One of the many smaller losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is the loss of physical games conventions. The numerous flashy booths constructed from pure marketing power, the fun conversations with tired indie devs on the final day, the overpriced snacks on the convention floor. I suppose there’s some cool games as well.
Don’t worry though, as EGX teamed up with PAX to host PAX Online x EGX Digital, full of demos of great games that have made the rounds at the shows (Go look up PHOGS!) However, as wonderful a selection of playable games there were which can still be checked out here, this is an appraisal of the numerous panels hosted over the weekends by journalists and developers in the games industry. As the convention winds down and the virtual booths are packed up, let’s recount some of the informative and interesting talks to give you a flavour of the convention.
Hosted by: Goldie Bartlett (Wayward Strand), Xalavier Nelson Jr. (Hypnospace Outlaw), Mel Phillips (Silver Rain Games), Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou (Röki)
Starting on the more artistic front is an intriguing panel on storytelling in the games medium and the tools available for developers in the space to tell stories in invigorating ways from four developers working on story games in the medium in varying genres. The panel was an excellent collection of stories and thoughts on the differing ways of telling stories within the medium.
The discussion here was brilliant at illustrating the role of the narrative designer in gaming development and how the role can cause numerous knock-on effects in production. After all, simple decisions when putting together a story, such as how dialogue is presented or key items in the narrative, have to be practically and technically feasible for developers to actually implement them. The panel also features the discussion of games from past and present that have used innovative methods of delivering story to the player through the environment or via items. Fans of series like Dark Souls will know about this and would have really appreciated the discussion here.
The Infinite Storytelling Engine of Professional Wrestling
Hosted by: Matt Cross (Pro Wrestler), Jennifer Scheurle (ArenaNet), Anthony DiMento (God of War, Rise of the Tomb Raider), Rob Giusti (Rec Room), Andrew Witts (Halo: Infinite), Samantha Wallschlaeger (Star Wars: The Old Republic)
This is a bit of a biased pick for me given my love of professional wrestling and the world of soap opera sports. Ask me about Sami Zayn vs Adrian Neville and I’ll go on an hour-long tangent on the subject. Regardless, this panel appealed to wrestling and non-wrestling fans alike with a mix of hosts from wrestling and gaming respectively.
The bulk of the discussion was a dive into the psychology and construction of a wrestling match, the periods of a match and their purpose, as well as its placement in an overarching story. It provided an in-depth look at how wrestling is built around characters telling long-term stories and what games can learn from the sport. An especially strong topic was how the long-term feuds between wrestlers over the course of months to result in big matches and developments in stories can be equated to the challenges of developing stories in MMOs, which are constantly ongoing and expanding with content updates and expansions as well as using Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system as a similar equivalent to the unique encounters between wrestlers.
Hopefully, games take even more inspiration from my favourite endless spectacle of suplexes and introduce flaming tables and Undertakers immediately.
Horror Games & Anxiety
Hosted by: Dr Sachin Shah, Dr Donald Servant, Dr Hamilton Morrin
For many people, the horror genre is one that has brought about some of the most visceral gaming experiences over the last 20 years. Classic franchises like Dead Space and Resident Evil and more recent entries such as Alien: Isolation and The Evil Within are keeping the genre as reliable as ever. This panel looked at all those and more with a more psychological perspective.
Luckily, we had three excellent minds who themselves were experts on minds for a more-than-qualified view. This was one of the most purely artistic and abstract panels which had a great progression, starting with the basics of horror through its origins in cautionary tales and developing to discuss how games try to shift players away from their instinctual inhibitions and forcing them to confront the horrors being presented.
Furthermore, there was a great selection of games to discuss to highlight the mechanics and tricks that developers have employed over the years, whether it be Resident Evil’s opening door cutscene or Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s own manual opening of doorways, to the evolving behaviour of the Xenomorph in Alien: Isolation, there’s plenty of examples dissected here and worth your time here. The panel is also available to rewatch on the EGX YouTube channel.
Unionising the Games & Tech Industries
Hosted by: Karri Lybeck (Uniglobal), Mike Saunders (Prospect), Magnus Gerentz (Unionen), Wes McEnany (CODE-CWA), Amy Moran (FSU), Emma Kinema (CODE-CWA)
One of the more topical panels, this was an excellent discussion into one of the more prevalent movements in technology. Trade union representation is seeing growth in this sector, a mere cursory glance finds examples such as Kickstarter’s employees voting to form a union earlier this year and even growing movements in the gaming industry such as Game Workers Unite!
