How I got into this #4 An Unreal High on Deck 16

 

I was trying to coax a Jabber server on my Unix box into spitting out some custom XML when I heard it. I remember this vividly because I was wearing headphones at the time and it was louder than my music. 
 
Headshot!
 
It was a really meaty, satisfying sound and one that definitely stood out during the afternoon, even in our bohemian San Francisco startup office. I assumed it was Lee doing some “research” and so I turned Kruder and Dorfmeister up a notch and carried on hacking. 
 
Mmmmonster Kill!
 
I clicked C-x C-s on my Emacs editor, took my headphones off and walked around the corner to where Lee’s workstation was. As I approached his desk I could see he was playing an FPS but it looked like it as running too fast.
 
“What’s this, is your emulator running at the wrong speed?”
 
“It’s Unreal tournament, watch this.” 
 
Lee’s character then leapt like superman to the top of a ships mast and then fired an absurdly large gun. His point of view switched to the missile leaving the gun, which he then guided with mouse using shock and awe like precision to bring it down on the head of his enemies. The missile’s camera fizzed from a grey interference to black static and the game was over. Lee’s character then did some sort of victory jig followed by some lurid movements toward the losers. 
 
/gg
 
‘What does that mean?”
 
“Oh, good game. It’s like a form of etiquette”  
 
For about the next year, at the end of each long and hard working day, a domino rally of startup meer cats would look up from their monitors, look for the approval of fading intro screens to Unreal Tournament and double click their U desktop icons. And for the next hour or so we’d connect over the LAN and become Diablo, Narayan, Courtesy, Midknight & Powers. I lost myself totally in those tight twitchy mazes as my Seinheisers played ridiculously loud John Digweed mp3s. At times I was so immersed and flooded in adrenaline I literally couldn’t shoot straight as my hands shook so much.
 
I was Kevin Flynn.

Boulderdash’s Peter Liepa on Fun, Granny Caves and Polishing rough diamonds #boulderdash #gamedesign

If I compiled a list of my favourite games before I started this project Boulderdash would appear at zero. That’s a pretty dire programming joke but it’s absolutely true. No game has ever entranced me to the same degree. I still have the cassette of my Atari 800 version, actually the copy even has the cassette inlay drawn by my 12 year old self (it’s on the bookshelf behind me, I’ll dig it out). Its design simplicity is eternal but more importantly it is Fun. The frequency at which Boulderdash clones and updates appear, most recently on the DS as Boulderdash Rocks!, are proof of its endearing appeal.

[my awesome cover art, aged 12 & 3/4]

So it’s with a twinge of sadness that this is probably the last big part of talking with Peter Liepa about Boulderdash. I want to thank Peter for the astonishing amount of time and patience he’s shown me and the project. It might be obvious by now that I’m not an experienced interviewer (hard to believe I know) and his tolerance of my ‘style’ has not only been pivotal in me starting to understand the differences in game development but hugely inspiring.  Plus I got to find out some exciting news, Peter’s working on a new puzzle game but that’s as much as I can tell you at the moment. Okay, enough with the schoolboy mawkishness already. 

Back to the plot…loading…

Peter, if games are all about a “feeling” of enjoyment and fun then would it seem reasonable then to assume that you must have a sizeable iterative process loop of “play/testing/refining” your game model in order to arrive at something enjoyable? Probably the majority of your development? That is, beyond a rough spec/idea for the physical  constraints of the world, the rest of the specification is written as a result of development and not the other way around? 

That sounds about right.  Frankly, it’s not as if I had an official “process”. I was just a guy working at the metaphorical “kitchen table” trying to create a game.  I had much bigger things to worry about than process.  In fact, my experience to date had been that process wasn’t much use unless you were working with a larger team. And I am by nature an improviser.

