electron: going beyond Atom, avoiding a scaffolding approach ala rails, the importance of clear and maintainable docs and building a community around the new tech. Developer Experience is critical for a successful tech tool!

19

Missed talk by Luis Villalobos, a local, “Desarrollo de interfaces modernas de usuario usando un “viejo” modelo matemático computacional” 😦

Bryan Hughes, from California, believes programming can create art just as any other technology (such as watercolor or oil paint) can. It’s all in the intent of whoever is using the tech: is it to convey emotions or facts? Finding your style is a mix of chance and determination

20

Finally, Eva Ferreira, from Argentina, went into a trip 10 years back to the past on web development, how things have changed for good and the history behind these improvements. But also how some things have gone amiss… abuse of push notifications, privacy breaches, popup madness, websites heavier than needed, lack of accessibility, fatigue for new frameworks… where are we heading to, can we do things better?

21

 

Bucaramanga GameQuest 2019 #BGAGameQuest

Organized by Below the Game, at the Chamber of Commerce of Santander in Bucaramanga, Colombia, May 2nd and 3rd 2019. This was the speakers’ line-up (from the official website).

capture

Following are some personal takeaways from the talks and panels.

Day 1

Rami Ismail kicked off the event with a “Talk Jam”, having the public decide the contents of his talk after giving a short introduction of his story with Vlambeer.

D5kQlSTX4AEMVKH

  • You are likely going to make a lot of games until you make your first hit game.
  • That game will still not make you money but will serve as a great presentation card.
  • People spend a lot of money on merchandise, if you are developing a game, sell some merchandise
  • Funding
    • Gather funds yourself by working for companies that need games made. Emerging countries have a huge advantage of a lower cost of living thus being able to offer very competitive prices.
    • Find a publisher, in which case the second step is pitching your game to them.
    • A good pitch makes the publisher care about your project and lets them know you are the right person to do it.
    • Having a “vertical slice” of your game ready is a nice (but expensive) way to achieve both things. A vertical slice provides 5 minutes of gameplay for almost the full quality you are aiming to have for your game.
  • Exposure
    • You will need always exposure, even if you are “famous” already.
    • Look for medium size streamers of the same genre or content you are creating and send them a build.
    • Don’t ask them if they want a build of your game, just send it to them to reduce friction.
  • Challenges
    • Getting the game out there timely, while still having it be interesting for the market.
    • A game dev studio works better if there are two people fulfilling two different roles: A creative director and a producer, with each having the last word in their specifics.
    • There need to be a certain conflict between them in order for the games to be released instead of being in-dev forever, while keeping an end product that is still relevant in the market
    • Getting funding: Your goal for your first game is to survive and get funds for your second game.
  • Inspiration
    • Inspiration comes from the less likely places. Radical Fishing emerged from a National Geographic documentary.
    • Whenever an idea comes, take notes, prototype, discuss with the team.
    • Brainstorming is not a good time for criticism, it is better to add to ideas instead of trying to rebut them.
  • Good networking works sideways, not upward. Don’t try to “climb” to a higher level of contacts, instead work to lift up everybody who is at your level. Try and help each other, share knowledge and contacts.
  • Our job as game devs is to make the players think that the game is fair, even if it takes some liberties and cheats on the side of the player in order to be fun. In Nuclear Throne’s first levels, enemies don’t even aim at the player.
  • Working the “Game feel” includes “juicing” critical actions, punishments, and rewards by adding an exaggerated amount of feedback (Sound, Particle effects, rumble.), and make them work well with kinesthetics.
  • For Nuclear Throne, we wanted to make a game we enjoyed playing. We decided to do a roguelike because we couldn’t predict the content and we would enjoy it ourselves. From the business perspective, we wanted to experiment how well it would work with streaming platforms like Twitch.

Latin America GameDev Panel with Carlos Rocha from Below the Game, Gerson Da Silva from Ironhide, Luis Zambrano from Teravision Games and Antonio Uribe from HyperBeard Games.

