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[GUEST POST] Jaym Gates Reports on the East Coast Game Conference

Jaym Gates is an editor, author and publicist, as well as the Communications Director for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She has work appearing in the Chicks Dig Gaming anthology (out in November) and the Origins Writers Track anthology. More information can be found at jaymgates.com, or follow her on Twitter as @JaymGates.

Conference Report: East Coast Game Conference

East Coast Game Conference is a yearly video game industry convention held in Raleigh, North Carolina, in April. The conference, in its fifth year, schedules seven simultaneous tracks on subjects from Mobile Games to Education and provides video game professionals, academics and upcoming developers with an engaging program and opportunities for networking and collaboration. The conference is presented by the Triangle Game Initiative, a non-profit trade association of video game companies in North Carolina and the International Game Developers Association, a non-profit trade association of video game developers.

At the core of the two-day conference are seven simultaneous tracks of talks and panels covering a wide range of game development topics appealing to programmers, artists, designers, producers, students, academics and business executives.

I first heard about the conference from writer Richard Dansky, who invited me to attend the brand-new Writing track he was organizing. I seldom attend panels, but Rich teased me with some of the things he was going to have scheduled, and I couldn’t resist.

The night before the conference, Samuel Montgomery-Blinn and I organized another installment of the NC Speculative Fiction Night, focusing on the area’s game designers. Justin Achilli, Steven Long, and Richard Dansky were our guests of honor, and about seventy people turned out to see them. It was a good lead-in to the two days of the conference. (Not to mention that the venue serves local microbrews. Go Atomic Empire!)

The conference starts bright and early with 9am panels, which is always an amusing exercise for a freelancer who is in a time zone three hours ahead of her usual one. A slow start, a cab that took over forty minutes to arrive, and some pre-coffee navigation issues meant missing the first panel with Matt Forbeck, Mur Lafferty and Steven Long, discussing writing for RPGs. As can be expected, I heard nothing but good about the discussion afterward. These three have an incredible amount of industry experience between them.

Next up was Alex Kain, lead game designer at Hit Point Studios, on “Writing For Your Audience: Narrative Design Best Practices From Hardcore to Freemium”. I wasn’t sure what I, as a fiction writer, would get out the panel, and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of cross-over. The talk was a good reminder on utilizing pacing, engagement and setting to keep the reader/player interested.

The last talk of the first day was on “Sequence Structure”, by Jeremy Bernstein (Leverage, Dead Space). Jeremy’s a smart guy with a lot of good things to say, and I hear that this was an amazing panel. Unfortunately, I was not so smart and went to a panel on Racism, Sexism, Classism and Privilege. I was quite excited about this, and give the conference organizers great credit for having a panel on the subject on their official programming. Unfortunately, it was 20 minutes of a white guy talking in circles around the subject. I left feeling frustrated and confused.

However, I am willing to admit that it might have been a problem on my end, and not the speaker’s, as I heard from someone else that their friend thought the panel was pretty good. It is, at least, encouraging that this sort of panel was on main programming. It certainly isn’t fun to discuss, but it is necessary to both gaming and literature.

Thursday started with an excellent presentation from Matt Forbeck on “How To Write Anything For Anybody”. If you aren’t familiar with Forbeck, this pretty much sums his career up perfectly: fiction, comics, games, even toys, he’s done it all with great success. He also handed out some advice on how to keep a freelancing career healthy and long-lived.

Senior Narrative Designer for Red Storm Entertainment and Angry Robot Author, Jay Posey, covered “Lessons In Interactive Narrative”.The presentation was all about engaging the reader and keeping them interested, something certainly useful for the fiction writer.

Jonathan Myers discussed adapting game IPs to Facebook, something less beneficial to the focusing on short fiction and novel writing, but useful nonetheless for anyone considering adapting stories to games.

The conference finished with a Write or Die panel, with the speakers all competing in a round of quick-fire writing challenges. Rich moderated the competition…at first, but the panelists staged a coup. By the end of the game, Dansky was banished to the audience, Forbeck was moderating and the final winner was decided with an American Idol-like participation from the audience. The entire hour was fun and engaging, a great way to wind down after all of the serious talks.

The conference was a good mix of quiet professionalism and industry-close interaction, applicable to old hands and newbies alike. I brought my protege-a brand-new author still looking for his first SF sale-with me, and he and I both walked out with a lot of new ideas and information. The writing track is in its infancy, but managed by someone like Dansky, with his years of experience in both gaming and fiction, it has the potential to develop into one of the better programs in the industry.

If you’re in the area, or happen to be looking for a good combination of writing and gaming advice, look them up.

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