So perhaps it would run along the lines of “my first goal is to have something that does y in a weeks time and then as a result of play testing y I actually now know that my model also needs x to support and precede y to help make more sense of its function” and this might not have been visible through spending a month writing a formal specification for it, as it’s almost impossible to feel fun through a written description, in the same way that reading a play will be nothing like the experience of going to the theatre to see it.

Sounds like a good plan.  Obviously you want to think things out as far as you can in advance, but recognize that there are diminishing returns for that.  There are lots of things that you don’t know yet, and value (as a navigational aid) will reveal itself as you go along.

As my project will also result in the agile development of a social/Mobile game, I wonder if you had thoughts on how Boulderdash would evolve if you were developing it today with the influence of Facebook and Twitter? (I guess an impossible question really, as it Boulderdash exists as a product of it’s time really) Beyond something like social hi-score tables did you ever conceive of it being multiplayer for example? Have you ever had any desire to revisit it – or games in general?

I have a vague recollection that I may have thought of multi-player Boulder Dash at one time, but as you point out it was a product of its time.  It did just fine as a one player game.

Funny you should ask about revisiting games.  From 1994 until early 2009 I worked at Alias, the company that created Maya and was acquired by Autodesk.  Since leaving that company, I’ve had the mental bandwidth to return to some of my “roots” in mathematical visualisation, generative art and gaming.  One of the projects I’ve been working on lately is a web version of my game Brain Jam, which was released as freeware in early 90’s and enjoyed some cultish popularity.  It was written back then as a learning exercise for C++ and Windows, and is being rewritten now as a way of learning web technologies.

It’s on the backburner right now, due to a contracting project, but we might be able to talk more about its process when I resume.

I guess I’m coming to the end of my questions too (sadly!), so perhaps it’s fitting then to ask about the end of the development of Boulderdash. How much time was spent on “polish” in regard to the whole development time (actually, how long was it, start to finish?) The game has always struck me as something of a labour of love as it’s so beautiful to see and hear. A good example for me is the way that the cave structure is first revealed to the player, as it flips each border tile to show dirt/boulder/firefly/diamond etc and scrolls to Rockford who finally “arrives” in the cave slightly later and gives a genuine sense of transition. 

That sense of scrolling encourages the user to explore, eagerly searching out those diamonds. Were these things that were added after the core mechanic was working, i.e. design ideas that came as a result of polishing? When did you decide it was time to stop – or did the publisher decide for you? What was your overall experience of the development and publishing relationship?

Boulder Dash took about 6 months to develop.  That would have been 2 hours of what looked like “real work” every day, along with 22 hours of what may have looked like time wasting but was probably integral to the process.  Somebody once mentioned to me that you can get an awful lot done in life with a mere hour or two a day of genuine productivity, so I guess there is hope for those of us who can’t work like machines.
 
As for polish, the mechanics of the game showed up within the first three days of the project.  You could argue that after that everything was polish.  I think that all good or great works of art need to be labours of love, because otherwise those with artistic temperament  wouldn’t stick around to give them all the polish and finish they need to go out into the world.  If an idea is worth spending six months on, it’s probably reasonably good.

So the effects that you describe – the revealing of the cave, the scrolling, were all part of polish and presentation.  The original
game had smaller tiles that all fit on one screen.  To make them more vivid, the tiles had to be bigger.  And once they were bigger, the game no longer fit on the screen, so scrolling was introduced.


I can’t really remember how it was that I decided the game was complete.  Something about works of art not being finished, only abandoned.  By the time I found a publisher, I only had a few sample caves.  It was easy enough to design enough caves for the whole game, once we decided what was enough.  But they specifically asked for a “granny cave”, which was their term for a cave that anybody, including your grandmother, could get through.  And they also wanted “intermissions”, which seemed to be popular in games at the time as rewards.  
 
So I just added some smaller puzzle caves after every four of the main caves.  I think both suggestions, especially the granny cave, enhanced the game.
 
