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With the exception of Sid Meier's keynote, all the rest of the keynotes were linked to conference tracks, which were much more sporadically attended. The one big conference wide keynote was fairly well attended, but it was held in a much smaller hall. The title of Sid Meier's keynote was The Psychology of Game Design (Everything you Know is Wrong).

Sid's talk focused on how a player's psychology enters into gameplay and as designers, we often miss these important clues. This is evident in many ways such as the Winning Paradox where the player expects to win the game everytime. Sid commented that he's never received letters when a game was won by a player.

The reward and punishment mechanic is also an important place to pay attention to the player's psychological reactions. The player never questions when gifts are given in the game, but if something bad happens, they think that the game is broken or cheating. The key is to explain why a punishment happens.

Sid then spoke on what he called the "Unholy Alliance," which is the bond between the player and the designer. He cited an humorous example from Civilation Revolutions where the player complained when they lost a battle with 3 to 1 odds in their favor. They felt that with those odds they shouldn't have lost. They also didn't complain when the 3 to 1 odds where against them and they won. They accepted a lose when the odds were 2 to 1, but not when it was 20 to 10. The game needed to be changed to compensate in order to maintain a suspension of disbelief.

Sid then spoke about several game decisions that were bad decisions in a section of the presentation called, "My Bad." These included creating a real-time Civilization, the Dinos games and Civ network.
The IGDA/Gamedev sponsored party at Jillians was a huge success last night. The room was packed and there was a line waiting to get in. All attendees seemed to be enjoying themselves. Thanks for the sponsors for making this event enjoyable.
I had a chance to meet with Brad Peebler and Bob Bennett or Luxology on Thusday. These two geniuses spoke about the plans at Luxology to create and distribute high-end vertical kits based on their award-winning modo software. The plan is to use modo's advanced modeling, rendering and rigging systems to create a set of presets and controls that are focused on high-end users.

For example, Luxology just announced the availablity of SLIK, the Studio Lighting & Illumination Kit. This kit includes all the tools that studio lighters would use based on real-world photography systems. Within the kit are all the meshes, backgrounds, HDR images, lighting setups and controls that you need. This enables digital artists that are familiar with the tools of the trade to use the tools they are familiar without having to learn a ton about some 3D package. It also lets they gradually get into 3D using a familiar system.

Other kits include the Splash kit for creating water splash effects and watch for other kits in the future.
In a session called, Complex Challenges of Intuitive Design, Peter Molyneux and Josh Atkins from Lionhead Studios showcased the new design elements for Fable III. Peter started the presentation by describing why he loves RPG games so much. The problems with RPGs is that they are hard to market. Fable has been evolving from a traditional RPG to an action/adventure type of game and many of the design decisions are causing this evolution.

In looking at the current design of Fable and Fable II, the team looked closely at what was working and key to the success of those games. These elements included the ability to morph, the face that every choice had a consequence, and finally the drama and emotion. But, the team also had some analysis that stated that over 60 percent of the players used less than 50 percent of the game features. This means that the team built a lot of content that was never used.

The key design goals for Fable III included the following: simplify the interface, reduce player complexity and amplify the emotional connection. To simplify the interface, the team has replaced the 2D GUI with a 3D world that allows the player to move about a dressing room and access a 3D butler character to aid in changing clothes and customizing the character. The team has also removed the health bar and replaced it with a visual that shows when the character is near death. The front end has also been redesigned to be simple and clear.

To accomplish the goal of reducing the player complexity, the team has worked to clarify morphing. This is done by allowing the weapons to morph. Many female players complained in Fable II that their character looked like a European shotputter. In Fable III, the design is to let the weapon that yielded have an impact on the character. For example, if a character swings a sword, then they will naturally become stronger and larger, but magic users will be more agile and slimmer.

Another design change to make the player complexity simplier is that experience will be represented by the number of followers that you have. If your actions upset others then you will lose followers and vice versa.

For the emotional connection, the team found that the dog in Fable II was a strong bond. To create even more connection to the characters, the design team has introduced the concept of touch. Using touch, you can comfort a child or take them by the hand.

Another emotional connection is the story itself. In Fable III, the player becomes king about halfway through the story and this feeling of power will be a strong feeling. It also provides a means in the story that you need to answer for all the promises that you've made in your journeys, which could make you gain or lose followers.

Expo Hall Open

The GDC Expo opened early Thursday which is a day later than previous years. The expo will extend into Saturday which makes it so more local people can attend I assume. Although the expo feels large, I think it is actually quite smaller than years past.

The expo hall includes the game pavillion and the business suites all together, which makes it feel bigger than it is. Most of the regulars are here, but several are missing or have cancelled. There still are a number of interesting displays. It seems like one area of growth is in the reps from foreign game communities. Germany had a huge booth showcasing the work being done in that country.
Daniel Cook presented a session looking at the opportunity to be found in both Flash and social game development. He compared Flash games to peanut butter and social games to chocolate and combining the two yields a tasty treat. He then presented the current state of both social games and Flash portals.

He then went into more details on the specific opportunities available via these Flash portals. Although there are over 30,000 different Flash portals available online, he presented several key techniques to use in order to succeed in these aggressive sites.

If you make good games and follow some key critical steps such as testing your game before posting it, then you should be able to get a good rating and quickly distinguish yourself from other games on the site. In conclusion, he stated that Flash portals are yound and underdeveloped and are a great opportunity for developers looking to make their mark.
After lunch, I got to meet with Eyal Geyer and Dan Farr from the newly merged Daz3D-Gizmoz company. Daz3D has long been focused on creating 3D character models and has grown a huge marketplace of 3d character models with interchangable clothes and accessories. Gizmoz has focused on creating realistic textured faces and heads for avatars, so combining these two companies together makes a lot of sense. The merged company can now offer the best fully realized characters.

