GCA 2009 – “Hacking” Our Way Into Games Convention Asia, Lol

OK, they got my name wrong ... lol ... sort of.

I didn’t wake up on a Thursday morning thinking that I would attend an exhibition.  “GCA” sounded familiar.  As though I have been to such an event before.  I did some checking on my website and guess what?  One year ago, on this day, I was wearing the media pass for this event, invited by Nokia!  It’s been a year already?  And neither did I wake up on a Thursday morning thinking that I would wear a professional visitor pass, acting as my good friend’s assistance for a day.

This morning, a text message arrived at my phone.  My friend wanted to meet up at SunTech for a meal before heading to an exhibition.  Fine by me.  “What are we going to do at an exhibition?” I texted.  “I will tell you later,” she texted back.

As I made my way to the convention center, there she was, looking absolutely stunning , and professional too.  Fashionable long dress and jacket, with a Prada handbag to match.  Her job title is “Head of Regional Sales”.  Not long ago, we were peers, same company, same team.  I really ought to catch up on my career progression.  And I am happy for her.  Sales type of work suits her better than my 9 to 5.

It seemed like her first time here in this kind of exhibition.  Feeling excited and all.  It was definitely my first time in this kind of exhibition, without a media pass.  I too felt excited because … oh well, computer gaming is in my blood.  GCA is primary for the business partners to meet.  Nokia doesn’t seem to participate this year.  I wonder why.

With confidence, my friend headed to the registration counter to get the professional visitor pass.  I doubt if anyone would say no to my very pleasant looking friend, together with her equally pleasant name card.  I played along when it came to my turn and said with a smile, “She is my boss and I am her assistant, today!”  The young chap seemed amused and he didn’t say no to me neither.  Hooray!  I played a good assistance, helped my ‘boss’ to sign in, and …

… Oops.  I bumped onto a few journalist friends from the media.  One of them asked, “What are you doing here?”  And I said, “I am with my boss, on a mission!”  “But you are usually the main guy!  Where is your camera?” he asked.  “Not today!  Ha ha ha, I will see you around,” I waved goodbye.  My media friends seem to remember me by my camera.  How strange!

Upon receiving our passes, my friend suddenly turned professional, looked at me and said, “Since you are my assistant today, tell me what’s our game plan?”  Hmmm.  I put on my consultant hat, pulled out the program guide and said, “If I guess your intend right, we should check out the business exhibitors first and gather some contacts.  After which, we could head over to the consumer side as it is usually more fun.  As for the conferences, we can think of that later.”

Of all the business exhibitors, I enjoyed chatting with the folks from Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.  It is a collaboration between MIT and Singapore.  I asked if it is the MIT and the students said yes.  Amazing.  One Western lady is currently studying computing and mathematics in MIT.  We had a friendly chat.  And I had also chatted with some of the Asian students in order for me to understand what it takes to build an Indie computer game prototype.  It is often a 10 weeks or so project with up to 10 team members taking on the roles of producer, game designer, graphic designer, and etc.  The passion these students has was infectious.  I could feel it immediately.  If you have time, check out GAMBIT’s official site.  Before I left the booth, I asked one last question, “Have you considered joining Blizzard?”  For those who are new to the gaming industry, I think Blizzard at present is the place to be at.  “Funny you asked that,” he continued, “as I have considered working with Blizzard before.  But I prefer to work in an Indie environment instead.”  Good answer.  And I wish them all the best in their studies.

Moving on to the consumer side, it did have the bells and whistles, big monitors and girls in sexy outfits to make people go wow.  OK, my friend was as excited as me, for slightly different reason.  Taking the center stage was none other than the Xbox 360 game “Forza Motorsports 3”.  If only those were Formula One cars, that would have been perfect – for me.  There was a costume shop that showcased a life size Thrall (a famous dude from the online game World of Warcraft who gets murdered globally perhaps a hundred times a day) and Ironman.  The Counter Strike costume worn by a group of real life male models was just so hilarious.