Lastly, I loved reading your blog entry (http://www.brainjam.ca/wp/2009/11/scoring-the-boulder-dash-theme/) that had the music transcribed using a flash application.  How important to you was the music and soundfx? The soundfx is terrifically atmospheric and has a distinctive echoey and metallic effect (that could be my memory playing tricks on me)  Did you design the soundfx? 
 
I designed the music and soundfx.  They were as important to me as any other part of the game in terms of adding richness to the experience. I had some background in both music and waveform/sound synthesis, so they were a fairly natural thing for me to do, although the sound chips in those days were pretty basic.  My philosophy with music is that you take the instrument you’ve got – whether that’s a rubber band or a grand piano – and build the music around that.  So I was trying to leverage the available sound chips to making sounds that suited them.

[Transmission ends]
 

[My ‘backup’ of Boulderdash -not that I feel the need to justify myself but I did buy the original, I just used this one as I was archivist nut even back then]

How I got into this #3 Cornwall, smoke filled arcades and the Dragon’s Lair #C&VG #Dragonslair

My brother’s weak bladder, now and again, had its upsides. It was a
baking hot day in Cornwall and my parents were driving us to Tintagel
castle but not long after setting off my brother needed to stop and
use the toilet. Again. So, my father pulled into a car park on the
side of the road and we got out into a baked yellow field next to a
small cafe. I was ten and there was no gameboy, no DS to fix my
addiction. I remember sitting in the car watching those miles of
tarmac, looping around our family holidays, approach and pass
hypnotically as I dreamed about various computer and video games.

A particular theme for me and my fellow dreamers was the realisation
of ‘Arcade Quality’ games at home. This was the holy grail, Tintagel
could go fall in the sea for all I cared (I think bits of it actually
have now). What we obsessed over were those few pages in Computer and
Video Games (C&VG) which were dedicated to “Arcade Action” and their
lusty promises that next year could see a home machine capable of
producing the same adrenaline inducing highs we got from seeing those
hi-res, high-velocity games. It was unrequited and we wanted
requiting.

My mum took my brother Cris to the toilet and I left my father leaning
against our silver Escort, rolling his Golden Virginia. I wandered
over to a small outbuilding next to the cafe, probably kicking massive
clouds of red dust and huffing as I went. Stupid castle. Stupid brother.
etc.

Then I saw it. It was a new holy grail. It was a game that looked like
a cartoon. Or a cartoon that looked like a game. What was this
witchcraft? It was, of course, this:

I sprinted across the parched field back to my father leaving a plume
of dust like Roadrunner.

“Dad, I need 50p!”

As you can imagine, in 1983, 50pence was a lot of money. You could
buy a 3 bed suburban semi back then. Luckily, I think my
father just wanted to smoke his rollup in peace so there was a little
bargaining done and he flipped me a 50 pence piece – it was probably
in exchange for me not whining all the way up Tintagel’s many many
steps (seriously, it’s a crazy amount of steps). I raced back and put
the money in the bright yellow box of magic.

The introduction was incredible. I was playing a bloody movie. And
then of course my “go” ended as quickly as it started. I didn’t really
have time to work out what to do. I was just happy to bask in its mind
bending, money pinching majesty.

I walked those steps to Tintagel in monastic silence wondering what
else was possible. Anything, as it turned out. 


p.s. I’ve got the day off today and I’m taking the children to Barry Island, a place that still has amusement arcades and the place where I first remember hearing ‘that’ Star Wars game…

[update] Had a fantastic day trawling around the arcades on Barry Island, too many fruit machines these days, but still found a few gems (below)


The Simpsons, a bit knackered but still lovely.


The absolutely classic Outrun. Sadly waiting for an engineer to cheer her up.


Sega’s F-Zero AX and Ferrari F355


Bang Bang Bang


Terminator Salvation, really enjoyed this. Yeah, it’s operation wolf with some nice grainy gfx but it’s got massive riffles to point at the screen. Brilliant. 

