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OGDC Event Coverage - OGDC in Review
The Online Game Development Conference was held on May 10-11 in Seattle, Washington and was the first conference focused on technology, art, design, production, and business of games delivered
over the internet. The two-day agenda was packed full of seminars hosted by leaders in the online games world, including NetDevil, Cryptic Studios, Microsoft, and more. There were 4 rooms
consecutively serving up seminars, with three in the morning and 4 in the afternoon on Thursday, and three in the morning, three in the afternoon on Friday. A keynote each day was held after lunch,
conveniently located in the same room. While the 10-min breaks in between sessions were rather small and led to some sessions running off schedule late in the day on Friday, the trade-off was
necessary in order to pack in as much material as the conference could take. To further help with the scheduling, the OGDC organizers sent out a survey asking attendees what seminars they were
interested in seeing, no doubt with the intentions of organizing the schedule as best as possible to allow people to get the most out of the conference and not be stuck too often having to decide
between two or more seminars in the same time slot. I thought this was a nice touch, although I don't know how well it was actually pulled off. I didn't have any conflicts, but I wasn't interested in
nearly as many sessions as I'm sure others were.
The city of Seattle from atop the Space Needle
Speaking of the sessions themselves, I for one did not think I would be interested in even as many as I found myself attracted to. I'm not in any way invested in the online games space, but a lot
of the talks being given also addressed issues outside of online games - in this case they were merely applying them to online games. So all the sessions I attended I found informative and enjoyable,
and I'll be sharing some on the next page. The rooms allocated for the sessions were small, so serious audio wasn't usually necessary, in fact many speakers chose not to even use the provided lapel
mics and instead simply projected their voices. The visual part of the presentations were all top-notch and there was never any trouble seeing the projection screen.
Though there wasn't much time for serious mingling between sessions, the fact that the session rooms were in such close proximity to one another allowed you to at least throw out a quick hello or
a handshake and short conversation. Plentiful amounts of snacks were provided as well, which is a good excuse as any to stop and chat. The snacks changed for the morning and afternoon sessions,
ranging from cookies and muffins to fruits and granola bars to yummy ice cream bars on the last day even. Although I only ate lunch at the event one day, the food was quite good and many of my fellow
attendees were complimenting the food selection as well. So thumbs up for the eats.
As I said, there are only 10 minutes in between sessions and not much time for serious networking besides lunch. Luckily the conference organizers recognized this and provided a networking party
on the evening of the first night. To be honest I was expecting a bit more in the way of food other than small finger snacks of the kind where you're never really sure exactly what you're eating,
even if it does sometimes taste good. The party was held at dinner time, but other than the complaints from my hungry tummy it served its purpose to gather conference members together for a good time
of schmoozing and boozing.
OGDC Event Coverage – Select Sessions Coverage
Appealing to the MMOB: Building Massively Multiplayer Online Brands
Brian Robbins, Executive Producer / Gaming Evangelist – Fuel Industries, Inc.
Brian talked about a few key points involved in building a massively multiplayer online brand. What exactly is that you ask? Well it's just taking branding to a new arena, that of MMO games. No,
we're not talking about in-game advertising and dressing up your Orc with a Pepsi banner in WoW, we're talking about building complete online games around an existing brand name. For example, there's
Coke Studios, Virtual Magic Kingdom,
The main goal of Darius' talk wasn't about actual data mining – that is, using metadata to extract useful information from large data sets – but rather about metrics. Particularly,
metrics relating to gameplay in an MMO, such as recording data about quest completion, character advancement, trade, social behavior, combat systems, AI behavior, etc.
Since Darius included very copious notes in his slideshow presentation, I'm going to refrain from copying and pasting much of his words here and simply provide the file. Please see the
download link to the right. The slide show is literally an article in its own right.
Games for Windows – LIVE! Essentials
Zsolt Mathe, Software Developer – XNA Developer Connection
If you've been wondering about the upcoming integration of the LIVE service between PC and Xbox, then read carefully because the following information is for you. Firstly, this integration of LIVE
is out to solve many problems that Microsoft claims to plague Windows games (and is mainly correct). These include user challenges such as network configuration, multiple 3rd party apps and per-game
quirks to frustrated communities that have multiple identities, no cross-game communities, and cheating, griefing and piracy abound. Based on their success with Vista, I don't see how Microsoft is
set to handle the piracy problem, but I cede all their other points. Finally, every online game in some way tends to reinvent the wheel in terms of technology.
Obviously, we have Windows LIVE to the rescue, with the full-featured LIVE service and cross-platform LIVE community fully functional on the PC platform, with no barriers for entry (well, at the
basic level anyways). On the developer side we have XNA, which has already been proven to be an extremely accessible code base, rich game features such as unified friends lists, voice chat,
leaderboards, matchmaking, achievement and gamerscore, and of course the fact that the API is cross-platform between Xbox and PC.
Microsoft touts the easy setup involved in server connections for Windows LIVE games, which should require one single configuration forever and will punch only a single hole for all communications
through a firewall and include automatic NAT traversal and UpnP. This seamlessness will also extend to the user interface, which will feature a consistent UI and support the global community through
single Xbox/PC accounts, a unified community website and support for fan sites and mashups.
But how about some nitty gritty? Well first there is the XSocket API, which replaces WinSock and provides for more private network communications. Microsoft made the smart choice of working to
make the XSocket call-signature compatible with WinSock to ease developers into transition from one API to the other. For added security, addresses and ports are all virtualized (as an option),
packets are sent through a VPN tunnel utilizing a single UDP port with strong encryption as well as multiple authentication layers (all highly abstracted of course, not to worry). XSockets also
include support for TCP, UDP and VDP (voice and Data Protocol).
Windows LIVE targets hackers by including debugger detection, as well as a protected buffer API. The API randomizes and replaces data withing the memory buffer to prevent scans from picking up
anything useful. This means you have to use the API's special functions to read and write data that is then obfuscated and stored in the buffer.
To help prevent against cheating runtime cheat checks are performed, including signature checks on load, periodic codepage and IAT checks, and challenge-response from LIVE routines that can be
tailored to individual titles. All these runtime checks are done in the background with low overhead and assigned low task priority. User feedback integrated into LIVE can also help fight against
cheaters, such as the reputation and community reporting mechanisms. While obviously no system is 100% secure, Microsoft has dedicated a full-time security team to the task of staying one step ahead
of the hackers/cheaters.
Well, the best reason is the fact that Microsoft has created a service that comes to developers at a minimal cost. Microsoft foots the bill for the basic service, premium goodness is left to the
LIVE subscribers, and the developer is tagged with the development cost – of the game. No server costs, no community management software costs, no online integration tools cost. A very nominal
fee when compared to building it all yourself. Porting between Console and PC is a very easy process thanks to the nearly identical APIs, even the socket APIs differ only by name. However Microsoft
discourages straight ports and reminds developers to take advantage of platforms. There are a few gotchas to remember with Windows LIVE titles as well. For one, there can only be one person logged in
per box, unlike Consoles which can (obviously) have up to four. In addition, the players must be logged in and online in order to earn achievements, and the PC presents different attack vectors that
So when is this all coming? Currently the first public release is set for summer of 2007 with the initial feature set currently found on LIVE today. Future features are to include LIVE
Marketplace, LIVE Arcade and a standalone client. Microsoft also plans on release points every 6 months or so
All conference photos courtesy of the OGDC staff