After we have covered both the business and consumer sides, the only agenda item left for us – or rather her – to visit is the conference.  Since we are not from the media, we have to pay S$700+ per person.  Uh huh.  OK, somewhere somehow, we have got to …

… my friend pressed on insisting that her company is sort of like a media company.  Hmmm, really?!  I guess we could see it that way.  The young chap got a bit lost, politely asking us to wait while he was going to get his boss.  Uh oh.  I swear I was about to pull my “new media” trick telling them I am running a rather, ahem, popular website in Singapore if we got ourselves into an embarrassing situation.

No need for that because his boss was not around.  We left the convention center, went our separate ways.  One hour later, I received a phone call.

“Guess what?!  They have called and issued us a media pass!  Do you wanna …”

She got the media pass?  Again, who can say no to her?

PS. Below are some of the processed photos I have taken during my adventure.  I didn’t bring my Nikon D700 with me and have used my Nokia N97 instead.

Eyewitness: Upcoming N-Gage Hits ONE and Spore Origins at GCA 2008!

So I was invited to attend the Games Convention Asia and get to N-Gage with the inspiring people behind the gaming industry.  OK.  I will let the professional journalists to cover the media buzz and future road-maps.  What I wish to share with you here is a more personal coverage of their passion and my hands-on experience with the upcoming Nokia N-Gage games ONE and Spore.

Last week, I did a coverage of the PC version of Spore.  It is a great game, no doubt.  And I heard that this smash hit may be ported to other gaming platforms.  Here I am, this very evening, playing Spore Origins with a Nokia phone.  Too bad, I failed to distract the Nokia girl (more like the other way round) and my evil plan of sneaking out with one of their phones didn’t turn out as planned.  Nevertheless, I tried out the game briefly and it was cute, simple, yet fun.  Very much like the 1st phase of the PC version.  N-Gage has retained the customization features too (middle picture above).  The only thing missing is that in the PC version, you perform a “mating call” in order to level up.  I almost wanted to turn to this lovely Nokia girl besides me and asked how do I …

So I was introduced to Ralph Lämmche, the Senior Games Producer from Helsinki.  Ralph is such a fun guy, full of passion, and when he was demonstrating ONE (an upcoming fighting game), he was so much animated.  Ralph showed us the special 3D moves created using the motion capture technique, the customization available, how the world ranking works, and the technical challenges of implementing a game using a phone – all from the perspective of a game developer.  I asked how long it typically takes to develop a game and he said 18 months; I asked how long it took to capture the motion and he said a week; I asked what the budget was to develop ONE and he said … OK, I am not sure if that is a public information so …

I met Dan Scott too.  Dan is best known as the producer and creative director for Snakes, an updated version of the classic Nokia game and he overseas a portfolio of the N-Gage games.  Dan flew in from Canada and he does have this look of immense intelligence.  I asked how he creates games (because I did too as a hobby when I was young) and he took me on a journey of how ideas can strike us from anywhere, how he always have the audience in mind, the iterations of development and he may end up with something completely different from what was being conceptualized – for good reasons.

I asked if it is now easier or tougher for the new generation of game designers and developers (due to the leap of technology).  He said in a way it is easier because of the training available.  But in a way harder as in the old days, people from different disciplines could enter the industry, so long as you are good.  Truly inspiring.  I asked what are his all time favorite games.  He took a moment and replied Dungeon & Dragon games (old school, me too!) as well as the classic first person shooters such as Half Life and Doom (OK, I suck at those).  Which game does he look forward to the most?  Starcraft II.  Me too!

Check this out.  Dan always finishes a computer game (and he studied Robotics).  Gosh!

A lovely evening, certainly an eye opener for an avid gamer of decades years.  I hope you enjoy reading this and if you have a chance, do check out these upcoming N-Gage titles.