Schoolboy marketing #1 Hovver Bovver, Espgaluda and the playground buzz #marketing

A strange paradox occurs with word of mouth marketing. Good products spread quickly through recommendations but equally, bad products, achieve the same level of (anti) recommendations. What’s interesting here is that the average products, the products that are not bad just not great, can become invisible. They idle around in the doldrums; they can’t catch the wind. Remember that Amiga game, Elf? Probably not, not because it wasn’t brilliant, it was actually pretty good but at the time there were much better ‘hyped’ games and it failed to gain “traction”. Arguably this is the job of marketing, to ensure the product does get traction. Streetfighter II on the other hand was talked about like it was a rock star, even my parents knew about it, and this prior to it being officially available . The grey imports went for anything around £100 for the Snes Japanese or US import.

This is best form of marketing for the cash strapped indie: word of mouth. This is not to fall into the trap of thinking that this is free or you can forget about product quality, you still have to get your product out and into the hands of people to talk about it. So the product needs to be good for these early adopters to think about spending their ‘social capital’ on it. Therefore you need to think carefully about how to create that buzz with the limited resources you have (some expert advice on those methods in part 2)

As a good example, yesterday I met with some old University friends for our annual meet up and we quickly started swapping game recommendations. One of which was the iPhone’s Espgaluda, an incredibly fast bullet hell shooter. My old friend Steve, who introduced me to Ikaruga years ago, eagerly fired up his iPhone to show me after I admitted I’d not heard about. After a few minutes of playing around I’d seen enough to know I’d be buying it soon enough, even at the eye watering price of £5.49 (an absurd app store relativism I’ll cover later). And now I’ve just told you about it.

This is a great form of marketing. I’m sure the marketing professionals have got a term for this sort of buzz marketing (maybe it’s buzz marketing!) It’s gold dust really as it uses your personal network and associates itself with the trust/integrity you have for the person telling you.

Perhaps video games are special in this area too as almost all of us are, by nature, early adopters, perhaps largely due to it being delivered by a technology that is rapidly changing. A good contrast would be the literary world, I love reading and I love book shops but the technology hasn’t changed in centuries and so I never feel the velocity of ground level recommendations (e.g. “have you seen God of War III, you need to get it now, it’s sick” – btw, sick, I’m led to believe is the new cool, but I could be quite wrong here as I still use the words cool and ace), this has been there since day one of the videogame industry.

This is based on a very definite sense of missing out and knowing that games, like pop music, are at their most vibrant and potent within the timely bubble of their release. They quickly attach themselves to you and become forever entwined in nostalgia. Games are also instant gratification, and their output across many genres is prolific, pop music works on the same network, perhaps even faster. It’s probably no surprise then that I also love pop music and most gamers I know are the same. Perhaps there’s something in this memory grafting relationship that’s worth exploring later.

I don’t think things haven’t changed in this respect since the early days and this is how I came to ditch my beloved Spectrum for something that I could mow the lawn with. Rewind to 1984 and my neighbour, Paul Tucker, invited me to his house to show me his new computer. It was a C64. He loaded up a new game and I was stunned to hear a symphony, a rendition of an English country garden, being belted out of this big (and ugly) grey box – my Spectrum, in comparison, was like a small box of buzzing bees. My beloved little rubber keyed wonder’s days were numbered. The legendary Jeff Minter, through my neighbour’s recommendation had notched up another sale of Hovver Bovver http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hover_Bovver and started my migration to the world of the 6502. 

By the way, and somewhat incredibly, Jeff is still developing games through his beastie inspired company Llamasoft and I’m hoping to visit Jeff and Giles soon. I believe they are working on a new iPhone game and I’m really interested to get their views on making and selling games and how that’s changed over the past 30 years. For what it’s worth, the industry and us gamers are all the richer for having them around. I mean, where else are you going to find giraffes in space? I think if you head on over to Steam you can pick up their latest shooter, Gridrunner Revolution and Space Giraffe for around a tenner – http://store.steampowered.com/sub/3014/

In the meantime, enjoy some “quintessentially British” Minter output (and you can read more about ‘Yak’ here: http://llamasoft.co.uk/yak/AHistoryofLlamasoft.pdf

Design Iterations #3 What next?

