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Tino van der Kraan

Gamescom 2014 Report: Day 4 and 5 August 19, 2014

By Tino

On Day 4 of Gamescom (Saturday), Elwin and I went to enjoy all the greatness of the conference. Fragments of Him was only on display for a few days in the business area which was closed over the weekend. We woke up early so that we could enter the conference before the general public by using our exhibitor passes. I was able to try out Sony’s answer to the Oculus, the Morpheus. It’s external aesthetics are a bit daunting although the experience it’s able to offer very much reminded me of a slightly better version of the Oculus Rift DK1. The demonstration placed me in a diving cage where underwater wreckages started moving and a shark was aiming for my life. Luckily, I was equipped with a Dual Shock controller and by moving it around it made a flare gun in my virtual hands move. It’s flares didn’t really seem to have any impact although playing around with it was certainly enjoyable for a while. As I moved my head around, I was also able to aim a virtual flashlight around. Looking at my feet felt strange as I witnessed feet that weren’t mine. The inability to move my virtual legs felt very strange, something that I didn’t expect to feel that weird. Before I got to play around with Morpheus I also had a chat with a guy running the stand. After explaining that I’m a developer we started chatting about the possibility of using Morpheus in the future. He was particularly intrigued after hearing what kind of experience we would like to use it for and as a result he gave me a card of a person we should definitely contact after Gamescom to explore the possibilities.

Malthael Next up on our list was to play some Destiny which Elwin has been urging me to check out. After waiting in line a bit we were treated on an explanation of what the game was. Why someone would even consider waiting in line for anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour to play something they don’t know is beyond me though. I played as a Warlock and got to get the feel of the game. The controls felt quite responsive although the settings felt far too sensitive. Customizing its controls was a pain with a localized interface but I assume that making it feel right in the full version shouldn’t be too difficult. Elwin, of course, had to show off whereas I was happy with a 4th place as a first time player. Destiny Multiplayer The rest of the day consisted mostly of sightseeing as I hadn’t seen anything of the 3 remaining entertainment areas. It was good to see that developers such as Riot Games and Blizzard had a few developer focussed things on display such as artwork, fan art, concept art, and even live drawing sessions by Luke Mancini. Wraith Camp Ideas The show floor day 5 came to an end by watching a very exciting match of Counter Strike: Global Offensive with RYStorm. In the past, I’ve sunk many hours in CS 1.6 and seeing all these maps reimagined and played by pro’s was pretty awesome. At the end of day 6, Elwin and I went back in to see the final map played of the Gamescom ESL One finals. The hall was filled and the tension was incredible. CSGO ESL OneAfter the show floor closed it was time for the Sony party which wasn’t accessible to the general public. The drinks were on the house and the hall had a great atmosphere. One of the booth’s big screen was used for visuals with a DJ playing all kinds of genres mixed together like a pro. For some reason, dance battles seemed to be showing up all throughout the evening. Some them popped, locked, and flipped as they were hyped up by the crowd around them. The night came to an end around 4:30 with the DJ trying to extend the party by playing at least 3 final tracks. After getting passed the problem of being locked out of my room with Elwin asleep inside I went to bed at around 6:00. Baron NashorApart from the CSGO match on Day 5 there wasn’t much noteworthy that happened. Hopefully, I’ve given you some insight and enjoyment from reading about my Gamescom experience. I really hope to back again next year although time will tell. Follow me on Twitter for more updates or to hook up for a chat.

See you around!

Tino van der Kraan

Gamescom 2014 Report: Day 2 and 3 August 17, 2014

By Tino

Day 2 of my time at Gamescom was absolutely killer. Killer for my feet because of the 11 hours of standing at the booth. Killer because of all the wonderful responses and feedback from players, developers, and press, and killer because of the night that followed.

Holland Pavilion

People really seem to like the experience we are trying to put together with Fragments of Him. It really resonates with players by moving them to tears. Hearing them speak about their time with the game and view on the teaser makes us a bit emotional too. It’s been the first time that I’ve actually seen someone’s tears well up after just watching the teaser video. That person wasn’t quite sure if they were ready to play the game just yet at our stand.

Different person, same kind of response

Different person, same kind of response

Standing by and constantly talking to people that play your game can be very tiresome. Fortunately, we could tag team and see some of the show floor in the meanwhile as a nice change of pace. The Koelmesse where Gamescom is held is absolutely massive. I’ve only been able to see half of it before I felt I had to head back to our stand.

EA

Halfway throughout Day 2 it was time for a networking drink at the Holland Pavilion. The networking drink really helped lift up everyone’s spirits and drew in a crowd. It made it a bit easier for us to persuade some to check out Fragments of Him. The time and effort that the people from The Creative Fund NL and Dutch Game Garden have put in to organise this has been really great.

