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Microsoft at GDC 2021: Tackling game dev’s tough challenges

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We all know that game development is hard. It is the only medium that blends art and technology; storytelling and exploration; high-definition graphics and 3D rendering, all on live networks running 24/7 with millions of server calls every hour. So, it's no wonder we have a long history of coming together as a community to share our experiences and learn from each other. That's what Game Developer Conference (GDC) is all about.

We love GDC because it is where we connect with old friends and meet new ones; share and discover; teach and learn. Though GDC is virtual again this year, the show remains a great opportunity to hear from some of the leading voices in gaming and to get a closer look at the tools and services used by game creators everywhere. This year, we will be hosting two virtual booths at the show:

    • The ID@Xbox virtual booth in the IGF Pavilion is a dedicated space for sharing information about our ID@Xbox self-service publishing program for indies. And if you still have more questions after visiting the booth, please request a meeting with one of our ID@Xbox team members for a more in-depth 1:1 discussion. We are proud of our support for indie game developers, and proud to sponsor the Independent Games Festival. Come join us in celebration and recognition of the incredible talent and tenacity of indie game developers everywhere. ID@Xbox | Swapcard
    • Azure PlayFab Virtual Booth is a similarly dedicated space for learning more about how Azure PlayFab and Microsoft can help you build, grow and run your games by talking with our technical experts. Ask questions, and receive personalized answers, whatever your game development challenge might be.

As a platform developer and technology leader, we have a responsibility to help developers of all backgrounds and experience levels better understand our tools and services and learn how to optimize them for all platforms, including Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, PC, mobile and more. We're excited to have game development experts from across Microsoft share best practices and answer questions throughout the week.​

Join us at GDC as we dive into these common game development challenges, and offer solutions for how to address them effectively:

    1. Migrating your tech stack with limited impact to players
    2. Integrating real-time multiplayer networking
    3. Adding multiplayer features
    4. Creating inclusive content
    5. Inclusive and accessible audio design​

Here is a brief overview of the development challenges and solutions we're addressing in our talks at GDC 2021, along with a glimpse at the future of Unreal Engine 5:​

    • Case study: How Minecraft Ported Realms to Azure
      Time: Wednesday, July 21, 8:30-9:00 a.m. PDT
      Presented by: Brian Trevethan, (Microsoft) and Mangal Sricivasamurthy, (Microsoft)
      Migrating technology stacks can be scary. But it doesn't have to be. This talk will show you how Mojang ported Minecraft Realms from a custom infrastructure-as-a-service implementation to a managed solution running on Azure, all while live, with minimal impact to players. Don't miss this.
    • Using PlayFab Party to Integrate Networking and Voice into Your Game
      Time: Wednesday, July 21, 4:20-4:50 p.m. PDT
      Presented by: Caroline Cai, (Microsoft)
      This session will give you a better understanding of PlayFab Party's real-time multiplayer networking and communication middleware solution, best practices on integrating multiplayer networking and chat into your game, as well as where to go for downloading latest versions of PlayFab Party. Azure PlayFab is a single cohesive cross-platform solution, with everything you need built into the product by design and by default. 
    • Azure PlayFab Multiplayer Servers Quick Start
      Time: Thursday, July 22, 9:40-10:10 a.m. PDT
      Presented by: Lester Jackson, (Microsoft) and Dimitris Gkanatsios, (Microsoft)
      Game developers looking to add multiplayer features to their game can learn how to easily integrate with Azure PlayFab's Game Server SDK to leverage PlayFab's managed hosting system. Using an open-source software (OSS) game engine we will demonstrate some of the features available including Containers on Linux, management access APIs, UI and PowerShell, OSS developer tools to validate integration with the platform, as well as auto-scale capabilities.
    • Production Essentials Summit: Cultural Intelligence (CQ): Superpowers for Excellence in Game Development
      Time: Tuesday, July 20, 8:30-9:30 a.m. PDT
      Presented by: Tina Merry (Cultural Intelligence Center), Esteban Lora, (Microsoft), Jesse Sosa, (Gearbox Software) and Kendra Bussing, (Pocket Games)
      The opportunity for game creators to reach millions, and potentially billions of people around the world through stories and content in video games, involves including diverse voices in the content creation process and community building across cultures. This invariably presents new challenges but also enables individuals and teams to learn and grow as inclusivity becomes more prevalent when building games for global and diverse audiences. The importance of being inclusive goes well beyond video games and applies to our personal experiences and interactions outside our in-group. Stephen Frost nails it by saying, "Unless you consciously include, you will unconsciously exclude." Our talk at GDC 2021 is about the relevance of cultural intelligence when doing business globally. We'll share a few thoughts about what we've learned doing business with companies and studios from different regions and countries. If you're a creator engaging or planning to work with developers, artists or other industry professionals overseas to help you develop or publish your game, this talk may give you a few additional ideas or reference points.