This month’s Edge magazine has an interesting article by Randy Smith
(http://www.next-gen.biz/users/randy-smith) on emergence. At the root
of his argument are using the questions “Then what happens?” or “What
else?” as drivers to extrapolate the causal chain of events in your
game design. He goes further and explains that in separating out an
event’s outcome as a communication ‘channel’ it allows the designer to
foster emergence through having your main objects be producers or
consumers of the channels.

Not sure if what I’ve written makes as much sense in words as it does
in my head (sorry, it’s early) but from my experience of working on
subscription based web2.0 and messaging APIs it makes a ton of sense. In fact, we see this sort of emergent behaviour all the time. For example, many of the creative uses for Twitter have sprung up as a direct result of this. The modern web is now a fertile ecosystem of interdependent services and events available to query via RESTful APIs or to be consumed as pushed events, most now with geolocation data tagged to it. 

Going back to my game design (which was trashed earlier this week and
is now slowly being resurrected in parts), there are a few high level objects which from the start were described in terms of the notifications they
broadcast as certain events are triggered. But Randy’s article has
opened up this mechanism for me think a lot more broadly about each object
and how it can interact with the environment to allow for emergence.

More on this later, off to London to meet some old friends for the weekend!

“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”

Indira Gandhi said that. Along with many other things, she was right.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that quote this week, with particular
thought regarding game design and my seemingly inherent, almost
subconscious, urge to use conflict as the main mechanism. It reminds
me a lot of the 3rd chapter of Darwin’s Origin of the species entitled
“The struggle for existence”:

“we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live
on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we
forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings
are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey”

So perhaps it’s natural to use these mechanisms as the basis of our
models as they largely define our existence. But evolution is a
strange fruit. The violence that bought our survival
and brought us to this point is now a burdensome creature to our
society. Perhaps the violence in games gives Mr Hyde somewhere to,
well, hide. (apologies for the awful pseuds corner guff & pun)

The debate on violence in videogames I’ll leave for smarter people
than me. I just wanted to bring it up as following on from this week’s
events (culminating in me trashing the original game design) I find
that I can’t help but feel that what I’m doing should in someway allow
the player to connect with others without conflict.

Actually more honestly, I find more and more that I want to produce
something that I can sit with children and play. Which makes this
whole project even harder 🙂

Thoughts on Marketing and Production after reading Scott Steinberg’s VIDEOGAME MARKETING AND PR

I’ve just finished reading Scott Steinberg’s great (and free) book on videogame marketing, which was recommended to me by a friendly marketing expert. I started with a little developer’s scepticism but it made a ton of sense to me. Especially coming from a background writing business tools where a lot of my time was spent in meetings outlining why we wanted certain resources for our development efforts. This is a practice that I think has great value as it forces you to evaluate your project rigorously and not let it become a folly.

I really recommend you take a look if you’re interested in the Marketing and PR of videogames – you can download it here http://www.sellmorevideogames.com

It has given me a great appreciation for the magic they weave, especially in the face of being “given” a product that they were unable to have any influence over at the design stage – i.e. a non market driven creation.  

I wanted to jot down the points that I took away from the book to help me in my re-design. These are in no particular order apart from the ones toward the top ;o)
 
1. The game should be fun and have a very simple interface. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? I could spend all day listing games that are neither of those two things.
 
2. Your title should ideally communicate your game concept (e.g. SimCity vs Mutant Fascist Spacemen: The Venus years)
 
3. You should be able to describe your game within 60 seconds or less (see above)
 
4. You should focus and communicate its unique selling points on all sales material (e.g. if it’s a tennis game why is different to other tennis games)
 
5. If you’re going to use pictures to sell the game, make them exciting (e.g. avoid pictures of a vast featureless landscapes unless, oddly, that’s your USP)
 
6. Avoid narrowing your audience if you can help it  (do you really have to rescue buxom space pixies from the evil clutches of the mighty Tharg?)
 
