Sunday, February 14, 2010

Carolina Games Summit 2010

"Making a game is like shooting a movie while you're building the camera."
-Shaun Peoples, Ubisoft's Red Storm Entertainment

Since our arrival in North Carolina six months ago I've had the pleasure of attending three game industry events: an IGDA meeting, the Global Game Jam, and the Carolina Games Summit (henceforth referred to simply as CGS). Participating in these events (not simply attending) is particularly exciting for me because it means I'm making progress on that whole networking thing I admitted I needed to work on a while ago. But this post isn't about networking; Darius Kazemi already has an amazing blog to help you out with that. I figured I'd take a few minutes to describe my experience at CGS, which took place February 6th at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro.

The day started off rough. I woke up late and, giving the expected minor snowfall I almost considered not going. Since it rarely snows here, people spaz out when it does and the news folk generally recommend not driving at all. But in addition to wanting to go, I had my friends Wes and Andrew counting on me, so I rushed over to pick them up. To my happy surprise, Wes offered to drive and the snow held off. We arrived a little before noon, when the first speaker session started. Numerous game tournaments were scheduled throughout the day on the second floor, but we were there primarily for the educational sessions.

The first session at noon titled "Wow, That Was Cool! Wait, What Was That?" was presented by technical artist Jason Connell and software engineer (programming) Shaun Peoples of Ubisoft's Red Storm Entertainment (Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon). Unfortunately due to a scheduling snafu (more on this later) there was a delay while the coordinators attempted to find our speakers, so we were treated instead to a Q&A by Ben and Stefan from Electronic Arts. Responses of interest to me were the importance of being good at something specific but also being agile and also the fact that even a giant like EA outsources some art/engineering.

As the session proceeded, the scheduling glitch was somehow resolved, as Jason and Shaun stepped in to give their now-quickened presentation, which gave good insights on the daily life of an artist or programmer in the industry. I took a lot of notes here but will summarize the key points for programmers:

  • Knowing the hardware helps you write more efficient code and stay competitive.
  • Be passionate... but also realize you will never make "your" game.
  • Knowing engines helps you understand what your competition is doing.
  • Expect constant changes during the development process; you will work on different things from day to day.

The next session we attended, titled "Landing a Job in the Game Industry", was presented by Ryan Stradling, the Senior Development Director at EA in North Carolina. I found it interesting that EA NC only has nine employees, and they've worked primarily on NASCAR titles at this point. This session covered most things I've heard before: create a complete game, be a team player, get experience any way you can, etc. But I learned some new stuff too. For example, did you know the game industry reels in $8.7 billion each year in the US alone and $24 billion worldwide? Ryan also gave these insights to making it 10+ years in the game industry:

  • Accept change
  • Accept that fun is an elusive target
  • Be motivated and passionate.
  • Continually learn, pushing yourself and others
  • Love what you do, and do what you love!

Mr. Stradling was very down-to-earth and willing to chat with attendees after his session. So I was able to meet him, ask a couple questions, thank him for his presentation and shake his hand. His advice to me directly, as a programmer, was to "Know your stuff!". This was definitely the highlight of my day.

My friends and I attended two more presentations, one by an indie developer on the challenges of starting a game company and another by a lawyer on the top legal pitfalls of game companies. I took more notes but will save those details for a later date since this post is getting long already.

Unfortunately the CGS did not seem well-organized, due to the initial presentation confusion and meager dining options. We went with the barely-warm Chick-fil-A over the $2 per slice of Papa John's pizza. Also the fact that all sessions were in the same room and scheduled every hour on the hour (with no breaks in between) meant some sessions ran over and others had to start late. But for the sake of education and networking opportunities, I'd still have to say it was a worthwhile experience.

Next up? The Triangle Game Conference is coming April 7-8th...

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