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MIGS: From Genres to Gamers

To wrap up our coverage of the Montreal International Games Summit, we present the content of the parallel tracked sessions, including presentations on genres, music, academia, and next-gen fair-play by Manifesto's Greg Costikyan, Persist Music's Tom Salt
The Montreal International Games Summit (MIGS) featured a fair number of talks given as parallel sessions between the various keynotes that have been reviewed here on Gamasutra. Here’s a quick summary of four of these sessions: Greg Costikyan, CEO and co-founder of Manifesto Games, started his talk “Games, Genres and Why Independent Games are Vital” by drawing on David Parlett’s observation that game genres are determined by shared mechanics. In the current high-budget, risk-averse publishing environment, independent game developers cannot compete with industry powerhouses, and must go where they dare not in order to survive. This is done by exploring new ideas for gameplay, which is to say new genres, and has the added benefit of expanding a market and bringing the game designer gold and glory if he succeeds. He then detailed a number of ways to discover or explore new genres: by using new technical improvements, by relying on original subject material and crafting the game around the idea (a nice parallel to Mizuguchi’s inspiration keynote), by going for alternative business channels, and by combining existing game mechanics in new ways. Next up was Tom Salta, composer/producer from Persist Music. He argued for the importance of having great music in games by presenting a good number of video clips and game trailers on which he worked, with one version without music, another with a completely jarring music, and then the full version. He used these examples to put emphasis on the emotional power of music and the importance of excellent communication between the designers or project leads and the musicians, especially in the case of companies outsourcing music to freelancers. In the afternoon, John Buchanan from Carnegie Mellon University offered some valuable hints from his experience both as an academic and as head of research for Electronic Arts in building a good relationship between the two. Such relationships can be profitable since academia needs interesting problems on which to work, and game developers need solutions to problems. Companies can invest in building bridges to academia in different ways and at varying degrees. Good communication was a leitmotiv here, as in most of the other presentations. The next day, Mike Mace followed up on Reggie Fils-Aimé’s keynote by offering a round-up of practical tips from his experience as Game Evaluation Lead for Microsoft’s Game Technology Group. Essentially, it was a talk on game design issues from an over-the-fence perspective of the gamer rather than the designer. He identified what he considered were the main roadblocks preventing a player from finishing a game, and how developers can resolve these issues and streamline the player’s experience. Topics ranged from instantly reloading the last checkpoint instead of shoving “YOU FAILED” in the player’s face to making good trade-offs in game verisimilitude: for instance, having oddly wide doors everywhere may be better than having the player’s character get stuck in every single realistically narrow one. Ultimately, Mace concluded that yes, next-generation technology will allow for better games, but only as long as designers think from the player’s point of view and try to remove these roadblocks that can put off non-gamers if they want to expand the market.

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