7. Think about what your game looks like when it’s sat along side a hundred other games vying for someone’s hard earned cash (see step 4)
 
8. Focus on what you know you can ship as opposed to a vanity project, e.g. if you know you can build a robust & polished gem puzzle game but have always wanted to do a MMORG containing FPS elements and maybe some Portal style spatial problems then it’s probably best to focus on the gem game unless you are actually made from money.
 
9. Can you fund some of the production by bringing in sponsorship
 
10. Can you increase potential sales revenues by building in a micro-transaction model that fits well with the game and doesn’t simply try to exploit the player?
 
11. Can you build virality into the game from the very start?
 
12. What price is your game going to sell at, this must be decided before development starts. Think about that for a second. Your end price and rough unit sales 
figure should give you an idea of what your budget can be (minus profit of course). Your price point should be a factor in your development costs because like it or not, you are doing this for money.
 
13. Can you buy a finished or near finished game whose core mechanic implements something similar to yours, perhaps one that’s run out of money?
 
14. Don’t release until it is ready and begin at least planning your marketing activities at least 6 months prior to this date. (This is in direct contrast to the web app world where everything is released miles before it’s ready!)

How to build software using a children’s train set

Before putting my daughter to bed we played about with her train set. I let her put it together and for a 2 year old she did a pretty good job only she doesn’t yet understand what happens if all the pieces of track don’t join up. She’s not experienced that yet. This reminded me of the design and development process. Everything needs to join up. The design. The team. The message. Everything. This takes experience.

You start out with a vision to build something which in your head looks like this:


This is happyland!

 Only when you start, what you actually see is this:

This is not happyland.

 This can be daunting, especially if someone is paying you to put it together. If this is the first time you’ve emptied the box you’ll likely get it wrong the first few times and end up like this (this is actually what Emilia put together):

This is not right. This is still not happyland.

Unless you get lucky or are, irritatingly for duffers like me, a genius, chances are you’ll learn by making mistakes. The problem is on some projects, like this one, the margin for error is tiny. Especially if you seek some funding as I think I will do.

Which means you have to re-arrange the track whilst the train is travelling around it like this:

This can be scary yet exhilarating. But usually not for the people who gave you money. They want happyland and you’ve got crazyland.

It helps if you’ve done it before or have someone who has close to hand to tell you where each part goes, as I do with my daughter, so you end up with something like this:

This is happyland.

I know, it’s a strange metaphor. 

 

Design Iterations #2: You have a wastebasket for a good reason, don’t be afraid to use it.

During the 2 hour train journey to London yesterday (for a talk by Keita Takahashi about his new playground, see previous post – http://www.uk.emb-japan.go.jp/en/event/games/invitation/100713.html)  I wrote a two page description of my game design. It’s been bubbling away over the past two weeks of sketching and prototyping, so writing about it now was a fluid and concentrated experience. There were no grey areas or rhetorical questions or placeholders; just a full description of the game mechanic which felt robust and fun. I couldn’t wait to get back and get some work done on the prototype but first I had the enjoyable distraction by way of listening to some experts on the subject. 

Everything was fine until a discussion on gaming stereotypes came up, the talk naturally shifted to Katamari and NobyNobyBoy. Neither of which rely on gender specific paradigms. They also don’t rely on a narrative to push the game along – they do have some, but you could happily play the games without them.
 
When the time came for some Q&A the room went curiously quiet so I piped up to ask if “games need a story”, I had a strong feeling that Keita didn’t think so as he’d hinted that having fun is the point and I thought that perhaps you didn’t need anymore a reason to play than that. I added an example, in that I have great fun bursting bubble (blister) wrap, it’s enjoyable and entertaining and doesn’t need a story to entice me (http://tinyurl.com/3aa96hb). The main response was mixed at first but after a bit of uhming and ahing some agreement that they do not. But they are good for framing the world your creating and that their depth will be affected by it.
 

