Archive for June, 2013

World War Z

Last weekend the wife and I took a trip to the cinema to see the latest zombie apocalypse film World War Z.


We’re both fans on zombie films, and ever since we saw the first trailer we’ve been looking forward to this film. We were worried that it wouldn’t live up to the hype but it certainly didn’t disappoint. I don’t want to post any sort of spoilers, so I’ll just say that the zombie apocalypse comes in the form of an extremely fast acting virus. Brad Pitt goes in search of the source in the hopes that it might give clues to a strategy to combat the virus. Set in locations all over the world, each location results in a cool set piece of action. In fact, at times I thought of Brad as some sort of catalyst for mayhem, escaping each time by the skin of his teeth to move on and wreak havoc elsewhere. I really enjoyed World War Z. For me it delivered everything the “leave your brain by the door” films do in terms of action, but it added more depth as Brad is forced to leave his family and play detective in search of an answer to the zombie onslaught. It’s definitely clawed it’s way into my top five favourite zombie films.

One of my favourite parts of going to the cinema is the trailers. I’m looking forward to the usual summer blockbusters, but we saw a trailer for one film that I wasn’t aware of. “This is the end” looked absolutely hilarious. The idea is that whilst a bunch of Hollywood celebrities (played by themselves) are partying at James Franco’s house the world ends. I’m a little worried that I may have already seen all of the funniest bits in the trailer, but we’ll definitely give that one a go.

The highlight line: “Hermione stole all of our ****!”

Today David, David, Lewis, Rob and I went on an exciting adventure to that there London. There we were treated to a tour of Lift London in Soho and talked to a couple of resident developers from Dlala studios. Following that we took a short tube ride to Shoreditch where we went to Modern Jago to hear some games industry veterans talk about what’s going on in the industry. The lineup included Ian Livingstone (Vice chairman of Ukie, Games Workshop founder, president at Eidos), Andy Payne (chairman of UKIE and CEO of Mastertronic) and Philip Oliver (TIGA board member and CEO of Blitz Games Studios). All three speakers made some great points about the industry, and Ian Livingstone was a special highlight for me as I grew up reading his fighting fantasy game books. He’s a great ambassador for the UK games industry and co-wrote the Next-Gen report which has had and continues to have a great impact on the industry. We had to sign an NDA so there are aspects of the day that if I told you I’d have to kill you, but I’ve picked three points that were made multiple times throughout the day that I think I can reveal without getting in too much trouble.

nda cartoon

The biggest theme that was repeated again and again was the advantage of small studios to be agile in an industry that is changing all the time. In this case, agile means using agile processes, and changing direction and business models very quickly. This came across in descriptions of large companies that were unable to be agile because it took so long to make decisions. Agile seems to be somewhat of a buzz word these days, but it made perfect sense. Especially in a small studio environment without much financial support that need to be able to make changes efficiently.

Another theme, if you plan to make money from games, was the need to build monetization methods into games from the outset. Whilst selling games is sometimes appropriate, depending on the game, many people simple don’t pay for games, particularly on mobile devices and internet based platforms. These games usually use a freemium model, making money through advertising or in app purposes for example. In addition to this in order to monetize effectively you also need to build in analytical methods to measure metrics and find out what your players are doing. Again, this makes great sense too. I’m a believer that when designing a game you should identify a central theme and everything you add should be supportive of that theme. Ian Livingstone said that the three most important things in game design are gameplay, gameplay and gameplay, and he’s right, but if you’re in the business to make a little money and you don’t integrate your business model into your design early then when you do force monetization in your game will be compromised.

The final takeaway for me was that it’s not always about being the best programmer, game designer or artist out there. You still need a lot of luck, but to make some of your own luck sometimes it’s about who you know. AJ, the CEO of Dlala came across as a very cheeky, extrovert type of guy who seemed like he certainly doesn’t have a problem putting himself out there. It seemed to be very natural for him and I think that’s at least in part how he’s got the opportunities that have lead him and his colleagues to where they are now.

Generally computer scientists tend to be a bit introverted, but if you want to make your own luck you have to put yourself out there a little, which is a scary thing. The only way it will get less scary is to bite the bullet, get out there and work at it.

Me standing next to Andy Payne, Ian Livingstone and Philip Oliver (and a selection of other reprobates)

Me standing next to Andy Payne, Ian Livingstone and Philip Oliver (and a selection of other reprobates)

In was a great day which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’d like to thank everyone involved in making it happen. On the train home we discussed ideas for potential future games, and wrote down 30 in total. The goal was 60, which would then be pruned down to ten, and then down to two until we have two great ideas to choose from. I can’t show you our list until you sign our NDA though 🙂

Holiday time

Bronte Falls

Bronte Falls

The week of the last three thing game was stressful. In addition to the three thing game itself I was busy collating marks, marking final year projects and emptying my office ready for a carpet and some new furniture. This all had to be done by the end of the week because the following week I was going on holiday, to a dog friendly place near Haworth in West Yorkshire.

Moors and bubbles

Moors and bubbles

We picked the place because it was dog friendly, so pugs Molly and George came with us, and the loved having all that space to run about it. You could open the door to our accommodation and a few feet away there was a gate to open moorland where they were free to run around as much as they liked. We walked across the moors to Haworth, and took the steam train to Keighley and back (don’t tell Mike!), we walked to the Bronte falls and generally just relaxed.

George explores a rock

George explores a rock at Bronte falls

We were really lucky with the weather too. It was gorgeous. In fact more than once Molly seemed to be struggling in the heat (Her pug nose give her breathing problems sometimes) and she had to be carried. It was really nice to just not do anything for a short while, and Molly and George loved not have to be kept on a lead as much as they do at home.

Molly doing her best Lion King impression

Molly doing her best Lion King impression

The week ended a little too quickly and then it was back to work, but I think the extra pressure before going away almost enhanced the relaxation after, or at least it seemed to. I could have definitely stayed a day or two longer though.