What we learnt at Ludicious - Zürich Games Festival 2019

What we learnt at Ludicious - Zürich Games Festival 2019

Swiss gaming festival Ludicious brought a wealth of gaming know-how to the city of Zurich this past week.

The three-day event gathered developers from across the world to share business, development and artistic insights in the Swiss capital. Voices from both indie and mid-sized studios took to the stage to share insights on storytelling, the political power of games and furthered a call for workers rights in the games industry.

We’ve highlighted some stand-out talks from Thursday’s track, including sessions from Remedy’s Saku Lehtinen, Simpool’s Sahi Liberman, Nyamakop’s Ben Myres and Geogrify’s Kate Edwards.

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Your biggest limitation is your biggest strength when it comes to telling stories in games.

    Your biggest limitation is your biggest strength when it comes to telling stories in games. logo

    Remedy Entertainment art director Saku Lehtinen explained that creative solutions can quickly turn your biggest shortcoming into your biggest point.

    Case in point: Max Payne. The 30-year industry veteran claimed the 2001 game’s iconic comic-book cinematics initially stemmed from a lack of capacity to create fully-animated CG cutscenes.

    “We didn’t have the power to create an animation in 2001 - people would laugh at the technical details, it would have cost a lot of time and money,” said Lehtinen.

    There was a twofold benefit to simplifying cinematics. The hand-drawn panels gave Max Payne a distinct identity, and Remedy found that other games began to imitate its success.

    Plus, without having to put together a full animation and choreography team, Remedy also saved on resources by going for a simpler style.

    “With just one or two guys doing the graphic novel, we saved a lot of time and money," Lehtinen explained.

    "All of it was done because of resources and became one of the key elements of the game.”

    The art director concluded: “Embrace your limitations and think about them. The bigger the monster, the bigger the limitations, the more you have momentum. Use the energy of that to your benefit.”

  • 2 Gamers are a powerful political force, so make sure you’re using them responsibly

    Gamers are a powerful political force, so make sure you’re using them responsibly logo

    Gamers are voters, and that power brings great responsibility for developers.

    That's according to Simpool studio manager, Tsahi Liberman, who believes games have the ability to educate their audience on political situations and knowledge.

    “As game developers, we have the tools to express our beliefs,” said Liberman “We have big power in our hands.”

    Right now, we have dozens of games like Democracy and Hearts of Iron that simulate political tensions and needs in a global, almost spreadsheet-like way. Liberman feels “most of them are boring” right now.

    But in an increasingly online - and divided - world, it’s important that the most popular form of media is educating its audience on critical issues that will turn them into informed voters. Many are already being influenced by games created by political campaigns and foreign activists both.

    “This generation of voters is mainly driven by interactive games,” Liberman said.

    The Simpool studio manager believes that games can inform as well as influence, and that we should teach gamers about economics, for example, in a way that helps them understand “how some candidates are affecting the economy and what they represent.”

    Games can help voters understand scapegoating, recognise body language and rhetoric. For Liberman, games can help their audience understand when a politician is attempting to manipulate them, and turn gamers into informed political actors

    “Propaganda tactics are always effective," he said.

    "We need to understand that and think about that when we vote.”

  • 3 "Video game storytelling at the moment is kinda weird”.

    "Video game storytelling at the moment is kinda weird”. logo

    Storytelling in games is in a strange spot right now.

    So claims Nyamakop co-founder and creative director Ben Myres. The crux of his session on mechanical motifs stemmed around a common trend in video game narratives.

    “Cinema, novels, ballet and theatre all do things that are unique to the medium,” said Myres. “Games don’t do that. We don’t talk enough about the craft of making mechanics and narrative cohere.”

    That’s where motifs come in - toying with the mechanics of the game to emphasise or subvert the narrative intent. Myres cited games like Terry Cavanagh’s Don’t Look Back, which retells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice by turning an entire direction into an instant fail state halfway through the game.

    Similarly, Florence uses a jigsaw puzzle mechanic throughout its entirety, only to subvert its play at the last minute, while Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons plays with the physicality of its controller to harrowing effect.

    But more often than not, games use template interactivity that often clashes with the narrative - ludo-narrative dissonance discourse is drawn out, but it has a point when games continue to use large gunfights to tell personal stories.

    Even in shooters, though, games miss the mark by treating narrative and moment-to-moment play as entirely separate entities.

    Myres elaborated this point - and ultimately, wraps up the power of motifs - by talking about Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s infamous “Press F to pay respects” moment.

    “Here, they just make you press a button to pay respects," Myres explained.

    "Your game is about shooting - in American military funerals, they have a thing called the 21 gun salute. It’s right there, it’s one-to-one. It’s shooting.”

  • 4 Game workers need leverage if we’re to make things better for the next generation.

    Game workers need leverage if we’re to make things better for the next generation. logo

    The next generation of games industry workers needs us to give them leverage.

    Geogrify CEO and former IGDA executive director Kate Edwards told us that, in her talks with students and industry newcomers, there’s increasing anxiety over fundamental issues of worker rights in games.

    2018 only increased this tension, after high profile firings and the cataclysmic closure of Telltale Games.

    “This industry, on a global scale, is on a tipping point,” said Edwards. “They’re tired of this shit.”

    So what can we do? With crunch, wage gaps, unpaid overtime and unsteady contracts, Edwards understands that game workers want a way to push back against their bosses.

    “One thing that was consistently clear was frustration from developers who feel they have no control over their situation," she said.

    "Workers want to feel like they have leverage - the power to influence a person or situation.”

    There are a few key ways to work on gaining leverage, Edwards found. There’s the growing push to unionise, of course, but there’s also potential in setting up guilds or collectives for smaller studios.

    Another option is a legal defence fund, for small studio employees who might not have the critical mass of a union, or workers at huge multinational companies who couldn’t hope to legally challenge their bosses alone.

    Edwards closed her talk by announcing plans to launch a game creators legal defence fund in the near future: “I personally feel this is something developers could use immediately, whether they’re in large companies or small companies."

Staff Writer

Natalie Clayton is an Edinburgh-based freelance writer and game developer. Besides PCGamesInsider and, she's written across the games media landscape and was named in the 2018 100 Rising Star list.