When the 2nd Gamescom day was over, I said goodbye to Mata as it was his last Gamescom day and Elwin who went back to the place we were staying at. Around 20:00 it was time to pack up and head into Cologne to find something to eat. I ended up with some of the other developers at a pizza place and had a few laughs and good conversations. The ‘out of conference hours’ are where people tend to loosen up a bit more and the conversations get more transparent. It’s a way to get to know your peers a bit better in a nice and informal way.

After having a nice meal the group insisted that we’d go into a karaoke bar. Apparently, karaoke is a thing during games conventions among its developers. I ended up in the weirdest karaoke bar imaginable. Immediately after entering, we went down some stairs into a basement where we witnessed a group of people sing asian songs. Combined with the cheesy lighting and lasers, the mood was set. After a couple of songs and drinks the place started to get crowded with names I’ve only seen in E3 interviews or on stage at console press conferences. My mind was blown. Later that evening, after the bar’s closing hours, we went to look for a bar that was still open around 3:00 AM. We passed the Cologne cathedral when we noticed a drone flying over. Apparently it was a Blizzard VP whose name I won’t mention. You can surely understand that this was an unbelievable evening. I was tipsy enough to ask for some business cards to be able to back up this crazy night.

Day 3 of Gamescom was the last day where the business area was still open. With a rolling stomach and 3 hours of sleep I thought of happy things and faced the day. The last business day was not as crowded as those before although we managed to get some interesting people come over to play Fragments of Him. At the end of the last business day we had a small celebration with some beers and cocktails that were making their rounds. When everything was packed and done we went into the EA area for some last drinks before calling it a night.

Stay tuned for a report on the two remaining consumer days on the show floor. :)

Tino van der Kraan

Gamescom 2014 Report: Day 1 August 14, 2014

By Tino

As some of you might know, Fragments of Him was selected as one of the 10 games that are playable at Gamescom this year. Supported by the The Creative Industries Fund NL, we are fortunate enough to have received an arcade cabinet spot at the Holland Pavilion this year.

Gamescom1 Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the pavilion how it currently looks although I did find an image (courtesy of Control Online) of the place while it was under construction. They have done an awesome job representing the games on the side of the pavilion as well.

Photomerge of two pictures

Photomerge of two pictures

The Holland Pavilion will still be open until Friday I believe. Afterwards, we get to face the huge crowd in the entire Koelnmesse (which is huge) from Saturday until Sunday. Some said that Gamescom is expecting over 300.000 people to show up. I have personally not been in Cologne before although I really marvel at the awesome looking city I’ve encountered these past two days. Gamescom3 We are staying at a place fairly near the Koelnmesse with a breathtaking view. Gamescom4 Today we went for some food and drinks with the other developers at the pavilion and generally had a great day. The people that have played Fragments of Him and have seen the teaser have been really positive in their reactions. We have seen some familiar faces from press, companies and players, although most of the people stopping by at the stand today were new to us and it has been exciting to meet them and see them play our game. Tomorrow, we will be at the booth for roughly 10 hours to explain Fragments of Him to people and why we think people should play it. The tagline that Mata came up with is working pretty well so far which is: “Do you want to play the saddest game on Gamescom?” Even though we have no real way of knowing, the emotional responses of some of the players do seem to give us the impression that we aren’t far off with that claim. That’s been the short report on our first full day of the Gamescom experience. Hopefully, I’ll find the time and resources to give you another update tomorrow.

Elwin Verploegen

Gamescom! August 8, 2014

By Elwin

It’s been a very busy period, with the entire team going full steam ahead on getting content in the game. We’re not ready to share anything new yet (we’ll be sure to show off some new screenshots soon though!), but progress is steady.

Next week we’ll be closing the office to attend Gamescom! We’re very excited to be part of the Holland Pavilion, and literally wouldn’t be able to this without the help of the Stimuleringsfonds. Are you going to be there and want to come chat with us? We’ll be over here:

indigo_location

 

The exact location of that is: Hall 4.2, Booth C041-D040. You’ll be able to play the updated Fragments of Him Prototype and ask us difficult questions. There’s also going to be a networking drink on Thursday, 5PM – 7PM, so be sure to come over for that!

If you want to read more about Fragments of Him, Control Magazine recently uploaded their latest magazine, on page 11 you can find an entire page dedicated to Fragments of Him!

That’s it for now, tune in next time when I’ll try to convince the art team to release some more screenshots!

 

Dr. Mata Haggis

The final GaymerX conference July 15, 2014

By Mata Haggis

This weekend I have been in the company of a couple of thousand wonderful, creative, supportive gamers and developers. These people also happen to be ‘gaymers’.

gaymerx

The GaymerX conference happened for the second and final time in San Francisco this week, and won’t be happening again… But something will be taking its place. The term ‘gaymer’ was coined as a banner for uniting a group of gay geeks who didn’t fit the mainstream discourse of gaming, but it became something much more broad. This weekend saw people with many expressions of non-mainstream diversity coming together to show the games world that they exist, they matter, they want to see themselves in the games that they play, and that they are happy to put their money behind events and games that recognise them.

