Flash on the Beach 2010 – This guy’s experience.

I’m writing this on the train home from Flash on the Beach. I should probably be coding a game like I did on the way to the conference, but I’m finding that after sensory overload from 3 days of sessions, a few late nights and the terror of doing two(!) sessions on stage, my brain is unable to do code right now.

My main session seemed to go very well, although I’m gutted for all the people who couldn’t get in because it was so packed. The demos from the session are already available at DullDudeGames.com/game-designer and I’m going to add a transcript of what I said and my slides very shortly. If you were an attendee there should be a video at some point, although I didn’t see any cameras so maybe it’s just a screen cast or something. It was my first full session at a big conference, and definitely an item ticked on my bucket list. I’m mega grateful to conference organiser John Davey for putting me up there, and Pokemon Trainer Seb-Lee Delisle for being my hype-man for the last 2 years. Without Seb, probably nobody would know who I am. He’s also a bloody ruddy nice bloke.

As happens at every talk I give (will they never learn!), some people asked me afterwards if I would share the source code from my talk. The demos are built on my work-in-progress game engine, so I can’t share the source to the games without also including the game-engine, which for business reasons I am not able to do, although a big chunk of it is already open-sourced in my Gamepad library.

The funny thing about geeks is, even when I do a session about design – purely the creative decision making side of games – geeks still just want to look under the hood! The main feedback was that people wanted to know the maths for the car handling physics, so I’m going to turn that into a tutorial and post that here on my blog. Also, if you’re more into the wizard stuff, I have the full source for a different Zelda-style wizard game that I made a while ago, that I am going to give away here too.

Slightly weirder was my last minute addition to the “jam throwdown” on the terrifying main stage. I was only asked to do it the night before, and had planned to show my complete greatest hits from the last 11 years of my work. Not having a chance to rehearse, I didn’t know that this was actually impossible, so what the attendees got was about the first 5 years, which was loads of terrible, daft lo-fi experimental Flash stuff and a few games. It seemed like people got the joke, but I did have a small bout of paranoia that everyone hated me straight after. Do not underestimate the social paranoia appearing at conferences can give you! I have had some nice feedback about the slot on twitter since though, so I feel ok about it now. People were probably just being nice, but thank you, I appreciate it!

(photo Copyright All rights reserved by oyvindnordhagen)

Even though I’m just a geek talking about geeky stuff, it’s really hard not to get a bit of a rush from making a whole auditorium of people laugh or go “oooh”. I wonder whether this is why people like Hoss Gifford and Brendan Dawes pack their sessions with jokes? I don’t think I got into speaking as a back door into stand-up comedy, but to be honest I have no idea why I did want to get into it. Certainly a large part of me finds the whole experience completely harrowing. What is “speaking” or being a “speaker”? Why do it? What is it for? I have genuinely no idea.

That’s enough about me though, what about all the talented speakers? Well it was a slightly strange one for me. For one thing, since last time I have become even more focussed on game development, and there wasn’t much representation for gamedev, so there weren’t many sessions that apply directly to what I do day-to-day. From the queue outside my talk and Jon Howard’s (excellent) session, there’s obviously a lot of pent-up demand for it among attendees. Maybe next year John could try to book some Flash gaming luminaries like Dan Cook or Adam Atatomic? I’ll definitely suggest it to him.

I want to word this next bit very carefully so that I don’t offend any of the amazing speakers who I saw and spoke to during the conference, and who are all some of the most talented and inspirational people you will meet in this industry. Here goes then: basically what I’ve noticed is that not every speaker can inspire you as much the second and third time you see as they do the first time you see them. Even though everyone updates their material regularly with new work, nobody has an unlimited supply of mind-blowingness. Ideas that are revolutionary when you first see them get synthesised into the way you see the world. The same idea can never inspire you again in the same way it did the first time. This is no reflection on the talent of the speaker, it’s just the nature of ideas.

And this is why I loved the elevator pitch so much. Twenty speakers from completely different disciplines blasting you with as much information as they can get into a 3 minute slot. I know from experience that each 3 minute speech has many hours, if not days and even weeks of preparation go into it. This shows through massively and you get exposed to more new ideas in this session than any other. Someone tweeted that speakers collect elevator pitchers like Pokemon. I kind of played Pokemon Trainer a bit this year, encouraging Andreas, Jasper and Tom to do the pitch. This reflects very well on how I choose my friends, because my Pokemon were easily 3 of the best in the whole session.

Andreas presented his DDConsole aka DoomsdayConsole which is a runtime tracing/hacking/debugging/tweaking console for Flash, inspired by the ones you find in games like Quake. It’s completely open source and completely ace. Through some wicked 8-bit graphics and animation, Tom presented his awesome sound effects generator AS3sfxr with such style that he also managed to subconsciously teach you how to do the creative side of sound design.

