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  1. [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Patrick Redding, of Ubisoft Montreal, has formerly worked on Far Cry 2 (ie, best first-person game), previously directed the co-op component of Splinter Cell: Conviction. He is now the game director at the new Ubisoft Toronto studio. He started by making a distinction between player cooperation as opposed to systemic cooperation. He referenced a blog post entitled Tahrir: The Game, posing the hypothetical scenario about making a game dealing with non-violent revolutions. "There's a misunderstanding that [...] through the fabric of the twitterverse" that revolutions are somehow giving rise to these revolutions, but that's a fallacious thought. Revolutions start from within a country with people dealing in high-stakes, dangerous situations banding together and forming strong social bonds with one another.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"Players become invested in the success of a collaborative partners" because of that ongoing process of negotiation with other players. It converts selfish motives into those associated with the collective goal of the group.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Redding went on to talk about Minecraft and a server he played on with a bunch of friends -- but, on this server, he actually rarely sees any of his friends on this server. It's largely a server with people building things of their own will. A few weeks ago, he took a break from the game and "it wasn't really a hard break to take." He then signed on a few weeks later, though, and he opened the server and was greeted by these giant land masses and statues and in his absence his friends have created some amazing Inception-like cityscape. "Players respond very, very positively to this collective agency."[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"Why do players cooperate?," Redding asked. "How do we achieve the conditions in which shared intentionality" arises in large, big-budget AAA games. Redding went on to discuss the lessons he learned in the co-op component of Splinter Cell: Conviction.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]The first big lesson is that "players will work together to optimize system input." In the detection model for Splinter Cell: Conviction, "2x the players [does not equal] 2x the detections" since the players end up working together for their common cause, despite that this is theoretically very possible. The next lesson Redding and his team learned is that "Shared intentionality promotes individual self-expression." At the high-level, players developer strategies. At the mid-level, they create individual, lower scope plans. At the low-level, players make riskier choices in co-op than they do in single-player. And, in mastery, players in co-op are more willing to explore optional paths because they "know that they have a more reasonable chance of regrouping with their team and trying another approach if it doesn't work out."[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"Players derive satisfaction from meaningful cooperation" and this meaningful cooperation results in players enjoying the game more. So much so, that players are much more willing to forgive flaws of the game than they are in single-player.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Redding then goes into formal design tools and starts looking for genre-agnostic design tools and tools that are systemic. He starts this discussion with "cooperative dynamics," using the same notion of dynamics as Clint Hocking talking about on Wednesday. "Dynamics are what deliver the final game experience." Redding lists some of the dynamics that they used in Splinter Cell: Conviction, such as "gating/tethering" (a very prescriptive dynamic), "'exotic challenges" ("altered camera/controls for some players"), "punitive systems" and "buffing systems," "assymetric abilities," "survival/attrition," and "combined actions." In explicating the "combined action" dynamic, Redding elaborated with a definition I really liked: "Any game challenge attacks a discrete set of player skills: precision, timing, measurement, management, tactical choice, strategy, puzzle-solving." Beyond this, the solution to the challenge is largely left to player choice.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Redding closed with some of the lessons that he and his team learned from their experience on Splinter Cell: Conviction. [/font][/color]
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    GDC 2011: Day 3

    [font=Times][size=2][color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Day 3 started, much like Day 2, at 5:00am, because for some reason I'm under the false assumption that I should continue waking up at my normal time all week.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]That is a poor assumption.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Day 3's sessions started with the keynote from Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, and was entitled "Video Games Turn 25." Largely, the session was about Iwata recounting the early days of Nintendo and attempting to promote feelings of pride and ambition in the development community through a variety of anecdotes. This part of the session was actually great to listen to, but it's when Iwata began talking about the features and promise of the Nintendo 3DS specifically that the keynote became more of a light version of Nintendo's E3 press conference (Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimes even came out at one point to talk at length about it).[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]What should have been the keynote was the next session, given by former Ubisoft Montreal Creative Director and now LucasArts creative Director Clint Hocking (about whose site/twitter name I had a remarkable discovery). The session, entitled "Dynamics: The State of the Art," was general enough and entertaining enough to appeal to just about anyone at GDC -- not just the game design track it was on -- and contained an abundance of useful and insightful information. Hocking, whose GDC lectures are consistently amongst the best sessions that GDC has to offer, posited that before we bother talking about what specific video games mean, we need to understand "how they mean." Hocking's point being that we need to be able to understand the most basic aspects and at the highest levels of how an interactive medium conveys meaning through play. No single part of this session was mind-blowing, but its tremendous holistic value cannot be understated.