D5kmTokWAAEO1Cp

  • Good game design is a process that connects all the disciplines required to generate an experience.
  • Game ideas come from everywhere, even dreams. The challenge of game dev is turning these ideas into a fun experience, implementing interesting mechanics around them.
  • Every country has a unique culture, as Latin American game devs we have the opportunity to include unique details of our culture in our games, which can be done in a subtle way without having to adopt a complete theme.
  • Game design pillars can help remove unneeded “cool” features that don’t really add to a fun game.
  • Playtesting
    • Should be a freeform exercise, and free from external influence. Relying on forms and structured interviews will only give you the answers you want to hear.
    • Playtesting with people different than your main target may lead to widening your audience.
    • Leaders from different roles should be present to analyze the experience from their perspectives.
    • Playtesting works better with critical audiences, people ready and willing to tell you your game is bad. Open game events might not be very effective in this sense. Seek the reality instead of an echo chamber.

Maureen Berho, from Niebla Games, discussed their experience running a business that produces both video games and board games.

D5kzNoqX4AEG1aT

  • One way to approach game dev is creating an Intellectual Property and then build both videogames and board games within it.
  • Some advantages:
    • It can help strengthen the franchise, providing a greater reach.
    • Diversify market risk.
    • Generate additional income.
    • Make your pitch more interesting to publishers.
    • Have one real of gaming influence the other, keeping the design of the videogames more focused, while making the board games deeper.
  • Handling multiple project lines requires
    • Discipline, sticking to the plans and finishing the projects instead of leaving things in progress.
    • Collaborating with other companies and the community
    • Study the target markets
    • Researching funding sources, consider private investors or the government as an alternative to publishers as a funding source. Build a company, not just a game.

Randy Greenback from GUN talks about Innovation and how to create a successful game in today’s market.

D5lGlM-WkAE5P-u

  • You need to make sure players LOVE your game, not just like it. You need them to get attached to something that makes it unique.
  • Innovation is not a choice if your game studio relies on your game to be successful commercially. If you don’t innovate your game will just not be noticed.
  • There are many ways to approach innovation, for instance: Technology, Design, Art, Social, UX, Audio, Narrative, Game Structure, Monetization.
  • If your game innovates in one or more of these areas, stacking them, they will very likely add up to be a success.
  • The biggest risk in innovation may be biting more than you can chew. Check how far can your team go. Maybe you can do it in steps or iterations, and make that growing innovation a staple of your franchise, instead of trying to do it all at once.

Martín Cao from NGD Studios (Argentina) shared some tips on how to make videogames and not die trying.

D5mGKpmW0AEbvU2

  • Asia now surpasses North America on videogame consumption, Latin America remains extremely small.
  • Most of the income on the videogames industry (>80%, probably >90%) is concentrated in 25 game dev companies.
  • Unlike these big companies, indie game devs have a better opportunity to rock the board, challenge the status quo, and capture a player base that is enough to keep them afloat.
  • Having a list of “verticals”, genres or type of projects your company wants to work in, helps keep focus while meeting the varying demands of the market. Strive to be the best on these verticals.
  • Produce ideas constantly in brainstorming sessions. One idea is to produce “Player Fantasy” outlines, what does our game allow the player to imagine he is?
  • Player Fantasies and ideas are validated and evolve to a proof of concept, to the game pitch, demo and finally a vertical slice. (Or they may die at any point along the way)
  • Work hard, but smart: practice a lot and learn from your mistakes.
  • Know your target audience and make a game for them, not for yourself.
  • Think hard on the several facets of marketing for your game.

Rami, Randy and Luis Villegas discussed game dev for a global audience.

D5mJdd2W0AcGxtF

  • Modern communication channels like discord or other social media
    • Can be used to educate the players on how hard and complex game dev can be, keeping their expectations on what the dev team can do reasonable.
    • While it’s great to obtain and respond to player’s feedback, feel free to ignore the trolls, you don’t have to deal with them.
  • Game Dev Happiness
    • Connecting with friends by making games together.
    • Making hardcore fans happy after working hard on a release
    • Making your family proud when they understand what you do.
  • Game Dev Hardships
    • Watching promising projects fall apart and dreams are crushed.
    • Realizing the impact your work has on people’s lives and not knowing how to handle it properly.
    • Seeing the game you worked hard on being shamelessly cloned.
  • Future of Game Dev
    • There’s still lots of space to imagine new mechanics, narrative structures and ludo-narrative consistency.
    • The industry must continue evolving by trying, failing and learning.
    • The possibilities to merge narrative and interactive technologies are limitless. Discovering how to achieve this thru creativity and technology adoption is what makes working on this industry interesting.

Day 2

Eivar Rojas, from Efecto Studios, shared his experiences on AAA Work for Hire from Colombia.

