Konsoll 2013

A year ago, I was invited to do a talk at the fledgling Konsoll conference in Bergen, Norway. It was a great experience and a lot of fun so when Linn and Yngvill invited me back, I jumped at the chance. It also gave me the opportunity to take my friend and fellow Animex stalwart Ken Wong over to see the vikings and let him find out what all the fuss is about.

This is what happened.


When one is invited to speak at an event such as this, one must prepare their talk thoroughly. It is also common to employ an application such as Powerpoint to provide visual aids to the audience. Whilst I imagine it is also quite common to find a speaker tinkering with their talk immediately prior to the conference, I would argue it is less likely to find them sitting in a coffee shop at Gatwick Airport, starting to write it in Unity the half hour before their travelling companion arrives.

Once more though, I would say it is a glowing recommendation for the rapid-prototyping powers of Unity that I was able to bang out a simple talk engine. The content was a little sparse, but that was also sort of the point and you'll see why later.

Day 0

Upon our arrival we were greeted by Petter and also met up with Ernest Adams - another conference regular. With our stuff dropped off at the Basic Hotel*, we had a couple of hours to kill so I took it upon myself to play the role of tour guide and show Ken a bit of the town.

I don't know if you've ever been to Bergen, but it's a lovely place - especially Bryggen where everything is made of wood and there isn't a single straight line to be seen. In a most un-Bergen-like fashion, the sun was shining...

After a very pleasant meal (pizza - it would be a theme...), we wandered off to a bar where it just so happens the members of another conference were meeting up. This one was all academics talking about the philosophy of video games. Interesting bunch. Plenty of suggestions and hypotheses. I'll be honest though - I stopped listening as I was somewhat distracted by the Terminator 2 pinball machine. Man, I haven't seen one of those in a while.

It's another fact of these conferences that you will not get enough sleep. Normally, there's a bar to be seen in and networking (read: drinking) to be done. Of course in Norway, it's a little different. Not the lack of sleep but the drinking. It's just too damn expensive. So back to the hotel to discover that it's situated right above a club that seems to insist on playing loud bass until around 4am. Turns out, those little boxes on the desk at reception contained ear plugs...

Day 1

Talk day! A glance at the program showed me that I would be second to last up before Ken closed out the day. 

Ernest opened the show with a keynote of predictions about where we would end up in the next forty years or so. Development teams, interesting technologies, that sort of thing. Plenty of speculation - informed speculation mind. It has always been exciting being in an industry with such close links to some pretty cutting-edge technology.

Nils talked about... well, something in Norwegian. Actually, it was a lot of advice on pitching for funding. Plenty of good stuff in there, if you could get the lingo. I picked out the word 'eleven', for which I was pretty chuffed.

Speaking of which, in Jory Prum I have to admit that I found a non-Norwegian who actually knew more about Norway than I do. Certainly the language. He spent most of Nils' talk translating the slides for Emmy. His talk on how Unity's sound system is actually pretty crap straight out of the box was also very inspiring. There were plenty of simple little tips and tricks to apply to your sound design to avoid making it sound repetitive.

Emmy, the Indie Game Girl, spoke of marketing wisdom - an area in which so many indies spectacularly fail. Once more there was plenty of good stuff here, only marred by the fact that it was also a topic that I wished to cover in my own talk later...

The Talk

This time I had busted out the old Making Games Is Easy, Getting Paid Is Hard line. The idea being that I'd go over stuff that can prevent your game from being successful that a lot of people who are starting out just don't normally consider. I guess I liken it to a game of League Of Legends. There are a great many things that can go wrong in a game of LoL and it only takes one of them to happen and you're pretty much guaranteed a terrible experience.

I guess you could say that my speciality in all of this is on the interactive side. With that in mind, I only used up about half of my time allocation to allow the audience to ask as many questions as possible. I mean, I could happily stand up there and tell them what to think about all manner of things, but I'd prefer to find out what's actually relevant to them.

There were some really good questions although somewhat ironically, there was this one guy (I think he was a lecturer in game design) who didn't ask a single question about my talk whilst asking at least one for everyone else. I'm not sure what that means.

People Are Dicks

In photography, timing is everything
Anyhow, the part that everyone latched on to was the idea that People Are Dicks. That is to say that all of the things you don't like about the games industry right now have come about because somebody, somewhere was a bit of a dick. The thing is, it might not be the person you think it is. 

Don't like DRM or Freemium for example? Whoever invented those things must be a Dick! Well, possibly, but they were only doing it because someone else was being a Dick by taking something and not paying a fair price for it. Don't you think life would be so much simpler if everyone would just stop being Dicks and develop a much greater sense of fair play? If you like something, why no reimburse the people that made the thing with a fair payment? If you're selling something, why not offer it at a fair price and don't get too greedy or overestimate its value?