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Next up was the GDC Microtalks, with Naughty Dog lead designer Richard LeMarchand presenting all of the individual speakers (ranging from David Jaffe to Colleen Macklin to Brenda Brathwaite) in his opening microtalk. It was in this opening microtalk that LeMarchand gave the theme for the session: "How you play." Nothing in these sessions provides new information, but each lecture had a very sentimental core (except Jaffe's, which had a largely practical tone about the amount of time it takes to get into console games) with the takeaway being largely inspirational in nature.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]It was around this point that I disliked that the main conference didn't have the same lunch break time instituted that all of the summits do. Not that my abilities to eat a sandwich while walking are particularly bad, but they are.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Frank Lantz's "Life and Death and Middle Pair: Go, Poker and the Sublime" was next and it was a very interesting talk to hear, as I am largely unfamiliar with Go and a pretty poor Poker player. Lantz's primary purpose was to illustrate the timeless nature and endless depth that both of these two games have and the way that they are pervasive in the mind of anyone who plays them. My favorite point was the relatedness between the notion of "expected value" and probability in Poker and how it leads people to inadvertantly come to understand the scientific method through a practical introduction to what is, essentially, bayesian theory. [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"The Failure Workshop" was next and, really, the main takeaway from the whole session was to prototype early and test out ideas before rat-holing into tangential work too early on. [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]My favorite talk of the day came from Kent Hudson, a game designer at LucasArts and former designer at 2k Marin who did Bioshock and the in-production X-COM, entitled "Player-Driven Stories: How Do We Get There?" In the session, Hudson went over both the theory/ideas behind a more systemically-driven game design that allowed games to take a less prescripted approach to story-telling and a more involving player experience. The way to get here is to more systemically measure a player's actions and, specifically, their relationships to other entities in any given game. Through this relationship monitoring, the game can heuristically monitor a player's actions and, as necessary, react to the sum total or an individual component of all that collected data when the time is right. Hudson referenced the three tenets of self-determination theory to determine what players really need in order to reach "happiness": autonomy (referred to as "agency" in the session), relatedness, and competence. And it is through the successful recognition and embrace of these three pillars that a game can properly involve a player in its world. Hudson then took the necessary step from all of the theory into the practical world of AAA game development, by highlighting that it is necessary to rethink the way that AAA games approach content in order to properly be able to fill out a game world with content flexible enough to be able to respond to a variety of player stimulii. Hudson, specifically, referenced the removal of five major time- and money-consuming elements of content: VO, custom writing, environments, models, and animation, and ways to really "own" a style that allowed a development team to re-appropriate its budget as necessary for a game that isn't as prescripted as a lot of today's games typically are. Given that the last thing I wrote for my site was entitled "The Systemic Integrity of Expression," I agree fully. [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]It's somewhat sad that directly across the hall from Hudson's session, David Cage was saying things like "Game mechanics are evil. Mechanics are a limitation. We need to redefine what interacting means." Which, I mean, no. [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]After the day's sessions wrapped, it was time for the Independent Games Festival awards show and the Game Developer's Choice Awards show. Unlike last year, the awards show was unexpectedly entertaining and completely hilarious due to IGF host Anthony Carboni and GDCA host Tim Schafer being thoroughly amazing. It weirded me out a little that, during the Game Developers Choice Awards, so many of the categories were filled with games that I had so little love for. The closest I got to rooting for a game was when Dragon Quest IX: Sentinel of the Starry Skies and Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker were both up for a nomination (in the same mobile game category).[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]The day ended with some good fun at the Nidhogg tournament at the Eve Lounge and then some other miscellaneous happenings.[/font][/color][/font]
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    The Failure Workshop

    [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Kyle Gabler opens the failure workshop with the story about a game entitled "Robot and the Cities That Built Him" which was to be a project based off of a seven day experimental gameplay project. "Because we're game developers, we started by making a bunch of different units," he said. "This is an indie game! The robots are not destructive, they're a metaphor." [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"But that wasn't big enough," he said. Then the game became "Robot and the cities... the musical!" And it started with bunnies jumping through the forest singing "it's a fuzzy wuzzy day." And this is the best thing ever, I think. "Their fuzzy wuzzy skins peels off revealing cold metal beneath." [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"...but it's still not fun," he said "and so we did what we should have done six months earlier" and they made a quick prototype with as little production effort as possible. And then they realized the game wasn't fun "or deep or interesting in any way." "The second reason this is horrible is that we had lasers [...] and it just wasn't us. I don't know, I'll never make a game with a sword in it." 2D Boy extrapolated two things from their experience: "No amount of theming will save a bad idea" and the second thing was that "Trying to live up to a previous game is paralyzing."