And everything began really (for me, at least) with Bruce Shelley's talk, "Designing by playing", where he described the methodology used at Ensemble Studio to create games. The basic idea is: first, make a design document and implement a prototype. Then, play the game (often) and notice what's fun and what's not. Add that feature, remove that one, do a minor modification here and here, build another version, play, rince, repeat. IF there are enough people to play the game, chances is that at the end of this process the game will be fun to play. And for sure, it worked well, as the Age series is quite enjoyable. I just throw one figure in: 4000. This is the number of builds for Age of Empire III over a development process of 3 years. With roughly 230 business days per year, that means that the game was built 5 to 5 times per day.
Employees at Ensemble Studio plays a lot [smile].
After lunch, I enjoyed the Engine Panel with Bruce Rogers (Cryptic), Doug Binks (Crytek), John o'Neil (Vicious Cycle) and Mark Rein (Epic). The panel was mostly about how engines makes sense from a business point of view. And while the moderator explicitely stated that the panel should not run into a "buy my engine" commercial it was not difficult to spot the business blah blah from each participant (except Bruce - Cryptic doesn't license its engine, although they use their own one, carefully crafted during the past 7 years). Incidentally, this lead to some very funny discussions - especially during the QA after the panel.
I then took a break (mostly because I had to organize my evening) and I used the time I just gave to me to wander in the corridors, speaking with the exhibitors that were here (Alladin, ATI, IBM, GameStar/Dev and many more). I returned to work when Bruce Shelley and the other founders of Ensemble did their "Age of Empire - a retrospective" keynote. There is not much to say about that - while the history of successfull games is always intersting, this was more a pleasant keynote than a really usefull one (I mean, there is not much to learn from that kind of keynote). But still, it was enjoyable - and I had a great time.
The "European Business Development and Pithcing Panel" was also quite enjoyable. After all, not everything should be about game development - one has to learn how to sell its game to a publisher too. However, the output of this panel was not that big, mostly because the represented publishers stated some obvious truth - "choose your publisher wisely, pitch your game correctly, be sure to double check your contract". There were some gems (don't ask stupid things to your publisher: no, you won't get an advance AND 20% of royalties AND all rights on your IP), but not that many.
And then came the GCDC night - the business-reserved party. Meaning no press. Hum. Fortunately I had the chance to be with a bunch of people from the Game Connection Lyon organization (the GC Lyon is a business event that will take place in Lyon (ah ah ah) right after the GDC Lyon; I will talk to you about that later). I stopped at the all French table for a while (we were about 15 people here, drinking beer, discussing games, exchanging our recipes for making "quiche" and other tasty plates) until I noticed that Vicky Arundel (I love you Vicky) and the other people of Introversion were only a few meters away. These people are just brilliant. They are brilliant game developers and they are brilliant, well, people. I don't know how to explain that exactly, but the few minutes I had with them were really really good. They gained my respect for the rest of my life.
I finally went back to my hotel room, with many good stories in my head - and a lot of alcohol in my blood.