FuturePlay 2006 report

This is my one and only report on this conference.

Life happens, and it did again this year. Personal matters intervened, and I was unable to attend all three days of FuturePlay 2006 in London, Ontario. Instead, I drove up on Wednesday in order to speak that afternoon, and drove back home that evening. Yes, I spent more time on the road than at the conference, and I did not get into “conference mode” before I left.

I was at FuturePlay 2006 to speak on the Video Game Development Business Essentials panel. My co-panelists were Dr. Ricardo Rademacher, Gjon P. Camaj, and Matt Toschlog. We all decided not to create any slides or other visual presentations for this panel, so we were all able to complete our notes within hours of the panel. Gjon and Matt worked off of hand-written notes, while I read notes from a text document on my laptop. We were going to speak for 10 minutes each, leaving 20 minutes for questions and answers. As Ricardo pointed out, as moderator, one could tell that he was the youngest as he was the only panelist in a suit. We calculated that the panel had more than 60 years of game development experience in total.

The first to present was Gjon Camaj of Image Space. He spoke about the history of his company and how they found themselves moving from computer (non-game) simulations into the game industry, where they created such games as F1 2002 (my favorite racing game to date) and Nascar Thunder 2004 for EA Sports. He then talked about the transition that they made to self-publishing and electronic software distribution (ESD) with their latest game, rFactor. (I will certainly be trying rFactor this weekend.)

The next presenter was Matt Toschlog of Reactor Zero. Matt is probably best known as the programmer of the classic game, Descent (which recently received an honorable mention in the Quantum Leap Awards for First-Person Shooters). He spoke about the more traditional publishing model and how his smaller company is working within that framework in their current game development efforts.

The penultimate presented was our moderator, Ricardo Rademacher of Futur-E-Scape. He spoke about the issues involved in developing games in conjunction with academia and funded via grants. The talk was given as a pre-postmortem, listing 5 things that have gone right and 5 more that have gone wrong, so far, in his development of a massively multiplayer online physics game, Physics Adventures in Space Time. There was good advice contained in both halves.

I was the final presenter, and my bio was listed in the program this way:

Gregg Seelhoff is the principal at Digital Gamecraft, a division of a game company he founded 24 years ago. He spent several years in the retail game industry, programming on more than a dozen boxed titles for companies such as Quest Software, Electronic Arts, Epyx, Zombie, Legend Entertainment, GT Interactive, and Microsoft. He was Senior Software Engineer at Spectrum HoloByte, where he served as Lead Programmer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, “A Final Unity”. More recently, his company has operated as an independent game developer, working primarily in the casual games space, developing products published online and delivered electronically, including titles such as MVP Backgammon Professional and Pretty Good MahJongg. His Gamecraft blog can be read at http://www.gamecraft.org/.

For my part, I spoke about micro-ISVs, software companies (such as ours) that consist of a very small number of people (1-3). The term was coined by Eric Sink, originally meaning a company of just one person, but I (and others) expand that definition slightly. I presented some ideas about who could do well as a micro-ISV and who would not, a brief discussion of the possible business structures, and the advantages and disadvantages of micro-ISVs for game development, mostly omitting the self-publication and distribution aspects already covered briefly by Gjon.

I ended the talk by recommending a book, Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality by Bob Walsh, as a decent authority on the subject. To drive home the point, I read this (only) quote from the inside front cover by Thomas Warfield, of Goodsol Development, one of the most successful micro-ISVs: “If you are looking to start your own small software company (or have just started doing so), buy this book. There is nothing else available like it that covers so much territory about the basics of starting and running a small software company. Just buy it and read it.” [from A Shareware Life blog]

All of us rushed through our presentations, but we still cut into the Q&A period significantly. There were a few questions, and then we cleared out for the break before the final session of the day. Overall, I thought that the session went quite well, though it seemed that we could certainly have used more time to speak.

For the final session of the day, after some hallway networking, I slipped into the Emerging Input/Output in Games paper session. I missed some of the first paper (of two), HaptiCast: A physically-based 3D game with haptic feedback, though one can find the HaptiCast project on SourceForge. The second paper, Human Motion as Input and Control in Kinetic Games, was quite interesting, discussing possibilities (see title) beyond the Sony EyeToy and Dance Dance Revolution. I asked a question about input latency and in return got to explain the reasons while latency of head tracking technology causes physiological illness to the audience. I am sure that I will explain it in this blog sooner or later.

After that session, there was the “Wine & Cheese Reception” in which I consumed neither wine nor cheese, but did look at the game competition entries and the research posters, while networking with other attendees. The documentary, Beyond Pong: The Evolution of Video Games (in which I appear), was played on a big screen, and several of us saw our own likenesses larger than life, all while trying to schmooze. That was cool and weird all at once. I headed for the door about half an hour after Wednesday at the conference officially ended, preparing for the drive home in very rainy and windy weather.