D5pWgteXoAAIObR

  • Efecto worked in the ARK franchise for over three years, increasing their artistic and technical capabilities, and figuring out better workflows.
  • The first part of their workflow involves doing very elaborate concept art for the environments. While the finished game never reaches their level of graphical detail, this is a critical tool to validate the vision of the game and guide the team during development.
  • The second part of their workflow is conceptualizing props and scene elements, it normally requires a lot of iteration and creating several variations for each item until a style reflects the vision of the client.
  • Even with a process of concept validation, there will be moments when the client won’t have a clear idea of what will be better for the project. Your company must generate lots of empathy and trust with your clients so they entrust you with critical design choices.
  • Concept Art
    • Traditionally made using illustration tools, however there are some specialized tools (such as 3D Coat) that can be used to reduce its cost, generating 3D concepts closer to the final output, and allowing to iterate on the design based on the client’s feedback without having to go through all the work of modeling and skinning.
    • Can sometimes take longer than actual modeling and animation due to cultural differences with clients. The concept of a “dragon”, for instance, is very different in the east and the west.
    • Is critical throughout all the development process. It’s not efficient to iterate towards what the client will approve using a full-fledged production workflow.
  • In the office, the physical location of the members of the development team is critical in order to keep communication flowing and ensuring consistency thru the process.
  • Keep clients engaged through all the production process so that they get to see how the assets evolve from the concept art. This helps keep expectations clear and respond to changes in a more timely manner.
  • The game dev process changes constantly. It’s important to keep up to date on new tools and processes to remain competitive.
  • In order to reduce the impact of crunch and for team members to have healthy work habits, their company has a backup team that covers the main team on challenging situations. This is costly but it’s the only way they have found to address the issue.
  • We have detected a lot of talent in Colombia. We have also found the people from technical institutions to respond better to feedback and fit more into our processes when compared to people coming from prestigious universities.

Luis Zambrano, Martín Cao, Eivar Rojas, and Nitae Uribe (Cofounder of Below The Game, and teacher at Bucaramanga’s University UNAB), discussed the current dynamics between the academy and the game dev industry, and ways to make it work better.

D5plUncW0AAkOlN

  • What does the Industry expect from the academy?
    • Have students be exposed to more hands-on work so they have more mileage when they enter the workforce.
    • Have teachers with real industry experience that can prepare them adequately.
    • Prepare students to roles where they have to adapt to change and do a lot of different things depending on the project.
    • Induce empathy as a soft skill required to interact with both the client and the team.
  • What does the academy expect from the industry?
    • Have companies open their doors to students, for them to see the realities of game dev.
    • Have companies send their senior people to spaces in the academy and let them share their experiences
  • For the companies, to find good people from the academy, art and engineering are two different worlds. For art, they find potential artists and train them remotely for six months to a year. Engineering is much more complex given the academy is preparing them for higher level, managerial roles so it might take longer.
  • Academy moves at a slower pace, sometimes teachers have to “hack” into the existing program, teaching more valuable skills than the ones originally planned.

Luis Daniel Zambrano, Jose Joel and Edgar Blanco from Teravision Games discussed the development of Neon Fury, the Tower Defense VR game.

D5p0LBxWsAAPMbK

  • Challenges of UI design in VR
    • Traditional elements used in displays don’t feel natural, are lost in the scene or are not legible.
    • UI components must have depth (3d models affected by lighting) and/or be presented as “curved” element in a kind of fish-eye perspective, else they may feel like “stickers”, with a jarring effect.
    • UI elements must also keep some distance from the player to give him some room to breathe.
  • Challenges of moving around in a #VR environment.
    • Some elements required by current equipment like cables and sensors often get on the way of the experience.
    • Having your eyes perceiving movement while your body doesn’t, often makes the player dizzy. Some creative solutions include teleportation, but it can be disorienting.
  • Technical limitations are still steering heavily the design and development of VR games, especially when trying to aim multiple devices. Requirements of constant FPSs and lower resolution of VR headsets require using creative tricks or old methods for SFX.
  • Neon Fury art had to step down from photorealism to a more comic style, but they took this a chance for the game to have a more defined personality.
  • Keep a smooth player experience in higher priority than mind-blowing visuals.

Christian Andorade, an evangelist from Epic Games, talked about the state of Unreal Engine.