[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Then George Fan (of Plants vs. Zombies and Popcap fame) took the stage. He opened his bit with a slide entitled "My Failure Story." He continued with a little background on his history as a child doodling and sketching out game ideas in rough drawings on papers. And he ended this with "Cat-Mouse-Foosball," the first game he made; "hey, [the design] worked for Bomberman, why couldn't it work for Cat-Mouse-Foosball." "I prototyped one level of the game and realized how poorly it played and never bothered with the rest," citing all of the other peripheral design work he did at the start of the project as being a waste of time. Fan then showed a demo that he made in the present of Cat-Mouse-Foosball and considered it an accurate representation, albeit ten years later, of how bad the game was. [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"In 2001, I almost quit making games forever..." Fan says in another slide. "The first thing I had to do was recognize the distinction between a thing I was familiar with [illustration] and something I was not [game design]." "Games are more like this complicated machine" rather than a quick sketch someone can envision in their head or jot down on a piece of paper. "[Games just] aren't something you can keep in your head once." This led Fan to his first conclusion: "Start prototyping the game as soon as you can [...] you're not going to know if the game is fun or not until you're actually sitting there playing the game." He ended his presentation by saying "Don't give up! If you love what you do, you will persevere." [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Next up in the failure workshop was Matthew Wegner, who founded Flashbang Studios (which started as a casual game development company with only three people). "After we had some money in the bank" a few years later, Flashbang then went on to make a variety of games that were done in, roughly, eight weeks a piece and uploaded to And this whole process didn't lead Flashbang to any money. Wegner simplified this to saying eight weeks is too little time to make a game like World of Goo but too much time for a game like Canabalt. Flashbang's first game, Offroad Velociraptor Safari, was their first release and accounted for almost a third of all of their traffic. "We set Blurst up in such a way as if it failed [...] we still had a really great time." [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Wegner then moved on to Off-Road Velociraptor Safari HD which would take their most popular game and make an HD version of it for consoles. They spent three months on the HD version building off of the web version and preparing it for publisher work. Wegner then showed off the result of this time with the trailer for Offroad Velociraptor Safari HD. "We were definitely pushing in this HD direction [...] and it turned out to be a pretty big mistake. We were currently three people and by calling the game HD" Flashbang was setting unrealistic expectations to everyone who would play the game. "And it turned out that we actually hated working on this" and the act of simply polishing an old game with better graphics and sanded edges. Wegner summarized this with a quote from Dean Karnazes: "Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness." [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Summarizing the issues with the HD approach, Wegner related a unicycle example to lead to his eventual point "we weren't willing to fall backwards" and get weird and clever with the game they were working on. The team then redirected a little and attempted to become a bit more non-photorealistic with a cartography look and explore, in similar senses, with the gameplay mechanics. One of the design mistakes Flashbang drew from this redirection is that they failed "design[ing] for players."[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Chris Hecker ended the Failure Workshop with his "Rock Climbing Failure." "We're going to concentrate on the failures between 2001 and 2003," Hecker said, joking about ignoring the other independent failures. Hecker talked about everything he was involved with during this period of time that wasn't "ship[ing] the game." He then demoed the game.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"So what went wrong?" he asked. He then listed out: "Technology rat-holing. Non-game distractions. And lack of ass-in-chair." Hecker then demonstrated a ridiculous level of math in Mathematica. It was pretty great. Hecker said all of these failures all boil down to one single problem: "I was scared of game design," continuing, "Design is hard, unpredictable, mysterious, unstable." He concluded by pointing to Spy Party and saying that while all of the aforementioned problems still arise, he is solving the fundamental problem by making sure that everything he does is playable. [/font][/color]
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    GDC 2011 Keynote: Video Games Turn 25

    [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Satoru Iwata started his keynote by highlighting the worries of developers in the development community concerned with job security.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"You are the center of the video game universe," he said to the attendees of the GDC 25 keynote, attempting to ease those concerns.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Iwata then moved on to teaching himself programming on his own time, joking that "I concluded that I pretty much had video games figured out." Iwata then talked about meeting and working with Shiguro Miyamoto, saying "I was convinced [my work] was technically superior." Miyamoto's games then outsold Iwata's by a ridiculous margin; Miyamoto 'taught' him: "Content is really king." Iwata confessed that this is when he learned that technology and engineering weren't everything.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]In talking about the early days of Nintendo, Iwata said, compared to games today, they were "video game cave men." He talked about wearing different hats, making enough money to pay the rent, and other problems typical of any start-up that we generally don't think about in regards to a company like Nintendo anymore.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Iwata started talking about a large-scale survey they run twice a year that they started in Japan in 2005 and have since expanded that practice to other regions. Iwata then showed a graph showing the "Composition of the U.S. Gaming Population" and how the prominent gender of gamers between ages 4 and 75 switches from being predominately male to being predominately female. Iwata then moved on to show the active gaming population in the United States and Europe, both of which exceed 100M users (with the US exceeding 160M) as of October 2010.