Representatives from numerous organisations took part in this panel, all working in differing parts of the world which gave numerous perspectives. Some more general discussion included talk on the rise of trade unions in recent years, what people want from them as well as the numerous issues that trade unions face and look to solve, including topics of pay transparency and equality, worker burnout (an important point in the video game industry which constantly crunches workers) and even the current difficulties of organising around the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aforementioned varying nationalities also allowed for discussion on the differing labour practices and labour laws that countries have and the cultural and historical factors that differentiate starting a labour union in the US compared to nations like Sweden or the UK. Whatever your opinion on trade unions, it’s a great insight into the challenges and what trade unions seek to achieve in tech.
How Xbox Series S Changes the Race Against PS5 – A Digital Foundry X Eurogamer Discussion
Hosted by: Oli Welsh (Eurogamer) & Richard Leadbitter (Digital Foundry)
Speaking of topical discussion, few are as loud, constant and as massive as the oncoming new console generation. Microsoft and Sony have both offered numerous different strategies and games for those looking to invest, but with Microsoft offering the cheaper but graphically weaker Xbox Series S as well, one wonders how the consoles are stacking up against each other and how they could each affect the next generation.
Alas, Digital Foundry and Eurogamer are here to solve the needs of the many!
Oli Welsh and Richard Leadbitter led a wide-ranging discussion into why the Xbox Series S has come about, comparing the overall strategies taken by Sony and Microsoft as they progress into the next generation and the relative strengths of all the platforms from both a technical and practical front. In this included tasty nuggets on how developers are finding development for the new tech and the general excitement felt by devs on having new shiny toys to play with. It was a wonderfully insightful talk that showcased why the new consoles are worth getting excited over.
For those looking for a mix of insightful technical discussion on the upcoming consoles mixed in with a forecast on how the consoles could work as the next generation itself progresses, it’s worth watching for yourself on the EGX YouTube channel.
Maestros and Sirens of Video Game Music
Hosted by: Gareth Coker & Aeralie Brighton (Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori and the Will of the Wisps), Joris De Man & Julie Elven (Horizon Zero Dawn, Horizon Forbidden West), Inor Zur & Mimi Page (Fallout 4, Fallout 4: Far Harbor), Moderated by Adele Cutting (Soundcuts)
Back to the more artistic talks. As you can tell from reading the portfolio of those above, the panel was full of incredible musical mastery all having wonderful discussions on curating the soundtracks to these games and finding the voices that became synonymous with classic tracks such as Aloy’s Theme and Lost In The Storm.
The panel, due to its excellent mix of composers and vocalists, had a wide range of musical musings. On the composition side, there were lively insights into the process of developing leitmotifs and themes to illustrate characters musically, as well as the choice of instrumentation and finding the vocalists based on aspects such as the vocalist’s timbre and even the difficulties in scoring a sequel, were full of artful thinking and discerning talk on those subjects. For the vocalists, they shared plenty of stories and talked about their involvement in the process, working with the composers and how they supplied their own individuality to the soundtracks of the respective titles.
It was an eloquent, endearing and fascinating look into the partnerships that form through the video game music industry and is also available for rewatch on the EGX YouTube channel.
Shocking Tales of Game Dev! The Funny, Scary & Truly Bizarre
Hosted by: Joe Mirabello (Terrible Posture Games), Victoria Tran (KitFox Games), Rami Ismail (Vlambeer), Jacob Burgess (Ysbyrd Games), Dave Oshrey (New Blood)
To end with, a lovely light-hearted panel from numerous game devs on their experiences and stories from working in the industry. After all, the games industry is vast, full of talented people from numerous walks of life and with that comes all sorts of odd interactions, strange workplace shenanigans and in-person convention fiascos.
This is easily the most laid back and chilled panel on this list, but it provided plenty of laughs at stories such as stories of receiving weird pitches at conventions as well as numerous other humorous tales, the highlights being:
- Accidentally uploading the source code of an entire game upon release
- Having an awkward first-time meeting with Xbox chief Phil Spencer
- Receiving very direct requests to publish random games at conventions.
Fair to say the games industry is a mad one at the best of times.
For those interested in catching the panels that are available to rewatch on YouTube, check out the EGX YouTube channel here.
Words by Alex Green
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