Jasper showed us all why Unity3D is the crown prince of 3D game engines by building his slide-deck as an Incpetion/Matrix inspired fly-through of a city falling into place. Nobody loves Unity as much as this guy. He’s thinking about it most the time. He’s probably thinking about it right now. What he didn’t tell you during his slot was that he taught himself to model in Maya just to make his presentation. And you’d never have noticed it, because his models looked awesome. I could tell that Jasper enjoyed the experience because I spoke to him after and he had a crazy look in his eye like someone who had just discovered crack. Anyways, if you went to the conference, please vote for these guys on your feedback form, they’re ace.

The stand-out session of the conference had to be Seb’s “What the flux?” There’s been a lot of mud thrown back and forth this year between Flash developers, HTML5/web standards advocates, and of course Apple, and Seb has spent a lot of time trying out these various competing technologies. He presented a some home truths that I don’t think everyone was ready to hear, but presented it a way that was optimistic, pragmatic and tried to build bridges. He had video interviews with some smart people from both camps, which he cut in with some political slogans, a game show skit and some jokes. I don’t actually agree with him that JavaScript and HTML5 are anywhere near ready to move into the immersive/experiential/flashy uses of Flash, but on everything else he was about right. He did point out that Flash is still the mofo daddy for web games.

Grant Skinner showed some cool physical device experiments like using Android phones as controllers for 8 player Asteroids and even as accelerator pedals for Scalextric. Also there was some marital aid hacking which raised a few eyebrows. In Grant’s session I began experimenting with starting rounds of applause, my first attempt failing and making it seem as if I was slow clapping, which was quite an amusing little moment that he dealt with like the pro he is. After that the audience really got into it, and through my further efforts I managed to increase the numbers of rounds of applause in all sessions I went to by at least a factor of 2 for the rest of the day. This is great for the atmosphere of the conference. If everyone is showing appreciation of a good speaker it actually increases the speaker’s confidence and makes for a better session. Towards the end of the conference I noticed an annoying trend that people were only clapping videos and not any other type of work that was shown. This is really silly and completely unfair on speakers who do different kinds of work, e.g. INTERACTIVE STUFF.

Other highlights were surrealist animator Cyriak Harris, design legend Stefan Sagmeister and designer/director Nando Costa who made this year’s amazing title sequence, which is frankly the sexiest form in which my name has ever been written. Watch it and see why. Nando showed some wicked film work he’d done with Modest Mouse (who I love) as well as other portfolio stuff. I chatted with Nando later about life in Portland and he’s a thoroughly nice bloke. I am now 1 degree of Kevin Bacon away from Modest Mouse which is a nice thought, although completely pointless.

I am completely exhausted now, so I’m going to get back to normality for the rest of the year, and take my Zero to Game Designer in 60 Minutes talk on the road in the new year. Thanks so much to everyone I met for being so supportive!


Lawrie said…
Sounds like you had a great time. Well done on your sessions too - hopefully I'll be there next year.
Great write up man!
And to be honest, I very much agree with the part about returning speakers. Of course they have a lot of pressure trying to make it better every year. But some try to achieve this by just showing tons of new stuff, oftwen without a context, instead of having some original twist or more build-up.
So good luck next year ;-)
Seb Lee-Delisle said…
Hi Iain! Thanks for your kind comments, I'm very glad to have you as a pokemon - hahaha!

Just one thing I wanted to say which I maybe didn't make clear. I don't think that HTML5/JS can do the experiential Flash like stuff yet, but I do think it's on a path towards being able to do the less specialised areas that Flash covers.

How long will take? Who knows! But I do think that the browser vendors seem to have a new sense of momentum and progress that I haven't seen before.

But yes, it's a minor point. The main thing is that whether you use JS or Flash for a game, it still wouldn't run on an iPad, so let's see how that changes over time!

I'm v glad to hear you enjoyed the session - I think you know more than anyone how much work I put into it :)


Jasper Stocker said…
I think I also have to agree also with the returning speakers. 'Difficult second album' comes to mind.

Think you nailed my feeling after the elevator pitch, I need more :o). Thanks for the kind comments and I hope to see you in the old smoke sometime soon!
John Davey said…
Good write-up Iain, and thanks for the thanks.

I am thrilled that The Elevator Pitch has been such an enormous success and that it has become a firm favourite for everyone who attends.

The 'pool' of known and recognized talent for major conferences is not endless, and with other conferences using the same speakers, it becomes more and more difficult to keep the event fresh and different to other events. The Elevator Pitch has become the perfect shop window to introduce new talent into that 'pool'. By next years FOTB attendees would have voted for 6 new speakers through the E.P. Add to that my personal choices, means that the idea I had of introducing potential new speakers through a 3 minute spot seems to have worked. It introduces new talent and it gives an opportunity for them to show their stuff. Win Win.