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stuff and things

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Control Inspiration
Mark "messhof" Essen and Daniel Benmergui (developer of Today I Die)

This session was titled "Control Inspiration," but was actually less focused on controls and perhaps more on inspiration by itself. The format was extremely informal and was basically just two separate talks given by Mark and then Daniel.

Yesterday Cactus identified creating games with punk rock, and cited Mark as one of his inspirations. Seeing him explain several of his games in person makes this analogy ring particularly true. His games are minimalist and pared down (much like punk rock songs, which can often be a minute or less compared to the three to four minutes seen in mainstream music.) Mark presented some of his inspirations, such as a video of a robot that learns to walk by itself, and discussed some of the things he has been experimenting with visually, such as random texture generation.

Daniel's presentation was essentially a history of the development of Today I Die, as well as look into the future of the game. Daniel described some of the issues he had during early development, such as a poem-building mechanic in which rearranging key words in a poem would control gameplay. The problem he encountered with this was that in these early versions, words would change into an entirely different word when placed in a different location in the poem, which was confusing to players because one couldn't predict what would happen to a word when it was moved into a different location. Eventually, Daniel went through over a hundred revisions of Today I Die over its six month development period -- including almost abandoning it for a space shooter prototype -- before arriving at the final version. He also presented a look at the next revision of Today I Die, which will be released as an iPhone game, with improved graphics and revised gameplay that should keep players from giving up early on due to confusion.

How to Manage an Exploratory Development Process
(Kellee Santiago and Robin Hunicke, thatgamecompany)

For this first session of the day, the presenters focused on solutions to problems that arise when developing games like Flower where experimentation is required to find the "magic." These problems were generally planning, communication, and interpersonal relations problems. However, the talk actually had broad applicability regarding quality of work environment in the game industry.

During development and after the release of Flower, thatgamecompany was experiencing serious morale problems, resulting especially from stress and arguments about experimental game mechanics. For example, there would be a disagreement about whether a mechanic would be workable, people would get into a heated discussion, one person would refuse to accept a mechanic and then another would come in over the weekend to implement it to prove it works, etc. The result is that everyone gets emotionally burned out. They realized that this situation was essentially unsustainable -- that working in that sort of environment would destroy developers and their company. (They posted a quote from an IGDA whitepaper that most game developers burn out and leave the industry within 5 years.) Recognizing this, they started searching for ways to fix their problems.

One of the primary problems they addressed is that developers often are not open and honest in communication. For example, and developers are often afraid to show weakness by being open about the fact they are having trouble implementing features on schedule. As a result they suffer silently and can experience serious anxiety. The solution is to create an environment in which it is okay to say "I need help." This extends to relationships with publishers as well -- thatgamecompany gave an example where they had to admit to their publisher that their initial prototype for Flower wasn't quite right yet -- and as a result they were able to get more time to iterate their prototype and ultimately make a better game. These discussions may be difficult, but having them is better than pretending these issues don't exist and letting them cause anxiety.

They also presented a rough outline of their scheduling and estimation methods. Unfortunately I'm not sure there was enough detail to really replicate their process, but the overall idea is that they estimate using large, rough blocks of functionality placed at approximately monthly resolution to create a schedule estimate, and then for finer-grained task tracking they keep track of units of functionality that take about 2 weeks to complete. Progress updates from developers are required 3 times a week. They claimed to not be a proper "Agile" studio, but a lot of their processes sounded similar to agile development in practice.

The session basically ended with a sort of collective ego rub, congratulating the attendees for being part of one of the most difficult and anxiety-inducing industries in existence.

IGS day 2

Alright, my journal has been activated, so I'm ready to start covering the second day of the Independent Games Summit. About to head over to the Moscone Center now and find a seat.

UPDATE:
Sitting in the IGS room waiting for the first presentation to start.

Schedule for the day:

10:00 - How to Manage an Exploratory Development Process
11:15-11:45 - NinjaBee's Top 10 Development lessons
11:45-12:15 - Control Inspiration
1:45-2:15 - Minimalist Game Design: Growing OSMOS
2:15-2:45 - Savvy Indie Solutions to Difficult Development Problems
3:00-4:00 - Tripping the Art Fantastic: A Beginner's Guide to the Brains of These Here Artists
4:15-5:15 - Indie Gamemaker Rant!
Holy crap, I haven't updated this thing in... well, possibly ever. I also haven't updated my main blog in forever, either. However, I'm paying for this one, so it should probably get some use.

So, let's see... currently I am an "actual" game developer (well, paid summer internship), which is interesting. I've also got a few projects -- like a retro 2D platformer and a fancy new version of SHilScript -- that I keep intending to work on during the weekends and never getting around to because I'm horribly lazy. If ravuya keeps bugging me enough I will probably get some work done on them, or at least update my blogs so everyone knows exactly how little is getting done.

Shameless plug of the moment: one of my friends has developed a MySpace for cats, called Meowspace. I would make a profile myself, except my cat died a few months ago (possibly, but not verifiably, due to the Chinese pet food fiasco.) :(

Preemptive closure

Seeing as it appears to be The Thing To Do, I am preemptively closing this journal before anything goes wrong.

Actually, though, this whole closing fad is somewhat mean. I think I'd be ticked off if I was in EDI's shoes at this point. I could get into a philosophical description of why it isn't helping any to tell him to grow thicker skin, but I don't think that's really necessary.

Anyway, I may actually post more to this journal, if I feel like it. If I don't I probably won't.
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