Posts Tagged ‘lionhead’

Micro Talks

2011/06/26

This is a quick write up of my thoughts about the micro talk format, its use in Lionhead’s "Creative Day" and the talks organized by IGDA Austin held at historic Studio 6A (home of Austin City Limits show).

The "Micro Talk" format

Every participant is given ten minutes to talk. A time keeper near the front of the stage flashes up cards when the speaker is near the end of their session so they can wrap up the talk. There is also a longer message for when a speaker goes over that limit.

There are variations where the time limit is less strict.  Sometimes there is a defined period of time for Q&A that may be filled. I recall as part of my Bachelors degree we had strict time limits and a QA for presentations on projects; so those from an academic background may be familiar with this style already.

Ten minutes is time enough to cover a large subject at a very high level or a very specific topic in detail. This forces focus and sets the pace for all the talks.

For the speaker ten minutes should be relatively easy to fill about something they know about. If anything, reducing things down to ten minutes may be an issue.

For the audience ten minute bite-sized chunks of content should be digestible even if it is something individual members have little interest in.

Creative Day 2011 at Lionhead Studios

A similar format was used for Creative Day at Lionhead Studios.  We did not use the term “micro talks” but that is what the format was at the core (though without the very strict time keeping). Everyone who participated was given a short time to introduce their project and demonstrate it. Some ran under and some ran over but every presentation got part or all of the audience interested. Each team was given a couple of days of studio time to complete their own project (and as much of their own time as they wanted of course).

The Lionhead event has been quite well covered in the industry press. The project I worked on was one of the lower profile ones that just gets a mention in Edge. I worked with developer Pete Coward and musician Kai Chi Chan on a reimplementation of Populous in HTML5, which used a multiplayer server implemented using node.js.  Our proof of concept was implemented in a few days.

The demo itself had a few technical problems due to us trying to improvise a wireless network.  It got a bit overwhelmed by a cinema full of developers trying to connect to it with laptops, iPads and mobile phones… but overall the presentation was well received and the multiplayer capability was demonstrated. We kept things going long enough to show Peter drowning little people by lowering some land in to the ocean, which got a good laugh.

It was an emotionally charged experience presenting to all the talent of the studio – especially considering some of the mind blowing things that were demoed before we were up.  Keep in mind that most of the people presenting were not at all used to being in the public eye. In the relatively safe environment of that cinema full of colleagues, everyone shone. Every single presentation had something interesting to give and add to the day. People really got to know each other better that day.

If IGDA Guildford ever gets going again – meetings in this format should happen.  There are enough people working there to support it!

IGDA Austin Micro Talks (2011-06-25)

My first IGDA Austin meeting was in the micro talk format and provided a great introduction for me to some of the people in the chapter.  The talks took place in a television studio and were recorded – so should end up on YouTube at some point in the future.  See the austingamedevs.org website for further details.

John Henderson acted as master of ceremonies, introducing each speaker and announcing breaks between the speakers. At the end of the breaks he took the opportunity to introduce some of the volunteers around the hall that were running the event.

Jon Jones opened up the evening with a talk about making yourself more attractive on the job market by differentiating yourself. His example used a character artist portfolio with a few stereotypes that got laughs from the audience. The drive of the talk was to be a little different by thinking creatively and to actively network. Many of his own career advances had come from networking and he said that he pushed himself to get out there. He made special note to try not and make enemies, as you never know how that will come back to bite you later.

Denis Loubet made a presentation about how much luck there is involved in creating a profitable iPhone game. He made his presentation without aid of slides. The message I took away from that was that it was better to prototype an idea and ship early before investing too much, as you can never be quite sure where lightening will strike. Rovio made a few games before their success with Angry Birds.

Sara Jensen Schubert’s session was about using a spreadsheet to balance progression in an RPG. Consistency was highlighted as an imported factor in progression. Second to that was modeling enemy stats close to that of the player to make things easier to manage later on. It immediately reminded me of systems I had seen used around Lionhead that our tools supported. I think Sara and my friends back in the UK, Mike West and Kalev Tait – would have a good talk about their various ideas for balancing.

Fred Schmidt made the case for how awesome Austin is, the history of the area and how the creative industry fuels the economy. There needs to be more engagement across the educational, public and private sectors to better support the many small companies doing amazing things in the area.