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]The next topic Iwata tackled was that of "social networks" and "social games." He wanted to clarify the use of the "social" in either of these terms and the widely-believed implication of the term of "social game." He aims to redefine "social" as simply being a large group of people and the activities they choose to engage amongst one another with. Iwata then took the opportunity to promote the role that various Nintendo products have had on smaller-scale social groups (families and the like). "In those early days, being social only meant 'competing.'" Iwata says as he cited that people would connect two Game Boys together with a link cable in order to duel in Tetris.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"I don't want it to seem that Nintendo is taking too much credit for its role in creating the social game," Iwata says. He then cites Call of Duty's role in multiplayer and Microsoft's "considerable investment" in Xbox Live.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]The term "must-have" describes something that Iwata feels is so important that every gamer "must have it." "These tend to come from one of three sources," Iwata says, starting by citing hardware itself as a source (using the first Game Boy as an example and the role in incubating portable gaming it played). "Second, there were times when a game itself is must-have [...] names as diverse as Sonic the Hedghog, Just Dance, Grand Theft Auto, Guitar Hero, Angry Birds, The Legend of Zelda, and Tetris." "But, there is a third source of must-have that extends from neither hardware or software [...] it comes from the player itself. It's that social appeal of gaming." Iwata cites how Pokemon mechanically encouraged people to trade their Pokemon with their friends as a reason for why the franchise has been so hugely popular over the year. Iwata also cites "universal appeal" as a reason why so many of Nintendo's games have been so popular over the year. [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]The keynote then turned into a Nintendo press conference as Iwata took all these principles to talk about Kirby (which was a great story) and the Nintendo 3DS (which was a press conference spiel). Reggie Fils-Aimes also appeared to talk further about the Nintendo 3DS. "It's a system to play games," Fils-Aimes said on numerous occasions as he talked about Netflix and movie trailers. [/font][/color]
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    GDC 2011: Day 2

    [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Before anyone asks: there is no GDC 2011 - Day 1 post. Well, there may be somewhere, but I didn't write it. GDC 2011 - Day 1 entailed me getting into San Francisco fairly late, grabbing dinner and beer with some bros, and then pretty promptly heading to sleep. At 8:30pm local time. INTENSE, I know![/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]One of the reasons that I chose to only have one day worth of summits this year is that, last year, the Independent Games Summit and the Serious Games Summit both had their share of highlight but were, largely, not particularly interesting to listen to. It feels like some of the independent speakers show up, have heart, and have a great message that they want to communicate to the crowd. Other IGS speakers, however, despite being very talented developers with great personalities, either don't have much of a message to convey or aren't all-too-great speakers. So, this year I chose to just condense some Social and Online Games Summit, Independent Games Summit, and Serious Games Summit sessions into a single day of things that I really wanted to see. [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]And that's what I did! Of course, everything took a bit of time to get rolling since I'm still, largely, operating on my normal central time-acclimated schedule so I was up and awake at a prompt 5:15am local time. Which meant that it was time for breakfast:[/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [font="Arial"][size="2"] [/font][font="Arial"] [/font][color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]I ran into various people all morning but, since it was morning, you do people teh kindness of not letting conversations linger as people require caffeine. And some of us needed a second Red Bull. Some of us being me. Anyway. The first session I attended was at the Independent Games Summit and was given by Jamie Cheng of Klei Entertainment talking about "The Journey to Creating Shank". Next was the incomparable Derek Yu who talked about transitioning from the beloved freeware Spelunky to Spelunky XBLA (it looks amazing, for your edification on the matter). [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Next up I followed some friends to the Social and Online Game Design summit for what was probably my favorite session of the day: "A Debate: Are Social Games Legitimate?". The panel was moderated by Margaret Robinson and featured one of my favorite speakers about social games, Ian Bogost (who made Cow Clicker) along with a few other panelists. The panel didn't make it particularly deep into the topic, but there were some entertaining (and some interesting) conversations back-and-forth between, what at least appeared to be, a fairly opinion-diverse set of panelists. What I enjoyed most about this panel were the reactions the social game developers had to Ian Bogost's fairly pointed questions (accusations, in some cases) as to the ethics of social game development and, as the social game developers rightly responded, the ethics of game development as a whole. Also one of the panelists had a particular fondness for cupcakes, citing on numerous occasions that he thought it was "pretty cool" that he could send a digital cupcake to his mom and that could "get a conversation going sometimes." Cupcakes. [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]It was unfortunate that most of the panelists seemed as prepared for debate as Bogost was, as mostly anecdotal evidence seemed to be relied upon for points.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]What followed the social games debate panel was a nice, lengthy, gorgeous little faux-picnic near the convention center with a variety of friends from around the game industry. Including Florida. Poor, poor Florida. [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [font="Arial"][size="2"] [/font][font="Arial"] [/font][color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]The summit-filled afternoon picked back up with an amazingly well-presented and well-discussed talk by the ever-impressive Jane McGonigal on "gamefulness." McGonigal leveled a variety of criticisms as the whole wave of "gamification" that has occurred within the game industry, but not ruled out the idea as a whole. She simply aims to redefine the goals of "gamification" into something more like "gameful"(ification). One of the best quotes of the entire presentation was "The opposite of play is not work, it's depression." McGonigal's view of game design and the goals of play do not particluarly align with those of mine, but I do enjoy hearing her espouse her very numerous and well-researched thoughts on the subjects. I was somewhat disheartened that the session had no time for audience questions, as one of my principle complaints with the whole notion of "gamification" is that it seems to have the goal of making mundane tasks (and, in a lot of cases, even non-mundane tasks) more "fun" by "gamifying them."