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Preview: Nordic Game 2011

Conference director Jacob Riis on what we can look forward to this year

Nordic Game has been one of the most interesting European conference on the calendar, and one that has been proud to support for a long time.

As we head into the final month before this year's event, conference director Jacob Riis offers us a glimpse of what we can expect - who the main keynotes are, and how they fit into the theme of creativity. So let's start with a look at this year's event - what's on the cards?
Jacob Riis

This year's conference will hopefully be better - more intimate, yet action-packed, with a really strong programme. I think this is the best year in regards to the line-up of speakers, and knock on wood, but so far we haven't been hit by any major catastrophes yet. Last year it was the volcano, the year before that was Swine Flu - we've been spared. So take us through the keynotes.
Jacob Riis

The main theme of the conference this year is creativity, and what we want to explore is how we can get better at utilising all this creative power that's around us in the industry. The headliners include Jordan Mechner, who created Prince of Persia, and also wrote the script for the movie, so he'll be headlining the transmedia track of the conference.

But the opening keynote this year is Ed Fries, one of the founders of the Xbox platform - he has some really interesting thoughts on creativity, which I'm really looking forward to. He created a remake of Halo on an Atari 2600... he'll be talking about creativity and constraints, and how they depend on each other.

I think that's really interesting at a time when anything is possible on the big consoles these days, but still we're not seeing too much creativity out there. Compared to the huge amount of creative talent out there, the games look fairly similar. So I'm really looking forward to his views on that, with his huge experience in the field of creating a whole new platform for games.

And then, in the past couple of years, we've seen a lot of new talent rise up from the Nordic region - Limbo, Minecraft and several other indie games - so the indie movement that we're seeing here at the moment is pretty strong. That's why we've got Brandon Boyer, who's the chairman of the Independent Games Festival, talking about the talent, how you nurture and discover it.

Those are the three main keynotes - and normally we'd have a main closing session with a bunch of CEOs from the region debating where the Nordic games industry is going. But this year we're taking a different stance and inviting a line-up of foreign speakers, who are already speaking at the conference - and they will gather up for a view of the industry from the outside. That should be pretty amazing, I hope.

And the conference will of course cover the usual aspects of game development, and we'll have a string of really strong names. Mike Acton, from Insomniac, Eddie Dowse from Popcap, Thorsten Reil from NaturalMotion - and a whole new indie track which will be interesting, featuring Daniel Kaplan from the Minecraft team, who'll be talking about how they got to be as successful as they are. The Nordic region's had a tough time in the past few years - but it seems to be coming out the other side now?
Jacob Riis

Yeah - a lot of new talent is coming out, and new companies are being built below the usual suspects of DICE and IO Interactive and Funcom and CCP - who are great, huge companies, but the industry also needs a new look for games, and smaller teams that are daring to try new stuff.

I think that's what we're seeing with Limbo and Minecraft - they're new takes on gaming, while we're also covering different areas too, with companies like Unity. It's just coming together.

The Nordic Game Awards has always been part of our conference, but if you look at the nominees this year, it's a pretty strong line-up. I remember that when I started working with the conference in 2006 there were maybe one or two games among them that I'd recognise - and that's an indication that we've come a long way. The theme of creativity is an interesting one - because it's one of the areas that the Nordic region is best-known for. That won't be a coincidence, I'm sure.
Jacob Riis

No - it's a bit of a follow-up to last year's conference, when the theme was about building bridges between the different areas of game development. You could say that above that lies creativity as a meta-theme for all of that - you need to be creative in all areas if you want to succeed and evolve the industry.

But when you look at this region, and our reputation for having a great deal of talent here, then I would say that the topic and venue are a perfect match.

Overall we've got a great package - as an attendee you don't just get a ticket to a conference, you get access to a lot of different events. One thing we're doing on the social side of things this year is that we've got a famous live act playing, called Family.

And another thing we're doing this year is a paperless conference - they'll be no printed programme, no goody bags with tonnes of Mother Nature's trees in there - and we're introducing the Nordic Game app, which is a neat thing which should make the conference much easier.

You'll have a whole load of meeting opportunities in your pocket, and you can even ask speakers questions while they're talking, via the app.

Jacob Riis is conference director at Nordic Game. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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