Last week myself and two colleagues from Sidhe Interactive travelled to the second annual Australian Game Developers Conference (AGDC) in Melbourne.

AGDC is organised primarily by the Game Developers Association of Australia (GDAA) with the support of Australian development leaders such as Microforte and Infogrames/Melbourne House. The overall aim of the conference is provide a forum where Australasian developers can get together to network, showcase their products, and discuss issues and technology.

Initially held in Sydney, the GDAA has worked with the Victorian government to hold the conference in Victoria for the next three years. I would also expect the conference to remain at the Melbourne Conference Centre which is conveniently located in the heart of Melbourne city.

The three day conference was attended by publishers, developers, hardware manufacturers, software vendors, students, training institutions, and government representatives. Some notable attendees included the Microsoft Xbox team, Sony Europe, 3DFX, NVIDIA, Infogrames, Electronic Arts, Relic Entertainment, Valve, Nihilistic Software, Discreet, and Alias/Wavefront. At last count there were a total of 730 registered attendees, although I think it is fair to say that by far the largest single group of attendees was made up of students who were able to attend in a limited capacity for free.

There was a noticeable absence of foreign companies overall. The majority that were there attended AGDC to do presentations rather than out of pure interest in the event. For ourselves, there was also a noticeable lack of publishers meaning the potential for pitching products and securing publishing deals was low.

A key component of the conference is a series of presentations and panel discussions. Five streams of talks were held; business development, game design, technical design, graphic design, and student oriented. This was useful for narrowing down the talks one might be interested in, but in a multifaceted role such as my own as a producer there was also the odd clash when I wanted to attend two talks scheduled for the same time. A total of fifty three talks were held at the event of which I managed to attend about eleven.

Some example topics included "What is a Big Publisher Looking for?", "How PlayStation 2 will Deliver Content in the New Millennium", "Realtime Procedural Content Generation", and "Creating a Believable Atmosphere for your Game".

The talks themselves were of a very high calibre. For the most part the speakers seemed to know what they were talking about and they were happy to impart their invaluable knowledge. Most talks had the opportunity to ask questions towards the ends, the answers to which usually provided valuable insight.

The talks also revealed more general information not always found readily on the web. Sony Europe expanded on their broadband strategy, the key to PS2 online connectivity revolving around the hard drive/Ethernet expansion which will be made available next year. Microsoft announced their independent Xbox developer programs. The Victorian government even announced several initiatives aimed at promoting game development in the region including subsidising of development kits and provision of seed capital.

Last year the conference provided everyone with bound copies of all slides used in the presentations but unfortunately these were not offered at AGDC 2000. This was a sad omission as the booklet from last year has proven a useful resource around the office.

There was also an exhibition centre at the conference. Exhibitors included Alias/Wavefront, Electronic Arts, Microforte, Torus Games, 3DFX and all manner of hardware and software was on display. The exhibition was easily three times as big as last year, and although it held little of interest for myself it will be encouraging if this part of the conference continues to grow.

AGDC also has quite an emphasis on social activity. One aspect of this is the Suite Party night, where a number of the larger companies attending held parties all within close proximity at the events centre. An award for the best suite party was presented to Blue Tongue, makers of the recently released Starship Troopers, who managed to secure the award by having the best alcohol, the best music, and the best looking girls on the door.

The second major social event is the Dinner, this year held at Melbourne Zoo. The Dinner was definitely more enjoyable than last year with twice as much food (very little was supplied previously) and a much less appalling comedian (last years gave up after two minutes). Trying to establish a tradition, a high number of Nerf guns were given out towards the end of the night and a raging Nerf gun war soon erupted. This part of the evening was far more relaxed than last year though where the battle raged for over an hour, tables were upturned into barriers and we ended up getting kicked out of the venue. This year a thirty minute battle was enough to leave everyone with a smile on their faces and round out the evening nicely.

Or so we thought. As it turns out the coaches handling transport were screwed up meaning everyone had to return to town via taxi (apart from the Microsoft guys who were whisked away in a limousine). Unfortunately, the availability of taxis was incredibly low so upwards of thirty people including myself waited for over an hour before giving up and starting the long walk back to the hotel. After forty minutes of tramping we finally flagged down a cab, and ended up back in the hotel at about 1.30am, two hours after the dinner had ended.

Overall, the conference was enjoyable as we had the opportunity to catch up with a lot of old friends and make some new ones. We also learnt a fair bit from the talks. A free Voodoo 5500 card we managed to procure also didn't hurt.

However, I can't help but coming away with a feeling of disappointment. At the end of the day it wasn't that much of an improvement over last year and a few key things let it down. With a large price hike this year which saw the cost of entry rise to AUS$985 and the dinner rising to AUS$125 it just didn't seem like we were getting value for money.

We will, of course, attend next year as being a small developer in an isolated country we can't afford not to attend such an event. But there will have to be a lot of improvements made before we consider bringing the whole team over.