D5qBvWFX4AMT1G5

  • Epic has allowed players to create content from their onset with ZZT and others.
  • The Epic way for game developers: a collection of products and services targetting multiple stores and technologies.
  • They launched the store to take advantage of 75 millions of existing installs, however, it’s still in dev, they are still adding features to it.
  • The store won’t be restricted to Unreal Engine games, will be more open soon.
  • Services such as player identities, profiles, chats, matchmaking developed for Fornite will be available later this year for free for developers.

Gerson da Silva from Ironhide Studios shared his experiences for taking games from Concept to Production.

D5qqCKEX4AEaCIG

  • Maintain a high-level vision of the game design on the initial phases of development, explore options prior to detailing, even before prototyping. This helps foresee problems and “seed” mechanics to be properly detailed later.
  • A paper prototype seeks to abstract the experience of the game, change things quickly and evaluate. You can also create a digital version of the paper prototype simplifying the abstractions into cleaner systems (Note that this is different than a prototype for the game itself). Each iteration of prototyping grows the game model.
  • During preproduction, loose ideas from previous phases can become an obstacle to come up with a final concept and a scope. They should be transformed into design choices, or be discarded, using the development and market pillars as criteria.
  • It’s impossible to know if an idea is good or bad. The best you can do is transform it into a low-cost game experience and test it. Don’t spend time detailing or integrating it before validating it as an abstraction.

Luis Villegas, Director of Services and Infrastructure at Bungie, shared his experience working with global Intellectual Properties.

D5q1MosX4AAon8y

  • Bungie has always obsessed with FPSs. With Destiny, the idea was to promote friendships, coordination, and cooperation inside the game.
  • Destiny was planned as a 10 years long project and ended up making the foundations for GaaS (Gaming as a Service).
  • Barriers for a brand to become global
    • Nationalism: Players supporting local development companies or hardware makers.
    • Language, although some countries preferring a foreign language due to cultural influence.
    • Cultural differences like jokes or context of the content.
    • Incompatible fantasies: For instance, “American supersoldier saving the world” not very popular in some countries in Asia.
  • Tools for a brand to be global:
    • Localized web forums and blogs.
    • Making characters more human and with features people can identify with on different demographics.
    • Using local publishers.
    • Tailored marketing and features based on the target culture.

Arturo Nereu, spoke about starting a Gamedev business locally using Unity.

D5rE-JuWAAYm8Qf

  • Unity provides multiple business opportunities within a single tech stack including Mobile, Console, Instant Games (with Project Tiny), AR/VR.
  • Alternative businesses such as projects for ATM (Automotive, Transportation, Manufacturing) can bring income and help learn skills, especially for local markets.
  • Help local companies grow: animation studios, architecture, car sellers, data visualization, interactive installations, museums. Use these opportunities to get resources and grow in skills.
  • Leverage on the new capabilities of Unity to create outstanding scenes efficiently, such as the Data-Oriented Tech Stack.

The closing panel, Moderated by Maureen,  featured Carlos Rocha, Luis Wong, Antonio Uribe, and Martin Cao, talking about creating Game Dev companies in Latin America.

D5rPl9_WwAAywDM

  • Making game development your work as opposed to a hobby helps focus and grow, but brings risks. It is your call to decide when to do it but it helps a lot to have several projects under your name already.
  • Appear to be what you want to be, projecting your company to one year in the future, but work actively to achieve it and persevere.
  • Believe in yourself while being humble and honest, and your chances to succeed will increase automatically.
  • Asking for help when you need it is vital to surviving. Build a group of mentors and experts to consult when needed, connect well and you are likely to find people willing to help just for the good of the industry.
  • Getting a partner helps in many ways, do your homework and research about him, and always be ready to break things apart when it doesn’t work.
  • Team building is a constant challenge, a good team is able to understand choices are made for the good of the game and are not personal.
  • If someone is ruining your team, get rid of him quickly. Hire or partner with people you would feel comfortable talking with for hours.
  • It’s impossible to start a company without facing risks: partner, break partnerships, hire people, fire people, don’t be afraid to get things rolling.

Missed Talks

  • Luis Wong from LEAP Game Studios (Perú)- Launching a successful Kickstarter
  • Antonio Uribe from Hyperbeard Games (México) – Creating a successful transmedia IP

 

 

GDC 2019 – Parties

Here’s a summary of some GDC 2019 parties and events based on my experience, hope it’s useful for someone planning their next GDC journey! You can also see my summary from last year.

For each one, I tried to categorize it under a type and rated how nice it was for me. This year I didn’t hit as many parties like last year, but still had great fun.

