Microsoft's European dev account manager looks forward to the Xbox event

Gamefest 2010

You can imagine the scene. Some wag, in some meeting, somewhere, hits upon a particularly droll metaphor to capture the concept of unveiling undisclosed information to a wider audience: to wit, ‘opening the kimono’. It spreads faster than ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’. What’s most startling is that, in this wildfire’s smouldering wake, this arresting idiom has become a straight-faced replacement for ‘going public’.

Working for a US company brings a whole new corporate vocabulary. One is not merely especially pleased; one is ‘super jazzed’. I don’t ring anyone any more, I ‘put in a call’ – or if I have some weighty update to deliver to several of my contacts, it graduates to a ‘calldown’. Talk not of PowerPoint presentations, for I know only of ‘decks’; goodness knows my laptop contains enough of them to build a cruise liner. Filled with DJs and skateboarders. All playing Bridge.

But I’m powerless to resist. This month I have something to be super jazzed about. It’s all about the decks and kimono obi shall be tantalisingly loosened: Gamefest is back.

Gamefest is Microsoft’s own development conference: a two-day, multi-track buffet of full-fat Xbox 360 and Windows gaming goodness delivered by the people who actually do the work. The European event will be taking place in London on February 24th and 25th at Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge, two weeks after the US version in Seattle. It is open to all developers with a relevant agreement with Microsoft – XDK, Games for Windows LIVE or the US’s Registered Developers Program.

We’ve spent recent months soliciting talks from all corners of XNA – the development wing of Team Xbox that provides the XDK libraries and tools, whitepapers, websites and the camo-daubed code marines behind the GameDS support list – as well as MGS and a few third party special guests. We’ve been building a schedule, visiting venues and sampling sandwiches, and the result is a conference that is a must for anyone who builds games on Microsoft platforms.

This is your best chance to get the skinny on the latest platform initiatives, the priorities of the business, and new ways to improve your title’s performance – on the silicon, over the speakers, across Live, against the schedule, through certification, in reviews and at retail – straight from the horse’s mouth.

The headline, though, is Natal. You’ve probably gathered that Project Natal occupies the top spot on our priority list this year, but understandably we’ve had to keep our metaphorical clothing pretty tightly secured for all but our closest Natal partners (OK, enough, I promise never to mention kimonos again). However, at this conference the very latest insights and updates will be available to a broader audience and in greater depth than before. Xbox developers will have access to tracks dedicated to working with this remarkable device, not just from a technical perspective, but also by introducing the new directions in which gaming without a controller pushes us to think about design and production. Those team members and presenters will be able to take your questions both during the sessions and wandering the corridors and lunch halls between, so be sure to take advantage.

As I write, the schedule is still at a draft stage, but you can count on it covering a broad range of development topics. For a start, the two Natal tracks will discuss the design and technical aspects of this new way of making games. Non-coders will see sessions ranging from marketing to QA planning, via advice for gesture-based control in games, designing without buttons, multiplayer and using speech as an input. Accompanying these are programmer-facing sessions to encourage the efficient development of those features and more.

As well as the Natal content there’s a raft of low-level tech material on subjects including profiling, optimisation and VMX, compression and new software releases such as Visual Studio 2010 and DirectX 11, our latest Windows games API. While there’s plenty for coders of all stripes to get their teeth into, don’t overlook the event if you’re a producer, artist, designer, or in biz dev, audio or QA. We have a strong set of certification talks and updates on the Games for Windows program, plus discussions on best practices for DLC and UGC on our platforms. Check out the listings whatever your discipline.

By the time you read this the presenters will be sweating over final drafts, while the tracks and registration details will be laid out at Charlie, Allan and I will be in Chelsea, fully jazzed. See you there.

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