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Reshaping the national story at GCAP 2012

At this year’s Game Connect Asia Pacific conference, the mood was split between change and consolidation for videogame makers.

Robin Hunicke addresses the GCAP crowd this morning.

“There is a myth of a lack of control in game development,” Robin Hunicke told developers gathered at the Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) conference today.

Hunicke, the famed American game designer and producer behind Boom Blox and Journey, brought an international perspective to Australia’s changing videogame environment as she drew comparison between the local and international trends.

The shift over the last decade, according to Hunicke, has been from working with big properties (making games for the Disneys of the world) to creating original works (the L.A. Noires) to going independent entirely. This is a familiar story in the Australian context (so much so that many forget that big Australian studios do still exist), but it isn’t one we often hear being linked to internationally.

This reconceptualisation of the kind of narratives that frame Australian game development is not uncommon, and it was also touched upon this morning by Game Developers’ Association of Australia CEO Tony Reed, who chided the media in his opening remarks for their reporting on Film Victoria’s support for games earlier in the year. The Australian games industry never went anywhere: this was the unspoken setting for a huge room full of (overwhelmingly male) developers at Melbourne’s Exhibition Centre.

It is easy to get caught up in introspection, but Hunicke used this familiar thread of trying to understand what we’re looking at when we look at the Australian games industry to talk about something else: quality.

“Lack of control is a myth,” Hunicke said. “You choose what you do. You choose what you make.”

“You have control over the quality of your idea, the things that you do, the practices that you use.” Hunicke flagged that this idea is almost directly in opposition to the usual practice of getting things out fast in the games industry. “You have to experiment,” said Hunicke. “That takes time.”

This year, GCAP coincides with a number of announcements to do with funding and fandom. Reed alluded to an upcoming federal funding scheme for videogames, and there was the final confirmation from Victorian MP Clem Newton-Brown that the giant international gaming show, Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), will be held in Melbourne for the first time next year.

It’s worth wondering, then, if in five years time the Australian games industry will look back on 2012 as the moment where videogame makers consolidated on solid ground, or the moment where everything started again from the ground up.

“There’s a programmatic culture in game development,” said Hunicke, “and programming is often about avoiding wasted work, and about reuse.”

“You have to throw it away. This means sitting in a room with someone playing your game and feeling shame because it is not working.”

“You have to be willing to throw it away.”

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