Polish GameDev Party

  • Type: Game Showcase, Networking
  • Sponsors: Lots of Polish GameDev studios, Polish Game Industry Conference, Indie Games Poland Foundation.
  • Venue: Alloy Collective (Coworking)
  • Access: Free, Requires Invitation
  • Free Food: Yes
  • Free Drinks: Yes
  • Rating: 5/5

20190318_1717135040049284898420595.jpg

Check out cool games made by Polish companies, eat amazing Polish food, drink lots of Polish Vodka and beer. What could go wrong?

Oh, snap, it’s just Monday. 😛

IGDA @ GDC Networking Event

  • Type: Game Showcase, Networking
  • Organizers / Sponsors: IGDA, Dell
  • Venue: Children’s Creativity Museum
  • Access: Free
  • Requires Invitation: No
  • Free Food: Yes
  • Free Drinks: Yes
  • Rating: 5/5

20190319_1902164112864287570476955.jpg

Great venue with lots of fun activities, good food and drinks, and lots of networking opportunities in a talk-friendly space.

20190319_2047528670513029706321727.jpg

Indiepocalypse

  • Type: Game Showcase
  • Organizers / Sponsors: Game Jolt, Devolver Digital, Good Shepherd and DreamHack
  • Venue: 715 Harrison (Club)
  • Access: Free
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 2/5

20190319_2143521093406204112343659.jpg

Some good games there, but not as many as last year? and definitively too packed and loud, so it was hard to actually check out the game, let alone talk with someone.

PowX8

  • Type: Dance Party – Chiptune
  • Organizers: 8bitSF and Monobomb Records
  • Venue: DNA Lounge
  • Access: $19
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 5/5

20190319_2322041182224438295739022.jpg

If you like chiptune music you cannot miss Pow. Great DJs and a cool atmosphere, nice merch from underground DJs. Awesome performances. I missed the separate “chill room” from last year where you could relax for a bit while listening videogame OSTs, but the main stage was definitively better and full of energy.

20190320_0023385651322466917137511.jpg

Celebrating Latinx in Gaming 2019

  • Type: Networking
  • Organizers / Sponsors: XBOX
  • Venue: Minna Gallery
  • Access: Free
  • Free Food: Yes
  • Free Drinks: Yes
  • Rating: 4/5

20190320_1111096786386317253652246.jpg

Good for networking, nothing really mind-blowing. There were some cool activities tho (like a photobooth?) and some swag from XBox. Always a good chance to meet fellow Latin american developers.

Roguelike Developers @ GDC 2019

  • Type: Networking
  • Organizers: Temple of The Roguelike
  • Venue: Yerbabuena Gardens
  • Access: Free
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 5/5

20190320_1528552812654431759100389.jpg

Amazing meetup of the roguelike developers community with devs of influential roguelikes freely available to talk, and many roguelike enthusiasts talking about their projects. Hope the organizers can keep the meeting happening in upcoming GDCs!

Zynga

  • Type: Networking
  • Organizers: Zynga
  • Venue: Zynga San Francisco
  • Access: Free
  • Free Food: Yes
  • Free Drinks: Yes
  • Rating: 4/5

I somehow missed taking some pics this year. It was more packed than last year extending into Zynga’s arcade basement. Nice food and drinks, music a bit too loud to talk so actual networking was hard, there were fun games around too.

Marioke @ GDC19

  • Type: Karaoke Party
  • Organizers: Sing Marioke
  • Venue: Encore Karaoke Lounge
  • Access: $20
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 2/5

20190321_2339181594599260876774995.jpg

The venue was not very good this year, it was too narrow and small, and didn’t have a properly elevated stage. The hosts were not very fun, or maybe I was just not in the mood. Plus, there was no additional fun stuff being displayed (like in 2018). So it really felt like a setback.

AltCtrl Party

  • Type: Game Showcase + Networking
  • Organizers: GitHub, Particle, Oculus, SuperHot, Gametheory.co
  • Venue: Minna Gallery
  • Access: Free
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 5/5

20190322_1926338984357606289453660.jpg

Although the venue was a bit packed thru the night, the game selection was great and the music had just a good volume to be able to talk with people while still getting in a videogame mood.

