August is festival month in Edinburgh - there's the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the world famous ‘Fringe’ festival… There’s also a load of other festivals - Edinburgh will always pride itself on having a month where the inhabitants and many visitors to the city can experience and enjoy all the art forms available to man.

Until this year, all the art forms but one. This year marked the introduction of the Edinburgh International Games Festival – a festival dedicating itself to ‘celebrating the cultural impact of video games’, which hoped to validate gaming as an art through a public gaming exhibition, a ‘Game Over Film’ debate in conjunction with the Edinburgh Film Festival, and an industry day of discussions and lectures. But was it successful?

17th August –

‘Go Play Games’ exhibition, Royal Museum of Scotland

When I arrived in Edinburgh my eye was caught by a quite unusual sign on the first telephone box I saw – I doubt this gentleman was involved with the Games festival, so it’s either a demonstration of the ingenuity of this town – or of the insanity during festival month. I don’t think I’ll be giving him a call.

The Royal Museum is where the ‘Game On Exhibition’ was earlier this year – which was a very successful potted history of games including original Yoshitaka Amano artwork, and the chance to play on pretty much any system ever created – including the glory of eight man SS Bomberman, in which I was soundly beaten by children match after match.

Sadly, the ‘Go Play Games’ exhibition didn’t live up to it – though it did what it said on the tin. There weren’t any exhibits – just a room full of game pods to ‘go play’. A variety of PC games too dull to remember, well-known Playstation 2 and Xbox games (The original Jak and Daxter? Not even the sequel. And single player Halo - not multiplayer. Why bother?). The Playstation 2 did offer a Dancing Stage Fever pod – which is Dance Dance, but cel-shaded. At least Nintendo offered Japanese versions of Soul Caliber II and F-Zero GX for play – which continue to be Soul Caliber and F-Zero, so that’s alright, then. But their GBA showing was perplexing –GBASPs, all with Metroid Fusion. It’s nice, but it’s months old even here in Europe. The newest Pokemon had no presence despite it being one of Nintendo’s core products. Weird.

Perhaps they should have been pushing the GBA harder. The N-Gage seemed to be a big draw for the visitors, and was the only part of the exhibition with staff on hand to demonstrate the games and system (considering you have to go through a menu on the N-Gage just to boot up a game, this seems to have been a good idea.) I won’t lie to you, though. With only two months to release, the N-Gage control still seems unresponsive and the 3D graphics are still jerky. I can’t actually visualise anyone ever holding a phone conversation on this thing either – it’s not comfortable to hold that way at all.

This was a real missed opportunity for the festival – in a month where millions of adults are in the city sucking up all the culture they could get, the exhibition was clearly aimed only at children. This was visible in the legion of bored parents sitting at the sidelines – I think at the time, I was the only adult in the room in the 18-35 demographic.

‘Game Over Film’ Debate, The Edinburgh Filmhouse

The talk sold out quickly, and when I arrived in the theatre it became obvious that it was because the cinema was so small! It actually only had space for about 100 people, and the room was packed with an audience which largely consisted of people involved with the Film Festival.

A surprising amount of discussion between the panellists centred on the unusual argument that films are an interactive form of entertainment, pushed by film maker Mark Dwight – who at no point gave a convincing argument to prove it. The most interesting speaker was Richard Jenkins, director of the Film Festival. In response to the prompt “The trouble with Ico and the fear of ‘Emotional Product’” he stated that on playing Ico he was so affected emotionally that he wondered if ‘gaming’ was the correct term, as he felt more of a ‘participant’ than merely a ‘player’. This confusion about gaming and its power as an interactive entertainment was a theme that continued into the next day.

18th August –

Edinburgh International Games Festival, EICC

The EIGF Industry day consisted of 8 sessions, notably –

Session 2: Welcome to the Games Industry: Mass Media, Toy or Social Phenomenon?