Damion Schubert spoke about the power of innovation – where it is useful and when it should be reined in. Innovation can take many forms, from simplification of an idea to something completely new. An innovative game should be explainable in a sentence and have true resonance with the audience. Swing big, make sure the players get to use your innovation and support it through every other element of game play. Remember that an idea is only innovative if it is better, and that it should be less expensive than making a "me-too" product.

"From Startup to Survival" by Quoc Tran was an interesting study in what can make the difference between success and failure in a start up. It boiled down to focus, underdo the competition and release early. Remember that resources are limited and that if cash is a problem, ship sooner. The feedback generated and market position achieved by shipping sooner is more important than a complete feature set.

Carl Canga made a presentation about how important investing for retirement is. Despite the presentation slides not working, Carl went on to make a well rehearsed presentation. It was certainly a sobering talk for me and something I will make a priority as soon as my means allow it.

Conclusion

Presenting and demonstrating things in front of an audience even just for ten minutes may seem daunting but there is no doubt in my mind it is worth it. It is a great introduction to public speaking and one I personally intend to try again. I encourage you to try it out – either at your studio, an IGDA meeting or wherever you can.

The conversations during the breaks at events like these are also invaluable. It is a great way to make friends and eventually introduce people who can help each other out. Get yourself out there!

Never under estimate how important it is to communicate the knowledge you have to other people. What you write or present will never be useful to everyone – but even if you help a few people out, it is worth it.  Why not try writing for #AltDevBlogADay?

About this article

I wrote this in Star Coffee in Round Rock, TX while slowly drinking an iced mocha. It is written from my own notes made in OneNote last night and some others that Danni (my wife) made. While writing this I’m listening to a Blue Grass jam session. I’ve only been in the Austin area for a few weeks – and although I am still adjusting to the baking hot weather it has been a good experience so far. I have no doubt that this place is another great creative hub.

This post was created for AltDevBlogADay: http://altdevblogaday.org/2011/06/25/micro-talks/

Reasons to Celebrate

2009/03/27

Lionhead Studios wins a BAFTA

Lionhead won best Action & Adventure Game at the BAFTAs!  I get to say I have a credit on a BAFTA winning game!  It makes me even more proud of the team and feel very fortunate to be among their number.

A few days after the awards I organised some of the team together to pose with the BAFTA.  Many thanks to Louise for letting us borrow it for the shoot!  Gave me a chance to use my Nikon D80 SLR for something pretty special.

2009-03-12 DSC_0008 bafta tools team

Someone kindly took a picture of me with it.  You know it’s kind of heavy (in a very good way!)

2009-03-12 DSC_0051 paul e bafta

Unofficial Lionhead Party

I organised a party for Lionhead family, friends and ex-pats back at the end of February.  The night went really well thanks to my wife doing a ton of leg work for it, the Lionhead band organising themselves and a ton of attendees contributing kit for the evening.   I felt it was important to have an event to thank the friends and family who supported all of us during the later part of the development of Fable II.  Although they didn’t work directly on the game their contribution was invaluable.

Everyone was encouraged to bring some food in an American “Pot Luck” style buffet.  Traditional American, Spanish, Greek and English food (including a massive stack of Jaffa Cakes) ended up being on a big table.  We had a bar and a projector shone against a good sized wall used for Rock Band and Lips.  It felt like a fun family get together rather than just a work party.  Someone else can organise the next one though! :-)

2009-02-28 DSC_0051 rockband test

The highlight of the evening was with out a doubt the Lionhead Band and their great set on stage.  It was their second gig – they were called in at the last moment to provide entertainment for the Christmas party.  Luckily they were already practicing for the unofficial party and I hear that first performance was great (I was visiting the States at the time of that Christmas party).

2009-02-28_lionhead_band_markw

2009-02-28 DSC_0200 lionhead band

I’ll end this post with a link off to a youtube performance recorded of the guys rocking out. :-D

Career in the Game Industry

2009/02/01

I have read a few blogs recently about the industry, how the authors got in and what they think about what is going on right now… I figured I would add my voice to the discussion.  The news is full of stories about so many closures and layoffs everywhere and the games industry is not immune.  Studios are shedding jobs through publishing deals falling through, bills not being paid or a change of focus and direction.  I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am being employed in times like these.

Some companies are quite well known for a high level of churn, especially during the final stages of shipping a game and straight after.  Some of this is natural – people leaving for new opportunities of their own choice and looking for a change or promotion.  Others have contracts that are due to end and do not get renewed – where as this is difficult for the employee at least it is predictable and they can look for work in advance and perhaps have a financial plan in place.  Salaried employees not expecting the chop, contracts terminated prematurely… those people have it the worst.

