Mar 30

Catching Up

A friend that I haven’t heard from in a good number of years stumbled on this site the other week and referred to it as “my possibly dead blog.” While I’m definitely glad that people I’ve lost touch with are still able to find me, between that and the emailed checks-for-a-pulse that I’ve gotten recently, I should probably at least make some effort to keep it up to date.

One of the reasons that I let this site fall out of date is that somewhere along the line I fell into the habit of trying to “perfectly” compose my posts. I’m never happy with what I write at first, and usually post about the third or fourth time over them.

This takes an embarrassing amount of time and makes the whole effort feel like a lot more work than it really needs to be. This time I’m not doing that. I have exactly a half hour, I’m going to compose a little, and just stream past that.

I figure that the four of you who will read this likely don’t care that much about any level of polish anyway.

What’s been going on?

Still can’t talk too much about what’s been going on with the new business, but suffice it to say, we’re building things, experimenting, planning, and having a lot of fun. I talked with Michael from MMOGNation and Cameron from Ten Ton Hammer here at the show (more on that later) and gave them some general impressions that I have of the online games business, where it’s headed, and some of the critical problems that I think are worth solving. I suspect those’ll show up online sooner rather than later.

IMGDC Micro-recap

I’m in Minneapolis this weekend for IMGDC, the indie MMO game developers’ conference. I wasn’t able to come out last year, but I’m glad I was able to this time around.

Thank you for not having a ton of snow this weekend, by the way.

I can’t remember the last time I was at a conference this small and focused. Big enough to feel valuable, but small enough to where you can get familiar with everyone and recognize most faces as you wander from session to session. It also surprised me that there ended up being quite a few sessions in which I wanted to go to more than one thing going on. For as many things as I appreciated seeing, there’s an equal number that I was sorry to have missed.

For my part, I was here to run a roundtable on gameplay data models and be on two panels. The roundtable was a riff on the debate last year that Joe Ludwig kicked off with his opinion on how his team chose to not implement scripting in their MMO.

It’s a topic that I hold near and dear, and thought it would make a good one for people to be able to explore a bit more in-depth in a more interactive environment than dueling blog entries on the internet. For the record, my position on the subject is that there is no universal absolute, and the right answer for any given product depends on a lot of things – no two teams, products, staffing capabilities, skillsets, schedules, budgets, and hiring plans are identical. I’d hoped to delve into more of the specific factors above, and explore how they can impact the decision, but the conversation was plenty lively without it. I hope everyone there got as much out of the exchange as I did.

The panels were on community building (with Ron Meiners and Tami Baribeau) and newbie experiences in MMOs (with Brian Green, Kelly Heckman, and Jason Murdick). Everyone genuinely tried to share from their own past experience, and personally, I tried to steer my answers toward practical, useful advice and a minimal amount of navel gazing, and I think I was at least a little successful there. Again, sincerely hope people found them useful.

And to anyone who was at any of the panels or the RT – If you have questions that you didn’t get answered, my email is right off the About tab on this page. Mail to your heart’s content. It was great meeting all of you.

One thing that I said that surprised people was that I actually got into engineering and development precisely because of my attachment to the communities surrounding the first games that I worked on, as opposed to having any particular technical bent or hardcore bit-tweaking desires as is the more typical route into programming.

Back in the days of the first text games that I was involved in (Scepter, GemStone), the communities and finding ways to entertain them were what pushed me forward, and in those days “forward” meant “learning to program.” It’s a good thing I happened to enjoy that too, but I’ve always been a “technology-as-means-to-an-end” type a lot more than a “technology-for-technology’s-sake” person.

Other random bits from the show:

* Both of Dr. Bartle’s talks were as educational and entertaining as always. His keynote, a hypothetical “ten year retrospective” view of MMOs from the year 2018 was alternately chilling, depressing, and then finally, triumphant.  (Edit: The slides are up now.  Go read them - You’ll laugh at least once.)

