Edinburgh Interactive Festival 2010

Edinburgh: It’s an awesome city. Home to cultural figureheads such as Robert Louis Stevenson, J.K. Rowling and Irvine Welsh, alongside Rockstar North, one of videogaming’s most prolific games companies, the capital city of Scotland has long since been known as a cultural hotspot. There are loads of places to visits in locations made famous by films such as Trainspotting, which include tonnes of shops on the high street, a multitude of galleries, museums and libraries to visit, the famous castle to scope out (or perhaps catch a gig at), a science centre to boost your intellect and also a fantastic zoo where, if you’re lucky, you may witness a Penguin Parade, perhaps one of the greatest spectacles on the planet.

Yay, penguins!

Scotland’s second largest city is also home to the Edinburgh International Festival. Part of the International Festival, the city becomes the hub of culture and entertainment for the entire country for the month of August. Every form of recreation – theatre, music, comedy, you name it – is represented, with aspects of interactive entertainment being (surprisingly) served by the Edinburgh Interactive Festival.

A relatively recent creation, EIF invites speakers from a number of influential media organisations to discuss issues involving all aspects of interactive entertainment. Speakers this year came from companies such as Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, Square Enix Europe and Microsoft. This year’s conference seemed like one of the best yet, with the opportunity to try out the much vaunted Kinect and PlayStation Move motion controllers, only sweetening the deal.

If there’s one bad thing about Edinburgh, though, it’s that I don’t live there, meaning I need to rely on the Scotrail train services to get me through to the capital and back. Due to points on the line failure and a heavily-revised timetable littered with cancelled services, getting through to the city turned from a simple journey into a stressful nightmare that had me running all over the city centre of Glasgow.

After four trains and more than an hour’s delay, I eventually made it through in time for the first speaker, sneaking into the auditorium just as the introduction by Chris Deering, chairman of Edinburgh Interactive, was being wrapped up. I plonked myself down in my seat as Ray Maguire, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, began to discuss the past, present and future of 3D viewing devices.

Maguire discussed how 3D imaging has always been a popular idea, being first experimented with in 1855 for the kinetoscope, an early stereo animation device. Since then, film makers have utilised different forms of 3D imaging with varying degrees of success. While it may have been regarded as a fad due to such attempts, developing technology is making effective and immersive 3D, both in and outside of the home, a reality.

After a rather in-depth and brain-bending explanation of how 3D technology works akin to a university lecture (see Appendix), we were told that Sony had the power, technology and resources to effectively explore and implement effective and immersive 3D visuals in a variety of media, including film, television and videogames, highlighted by a video explaining how Resident Evil Afterlife, the upcoming film mish-mashing elements of all the games and movies together, would use the technology to enhance the experience, although its use of 3D only looked like a gimmick to sell a frankly mediocre and underwhelming-looking movie.

Maguire stated that as a result of Sony’s commitment to videogames, every PS3 will be updated with firmware that allows users to experience their content in a new and exciting way. Titles such as Motorstorm, Wipeout HD, LittleBigPlanet and Gran Turismo 5 would be made even better with 3D, offering the player ‘an enhanced sense of speed and depth’, ‘a greater sense of scale’, a greater amount of visual clues to process information more quickly and, of course, the much vaunted ‘greater immersion’.

The idea that the player would experience a sense of vertigo while playing certain games in 3D was bandied about rather heavily. The question is, would gamers want to feel such a thing while playing in their living rooms at home?

Killzone 3: looking to make you feel sick in the near future.

Even if you did want to experience such a feeling, the barriers of entry are exceedingly high (or at least they are for the moment). With a basic television setting you back about £1800 and the required pairs of glasses weighing in at around £100 each, you’re gonna need a lot of money (and possibly also a hell of a lot more convincing) if you want to become an early adopter. As luck would have it, Sony had brought along a massive lorry to showcase their 3D tech and also demo PlayStation Move, which Dan and I got a shot of later that day.

The second talk of the day came from Sean Dromgoole, CEO of Some Research & Game Vision, and focused on the importance of videogames in peoples’ lives. He argued that games are art as they fit the definition in that they enrich peoples’ lives and inspire them to achieve greater things, while refuting the claim that ‘games are a service, not a product’, stating it is instead a spectrum in which players of any kind can fall into. Boys may prefer Call of Duty and girls Wii Sports (in general, at least), but it doesn’t matter where we fit into it, just as long as we’re playing something. Games act as anchors for memories both good and bad, causing the emotions that they trigger as a result can be hugely potent.