When you are unexpectedly on the job market, there are all kind of pressures that wouldn’t exist if the move was your choice – least of which might be competition for a position with a former colleague.  Staff with experience are harder to come by though, and job descriptions for all but the most junior positions seem to expect it.  Some programming jobs do put game industry experience down to preferred rather than required.

A high rate of churn means many transient candidates in the recruitment talent pool – it is probably easier to get hired elsewhere at a higher level than to get internally promoted at many companies.  Indeed for an open senior position, it may make sense to hire someone from outside because they are proven in the role or because the company has money for the new hire-possibly due to this coming from a different budget from the promotions budget.  The company knows that they have someone in the wings capable of the title, but may not be likely to reward that position or money to the individual in question while they are content to stay in their current role.

I have only been in the game industry for just over two years – I came over from the business/government software sector where I had worked my way up to being the lead programmer on a few products.  Ever since I was a little kid I had always wanted a credit on a game, so I did not pass up the opportunity to move in to the industry when it came up.  I’m proud to say I have achieved that ambition – not just on any game – but a successful game.  I worked on a bug here and there for Fable II, but my aptitude and experience from my previous life meant I was employed as part of the tools team.  Working on the tools team might not be a glamorous part of the process, but it still can be very rewarding.  Your customers are internal and you can immediately see when you improve their day.

As far as career structure goes – I think many software engineering roles in games or business software sometimes require you to jump ship and move around from time to time.  Indeed some of the most senior people at Lionhead have moved around pretty frequently before settling there.

People who have left Lionhead tend to do well – a “standard” programmer left recently to become a technical director elsewhere – quite the career leap.    The Media Molecule guys are also prime examples of excellent alumni – setting up their own company and publishing a game that garners so much critical acclaim is an impressive feat.

Owning or being a partner in a company is something I see for myself in the long term future.  Having your own future in your hands is appealing because although there is relative safety working for someone else responsible for you getting paid – it does not stop a decision high up in the chain of command resulting in your job position being eliminated.

I do not want to leave Lionhead anytime soon though – I feel I have much more to give to the studio – the skills and experience I have are uncommon in the games industry.

For those wanting to get in to the industry despite how turbulent it seems to be – my advice would be to pick something to specialise in and be able to demonstrate it in some way.  For students, remember that university is a game itself – where often the grade is the first thing people notice, then the subject and the institution it came from.

When you are starting your university programme, think seriously about what goals you hope to achieve from your course. What are your strongest skills? What skills do you feel you have the most potential to develop? What are your biggest weaknesses? Make sure you choose a mixture of options which help you to maximise your strengths, develop the areas you know will benefit you the most, and challenge the weaknesses without destroying your final grade.

Do not over commit yourself trying to face subjects addressing the areas where you are least capable – keep this in mind especially in the final year when choosing your dissertation / final year project – there are going to be many pressures on your time.  While it is important to build those areas up, it is just as vital to be the best you can possibly be at the things that come more easily to you.

It is important to dedicate personal time to build up your own portfolio so you have something to show other than university course work.  As for picking the degree itself – if you are a programmer a games degree might not necessarily be the best thing – a good computer science / math degree plus being able to show your own side projects might put you in an even stronger position.  A traditional degree adds flexibility to your career too… if the games thing does not work out you have a good basis for plan B.  Just as I have made the leap over to games, I have known some game developers that have migrated over to business and banking software.

If you cannot get in to the games industry straight after university do not despair – just make sure you are working in something where the skills might be transferrable in to the game industry and get some experience under your belt.  It is very important to get real life experience because even the best university course is still academic and reality is often a little different.   Besides, a really good, open minded studio might later see something in you that they want :0)

Every day I come in to work I see something new and inspiring – and to be in the company of such talented and visionary people is an honour.  Being here and learning from those around me is good for my future, and no doubt will open up opportunities for me later on in my career.

Lionhead is hiring… apply via me if you are interested :-)

Lionhead – Jobs available now

2009/01/29

Lionhead (Guildford, Surrey, UK) are looking out for a multitude of talent for games and central technology. Please take a look at the website here: http://www.lionhead.com/Jobs.aspx

If you decide you want to apply, please do so through me so that I might be eligible for any finders reward


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: