Intel’s Mitchell Lum on Indie Game Developers

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Intel’s Mitchell Lum talks with Steve Waskul at SIGGRAPH 2014 about his work with Intel interacting with Indie game developers.

The interview opens with Mitchell explaining that in the game space most people know that Intel works with the big game developers like Activision, Blizzard Entertainment, EA, Epic Games, and Rockstar North just to name a few. Intel loves working with them and helping to make their games run fast on their hardware. But, Mitchell says that what a lot of game developers don’t know is that Intel also works with the small Indie game developers as well. That’s where he fits in trying to build awareness for what Intel can offer a small studio.

During the conversation, Steve mentions that he was not aware until last year of all the way’s Intel works with game developers. Mitchell explains that Intel’s team works to help solve problems in game development, and then helps the industry by making the solutions public. This way, everyone can benefit from the efforts. Intel generates new source code showing how the problems encountered can be resolved so that the specific code used by the developers is kept confidential. This new code, and the techniques used in the code are all documented and available for all on the Intel site.

Steve agrees it’s great to see that all the learning that comes from working on a problem with a big studio ends up being available to help the entire ecosystem and notes that there seems to be a comradery between game developers. Mitchell says another example of this can be seen at GDC (Game Developers conference) where different studios do post-mortems on their projects laying out for the industry what they learned. In particular he says the comradery really comes through with the Indie developers (typically thought of as one-two person shops) who really support each other a lot. One example Mitchell sites Double Fine Games founded by Tim Schafer. Located in San Francisco’s South of Market district they have a co-located space at their office where they house 12 or so small Indie developer studios within their office. Another example is “The Mix Showcase” which was at SIGGRAPH 2014. In this first MIX showcase outside the US, Indie game developers had their own space on the show floor where they could meet other developers and show off their projects. (MIX stands for the Media Indie Exchange who partnered with SIGGRAPH to bring this opportunity to the table). What’s unique about this is that although all the companies are in a sense competitors they were all co-located in a small area where they could jointly showcase how they were doing innovative things.

Next, Steve asks Mitchell about his team’s mission of educating folks about OpenCL and Intel® Iris™ Pro graphics and the progress they have made over the last year. Mitchell says they’ve done a great job getting Intel® Iris™ Pro system out into the market and in the hands of more game developers. He explains that Intel has faced an uphill battle for many years because four or five years ago there was a notion among game developers that Intel graphics was really not what they needed. But, recently Intel has made large investments in graphics with some of Intel’s SKUs featuring graphics transistors on over half the die. Along with this investment, he explains that over the last year Intel has done a good job of actually getting systems in the hands of developers. Their system of choice for this seems to be the Gigabyte BRIX Pro system which is a small form-factor PC featuring Intel’s Core i7 series processors with Intel® Iris™ Pro graphics. Measuring only 4.3” x 4.5” x 2.4” tall these are definitely “Mini PCs”. Mitchell says most developers thought they were getting a toy when they received these systems. When they fire them up though and test their games on them, he gets a lot of “really great e-mail responses” from folks they’ve sent them to.

Certainly form factors have changed over the years and as the interview moves forward Mitchell explains that when he first came to Intel (about six years ago) he recalls setting up huge gaming systems for demos (we recall these as well and yes, some were quite large). He says that for him it is just amazing how much power is now packed into such a small form factor. Steve mentions that his friends at Adobe have also mentioned how well these little systems run their applications and brings up the fact that they can drive 4K monitors as well.

The conversation turns next to who Mitchell interfaces with developers. He works on two ends of the spectrum. With the Intel account managers he gets to work with the bigger developers in sort of a big company to big company relationship. When he gets to work with the Indie developers, he gets to have one to one interaction with the developers and clearly enjoys the opportunity to develop personal relationships with them. Also with smaller companies, he explains that it’s easy to see how the things his team does can really make a fundamental impact on the developer’s ability to ship a better game which is very rewarding.

Mitchell mentions that to him it seems like his team’s game strategy is getting a lot more executive attention. He describes how in January a group of exec’s wanted to better understand the usage model for gaming so they had systems set up and personally played with them to gain first-hand experience. For him, it’s really great to see that interest go all the way up the staff at Intel.

An interesting point that Mitchell brings up is that when you look at the entire portfolio of potential hardware that a game developer can target there is still a lot of innovation that can happen on all the platforms. One example he details is Android and the innovations Intel is bringing to the table working with the industry.

As the interview draws to a close, Mitchell points out that as he works with smaller companies he gets a lot of great feedback on how Intel can be more flexible and better serve the needs of the smaller companies they want to work with. He also talks about how great it is to see game developers thinking about “what is the game I want to make and who do I want to make it for?” And, then seeing them take the next step and ask “where will they play it and what will they play it on?” Seeing people create games that will run from inception on a wide range of devices is also very compelling to Mitchell as it allows gamers to enjoy the games they love to play while having a seamlessness of experience shared across the different platforms.