[/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]The example that Jane McGonigal gave of gamification/gameful-ification was that the New York Public Library approached "gamification experts" with the goal of getting young people to read more, as due to the internet and wikipedia they were finding that not many young people went to the library anymore. The goal of gamification in this case would be to provide extrinsic incentives to youth in order to get them to go to the library and read more and so on. Ignoring the high-level fact that this is simply strange, the more important point is that gamifying or gameful-ifying this problem simply fixes the symptome (kids not going to the library) rather than the actual problem (kids not reading as much nor having reason to go to the library). And, this example aside, gamifying seems to ignore that what makes games and play fun is that they have an ebb-and-flow with reality and "real life"; that separation is what makes each work so well. [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]The rest of the day's sessions were at the Independent Game Summit, starting with Andy Schatz's "How to Win the IGF in 15 Weeks or Less." What worked in this session was not Schatz's considerable personality, but the heart with which he spoke and the way he bound his personal life into the development of Monaco. Aside from showing a histogram of his own bank account throughout his time as an independent developer, Schatz also showed a variety of Facebook updates starting with one which was obviously done in a poor mood and ending with one of exuberance as he finishes up the IGF build of Monaco. The session also closed with an impromptu play-through of a level of Monaco by volunteers from the audience (and the game looks rad).[/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [font="Arial"][size="2"] [/font][font="Arial"] [/font][color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]And, finally, the last session of the Independent Games Summit was the Rapid-Fire Indies microtalk session which had five-minute presentations from speakers like Chris Hecker, Notch (of Minecraft fame), Kyle Pulver, Anna Anthropy, and other speakers. The session, on the whole, was a little disappointing due to a variety of sessions on somewhat common topics like game jams, the use of "indie" as a label, and piracy. Beginning the microtalk session with someone like Chris Hecker talking also seemed like a strange move; he had a great topic, his usual abundance of energy, and packed a pretty crazy amount of information into a single five-minute presentation.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]The day slowly ended from there, but here's a picture of Michel McBride-Charpentier vs. Jorge Albor in a game of Metagame; the debate card placed was "Which game has a more intense subculture?" And the debate was between Minecraft and Dance Dance Revolution. And somehow Michel lost with [/font][/color][color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Minecraft[/font][/color][color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"], so that's pretty astounding.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"] [/font][/color] [font="Arial"][size="2"] [/font][font="Arial"] [/font][color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Also Vagrant story is now on the Playstation Store in PSOne Classics. Get it posthaste. [/font][/color]
  6. mittens

    How to Win the IGF in 15 Weeks or Less

    [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Andy Schatz, the developer of Monaco, took the stage to preface his session by saying he isn't going to talk about how to make an IGF winner but, rather, just to tell his story.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"What's [important] is your inspiration and motivation when making games," Schatz says as he recalls September 29, 2009, adding "I was depressed." He talked about being in a rut and making indie games for five years and having it go nowhere. He was working on the third title in his Venture sim series and "it sucked" (as Schatz recalls). He had reached the end of the time he was giving his independent break from AAA game development and was depressed. So, next, Schatz took on board games because they're "all about mechanics" and says it's a very good way to get your brain flowing.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Andy Schatz talked about wanting desperately to make a game about "stealing shit," but was concerned that the fanbase he earned from the Venture sim series (who were largely kids) would conflict with the goal of a game about stealing things. Despite that, though, Schatz made a Monaco board game. He did this on a break from his full-time project and then, when he took his next break from his full-time project, he took a break and he said he's going to make Monaco as an XNA game in a week and that would be his last break from the third entry in his Venture series. Schatz said he wanted to make this heist game like a roguelike.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]After tackling some of the technical details of prototyping Monaco, Schatz moved on to talking about what type of tools to use when making a game. Schatz talked about using Torque for the Venture series and citing it as a mistake, then using Unity which (he feels) would have enforced a certain look on the game, and then customizing the look of Monaco by using the "just enough of a framework" XNA toolset.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]An interesting side-note about Andy Schatz's presentation is his use of old Facebook status updates, which he uses to bind the session to a narrative spine and function as an ad hoc "digital archeology" (taking the term from GDC cohort Ben Abraham).