For the final talk before lunch, Avista Partner’s Managing Director Paul Heydon gave us examples of the fastest growing games companies in the industry, mentioning companies such as Harmonix and Playfish before explaining the innovative business practices these organisations utilised to reach such levels of wealth and success so quickly. Those who like lots of facts and figures, his full presentation can be accessed here.

Dan and I then had a chat with Rare’s Nick Burton and Jerry Johnson, general manager of Xbox Live Europe about Kinect on the run up to its release before having a cheeky play with it.

Once we were suitably puffed out, we checked out Sony’s aforementioned big lorry to test out whether 3D in the home was worth it. Having been touted that such technology would greatly enhance the immersion of titles such as Gran Turismo 5 and Killzone 3, it was disappointing to discover that that wasn’t necessarily true. While each title did look impressive, the enhanced visuals were a far cry from the revolution in videogaming that Sony had been claiming. Perhaps it will become more essential as the technology is developed further and refine, but for the moment it seems more a gimmick than a necessity.

Also rather underwhelming were our impressions after having a short hands-on with Playstation Move. After discovering that (perhaps getting a little too excited about) the sphere on top of the controller was squidgy as opposed to solid, we had a go on two of the technology’s launch titles, Start The Party and Sports Champions.


Start The Party had us trying out a bug-thwacking minigame, the objective being to bash as many insects as possible in the allotted timeframe with an old wooden tennis racquet mapped to the Move controller. While the bright and colourful visuals of the title were visually appealing and the translation of kinetic movement to on-screen interaction impressively seamless, it was hard to shake the feeling that we had seen and done it all before on the Eye Toy all those years ago. Sports Champions, on which we tried archery, was admittedly fun and responsive, but it’s difficult to get too enthused about a concept that has been utilised before time and time again.

That being said, however, it was still more fun than the existing Wii technology. The paltry Nintendo offering at the festival, which previewed games such as Metroid: Other M and Sin and Punishment, only served to highlight how inaccurate and archaic the once-revolutionary motion-control hardware actually is.

Ready, set, RUN ON THE SPOT!

The final speech we caught that night was Nick Burton demoing Kinect to a larger audience. After a brief history of Rare’s past operations and output, he picked some eager volunteers from the audience to demonstrate a number of game modes (or as many as the stages rickety rostrum would permit, at least). While the audience had a good chuckle at those on stage, Burton told us that with a new of playing came a new way of thinking, which explained why they chose a sports game as their debut Kinect title: the gameplay mechanics had to be so simple that anyone could play. Anyone.

As a result, people of any age, physiology and fitness level can play and maintain a chance of winning over more sprightly competitors thanks to the advanced scanning and recognition technology Kinect offers. The fact that they analysed several sports and distilled the essence of each into only its purest, most entertaining elements only serves to increase the ease of access and satisfaction involved with each game mode. Don’t quote us on this one, but we may have also captured a glimpse of a new, sleeker Xbox dashboard.

The last demonstration of the night meant that we finished the first day of the festival more excited for Kinect’s launch than we had before.

Departing Glasgow later in the morning the next day may have meant I missed the morning rush on the train, but it also meant I arrived too late to hear Michiel Bakker announce the start-up of Ginx TV, the UK’s first television channel dedicated solely to videogaming. After Gamestreamer’s Chris Anderson discussed the current state of digital distribution and shared his thoughts on trends that will shape the retail landscape in coming years, Gamesbrief’s Nicholas Lovell kicked off a rather interesting talk entitled ‘Whales, Power-Laws and the Future of the Media Industry’.

It makes sense in context.

The main brunt of his discussion concentrated on what he called ‘whales’, i.e. the players that most influence and affect a games company’s revenue. After a simple economics lesson, we were told that developers and publishers were going about gaining income from downloadable content the wrong way: rather than asking a large number of players to pay a little, they should be asking for large amounts of money from their small number of diehard fans. Consumers pay for downloadable content for a number of reasons, such as to stand out from the crowd, fit in with other players and build friendships, so developers should create content that offers these benefits that will appeal to their most loyal fans. Most importantly, though, they should be willing to experiment with different business models and to have fun while they do so.