That last part is important – GaymerX is a statement that a whole market exists that many games are rarely addressing, or that are being spoken to in ways that are not recognising the real issues faced by the players.

The weekend raised some deep issues of diversity representation in games, such as the subtle balance of the pros and cons of fantasy games where homosexual relationships are available; these games were recognised for being positive for including these options, but there was discussion about whether the absolute in-world acceptance from other characters is a help, or a hindrance, towards the understanding of challenges faced by people in real-world gay relationships. Is it more valuable to have an escapist fantasy or an educational reflection of life? These kinds of discussion provided food for thought, and were good-willed on all sides, which encapsulates the mood of the weekend where the ‘safe space’ attitude was largely undisturbed.

Not only ‘gaymers’

The visitors to the conference were mostly gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender. These are the main groups that you would expect, but the GaymerX conference also welcomed a crowd that embraced diversity in many more respects than sexuality: people with different physical shapes or capabilities, people of colour, genderqueer people, people with social or mental health difficulties, kinky people, and it should not be forgotten that straight people were there and welcomed too.

Straight, white men were absolutely not an ‘enemy’ at the conference; it simply was not focussed on their stories. The stories being told were of queer developers and players expressing their lives through games, or of celebrating the WWE professional wrestler Derren Young (@DarrenYoungWWE the first openly gay pro wrestler in WWE) who was there to talk about his work and meet fans, or about being a gay parent who games, or games dev entrepreneurship when you are non-mainstream in your lifestyle or content, and many other stories that do not regularly make it into mainstream games culture.

The conference featured talks about queer lifestyles, diversity, and equality, but also experimental Oculus Rift projects and defying design conventions in your gameplay mechanics. The mix of content for attendees ranged between feminist discussions with Anita Sarkeesian (@femfreq) to practical games development experience from Bioware’s David Gaider (@davidgaider).

Recognition from major sponsors

The sponsors contributed some very high quality stands to the show: 2K Games showed the first ever playable demo of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. IndieCade and Cards Against Humanity had a strong presence, and League Of Legends helped out cosplayers with a sponsored changing room. Non-gaming sponsors Logo TV and Mailchimp also put their support in financially, but didn’t exhibit.

Ubisoft were a major sponsor of the event, showing that there is a lot of goodwill in the company towards becoming more diversity-sensitive. The staff on their stand talked passionately about their efforts to make Ubisoft a leader in this field. In the light of the recent Assassin’s Creed male-only playable cast controversy, it was heartening to be reassured that the error was not indicative of the whole company, and that genuine efforts are being made elsewhere.

Ubisoft’s presence was a marker of the tone of a lot of the conference: there was a general feeling that improvements are coming in the games industry, but also that mistakes are going to be made. A production judgement call is going to remove representation for women when it shouldn’t: these things are still going to happen, but a growing number of people from the games industry are listening and trying to foment change. The tone recognised a general goodwill towards developers as long as mistakes are recognised and responsibility is taken to try harder in the future. Everyone would rather mistakes were never made, but the feeling at the conference seemed to be one of positivity about progress and not dwelling on errors apart from to learn lessons.

There is a stereotype of feminist/diversity activists that they are always angry and demanding changes. The anger wasn’t there this weekend and those demands were polite. Yes, the attendees and exhibitors all passionately desire change, but the number of voices speaking is changing the tone: instead of demanding change, those voices were saying ‘if you want to get a bigger market, talk to more people in meaningful ways’, and the feeling from the weekend was that games developers are beginning to listen.

There were some notable big publishers absent from the event. In the mode of Nintendo talking about not having gay characters in Tomodachi Life, there was a feeling those other publishers do not want to make ‘a political statement’ by attending. As Matt Conn (@mattconn), one of the key organisers of the event, said in the opening speech: ‘it’s not comfortable to have my identity described as a “political statement”’. Despite some very vocal commenters on the internet, it is increasingly difficult to believe that other publishers will hold off from supporting these kinds of events in future.

Queer lifestyles and awareness in games development and education

For my part, I spoke at a panel on how LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) developers are creating games that in some ways reflect their lifestyles. The panel was headed by Gordon Bellamy (@GordonBellamy), former head of the IGDA, who is both openly gay and a person of colour, and featured a mix of gay, bisexual, and transsexual games developers. We talked about how tropes for gamers are going to be expanded as non-mainstream lifestyles become more recognised.