[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Schatz then talked about Ventura Dinosauria (the third entry in his Venture series) and that DINOSAURS ARE AWESOME. And he is correct. Unfortunately, Schatz couldn't make the game fun. "If you want to have a takeaway from this, this is it: I made sure I worked on one cool thing every day. [...] And I never worked on something that took me longer than one day." I'm editorializing here, but: this is awesome and a completely true and valid approach to independent development. "When you think of game development as a holistic thing," Schatz continued, "you get much farther when you're enjoying yourself." [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]"The number two thing that you can take away from this," Schatz says, "is that you should have people playing your game from day two." He cited his experience from the recent PAX expo. Schatz also makes a crucial difference between "advisors" and people who are just playing ("people who don't know shit about games"). "You can't have too many advisors," just people who align with your general goal and can give you good, pointed advice. The people who don't know about games, regardless of how bad their opinions are, their impressions are crucial. "There are three questions I ask every one of these people: 'What did you like?,' 'What did you not like?,' and 'What confused you?," and when they tell me what I should change, I ignore them."[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]In talking about how he financed his independent operation, Schatz cited contract work as the best way to make a lot of money, but "it's not fun." "If you're working on a project that just makes money you're going to make money or you go out of business. And if you're working on a project to make recognition you're going to make recognition or you're going to just make money," Schatz said of his independent development philosophy.[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]When talking about moving Monaco from tile-based visibility to movement to his new lighting and visibility algorithm (that went from being a pretty but distracting mosaic look to a more vector-based approach) took Schatz two months. This was his first and, by far, his longest feature to work on and broke his one-cool-thing-a-day work goal. "Even though it did take me two months, it was something I felt that was cool and interesting." [/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Schatz then turned to a discussion about game mechanics vs. "experience" and the difficulty in marrying these two things. "As an indie, you're never going to get over that uncanny valley hump, [...] but there are areas" in which independent developers can bridge the realism gap such as, as Schatz points out, sound. He creates a very complex soundscape in Monaco to help the game's overall "experience."[/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2][/font][/color] [color=#000000][font=Arial][size=2]Andy Schatz ends the talk with a near-final Facebook status update that shows how much his mood has increased and how much more productive he was when he did something that he enjoyed. "And fifteen weeks later, I had won the IGF."[/font][/color]
  7. mittens

    A Debate: Are Social Games Legitimate?

    [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]The "A Debate: Are Social Games Legitimate?" panel opened with moderator Margaret Robertson (Moderator), and then went on to allow each panelist a small amount of time to make an opening statement on their pre-existing opinions on the matter of social games. This started with Ian Bogost, then Daniel James, Nabeel Hyatt, and finished with Curt Bererton. The order of these panelists seemed, intentionally or unintentionally, to take the order of "most negative" to "most positive" feelings towards social games.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Ian "Cow Clicker" Bogost is, in fact, in the house.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Moderator Margaret Robertson opened with a discussion of the panel's title and mused about the use of the word 'legitimate' in the title by saying "nstead of 'legitimate," are these things... "evil?" She then polled the audience on a variety of social game-related questions. All told, the audience of the panel largely consists of people who make social games. When asked who in the audience plays socialgames, a majority raised their hands; when further asked who played these games for fun, a majority of those hands dropped.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Ian Bogost starts talking by illustrating the amount of high fructose corn syrup in a variety of food products (and points out its presence in unexpected foodstuffs like bread). Bogost wonders if Facebook is doing to friendship if what the leading maker of high fructose corn syrup is doing to food: homogenizing them. Bogost then tosses Zynga into the mix, insisting "you can toss any company into this mix but, you know, the colors matched." Bogost asks the point "is this the way we want to bring this infrastructure" to dealing with friends.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Daniel James started his bit by pointing out that this panel is partially for entertainment so the things said should not be thought to completely elucidate the panelists' opinions. He says "it's interesting that games like Farmville can be considered 'virtual world' games." "It's up to all of us to make ethical decisions about how we spend our time" and considering how the output of a creative work will be used by the end-user. James went on to to discuss the validity of making gambling games (slot machines used as reference) and that doing so would evoke a large amount of personal distress if his games relied too heavily on gambling tricks.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]"First things, these games are very fun to play... but they're also a lot of fun to make," says Nabeel Hyatt to open up his opening dialogue on the panel. He relays an anecdote about a woman playing Cafe World and getting together with her like-aged and -gendered friends who all get together with their laptops and play Cafe World together while talking. Hyatt then goes on to talk about Brian Reynolds (who is, largely, responsible for FrontierVille at Zynga) who said that social games were the only area that Reynolds could go where he could "be a game designer." He concluded by saying a lot of people are not in social games "for the money, they just want to hone their craft."[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]The final opening statement came from Curt Bererton who started by calling him and his coworekrs "the indie evil" (for becoming a small company that makes social games). "You could say we're using metrics to make high-fructose slot machines," but what you end up with is "actual social value and an excuse to talk to [your family] more often." He also adds that since they started playing social games, "I actually talk to my family more." Bererton ends with an anecdote that he could send his mom a "birthday cupcake" in a social game and that's "pretty special."