The last talk I caught was given by Margaret Robertson, Development Director of Hide&Seek. In it, she discussed how games change many aspects of gamers’ lives, such as creating strong social bonds, enhancing players’ vocabularies and intellect and changing our physical selves, such as playing Halo: Combat Evolved with what she termed ‘the claw’, a technique that many fans of the franchise will (perhaps morosely) remember. By highlighting examples from titles including Fallout 3, Fable 2, Geometry Wars and Ikaruga, she explained how games develop a player’s reflection, competence, relatedness, agency and persistence when dealing with events in both the real and virtual world.

Winter Games

Afterwards, I hopped out to catch a train home so I could beat the festival rush home. I didn’t fancy impersonating a sardine on the journey back.

The Edinburgh Interactive Festival remains one of the highlights of the summer, managing to improve in quality with each consecutive year. If this pattern continues, then next year’s event will be just as interesting and indisposable as this year’s. Roll on 2011.

Appendix: There are three types of 3D viewing technologies: anaglyph, polarised and shutter technology. Anaglyph glasses are the most well-known, utilising blue and red glasses in order to fool the brain into seeing an image in three dimensions; Polarised lenses trick the brain into thinking an image is 3D by restricting the amount of light that enters through each eye either through linear or circular polarisation of light while shutter technology constantly changes the image each eye is seeing in such a way that the viewer does not experience any flicker.

In order to create convincing and realistic 3D visuals, we must first understand how our eyes perceive such images. Defined as ‘an apparent displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight’, parallax is the stereoscopic concept by which ocular signals sent by the eyes to the brain tricks a viewer into seeing a visual two-dimensional source as a three-dimensional image. There are three types of parallax: positive, negative and zero. Positive parallax causes the viewers’ eyes to diverge, making objects appear further away, negative parallax causes them to converge, making objects appear closer and oops my brain exploded.







6 responses to “Edinburgh Interactive Festival 2010”

  1. Mark P avatar

    I saw penguins and this became the best article ever. Just off to read everything else underneath the penguins. 😀

  2. Celeste avatar

    What an event to cover for your first Ready Up contribution! That’s gotta deserve a pat on the back.

    Sounds like there were some great topics covered. I would like to have listened to both Margaret Robertson’s and Sean Dromgoole’s talks, and had a play with the 3D TVs. It makes me sorry that I couldn’t make, but I’ll definitely be there next year. Make sure you’re not late this time. 😉

  3. furyac3 avatar

    Ye this years event was the best its been for sometime very enjoyable ! Oooo and see you’s got quoted on the Rare Blog ! along with others ( me) lol


  4. Dean avatar

    I love Edinburgh and studied my masters there. Wonderful city. I went to EIFF last year and previewed Arkham Asylum and Eye Pet, which was cool. I have to say i’m more excited by Move than Kinect, partly for the squidgy ball, but mainly because they seem to have some games on the way that look more interesting than the raft of Wii mini-game clones Microsoft are banking on. The Sorcery one looks cool – can’t remember what its called.

  5. Michael avatar

    @Markie Everything’s better with penguins. 😀

    @Cel Yeah, bit of a baptism by fire, eh?

    You should defo try and make it through next year. EIF is always interesting.
    Will do. I’m taking the bus and avoiding the train next time. 😉

    @furyac3 It’s the best I’ve been to so far. Some great talks with demonstrations of intriguing technology are always welcome. 😀

    While Dan and I both had a shot of Kinect, it was Dan that posted that tweet, so he’s the only one credited with it. 😛
    It’s damn fun, though.

    @Dean Edinburgh’s an amazing city. I was actually gonna go to uni there, but my course got cancelled and so I’m staying in Glasgow now.
    I tried Batman and Mini Ninjas, only got to see a demo of Eye Pet. I remember entering into a Guitar Hero competition and the hosts were amazed at how well my pal Dave and I were doing on Medium.

    The opposite’s true for me: while I am entranced by the squiginess of the Move ball, Kinect feels more intuitive to me.
    That being said, I can see where you’re coming from: the majority of titles for both consoles just seem to be rip-offs of exisiting Wii titles. It’ll be interesting to see which console finds the most innovative way to use its respective technology.

  6. […] Posted in Features,Games,Games Features by Michael Slevin on September 2, 2010 Tags: 3D, Edinburgh, Features, Games, Gran Turismo 5, Interactive Festival, Killzone 3, Kinect, Parallax, Penguins, PlayStation Move, Rare, Whales, Xbox 360 Originally posted on Ready Up on 31st August 2010. […]

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