I also ran a panel on how queer lifestyles and diversity awareness can be included into games development education. I am a senior lecturer at NHTV University in the Netherlands, where I teach games design at IGAD (the games development department). It is a Bachelors-level programme that is highly rated in Europe, and part of the training given to the students is in ethics. Alongside concepts of understanding the possible links between violence and video games, responsibility for gamer addiction, and other serious topics of social importance, I teach about diversity awareness and sensitivity towards queer lifestyles.

The term ‘queer’ scares a lot of people, but it is being reclaimed. It is a term that has long been used as an insult, and still is sometimes, but many people who do not comfortably fit the stereotype of a mainstream gamer are also not gay: they may be heterosexual but also transgender; they may be heterosexual but they are also polyamorous (they can love and have supportive meaningful relationships with multiple people); they may be bisexual; they may be cross-dressers, or furries, or kinky, or many other expressions of humanity that are not precisely encapsulated by the term ‘gay’. Rather than a person saying ‘I am a kinky heterosexual cross-dresser in a polyamorous triad’ sometimes the term ‘queer’ is enough!

Mata speaking at his panel about his work at NHTV

I’m not exactly sure what I was doing with my right hand here…

In my panel, like in my classes, I talked about how awareness of simple modern feminist critical tools can make games development and content much more diversity-aware, using four main topics: privilege, micro-aggressions, victim-blaming, and tone policing.

Also in my panel, I talked about some of the challenges that can be brought on by these subjects for students, teachers, and educational institutions. I am very lucky that my colleagues and my university are supportive of the overall drive towards diversity-awareness. Of course, there are always going to be areas where students and colleagues occasionally feel some discomfort as their boundaries are pushed, but with consideration and conversation on both sides, NHTV is proving that games programmes can make progress towards very good consideration of diversity issues. Like Ubisoft, NHTV is making progress: we are all going to make mistakes sometimes (including myself, I’m sure!), but the general drive is for better treatment of everyone, and there is a genuine goodwill towards making this happen.

Fragments of Him at GaymerX

For the other part of my time at GaymerX, I was showing Fragments of Him. I am the game and narrative designer for the game, collaborating with the NHTV alumni games development team SassyBot Studio (@SassyBotStudio), and this weekend truly showed me that we are making something very special. We premiered the first ever trailer for the full game, and we also had a polished version of the prototype available to play for the visitors.

To say that this was an emotional weekend for us would be an understatement: the outpouring of positivity from players was overwhelming. We always warned people that the prototype deals with the grieving process but, even with this, almost every player was visibly moved by the experience. We kept a pile of tissues on standby, just in case, and nearly finished the whole pile by the end of the weekend! A huge thank you to everyone who visited our stall, don’t forget to pre-order soon! http://www.fragmentsofhim.com

Conclusion – the future of the GaymerX movement

Although this was the final GaymerX, Matt Conn, Toni Rocca, and the other organisers all made it increasingly clear that there would be a rebirth of the conference. In Matt Conn’s closing speech he said that ‘the term “gaymer” was useful but it doesn’t reflect the diversity of people that I see in this room’. The speech was a moving and passionate statement of his belief that the future is very bright for diversity-awareness in games content and games development. The conference was incredibly positive in its tone: it wasn’t about negging straight lifestyles, it was about saying ‘and this is also cool and interesting too’. It was about telling stories outside of the usual topics, and by doing that finding new inspiration for games’ stories and gameplay mechanics.

There was a political tone at times, with a shared hope that queer content in games might lead to more tolerance in the real world for people whose lives turn out to not be in the mainstream, but this did not feel like the push of the event. Instead it felt like a celebration of what diversity can bring to games to make them even better for everyone, whether they are straight or queer, regardless of skin colour, mental health, or body shape. It was about embracing love and acceptance, and adding more awesome content to games.

GaymerX burned brightly for two years, but the changes it heralded are continuing. Matt Conn was clear that this was not the end of the GaymerX movement, only the name. There will be more events in the future, in some form, and they will celebrate and recognise even more people’s stories, and they will keep on saying ‘we are here, we are your audience too, and together we will make everyone’s games even better’.

About Dr. Mata Haggis:

I am not affiliated with the GaymerX organisation. All views are personal impressions from the event.

I am a senior lecturer and games & narrative designer with over ten years of experience of making both indie and AAA games, and writing for games, television, webcomics, and print. I occasionally blog about games on my own website (http://games.matazone.co.uk/) and reblog onto Gamastura here.

Since 2010, I have been teaching the next generation of games developers on the IGAD (International Games Architecture & Design) programme at NHTV University in Breda, The Netherlands. It is a very highly rated course, taught entirely in English. If you are interested in learning more about games development then I highly recommend it: http://made.nhtv.nl/

When not teaching, I am the consultant games & narrative designer on Fragments of Him, collaborating with the alumni company SassyBot Studio.

This blog originally posted here.