Alienbrain, GDC Speakers Invade Arts Institute

It was standing room only at the Arts Institute of Calif. Los Angeles on Monday night as the school hosted a special double-header presentation for those with an interest in the field of game development. Attendees got an in-depth look at a much talked about asset management tool and a preview of some of the topics to be discussed at the Game Developers Conference next Week in San Jose, Calif.

The well-attended first half consisted of a presentation by NXN Software CEO Gregor vom Scheidt and Electronic Arts technical art director Kyle McKisic. Vom Scheidt schooled students on his company’s asset management software, Alienbrain, which has been adopted by such top companies as Pixar and Electronic Arts and is well on its way to becoming an industry standard. Vom Scheidt cited the ever-growing percentage of film and video game budgets being allocated to digital imagery as the impetus for an efficient and user-friendly file tracking system. He said Alienbrain can greatly increase productivity when put in place of current systems like huge handmade Excel sheets and applications such as Microsoft Project. In addition to providing easy access to digital assets, the software helps to manage projects from storyboarding through review and approval to postproduction.

McKisic went on to illustrate how Electronic arts utilized Alienbrain to help produce the game Medal of Honor: Allied assault Spearhead under a tight five-month production schedule. He pointed out that the process included 95,318 different files taking up around 24.4 GB.

Following the discussion, the Los Angeles chapter of the IGDA turned the podium over to scheduled GDC speakers. Consultant and developer Tom Sloper started things off with some common-sense tips on working with overseas developers. In addition to covering time zones, travel, language, cultture and data transfer issues, Sloper offered some interesting advice for getting what you want from a partner located halfway around the world.

"The phrase ‘I’m gonna come over there’ is almost like a weapon," he said. "If they’re eager, there might be something wrong. If they’re too reluctant, there might also be something wrong." Jim Charne, a lawyer who represents content providers, previewed his scheduled talks on “How to Get Paid on Time for Milestones” and “Giving Credit Where Credit is Due: Unraveling the Credits Mess.” He brought up some reprehensible business practices that he says have carried over into the game industry from the record business. He cites one instance where a publisher wouldn’t approve milestones as a way of putting off payment to the developer.

Charne also noted how the game industry is getting more like the film biz as projects get more capital intensive and the risks become greater. And like film, he said financing vehicles are going to become less available to indie games as attention is focused more exclusively on big-budget titles.

  Veteran programmer Jeff Lander wrapped things up with a fascinating look at “Beyond Bouncing Boxes: The Physics of Things That Bend and Break.” He points out that "our game worlds are full of rigid stuff" and that the demand for realism calls for a more physics-based and less canned way of depicting objects reacting to stress and impact. The solution he and fellow presenter James O’Brien pose is the use of spring-based volumetric versions of polygons where the changing of four numbers in an equation will give objects different properties so that ramming a car into a tree, for instance, doesn’t produce the same effect as running into a house.

The event was sponsored by Animation Magazine and organized by our digital editor, Bijan Tehrani. For a full list of GDC presentations and programs, visit www.gdconf.com.