    • Audio Summit: Moving the Needle: Inclusive Audio Production Practices in 'Tell Me Why'

      Time: Tuesday, July 20, 4-4:30 p.m. PDT​

      Presented by:  Elise Baldwin (Microsoft)​

      Inclusive production is comprised of  intentionally involving subject matter experts with lived experience as key stakeholders in creative processes and building a team ethos and culture that prioritizes this core value. In the field of audio, inclusivity efforts can include casting choices and navigating systemic challenges within the casting process for both primary and localized languages, hiring and consultation decisions​,  and employing deeper than industry-standard collaborations throughout the recording process. This talk is a look at the principles of inclusive production methods employed during the creation of Tell Me Why. While this talk is part of the Audio Summit, the principles we talk about are interdisciplinary and can be applied to many facets of production. This talk is for anyone interested in developing an inclusive and intentional production culture within their team.​

    • Lessons Learned in Adapting the 'Sea of Thieves' Automated Testing Methodology to 'Minecraft'​

      Time: Thursday, July 22, 10:50-11:20 a.m. PDT

      Presented by:  Henry Golding, (Mojang Studios)

      Like many games that release regular updates, Minecraft is getting too big to test manually. By adopting the automated testing practices that enable Sea of Thieves to release updates constantly, with only a skeleton crew (get it?) of manual testers, we can keep crafting updates to Minecraft for decades to come. This talk is for anyone who wants to learn concrete, proven techniques to adopt automated testing (by game developers themselves) on a game project, especially when they want to release frequently and/or avoid long stabilization phases before release. As well as general principles, I'll show a kind of test framework that's super easy to implement and allows game developers to write fast, reliable tests for tightly coupled code without refactoring.​

    • ​Alpha Point" Unreal Engine 5 Demo: Unlocking Artist Potential

      Time: Tuesday, July 20, 1:20-2:20 p.m. PDT

      Presented by:  Kate Rayner and Colin Penty (The Coalition) with Epic Games

      In 2019, Gears 5 pushed graphics to new heights as the "tech showcase that sets new standards" (Digital Foundry). With sights on the future, The Coalition and Epic Games are working to set a new standard of technical excellence for next-gen gaming. The "Alpha Point" Technical Demo features real-time demonstrations of Unreal Engine 5 on Xbox Series X|S including the implementation of next-gen features such as Nanite, which allows for unlimited triangle budget, and Lumen, which allows fully real-time lighting with none of the traditional overhead tasks. In addition, The Coalition will share a real-time character rendering test on Xbox Series X and their preliminary findings on next-gen character creation with Metahuman.  This technical talk offers first-hand, in-depth lessons for developers looking to achieve the best real-time results from Unreal Engine.

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    • Visual Effects Summit: The Subtle Art of Not Making VFX​

      Time: Monday, July 19, 2:40-3:40 p.m. PDT​​

      Presented by:  Mandy Morland (The Coalition)

      The video games industry is ever changing and every day new techniques are created to advance the visuals and technology of games farther than ever before. To be a successful artist, you must stay up to date with all the latest technical innovations but technical skills aren't the only ones required to excel at your craft. Beyond knowing how to create compelling effects, an artist needs to know how to traverse the complexities of interpersonal collaboration. A game isn't made in a vacuum, after all. In this talk, we will discuss some key learnings on how to be a successful artist outside of your technical skills – namely through communication, collaboration, and confidence in failure.

We hope you find our GDC informative and inspiring! This is just a small slice of the many exciting things happening across Xbox and Microsoft right now. If you're interested in joining #TeamXbox, Xbox Game Studios is hiring for dozens of open game developer positions with hundreds more across the Xbox team #GEOjobs.

We're looking forward to seeing you (virtually) at GDC but if you're not able to attend, we invite you to join in the conversation on our Discord server at https://discord.gg/gamestack and if you're not doing so already, don't forget to follow us on Twitter (@MSFTGameStack) for all the latest updates.​

Thanks for reading! ​​