Over the last three years, Melbourne International Games Week (MIGW) has grown into a major event on the global calendar featuring an impressive line up of local and international interactive experts across multiple events.
Unite 2017, Unity’s one day conference showcased the latest developments of the Unity game engine and included many sessions on XR production and real-time storytelling. In collaboration with film-makers like Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book, The Lion King) and Neil Blomkampf (Adam: The Mirror, Adam: The Prophet) Unity is investing heavily in real-time filmmaking. New cinematics features like Timeline and the procedural camera toolkit cinemachine aimed at realtime cinematics and virtual production.
GCAP (Game Connect Asia Pacific) hosted its 12th annual game development conference and for the 2nd year running, a separate event GCAP Loading aimed at students and early career folk. The Australian video games industry suffered in the wake of the GFC, resulting in the closure of many studios and the loss of outsourcing work that had been a traditional source of revenue. With over 1200 participants and over 90 sessions GCAP 2017 showcased a more self-reliant era for Australian games. Many veterans of the last generation studios now run their own tighter leaner operations that produce smaller profitable titles.
Supported by Creative Victoria and Film Victoria in the last couple of years, MIGW has not only helped Melbourne establish itself as a games hub but as somewhat of an exemplar for the media industry as a whole. Without the tax offsets available to film and TV productions and little by way of public funding for development, Australian developers need to be highly entrepreneurial to stay in the game. The games on display during MIGW covered the full spectrum from personal free projects through to major publisher releases. Beyond entertainment, the use of game mechanics in other areas remains in its infancy, but so-called “serious games” are here to stay. Australia’s first Bachelor of Serious Games degree launched in 2016 at University of the Sunshine Coast with graduates now moving out into sectors such as disability services.
At the 2017 Australian Developer Awards held at the end of GCAP, a serious game shared the nod for “Game of the Year”. Earthlight: Arcade by Opaque Space is a VR spaceflight simulator of the International Space Station built in collaboration with NASA. Hand of Fate 2 by Defiant Development is a unique hybrid of action Role Playing Game (RPG) and card game.
It is only a few years after the ‘Gamergate’ movement, the Australian game community at least has matured and diversified. The #Gamergate controversy brought international awareness of online harassment and hate campaigns within game communities.
Ethnic diversity remains an issue but the sex and gender diversity of the professionals at GCAP was impressive, suggesting a healthy future for Australian games as a medium for all. At a Women in Games lunch hosted by Film Victoria over 100 women from studios across the country gathered to celebrate their growing role in the industry.
The Parallels: Freeplay 2017 Showcase highlighted Australia’s independent games scene. The 11 titles shown at Parallels demonstrated the incredibly variety and artistic scope within games from the deeply personal – an interactive queer comic It Will be Hard to the charmingly original Untitled Goose Game which you play “as a horrible goose on a lovely weekday morning in the village.”
The week wrapped up with PAX Australia (Penny Arcade Expo) – a three day public showcase for publishers, developers and gamers. Upcoming AAA titles shared the Melbourne Convention Centre floor with indie titles featured in PAX Rising and the PAX Aus Indie Showcase. Melbourne studio Paper House’s iOS title Paperbark had you playing a wombat moving through the Aussie bush. At the other end of the spectrum the Sony Playstation booth provided a playable chapter of Quantic Dream’s upcoming Detroit: Become Human. The Paris studio’s fifth title continues its exploration of “interactive film”. In the PAX demo, a detective mode inspired by Blade Runner and the Arkham Batman games brought a cinematic 20 minute hostage negotiation scenario to life.
Away from the crowds, the Horizon Zero Dawn art gallery exhibited prints of screenshots captured in-game and submitted by players using the game’s Photo Mode feature. For those who paused to take in this understated collection of abstract shots and obscure moments, this perhaps more than anything else during MIGW, captured the imaginative possibility game space.