This was saved from being a boring ‘The games industry is so great, here are statistics to prove it’ washout by the question and answers session – in the UK, particularly, games are vastly overpriced, with console games at release clocking in at £39.99 ($63) on average, and even GBA games cost £34.99 ($55) on average! The audience took the opportunity to cuss the panellists bad - only Chris van der Kuyl surprisingly, stated that he expected and hoped that in future games would have a more fluid price point (I doubt it).

Session 4: Worldview Lecture

Session 5: Hollywood or Bust

Seamus Blackley, refreshingly spent his time trashing the ‘We’re great’ feeling of session 2, by explaining clearly and with good humour that games are nowhere near as big as film – a thought which segued nicely into Session 5 – a session which spent it’s time telling us why using the Intellectual Property of movies is a great idea. It was worth it for a movie of the creation of Bond: Everything or Nothing, including Shannon Elizabeth with the bizarre revelation that she is a ‘hardcore gamer’, and Heidi Klum stating ‘I can’t wait to play myself in the game, as me, playing me’ with the kind of vacant confused stare and drone of the clinically insane.

Session 6: Innovation session: Meet your Makers

This was much better. Finbar Hawkins, discussed the creation of ‘Fightbox’, a BBC game with a forthcoming TV show in which the game characters fight in front of a real studio audience (and can even interact with the hosts). It’s almost impossible to explain without seeing, but it looks good and is one of the first things I have seen that attempts to make competitive gaming a spectator sport. Yannis Mallat, and Peter Molyneux took some time to discuss their respective games also.

But by far the most exciting part of the talk was a surprise video from Miyamoto in which he discussed Mario Kart: Double Dash. Okay, that’s not actually exciting, but it is oddly thrilling to hear Miyamoto say ‘Hello Edinburgh’, even though all his short talk consisted of was how great Double Dash is going to be – dull, and with no more information than a press release.

Most amusing was the discussion of online play in the video – Miyamoto complained that the press thought Nintendo are too relentlessly against it, when, really, they aren’t, only to follow it up with the statement “maybe when we run out of ideas, we’ll turn to online gaming.”

Session 7: Music Master Class- Game Scores - Innovation or Imitation?

Session 7 was also oddly thrilling for a fan of the score in Metal Gear Solid 2 (or any Hollywood movie score, ever), with composer Harry Gregson-Williams flying in from LA specifically for the discussion, which again was centred on comparisons between cinema and games. At first you could have mistaken this for a discussion of film scores alone, with footage from Spellbound, 2001, Spy Game and Shrek. But most interesting was Harry Gregson-Williams story of his work on MGS2.

Williams had received a jiffy bag in the mail containing a carefully mix CD of the music from his films, with a polite letter from Hideo Kojima asking “I would like to you to recreate this exactly in my game.” Williams has nothing but nice things to say about Kojima. He’s a “really nice chap”. And so Williams set about imitating himself exactly except with the difficulty of having no source material (“I had no images to work with when I got stuck – the best I had was a list of adjectives e-mailed to me”). He believed it was going to be a one off, but at a press conference after the release of the game, Kojima would not be moved on the question if there would be a sequel, so the journalist asked Williams “If there is a sequel, will you do the music?”

“I said I’d only do the music if there was something in it for me – if it was set in a jungle or something. And lo and behold a few months later the info on the game came out, and it was!”

Session 8: The Beautiful Game: Pig Bladders Will Fly

The final session was a light and irreverent end to the day, with a competition between the top football games to see which one deserves to be crowned the best football game of all time and win this lovely cup. It’s Sensible Soccer, surely, but the games represented were Championship Manager (Sports Interactive), FIFA 2004 (EA), This is Football 2004 (Sony) and Pro Evolution Soccer 3 (otherwise known as Winning Eleven 7). It’s not a surprise to say that Pro Evo 3 won (even with it’s shoddy commentary) what is surprising is how good natured Clive Downie from EA Canada is about the response to his game. Pretty much every question from the audience was “Why does FIFA suck so much?” unless it was “Why does Canada suck so much?”

[next: Discussion, the EIGF Awards Party]


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[Discussion, EIGF Awards Party]