November 1, 2008

Computer Space 2008

by Mary Flanagan · , 8:54 am

I’m sitting in a conference room in Bulgaria at the 20th annual Computer Space Conference in Sophia Bulgaria, listening to Peter Molyneux’s cousin who is a UK apple rep talk about Apple products (and the retelling of how indie developer Steve Demeter developed the $5 iPod game Trism for 250K profit) — all with the hum of simultaneous translation in the back.

computer space 2998 bulgaria logo

This conference is Eastern Europe’s version of SIGGRAPH, I’m told, and I met many an interesting emerging game developer. I spoke on the Values at Play project in “Whose Computer Space? Human Values and the Design of Computational Worlds,” especially focusing on games made with our game tools.

Some of the memorable presentations included, first, “Uncanny space – the unconscious becomes playable reality” by Rene Bauer and Beat Suter of the University of Arts Zurich. They showed several networked art projects and discussed how artworks that are game related could contribute to innovation in commercial game production. Second, “Playing Music” by Fares Kayali (who partners with Martin Pichlmair in this research), from the Institute of Design and Assessment of Technology Austria. This presentation focused on the principles of design in music-based games in two distinct classes of games: rhythm-action
games and musical instrument games. In what they call Rhythm-action games, the authors pay attention to a strict game structure. Musical instrument games offer free-form play and simulate instruments, but their gameplay is strongly abstracted from playing an actual instrument. But the most interesting part of the presentation was to watch how the authors track the games as they lie among these categories, balancing between freedom of expression and the constraints necessary for clever gameplay. Kayali examined, among other games, Toshio Iwai’s Electroplankton (2005) and Tenori-On, his musical instrument.

Finally, right before the corporate talks, Margarita Koehl from the University of Vienna Department of Communication Science spoke about her longitudinal study of online gamers, “Ten years after – Online Gamers’ Social Networks, Integration and Lifestyles in Austria: A Follow up Study.” This study looked at how a group of gamers from 1998-1999 were re-contacted to provide insight on how gamers later in life integrate games into their lives, and if their play patterns change. It appeared to be a quality study with rigorous social science methods.

There is enormous potential for independent game development and open source tool development in Eastern Europe, and I was delighted to meet all of the warm game dev folks and artists in Sophia.