Gaming gathering gets start-ups back in gear

The renowned Motion in Games (MiG) conference in TCD gave Irish gaming studios the opportunity to mingle with around 80 of the world’s leading graphics and animation academics

Three weeks on from the noise and spectacle of this year’s Web Summit, Ireland’s start-up community has been looking towards somewhat quieter conferences and gatherings to further their horizons.

From last Friday's IIEA Cybersecurity Conference in the Mansion House to the recent DCU-hosted Techspectations 'Get Mobile' event, the year-round process of collecting contacts and gaining knowledge didn't stop when Elon Musk jetted home after his "fireside chat" with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Most intriguing of all technology-focused events in recent weeks, though, was the unheralded arrival of the internationally-renowned Motion in Games (MiG) conference in Trinity College earlier this month.

Andrea Magnorsky, co-founder of one of Ireland's most successful gaming start-ups, BatCat Games, explained the attraction, saying that while the "Web Summit was about business, this is about knowledge".


Now in its sixth year, this was the first time the event had been held in Ireland, and CEO with independent games studio SixMinute John Halloran was also in attendance. While MiG may not be filled with "venture capital funds" he said, it did focus on "people freed from commercial needs and pushing [games] in ways that we never thought of".

“It’s one of those rare times that we’d get to mix with these high level guys,” said Halloran, “it’s very hard to get in contact with them, you don’t run into them on a normal Friday evening in Dublin anyway”.

Organised by Trinity-based assistant professor of creative technologies, Dr Rachel McDonnell MiG gave Irish gaming studios the opportunity to mingle with around 80 of the world’s leading graphics and animation academics.

The three-day conference, held in the university's Lloyd Institute, saw visiting experts from the US, Switzerland, Bahrain, Spain, Mexico, South Korea, China and elsewhere present findings on injecting emotion into video game characters, simulating movement and creating realistic virtual crowds.

“I think it’s a really good time to have the event [in] Dublin as there’s such activity in games in Ireland,” said McDonnell during a break between presentations.

"I really wanted to engage Irish industry involved in [games] plus give people visiting here a view of what's going on," she added, saying that despite the recent job losses at Big Fish Games in Cork, the creative end of the industry is still very healthy here.

"Companies like Havok are hiring and mobile gaming companies are starting everywhere," she said, adding it was also an "important" part of the conference to emphasise to the gathered experts that Ireland is a country where academic and commercial funding for games-related development is "taken seriously".

Virtual human technology expert, Professor Arjan Egges – who was one of the driving forces behind the first MiG conference in 2008 at the University of Utrecht – said the event “helped [the University of Utrecht] establish our name as one of the main research institutes in gaming”.

With the games industry one of the Netherlands’ fastest growing sectors, Egges believes this is partly due to the ready-made graphics and design workforce created by courses at his university and others.

“If you want to have a successful [gaming] company you need a particular type of person – someone who is both creatively and technically excellent – but you really need education facilities that provide this,” he said, name-checking Trinity’s interactive entertainment technology masters programme as an example of a course designed to fill this gap.

Those in attendance throughout the event listened to researchers discussing the difficulties involved in “rigging and skinning” characters, how to spot the difference between “bounciness to squishiness” when an object hits something in a game, the complexity of “properly burning” virtual paper as well as getting the movement of eyes, lips and hair just right.

Talk titles ranged from “data-driven fingertip appearance for interactive hand simulation” to “the perceived naturalness of virtual locomotion methods devoid of explicit leg movements”.

Even the process of creating superhero-style movements were broken down in detail, with a talk delivered by animation lecturer from British Columbia, Shailen Agrawal explaining that “you can just apply super natural forces in a different direction” if you want a higher jump or further leap. All very “specialised stuff” as McDonnell admitted.

Nathan Sturtevant, an assistant professor in computer science at the University of Denver, was one of the conference chairs working alongside McDonnell at MiG.

Speaking to The Irish Times, he said the event was the best in Europe for "bridging the gap" between gaming academia and industry, adding that for Irish companies in attendance "making contacts" was the big attraction.

“If you’re an indie you definitely need to get some of them,” he said, a point both Magnorsky and Halloran agreed with as the pair joined other local games companies at a “mixer” social event with the engineers, animators, designers and data junkies gathered at MiG to round off proceedings on the final day.

“This is where you can see the latest results from the [games] community and what’s working for them,” said conference founder Egges. “MiG is a good place for Irish gaming to be.”