[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]The panelists then start open discussion with ways to get people talking to their friends and working with other people they know in these social games. Hyatt insists that while games that have strong social ties are effective in getting people to play and talk to one another, that they are actually "more insidious" (he goes on to cite a World of Warcraft raid group getting people into the game for a raid).[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]On the topic of user metrics, Hyatt says that "some companies use metrics and [it's essentially] pumping out sugar" but that only works for so long. He continues by saying "as evil as you can be with metrics, [...] they can also be used for good things too. [Metrics] also allow you to make better games." Bogost retorts "it doesn't matter how fun these kinds of games are to play, but is it the kind of fun we want" to have. Bererton responds to Bogost by saying that "in the broader strokes of things, these are all a waste of time," and in the broader scheme of things, he'd rather feel like it's a waste of time made better with friends. Bogost says the social game platform "is built on a foundation that I think is troublesome."[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]"Metrics are a measurement of people's behavior," Hyatt says and continues that metrics get "the game designer out of the ivory tower." Metrics on social games allow a direct feedback loop rather than a designer working on something for three-four years and espousing their opinions before they get any direct feedback from the audience. [/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Bogost says that the existing social game infrastructure "feels bad." Bererton responds to him that there is a lot of real social value on Facebook now. "I don't have a problem with making money [...] I just think the question is how we do so," Bogost says.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Margaret Robertson asks: "Should social games have ethics policies." "I think a lot of people do have unwritten ethics policies," Bererton responds, "and sometime they look at a feature and say 'I don't think we should be putting this out here.'" Hyatt brings out Jesper Juul's quote "social games are the video games of video games" (in the sense they are the games fighting for legitimacy in an industry fighting for legitimacy). Bogost says "we need not love every form of games, we need to be allowed to ask questions about the kind of games people want to make."[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Bererton thinks the "hardcore industry" looks at social games as "not games." He goes on to say "You can't just say all modern art sucks just because you like impressionism." The discussion then goes to the point that if you can't ask questions and argue the validity of a certain type of game, then "what's the point?" [/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Hyatt is quick to defend the platform by saying that "there are reams of anecdotal evidence that social games are adding real value to people's lives."[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]"So... So long as social games are doing more good than evil, it's okay that they're doing evil?" Robertson quips in response before ending the discussion and opening the panel to questions.[/font][/color]
  8. mittens

    The Journey to Creating Shank

    [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Jamie Cheng, one of the founders of Klei Entertainment, started his presentation on the team's development on Shank by showing a graph of Klei's games getting "[m]ore and more violent over time" starting with Eets, then Sugar Rush, and culminating in their most recent game, Shank. Klei experimented with the game early on by creating a quick demo of Shank in Flash and was done over a weekend; a lot of the moves were in and the demo, on the whole, gave them the confidence to move forward. The actual Shank character design came a few weeks later. Within two months, Klei had a very capable demo of Shank with a representative character design, a good sample of moves and abilities and combat flow.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]With so much of the game representative in the early prototype, Cheng joked "What did we do for the next year?" Over the next year, Klei worked on the engine, polish, and the necessary work for releasing the game for multiple platforms. Publishers were telling Klei not to show the game, because that would "hinder [their] ability to promote the game." And Klei chose to, largely, ignore that and show the game (because it's "[theirs] to show") at PAX 2009 using a box gotten from Home Depot that was decorated pretty impressively to demo the game to PAX 2009 attendees. [/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Cheng moved on to discuss the "[t]echnically hard things" for Klei. The first mentioned were that the Playstation 3 port wasn't anywhere near ready for release with Klei only having about four months to their release date. Another issue was the 2GB download of Shank, of which 1.4GB were all in the game's cinematics. The last of the listed big, technical issues during development were the fragmentation issues on the Xbox 360 that were leading to great disparity in loading times and other issues during testing.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Klei worked on thirteen levels in three months after only having two playable, polished levels to show off to people. At one point on Shank's development, their development office also flooded due to a neighbor's dishwasher that flooded their office with water. Despite the flooding, though, their computers (which had their power supplies at the bottom of the case), survived three-four inches of flooding. Somehow.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Some of the post-release statistics on Shank: Average session duration for Shankplayers was 56 minutes. It had a 26% conversion rate on Xbox Live Arcade. And 30% of people who played the game (on normal mode) finished the game. An interesting thing that Klei learned after launch was the difference between "Aggressive vs. Defensive players." The team learned that aggressive players learned and loved the control scheme a lot due to the smooth combat transition, but that defensive players who wanted to run away from fights ran into issues with the control scheme since it wasn't really intended for that play style and it just felt "sticky."