During the train journey home afterwards I also read this book (http://www.sellmorevideogames.com/) on Videogame Marketing and PR. The book was recommended to me by a videogame marketing person who has worked on some big games such as GTA (I hope to drag him on here next as he’s currently marketing a new game) I really recommend downloading it now as it’s quite brilliant and totally free. It has some great advice on how your game and even it’s title can have a fundamental bearing on your ability to successfully market your game. It really is a great read and changed the way I thought about my game from the buyer’s point of view.
 
I had some issues about this that stemmed from my recent years working on business plans for funding pitches and this is something I can bring to the project that I think is useful. In order to successfully market my game I’m going to need some resources to do that and in order to get them I’m going to have get some money from people. The problem with asking people for money is that they usually want it back at some point. They also, rather annoyingly, want to know what they’re putting their money into and selling them on the concept of GlobalHyperMegaTechWars ZombieDomination a text based space opera was always going to be tricky.
 
So I then did this to my first design. It feels the right thing to do. Some of it can be used through the next iteration 🙂
 

How got I into this # 2 (notes after meeting a Wizard, written in a Paddington pub, waiting for my train back to Cardiff)

 

I have a 2 year old girl and 3 month old boy. Cliche coming up. I am amazed how quickly they learn and how much fun they have every single day. The whole use of a day for my daughter Emilia is just have fun with it. She wakes, she laughs, she sleeps, she laughs, she builds a tower, pushes it over and laughs. This makes me laugh. A lot.
 
Sadly, writing business tools does not make me laugh.  So another part of my reason for doing this project is also to create something that affords me more time with my children and allows me to explore their fun and development with them. They also remind me why magic isn’t redundant simply because it’s not real. That’s how I feel about video games.
 
I was reminded of this fact tonight as I attended a panel discussion on Video Games at the Japanese Embassy in London.  Keita Takahashi, the creator of Katamari Damacy, kindly invited me along after I’d brazenly started emailing him about this absurd project of mine and along with some quite crazy questions. The panel included Mark Stephenson from MediaMolecule (LittleBigPlanet) and Martin Hollis (Goldeneye) who were terrifically open about their experiences.
 
The evening was chaired by the brilliantly witty Iain Simons who, by complete coincidence, I had corresponded with a few years ago when I was building a CRM & project management web application (yawn). What followed was an unexpected contradiction that jarred me from the beautifully traditional surroundings of the embassy. As Keita began his presentation it became clear that he was slightly irreverent and quite a comic. It makes sense if you’ve ever found yourself laughing at the King and Prince’s dialogues. 
 
He gave the funniest, most engaging Powerpoint presentation I’ve ever seen and over the years I’ve seen a lot. It all stemmed from his obvious desire for you to enjoy what he is doing, whether that be designing a game, architecting a children’s playground in Nottingham [ref] or sculpture (he studied Fine Art and Sculpture at University). He also has a huge talent for compressing noise down to a signal that’s so clear and infused with the absurd it’s hilarious. 
 
For example, when Iain asked the panel if they could have any job description on their business card, trying to tease out their more grand visions, Keita’s response, after suitably smart answers by the other panel members, was “Just my name would be fine.” The room erupted with laughter. 
 
I’ll end by repeating the previous point which Keita reminded me of, that the point of games, maybe the goal of the people that make them is that they want you to have fun and they want you to enjoy the exploration of that experience. Some smarter people than me might offer that this is the same sort of environment that children use to learn and develop new skills and ideas. I’m sure they’ll be along at some point to carry that on,  I’m off to catch my train back to Cardiff. 
 
Night.
 
p.s. I’ve just remembered I rather rashly spoke to Iain about launching an early alpha of my game at the Nottingham GameCity festival in October. More on the likelihood of that in the morning.