I made a few ex-conference observations. On the way into London, I found an intersection (Wharncliffe & Southdale) where there were, seriously, two separate Tim Hortons across from each other. On the way out, I took a slightly different route and inadvertently discovered the Guy Lombardo Museum (but did not stop). The international border crossing into Canada (Port Huron/Sarnia) had absolutely no delay (at midday); the border crossing back into the United States at the same location took 26 minutes waiting in line (in the late evening).

That was the shortest conference stay I can recall for many years, but I am glad I did make it.

FuturePlay 2006

This game conference takes place next week in nearby London (Ontario, not England).

One week from today will mark the start of FuturePlay 2006. This FuturePlay conference takes place in London, Ontario, Canada from Tuesday, October 10 through Thursday, October 12. Unlike last year, when it was held here in East Lansing, the conference this time is being held mid-week, albeit for the same length of time (two and a half days).

There are three official themes of this conference (according the website):

  • future game development – addresses academic research and emerging industry trends in the area of game technology and game design
  • future game impacts and applications – includes academic research and emerging industry trends focused on designing games for learning, for gender, for serious purposes, and to impact society
  • future game talent – is designed to provide a number of industry and academic perspectives on the knowledge, skills, and attitude it takes to excel in the games industry

To get a feel for the content of the conference, one can read my (5) blog postings from last October: FuturePlay 2005, Day One, Day Two, Day Three, and Conclusion.

Honestly, I was not actually planning to attend the conference this year, despite it being fairly close. It is only a 3 hour drive from here, but with an international border crossing, that could potentially double the travel time. However, I was asked to participate on a FuturePlay panel about business issues involved in running a game development company, so I will be making the trek into Canada. Fortunately, our panel is not until Wednesday afternoon, so any delays in Sarnia should not be a factor. (Any delays are usually coming back, anyway.)

The panel is Video Game Development Business Essentials and is described as follows:

“Do you have that entrepreneurial spirit? Do you have a great game idea that you would like to develop and bring to market but don’t know how to get started? The importance of a well organized business cannot be overemphasized as a key to success in today’s video game industry. As such, this panel of veteran video game development entrepreneurs will discuss many of the issues in starting and running a game development business including among other topics: ways to organize the company, how to develop a successful management structure, seeking government and private funding, how to hire the right talent to make your game, and how to market your game so the world knows about it. Attendees to this discussion will walk away with a greater understanding of the importance of a proper business structure to the success of their individual projects.”

My fellow panelists will be Dr. Ricardo Rademacher, founder of Futur-E-Scape and moderator for the panel, Gjon Camaj, Vice President of Image Space, developers of F1 Challenge ’99-’02, and Matt Toschlog, President of Reactor Zero and programmer of Descent. I will be representing the micro-ISV perspective on game development. I look forward to meeting Gjon (pronounced “John”) and seeing Ricardo and Matt again. It looks like it will be a great panel.

There are several other presentations, as well as the keynotes, that I look forward to hearing, and I will try to document the conference on this blog (daily, even, assuming the hotel has an internet connection and the parties end early). Anybody within the sound of my blog and not too far from London should consider attending.

If you do attend FuturePlay 2006, please introduce yourself.

By the way, Thanksgiving is next Monday, the day before the conference, in Canada. Appropriately, the spellchecker is trying to replace all instances of “FuturePlay” with “Butterball”.

SIC 2006 Wrapup

It has been 2.5 months since the date of my last post…

Lots has been happening in my life, both personal and professionally, since the Shareware Industry Conference ended in mid-July. It took me way too long to transcribe my SIC 2006 Diary, but here are links to these previous blog entries:

To quickly conclude the conference trip… Sunday morning breakfast; other hotel guests stealing conference food and drink. SIAF award for Pretty Good MahJongg at 14110 feet above sea level (top of Pike’s Peak); climbing at Devil’s Playground; cooked brakes requiring mandatory 30 minute rest. Hotel stay in Lamar, Colorado; poor choice, whole town smells like fertilizer. Stop for lunch in Hutchinson, Kansas; thermostat reads 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Dinner at The Machine Shed in Olathe (Kansas City); excellent food, highly recommended. Stay at hotel in Kearney, Missouri; cow statues do not stink. Early morning stop at Locust Creek Covered Bridge, built in 1868; very peaceful. Midday visit to (old) Goodsol Development World Headquarters in Springfield, Illinois, followed by lunch at historical Cozy Dog nearby. Arrival back home at SophSoft Tuesday evening. Work on backlog ensues.

During the conference, I gave a presentation entitled, Practical Interface Guidelines: Things they did not teach us in programming class. As promised you can now download my PowerPoint file here: PracticalInterfaceGuidelines.ppt [97K] (or pig.zip [18K]).

For your convenience, here are links to each of the items on the Resources page of the presentation:

Please feel free to link to this entry and comment on the contents.