The Daz3D models have been used for pre-rendered cut scenes, but have not been licensed for real-time games in the past, but they have now expanded their licensing agreements so that these models can be used within real-time games. Game companies using the pre-built Daz3D models can save a lot of money and still have high quality models. And if the current repository of clothing and accessories doesn't have exactly what you need, Daz3D will work with game companies to make the modeling companies that populate their marketplace accessible for custom work.

Daz3D also has a broad array of tools for animating, previewing and working with the Daz models. Dan showed off a beta version that included a decimation features for reducing poly count on high res models quickly and efficiently.
I was able to attend the Disney Interactive party last night and it was a great party. Attendees were bussed to to the Walt Disney Museum located in the Presido. In the main reception hall with drinks, appetizers and plenty of network opportunities were display cases with all the various awards presented to Walt Disney over his lifetime including a large array of Oscars. It was interesting to see the variety of awards from all over the world and from different organizations.

We then were turned loose to wander at our own pace through the museum which detailed the accomplishments of Walt Disney's life. I was really inspired at the number of times that he dealt with and overcame failures in his life. It was also interesting to see his visions become realized by his determination.

The time went quickly and the Disney contact that sponsored the event were very gracious and polite. Attendees were presented with a gift bag at the end of the event and I was delighted to find that it included a t-shirt featuring Tron. Perhpas the greatest piece of swag I've ever received. Cool indeed. Thanks Disney.
If you've got a game ready to ship and have found out the textures are just too big, then Allgorithmic has a product for you. I got to meet with Sebastian Deguy, the CEO of Allegorithmic to learn about their new product. Allegorithmic makes a procedural based texture product called Substance Air that makes it possible to reduce textures by up to 99 percent, but the product requires that you plan and describe the textures beforehand. It works a lot like MIDI does in the audio world.

For those developers that have already completed a game and determined that it is too big for online, the Allegorithmic geniuses have used their knowledge to create Substance Redux. This product takes existing textures and lets you compress them up to 50% smaller than the original BMPs and even smaller than what DDS can do. This provides a way to reduce the overall size of your game to online distribution to be even smaller without any overhead.

Substance Redux also includes a way to view before and after images of the textures and you can dial up or down the quality setting as needed. The product is scheduled to ship in April.
Presented as the second keynote for the Online and Social Gaming Summit, the presentation titled, The Relentless March Towards Free and what it means to the game industry, was presented by Kristian Segerstrale, CEO and co-founder of Playfish. Kristian highlighted the amazing growth of social games over the past two years including the 2 million new adopters.

He also highlighted how social gaming has changed the game industry in many ways by moving from a physical media to digital media and from stand-alone game experiences to social game experiences. This also has changed how games are made. Social games are iterated at a much faster rate based on the data being returned from the game than traditional console based games are.

Many analysts have been convinced that social gaming will eventually kill traditional game distribution, but this hasn't been the case and it actually is bringing many new game players to the industry.

Kristian concluded the presentation by looking at a number of key future trends including the appearance of franchises in the social game markets, a general consolidation of social gaming and more innovation and growth.

Gamedev.net dinner

On Tuesday evening, the Gamedev.net group gathered for a nice Italian dinner. It was great to meet familiar faces and to get to know new faces. Among a sea of vaguely familiar conference attendees, it is comforting to mingle with a strong unified group. The food was great and the company was excellent.
On Tuesday, I attended the full-day tutorial entitled, "Learn Better Game Writing in a Day." This is a lofty goal for a session even though it had a full day to cover it. It was presented by Evan Skolnick of Vicarious Visions. Evan has presented this tutorial for four years now and the session was quite polished and smooth.

Much of the morning was spent covering the traditional concepts of story structure covering the standard 3 ACT structure and the Monomyth concepts. Several movie and game clips were shown as examples which broke up the session nicely. There were also several exercises that got us thinking about what we'd just learned.

Over lunch, we watched about half of the Terminator movie and discussed the positive aspects of the story. The rest of the afternoon was spent learning the various tips and tricks that Evan presented concerning game writing. The session concluded with Evan going into a detailed case study of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, on which Evan was the lead game writer.

Overall, the tutorial was informative and entertaining. Evan did a great job in presenting the material and all attendees were rewarded with valuable knowledge.
Oh, the frustration. Oh, the humanity. Oh, the rotten technology. The first two days of GDC have been laced with troubles. After attending several wonderful sessions and taking notes on plenty of delicious tidbits that I've wanted to share, I quickly sat down and wrote out a complete summary of the attended sessions only to find frustration in not being able to connect to the Internet and post my report to the Gamedev.net site.

After trying all the available connections that my fellow writers offered, I ran in a panic to the local Radio Shack desperate for someway to connect and purchased a USB/Ethernet connector. It took another full frustrating day to realize that I couldn't get the drivers to recognize the device on my laptop. At two days into the conference, I felt like a runner who tripped and fell flat on my face during the first ten feet of a race and as of this morning, I was questioning whether I would finish at all.

As a last resort, I purchased some 3.25 floppy disks (when was the last time you've done that) and saved the file to a floppy. I then loaded the file on the a connected PC's desktop and copied and pasted it to make a post. Success for me was found in the most roundabout way and I never dreamed that sneakernet would be my salvation. I actually considered this morning re-typing the entire report into a connected PC and the only thing that saved my fingers from exhaustion was a simple floppy disk.
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