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 hea
d 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.

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