Travel/Games Dev: Brighton, UK

Getting to Brighton from London is an easy 50 minute train ride from London Bridge station or a nearly 2 hour bus ride by National Express from Victoria. The train is overpriced even by ridiculous English standards at somewhere around UK20 for a return trip. The bus will cost about UK8. Seeing as how you can get to Scotland for less on a bus, this seems a trifle excessive as well. A car with one person in it would cost less. So much for environmentally sound transport policies.

On a more positive note, Brighton is a relaxed, fun place by the seaside with a big student population and lots of night life. It's home to quite a few bands as well and sister town Hove is occasional home to the likes of Aussie Nick Cave, and homegrowns Paul McCartney and Fatboy Slim.

We headed to Brighton for a video games developer con called Develop in Brighton. One night and two days - time to get in some blading along the seafront as well. That was the original plan but it was such a great event that the one night turned into three.

There's a wide variety of accomodation available in Brighton and we sought out the backpacker alternatives. The YHA hostel would probably be the most reliable but in three tries we've never been able to get in because of group bookings. The alternatives are Walkabout which is supposed to be noisy and not nice according to reviews; Baggies, which has rave reviews from long term stayers, and St. Christopher's Inn right by Brighton Pier. It has had very mixed reviews as well. Another alternative, out of term time, is Brighton University.

We chose to try Baggies, which turned out to be funky in a neo-hippy kind of way, friendly, and extremely crowded with rooms jam-packed with beds. You will know from this description whether the place is for you. The price was UK13 a night with no breakfast offered. Cheap it is.

The first day of the Develop games conference and expo was given over to talks - with subjects like 'Why mobile is the new handheld', 'View from the reviewer: 10 things that make a great mobile game'. and suchlike. Our plan was to catch a couple of sessions and then hit the beach for a while before the night's party.

'Beach' is actually not the right word - collection of stones that hurt bare feet is more like it. This is the English version of the seaside with a pier full of amusement places and takeaway foods. It's kind of fun if you can forget about the concepts of surf and sand and enjoy it for what it is. It is a good place for blading with a nice run along the coast from Brighton marina down to the neighbour town of Hove.

The first conference session we went to was about mobile games dev. One of the selling points is that development for this platform is relatively cheap and a mobile/cellphone is usually with the owner. This would be true of Gameboys and DS's as well. The problem in this world is distribution. The way forward is wifi on phones as a way around Telco portal owners who, when faced recently with figures that show people would rather have root canal work than revisit their portals, behaved as if this were somewhat sad but what are we to do? It's a-sucker-is-born-everyday marketing and if they stick to that, they're doomed ... a nice thought as far as we're concerned.

The con is being held at the Hilton Metropole which has lots of suitable rooms. The whole place says 'corporate event land' with vaguely institutional spaces mixed with good service and there's an indoor pool downstairs. It is not very much like Baggies. Almost next door is the Devere Grand which is the olde worlde luxe hotel for these parts. Around the corner is the hotel Pelirocca which has rooms with all sorts of interesting themes like 'Pussy' and 'Mondomania'. Some rooms have spa baths. They like media people there and you can sometimes get a discount. Rooms range from UK50 night up to over 200.

Out front, in the sun, we chat to a Nintendo person. Nintendo are understandably very happy at the moment with reception the DS and DS lite have been getting. The DS is a good platform for indy developers to look at -- no corporate smothering here.

And then for some blading. The surfaces aren't all that wonderful here but cruising along the coast, right next to the sea is a nice thing to do. Along the way, there are some talkative people and a reggae band playing. When the wind is blowing down the coast the trick is to go into the wind first of all and then sail back. If you do it the other way around and get tired, you'll have a nasty trip back.

There are supposed to be some parties on tonight and Mstation wandered into one place on skates to find out if that was a spot but we're still not sure. We'll find out later.

It was. Nvidia and Autodesk hosted a do where Mstation talked mostly to Gavin and Robert from Big World. They make MMOG engines and supply servers for developers or publishers who want to speed the developement process. We also talked briefly to a pretty woman from Nvidia. Dealing with press isn't her area unfortunately.

Back at Baggies after the party lots of people were sitting and chatting in the hippy nest basement and several girls were preparing to go out and get wrecked.

The next morning, we think we'll try out one of the many small hotels in the town. We checked into the Queensbury which has reasonable rates (about UK25) and is a couple minutes from the beachfront. It's clean and quite OK and the old house and continental staff give it a Fawlty Towers feel but without the insanity or staff abuse. This is a basic place with a basic breakfast of cereal, juice, two croissants, and tea or coffee.

Back at Develop the next day we chatted to Nokia and got an update on the N-gage platform. The SDK will be available at the end of this year and the launch should be mid 07. We saw a demo running on an N93 which had a lot of 3d stuff and looked very impressive. Will the N-Gage handset disappear? It will certainly need to be upgraded in the CPU way if it carries on. We weren't given any clues.

After lunch we spent some time with Bluegfx who are sell hardware and software solutions for media and games developers. On hand was UK 50,000 worth of Matrox Axio equipment and software that was rendering HDTV effects in realtime. AMD Opteron chips and 2Tb of discspace were helping get the job done.

Then more blading while a band soundchecks for a free concert to be held later right on the beach. Top of the bill was a band called Razorlight. Next for us was a drinks session sponsored by Codemasters. The first person we saw was Eddie who makes music under the name of Bovaflux and who's day job is as a games music guy. We're going to interview him later in the year. One interesting thing is that new consoles with tons of space and power still require sound to be shoehorned in. More about that later when we get to the interview.

Then dinner with some games people. The real joy of this event is that it's for developers so there tend to be honest answers and not much hyperbole. At the dinner table were a well-known games consultant, a longtime games maker, a middleware maker, and two people from an interesting startup dealing with games metrics called Strangeagency. More about this later as well.

The next day featured a talk by Peter Molyneux about games design and designers and outlined the sort of flow a modern team of 50 to 80 might follow while spending 20,000,000 to get the thing done. The real message - don't expect democracy. Someone has to make decisions about how things will go. An allied message was, if that person is you, be prepared to argue your case and justify your decisions.

Then more blading, this time down to Hove lagoon which looks more like a lake. You can learn how to windsurf here and there's a centre there with a place to store clothes and have a snack and a shower. Kite boarding is popular in these parts as well and back up at Brighton marina you can arrange various kinds of boat rides including overnight sailboat trips.

Friday rolls around to yet another beautiful sunny day. The exhibitors at the Expo part have packed up and gone leaving behind that slightly sad deserted fairground look. On today is a series of talks related to games for those with disabilities and another series on programming ATI video cards. The best lunch of the week was served as well.

Then it's time to catch the train to London. It's been a nice few days and we're sad to leave.

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