* Gordon Walton’s talk on the future of indie MMO development was surprisingly shocking, even for his usual, outspoken self. It’s really no wonder the PR types always want to try to keep him under wraps. Whew. Hope he’s all right once the journalists in attendance let loose with their transcripts.

* Either one of those two were worth the price of admission by themselves.

* Peter Freese gave a solid talk on 10 things you can do to torpedo your own development efforts by sharing examples of things that went less-than-perfectly in the past in a talk called “How Online Game Projects Fail.” It’s good for newer folks to hear about these things. Failing is painful, but it’s something that everyone goes through, and it is entirely survivable. Serious props to Peter for sharing both past and current difficulties. Anyone can brag when things are going great – What he talked about takes guts.

* Nick Fortugno from Rebel Monkey impressed me a lot in that he arrived with one presentation, then after spending a day around the crowd and the kinds of things that were being discussed, hacked it into something entirely new that was a better fit, and really well done – (to paraphrase) How The Casual World Views MMOs. It was a great talk, and based on the time I’ve spent around developers from all worlds in the last few months, dead on.

There were a lot more people that I wanted to talk about, but I appear to only be able to hold today in my head, and my half hour’s up. Time to head to the airport.

I’ll update again before three more months go by. Promise.

- Scott

12 Comments so far »

  1.  

    Joe Ludwig said

    March 30 2008 @ 5:23 pm

    Wow, sounds like it was a great conference. Maybe I’ll have to brave the Minnesota winter next year…

  2.  

    Nick McLaren said

    March 30 2008 @ 5:37 pm

    Sounds like it was a worthwhile experience to me! I do wish I could have made it up there. I’ll have to check to see if any of the panels were recorded.

    Other than that, thanks for posting! I’m glad to see that you do indeed still have a pulse. Good luck with the project and don’t be a stranger! =)

    Cheers,

    Nick

  3.  

    Ethic said

    March 30 2008 @ 6:17 pm

    Nick Fortugno’s session was one of the highlights of the show for me. Very impressed and it was quite fascinating.

  4.  

    Cameron Sorden said

    March 30 2008 @ 7:40 pm

    Thanks again for the chat! The article should be up later this week, I’d guess.

    I would also agree on Nick Fortugno’s session. Wow. I thought I knew quite a bit about casual games already, but he made me see exactly how they see our games, and that just blew me away. Lots of food for thought from that presentation.

  5.  

    MMOG Nation » Back From IMGDC said

    March 30 2008 @ 9:40 pm

    […] Scott, and Cameron were all there as well, and have some discussion of the event. If you’re curious […]

  6.  

    Teronicus said

    March 31 2008 @ 4:08 am

    The man lives!!! And there was much rejoicing!

  7.  

    Moorgard said

    March 31 2008 @ 7:23 am

    I don’t know, I kind of like your once-every-three-months schedule. It reminds me of the cycle of your old producer’s letters. :)

  8.  

    Jonathon Stevens said

    March 31 2008 @ 7:36 am

    It was great to have you out Scott! You were a definate asset to the event. We did indeed record all the sessions and will be providing access online in the coming weeks, so check the main website out for information.

  9.  

    Scott Hartsman said

    March 31 2008 @ 11:11 am

    @Moorgard - Hah! Funny you should mention that. I realized that’s exactly what I was doing here. Spending 10-20 hours on a producer’s letter that’s going to get reposted all over creation is one thing. Doing it here on a blog… probably not necessary.

    @Jonathon - Excellent job, sir. Thanks for having me out. Glad to be useful. :)

  10.  

    Ken said

    April 1 2008 @ 4:52 am

    Great to see you update the site.

    There are quite a few of us “non-industry” types who are interested to hear what you have to say, and we aren’t worried about composition.

  11.  

    SirBruce said

    April 1 2008 @ 7:10 pm

    Scott,

    It was great finally meeting you after doing the conference thing for 7 year or so now! IMGDC was a fun little con and I’ll definitely try to get there again next year. Good luck with your new company!

  12.  

    The Hiram Key said

    April 3 2008 @ 7:30 pm

    Woot, it’s about time :)

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