Closing Party at The Foundry

  • Type: Videogame Party
  • Organizers: Showdown Entertainment
  • Venue: Folsom Street Foundry
  • Access: 18$
  • Free Food: No
  • Free Drinks: No
  • Rating: 4/5

20190322_2227115253960702085136810.jpg

Great space to play videogames (modern and retro) with your friends, in giant and tiny screens. Sadly I don’t have friends that do this kind of thing, so I was mostly checking other people play.

Some parties I missed because of conflicting schedules:

  • Pocket Gamer Party
  • Kongregate Party
  • Github Party
  • Latin American Gathering at GDC

Also, that.party was cancelled, seemingly because of conflicts between the organizers.

Roguelike Developers and Fans at GDC19 San Francisco

We met together again and talked about our games and projects. 173 people signed up for the event and I think at least 70 roguelike developers and fans showed up including:

  • Glenn Wichman – Developer of… erm… Rogue.
  • Tarn Adams – Developer of Dwarf Fortress
  • Brian Bucklew and Jason Grinblat – Developers of Caves of Qud
  • Kornel Kisielewicz and Olgierd Humeńczuk – Developers of Jupiter Hell
  • Noah Swartz – Organizer of the Roguelike Celebration

And lots of other awesome roguelike lovers!

Planning to do something cooler for next year (hope I can gather enough people again!)

Heroes of Noresskia – 2019 7DRL Finished!

Managed to complete my 15th 7DRL Challenge Entry, PLAY IT NOW!

noreskia8

Heroes of Noresskia is a setting for AutoDM 0.1, both things were produced during the 7 days time window (although I actually missed 3 days of dev due to the happenings of real life and work). This year I used Phaser again, with a somewhat modified version of the ES6 webpack template. The complete source code is here.

I will start with AutoDM since that’s the justification for my entry. I wanted to create a program that simulated the work of a Game Master / Dungeon Master on a pen and paper RPG session (and no, that’s not what all computer RPGs do). It all came from the research I made for my talk at Roguelike Celebration 2018 and the short article I published afterward. I knew in advance the 7 days timeframe was a bit short, but I believed I could at least do a proof of concept.

The rationale behind it was: Rogue’s intent was to simulate a Dungeon Master able to create Dungeon Dive campaigns, what if I try to create a program that can generate and run Epic Quest campaigns? these two are known as the “simplest” types of campaigns/adventures since the objective is pretty straightforward, and players know what to expect, they are the easier for the Game Master to run.

Of course, there is a lot of terminology on RPGs and none of it could be considered official. I did some research on Day 1 (including this pretty good post) and was really starting to despair since the solution to this seemed too complex and hard to scale down into a first iteration. Seriously, just taking a look at that website and reading two articles is enough for you to want to give up any pretensions of making a program able to do a tiny bit of what a good GM can do.

In any case, for the context of this, an Epic Quest type of campaign is that where the party has to travel the land finding clues to incrementally work towards an epic goal such as saving the world by destroying an arch-villain or finding/destroying an artifact, or a similar cool sounding task. All while surviving battles on the road, and becoming stronger to fight stronger monsters. Check this nicely worded article for more info on Epic Quests.

I have had a very shallow RPG playing experience, and I have never done GM’ing, so I just took what I knew from these sessions along with my research, and used that as a foundation.

The initial idea was to simulate the GM process by generating some key points of the campaign and then reacting to the player actions to build the intermediate steps or tweak the outstanding milestones. However, I ran into issues to implement that as an algorithm and had to settle in the end with generating the complete plotline from the onset.

The first thing the player does is setting up his character; since we are emulating a role-playing session, you don’t really have a lot of control over the other members of your party, but for yours, you can set the name, gender, picture, and re-roll for stats.

noreskia6

After this, you will be greeted with an introduction giving you some context of what is going on. As I mentioned, the campaigns that the program can generate have a certain structure that is hard to miss, but it can still generate some variation and get the player in the mood provided he wants to put some effort into it.

noreskia1 The world is modeled as a collection of nodes, one for each location, connected by roads. The party moves by selecting the location to travel to, based on the available connections. In the main game screen, you see the game map centered in your location, the status of your party and the locations you can travel to.

I initially intended to provide towns view using Watabou’s Toy Town, but had to cut that part.

noreskia3

The campaigns are generated as a linear sequence divided into episodes, the player has to travel the land looking for clues to get the artifacts that are needed to defeat the boss of each episode.

These clues are obtained from people in the different locations of the world, where the engine generates some dialog including an anecdote and the clue itself. Once you’ve gathered all the required items you will face the episode boss (or the final boss if you are in the last episode).

