A Look Back – SIGGRAPH and GDC Europe

12th October 2016

A Look Back – SIGGRAPH and GDC Europe

This year has seen a number of our CDE Research Engineers travelling far a wide to gain additional training and experience for their research.

Here Simone Barbieri and Thomas T.J Matthews, review their experiences of SIGGRAPH 2016, GDC Europe and Games for Change Festival Europe.

Simone Barbieri – SIGGRAPH, Anaheim USA, 2016.

This was my first time at SIGGRAPH and I can say that it was one of the most inspiring experiences in my entire life. I had the chance to see and try the most advanced technologies; there was an entire section exclusively for VR and another one with booths from a lot of small or big companies and universities with software, hardware or just incredible and innovative new ideas.

Apart from that, there were the talks, the technical papers presentations, the posters and the countless events that were continuously running for all the five days of the congress. They were so many that unfortunately it was impossible to see them all (many of them were at the same time). However, luckily SIGGRAPH put on their website the recording of the most important events.

The talks were incredibly interesting. I would like to work in the videogame field, and the opportunity to attend talks from well-known game companies (such as Naughty Dog, to nominate one) was priceless.

I even had the opportunity to attend some of the technical papers presentations. It was an incredible opportunity to view the state of the art in my research field and to talk with some of the authors directly.

At the conference I presented a poster about my work on sketch-based character posing. Quite a lot of people came to see my poster and I received plenty of question about it. Moreover, I received some suggestions on how to improve the tool and to refine some of its features.

Simone attended SIGGRAPH along with a group of 10 other members of CDE. Research Engineer Kwamina Edum-Fotwe also presented a paper which was also very well received. SIGGRAPH is the worlds largest and most influential event in computer graphics and interactive techniques and will take place in Los Angeles in 2017.

Thomas T.J Matthews – GDC Europe 2016

Back in August I attended Game Developers Conference Europe in Cologne, Germany. I had a wonderful time, and met some great people, both academics, industry professionals, and those who were both (#CareerGoals). One of the key draws of an event like GDC EU though is the range of talks in a diverse areas of disciplines from experts the world over. As part of that, I would like to offer my perspective and thoughts on some of the most interesting talks I attended at the conference.

Changing Tides: 2015’s Accessibility Advancements – Ian Hamilton

Making video games and apps accessible for peoples of any physical or mental disability is and should be a goal for any developer, particularly as some changes needed as often minor adjustments well within the grasp of the average developer. Plus, with the Communications and Video Accessibility Act signed into law by Obama in 2010, it’s also a legal requirement for developers working/trading in the United States.

Ian split his talk excellently by looking at the good, the bad, and the future of gaming accessibility, bringing up recent examples that even I hadn’t heard of. For an example of the good, look at the newer Ease of Access controls (very similar to the tools one would expect on a Windows PC)introduced on the PS4, Xbox One, iOS, and Android, the Xbox avatar wheelchair options, and the colour blindness options in games like Hue and Borderlands.

For examples of the not-so-good, look at the non-existent accessibility options in games like The Witness (where colour blindness or deafness means some puzzles are just incompletable), fundamentally broken colour blindness options in games like DOOM and Overwatch (it appears that the modes simulate colour-blindness, rather than counter it!), and Pokémon Go‘s design and anti-cheating approach, which means it’s mostly inaccessible for those with mobility issues.

Finally, looking forward we should all be weary of how to make new platforms accessible (see Oculus Rift accessibility), building with accessibility in mind, and not being afraid to include patches with accessibility additions like The Witcher 3 and Evolve have done. There are plenty of resources online pertaining to accessibility goals, and already plenty of developers are pledging to not exclude gamers with disabilities.

Psychology of Virtual Reality: Presence, Agency, Social – Thomas Bedenk

As Virtual Reality applications become more mainstream and accepted by the general public, perhaps it’s best we start truly evaluating the impact virtual avatars and spaces can have on a user’s sense of agency, of self, and of space and communication. After all, it was barely a decade or two past that violent video games were being held as damaging to a generation’s mental health, and the lack of conclusive evidence and dialogues at the time are still hurting video game developers to this very day.With that in mind then, Thomas Bedenk seeks to educate those interested in VR development about some of the psychological considerations and research we’ve found thus far. As the title of the talk suggests, this research can be broken into Presence, Agency, and Social.

Presence relates to the way in which oneself perceives their own virtual avatar and the space surrounding them.

Agency relates to the concept of ownership and mental bond between one’s virtual avatar and their actual physical body.

Finally, social is how one interacts with others in a virtual space.

A Geographer’s Guide to Building Game Worlds – Kate Edwards (IGDA)

We all tend to have an example of our own favourite fictional worlds, many cite J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, or Terry Prachett’s Discworld as perfect examples of this. Games certainly have their fair share too; my favourite fictional world is the universe of the Mass Effect series. However, what is it that makes fictional worlds, well, so good? It’s often suggested that the best game worlds are the most realist ones, but Kate Edwards argues that it is instead the most realised worlds that hold our attention.

Fictional worlds require a good realisation of all of the elements that we as an audience can appreciate and enjoy, namely the following: familiarity, complexity, cultural evidence, logical consistency, and topology. Game worlds with these elements should feel like living, populated and ‘existing’ spaces that hint at further planes outside of the one the player is in. Culture of the world is a crucial part of this, as it not only adds to the immersion but nonverbally communicates social themes with the player.

Girl, Woman, Mother: A Lifetime in Games – Brenda Romero

My final example will be less research focussed, and more about a member of the industry I find fascinating and inspiring. As they say in the film industry about film choices: “Some for them, then one for you.”, and so this was my indulgence of the conference.

Brenda found her love of gaming from the tabletop role-playing game Rolemaster in 1980, where she cherished her ability to be who she wanted and be strong, as her female familial role models encouraged. She began her career in the industry with landing a job at Sir-Tech, developers of the Wizardry series, by happening to offer the right person a cigarette in the ladies restroom and having a passion for discussing gaming. Sir-Tech was at the time (despite what its name might suggest) predominantly female, so the concept of women working in gaming has always been something she was “used to. It seemed normal.” She has had an overwhelming positive experience in the industry, despite her gender, not having encountered the ‘gender tax’other women have in recent years, but that hasn’t stopped her advocating for more diversity and inclusion, beit gender or otherwise.

She, like many, believes the issue lies within the lack of diversity in the games themselves. She doesn’t want to see less male-oriented titles, stating that the character should fit the story, but that we should be having a broader, more inclusive range of stories. “We all need role models. We need their stories to inspire us.”

Another, less-discussed topic, is motherhood in gaming. She’s happy to see the rise in maternity-inclusive gaming companies, having established maternity leave and nursery rooms in her own companies, and speaks of how important motherhood is to her and the projects she works on moving forwards. In an awfully heart-warming, tear-jerking section, she described her experience of building a video game with her daughter and how she views gaming. Her daughter was once told by a male classmate that “girls don’t play games”, to which her retort was “well my mommy makes them!”. Smart kid.

It’s always inspiring to hear from game designers looking to use gaming outside of the purely entertainment field, in education or humanities, for example, and particularly from those looking to include diversity in a field with clear homogeneity issues.

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