Bear neccessities

On to dinner where smoked bear** followed by reindeer steak was the order of the day. Somehow it seemed a lot more viking than pizza, even though there is compelling evidence to suggest that the opposite is true these days.

After Party

Like last year, there was an after party where everyone got to hang around in a bar and play a bunch of indie games. Also like last year, the games on offer were Owlboy, Vikings On Trampolines and Teslagrad. There was also a demo of Overcast but, as they were pitching it to the Dragon's Den panel the following day, I avoided that.

Owlboy has been in development for a while now. You can tell that by the fact that the link back there says that it'll be available in 2011. Owlboy looks fantastic. It has a lovely art style and is very rich in content. Which is why it is taking so damn long.

Conversely, Vikings On Trampolines is done. That is to say that I can't see how they can make it any better than it already is by spending more time on it. It's perfect for parties - especially those with alcohol - and would fill that Bomberman shaped hole in people's lives.

Teslagrad has had a small facelift since the last time I saw it. There's also talk of more mechanics with their power up system that goes beyond the simple magnetism rules that were implemented first. This one is the new Braid or Limbo waiting to happen.

After that, it was back to the hotel for another sleepless night.

Day 2

Day 2 started off with my workshop. It used basically the same format as my Animex one, only condensed in to half a day. As, a few shortcuts had to be taken - namely in the quality of the items up for grabs on the Table Of Plenty. Linn had provided me with dice, playing cards and a load of pieces from various board games, so pretty much everyone was able to hit the ground running. All told, we had five groups each with five people and they all set to work creating games on the theme of Territory Control.

The fascinating thing for me was my role. Normally, I wander between the groups and try to observe what they're doing and their thought processes, occasionally piping up with a devil's advocate or trying to stop them getting horribly out of shape. Of course this time, pretty much all of the discussions were in Norwegian and, other than the odd word here or there, completely baffling to me. So I just had to stand there and watch.

As such, the games that were produced were even more free from my grubby little paw prints than normal. Sadly, with only half a day, there wasn't much time for iteration so there was only a single round of playing, which, as you'd expect, highlighted a few issues with some of the games. Even with that in mind, the standard was excellent and there were a couple of gems to emerge. The overall winner was called either Overstack or Plague - they had yet to decide on the name - and was very simple yet contained plenty of deep strategy.

I'm back in

I don't recall whistling
The afternoon saw me reprise my role as one of the four Dragons in Konsoll's own version of Dragon's Den. Like last year, the panel was broadly divided into a couple of proper investors (Tor and Helge) and a couple of games industry folks (Ernest and myself). It made for a pretty good balance as they'd pipe up when the figures didn't add up and we'd stick our oars in when the games weren't any good.

Clearly some lessons had been learned from last year as this year's presenters were considerably more comfortable standing up there and delivering their pitches. Pick of the bunch for pitching was Noad Sund who came across as incredibly likeable, presentable and knowledgeable. The one mistake he made was to open with the phrase "I'm not very good at presentations..." which was a minor misstep and one that was even harder to believe once you'd made it through his very confident and compelling pitch.

The best game went to Henchman & Goon's Megasword, if only because the artwork kicked arse and they even had their own theme tune. It was incredible how the music both captured the spirit of the game and took everyone back to a childhood of Saturday morning cartoons. Even though there was nothing to see of the game in action, everyone had a picture in their mind of what it would be like.

Authentic Bergen experience

After a short nap back at chez Yngvill (and the chance to finally meet the lovely Mr Yngvill), we wandered back into town for food before heading to the evening's bar. Food consisted of a hotdog shack where they served the finest reindeer hotdogs you will ever eat. Ken was also introduced to the real Bergen in so much as we had to eat these things whilst huddled under umbrellas...

The bar was the setting for the wrap party where, as you'd expect, much alcohol was consumed. There was also a student radio setup that interviewed all of the speakers. Luke got particularly excited about the fact that you were almost actively encouraged to swear. The Beeb it ain't.

There was cider, tequila and pepper Smash - not different enough from regular Smash, which is no bad thing, although that might also have been tequila related - and then, for another year, Konsoll was done.

Once again, a great experience and I have to thank Linn and Yngvill for letting me be a part of it.

Hospitality and Goon

Overstack - with paperclips
With Konsoll out of the way, Ken and I still had a couple of days worth of recovery lined up. That is to say, there was yet another party to attend, this time at the Henchman & Goon offices. There were many games played, from a Sumotori tournament to Spaceteam and even a couple of rounds of Overstack in which HÃ¥kon was ritually bested by anyone and everyone.

Pointing? That's just what the Mafia would do!
Of course, what conference trip would be complete without the obligatory game of Mafia? Spare a thought for poor Espen, who became this year's Dead Guy - eliminated first in every round.

There was also pizza.

*It does exactly what it says on the tin - nothing more, nothing less.

** It tasted very meaty. Very meaty indeed. But then, you'd expect that because it's a frickin' BEAR!


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