I think part of the charm of the game is these dialogs. The generative space is pretty limited now, and although they work well enough for a proof of concept, using something like Tracery (and a very good design) would probably yield more believable results.

noreskia2

Of course, moving around the map has dangers, there is a chance that you might be ambushed by monsters and have to fight your way thru. The combat system is pretty simple, with each character having attack and defense stats, and damage is calculated as a 2 * roll of ATK – roll of DEF. If damage is > 0 it is deduced from the HP. I didn’t manage to implement any magic system or special skills, time was just not enough.

What monsters appear and what their level is, is however based on your party’s experience level. You level up as a party by getting XP, and all your stats increase.

noreskia5

But seriously, the combat system was not the focus of my entry. I had to put it there to add some friction to the exploration aspect, but my intent was to have it get on the way of the player as less as possible. (In the end, the original 7DRL version has an issue where the players never recover their HP unless they level up, thus making it extremely hard to win).

I actually envisioned other dangers for the exploration, such as running out of supplies, but since I didn’t manage to implement an inventory and stores system, it didn’t make it.

So, the structure of the project had the AutoDM program simulating the GM, but in order to be able to create a campaign, a GM needs a setting to work with. Heroes of Noresskia is a classic Medieval Fantasy setting, I still haven’t delved into the details of it, since that was not necessary for this project. It’s basically what you would expect for a classic Dungeons an Dragons world: medieval cities connected by roads and ships, people with swords and bows, monsters roaming the countryside.

I should, however, note the tools and assets I used to build it even if it was not the development focus of the project, since it’s what it’s more visible and also it served as a proof of what the AutoDM engine can do (and could potentially do if expanded).

First off is the actual world map, after searching around for a bit for map generators, I stuck with Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator. It can create worlds that are big enough, detailed and more importantly, it generates towns and the connections between them.

noreskia7

While there are generators out there that do a better job at the physical terrain and others that go in-deep into generating town descriptions and population, this one provided the level of detail I needed to make something similar to a Pen and Paper RPG campaign. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to map all the locations (Actually Kram helped me map a portion of the map, and that’s what ended up being released in the 7DRL), and the zoom level used in the game was a bit too low, would have been better to zoom in closer and show more detail.

noreskia9

Then, of course, another critical aspect of the setting were the illustrations for the characters and the monsters. I went thru both Unity and Unreal’s asset stores looking for what I needed but wasn’t really happy with the sets I found (see 1, 2, 3). The main problem I had was, well, these are icons, so even if they were presented on a high resolution, it was hard to incorporate them into the layout I had in mind.

I finally went back to OpenGameArt.org and checked back into some assets I had dismissed initially because I thought they were too photorealistic, but on closer inspection, they were perfect for what I needed. They ended up having some interesting backstory, they were created as part of a Kickstarter campaign for the FLARE project  (Free/Libre Action Roleplaying Engine) but with the intent of them being useable “[…] in a great many free/libre media projects, from other video and computer games of different varieties, to print board games and rpgs, to modules and adventure scenarios or for use in other media.“. Well, I’m glad I found a good use for them! you can also back the artist’s Patreon to support this great work.

flarePortraits

Some other open assets that were used:

 

And that’s it! please play the game and let me know what you think 🙂

 

 

Webinar: Alternative paths for Indie GameDevs

A webinar by Procolombia (in Spanish: “Caminos alternativos para desarrolladores de videojuegos independientes“) led by Carlos Reyes from Game Art & Design Studios Colombia – GADS. Some takeaways for Indie GameDevs:

  • Have a clear success goal for your game, it doesn’t have to be money, it may be things like Social Impact (measured by feedback received by people on how your game changed their lives), or number of players.
  • Use your personal experiences to craft games that are different from the mainstream.
  • Indie games can focus on a single mechanic providing a shorter experience than commercial games which must provide enough content to justify a high price tag.
  • Before embarking on a game, evaluate you have the resources to complete it (don’t aim too high), and there is a public for it (aim somewhere).
  • Push technical boundaries, do things differently using existing technology (for example alternative controllers, or tweaking existing engines like Unity or Unreal in ways that are not commonly done). Take a license to experiment.
  • Get inspired at events like alt.ctrl at GDC, AMAZE, Fantastic Arcade
  • Look for alternative funding sources. Look for the niche that can support you. If your game has a social impact you can rent it to Art Expos or find persons that might be interested in sponsoring you.