[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]The publisher relations with EA were a mix of "Less Good" and "Good." In the "Less Good" column was "arbitrary deadline," "'olde style' PR" ("press releases are horrible!"), "consumer expectations," and "possibly reduced upside" (versus self-funding). In the "Good" column, however, was the "creative freedom," "'true' support," "multiplatform," "marketing," "marketing," "reduced risk," and "less platform requirements." Cheng, overall, feels that the choice of EA as a publisher was largely a positive thing for the game as, otherwise, the game likely may not have shipped. [/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]"Well, how'd we do?" Shank "sold more in the first 24 hours than Eets: Showdown did [in its] lifetime." XBLA reported 41,000 units in the first week but "multiplatform release was key for profitability." The game has had a particularly "long tail" on Steam, however, and Cheng waxed positively about Steam's role.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Overall, Shank had three months of prototyping, nine months of tools, and six months of miscellaneous other work. The crunch for Shank was largely on the designers and artists as the game was very content-heavy in a short timespan, but the engineers only had to work a couple weekends over the course of the game's entire development. It was a pretty tough time for the team (at times), Cheng said, but overall it ended up working out.[/font][/color] [color="#000000"] [/color] [color="#000000"][font="Arial"][size="2"]Cheng ended the session with his "thoughts on the future..." He cited the potential of the downloadable space but that, right now, the ceiling is relatively low. "The best breakout hits in the console downloadable space are making < $10M in profit, and there are comparably low number of games." He added that "the platforms really need to push the numbers upward and keep adding great features if they want this space supported and working in the long run." Cheng cited the role of Microsoft's XBLA "Summer of Arcade" which makes kings out of certain games, but other games get left in the periods before and after and get lost (comparatively).[/font][/color]
  9. mittens

    The Particle Trilogy

    As a little break from Caper Corp., I finished a making a new video game this weekend. This one is called In the Wind. Much like Balance and Doubt, In the Wind's entire visual style is driven by particle effects. Well 2D text too, but that's only because making particles to represent text looked ghetto at the size I needed the text to be. In the Wind brings an end to the particle trilogy style of games I started back in December. This game would have been completed back in January or so, but unlike both Balance and Doubt, In the Wind was started more because I liked this color composition: Unfortunately, that was really all I liked about the game that I was thinking about making, so it never really got beyond some movement physics, a wind effect/simulation, and the tree. My goal with the game was to always convey a "natural economy," in that everything in the game was able to act because of the energy the center tree provided, and the player's goal was to just feed more and more energy into the tree. It was an okay idea, but I never really had the thematic commitment to it that I did for the other two games. My goal with the particle projects was: no more than seven average days of work (so an hour or two after work and then maybe a weekend afternoon) and a set of systems which mechanically conveyed a single, coherent theme. For Balance and Doubt, I had the theme and the systems down for what I wanted to convey and, between the two, Balance is the only one that really succeeded as a fun little project (though I still have some love for Doubt, despite that). For In the Wind, I never really had that and, as a result, despite the second wind I got that drove it to completion, the game kind of waffles. The other problem was that after a night of work on In the Wind, I was already prepared to go back to work on Caper Corp., so it was this weird divided interest. Still, I was able to get In the Wind done in a fashion very similar to the other games in the series: a Saturday after returning from a run I realized I had to scramble together all of the final elements (usually some systemic touches, audio, and a starting/ending screen), upload it to my site, post to Twitter, and get some quick feedback, incorporate those changes into a new build, and voila. New game. Working on these three games with the self-imposed constraints under which they were worked on was a fun little endeavor. It was nice to do something a little bit different and to establish a visual style that was (hopefully) uniquely mine and explore some one-off systems. And now it's back to Caper Corp., which should have another entry forthcoming at some point in the next week or two. Final games in the particle trilogy (because they're not real games if they're not part of a trilogy):
  10. mittens

    GDC 2010 Wrap-Up

    Today was my last day at GDC and, at that, it was quite a short one. While I was waiting outside of my first session, a woman came up to me and announced she was a speaker and asked if she could borrow my Mac cord. I said sure. She said I saved the conference. I said "I do what I can." My first session of the day was one which I, quite honestly, attended solely to write-up a mocking article later on. The session was Richard Rouse III's "Five Ways a Video Game Can Make You Cry." And, if you check out my write-up on the session, you might notice a lack of mockery. This is a result of Rouse handling the topic far differently than I originally intended. I still think it's an absurd topic for a session and handling the material somewhat well doesn't change that fact, but it's not the source of humor I expected going in. Rouse gets extra points for showing the Mad Men scene where Don Draper demonstrates the advertising campaign for Kodak's Carousel. Immediately after that twenty-five minute session, I went on over to "Designing Shadow Complex" with Donald Mustard. It's unfortunate that this equally short session had to be so abbreviated, because Mustard was not only an incredible speaker but also was showing some amazing procedural tidbits regarding Chair's approach to developing Shadow Complex. Most fascinating was that Mustard and the Chair team used Adobe Illustrator to create an entire 'paper' graph of the world map of Shadow Complex. It was divided into the squares/screens that divide the actual game's world and included various guards, pick-ups, blocked doors, ladder, and, seemingly, a level of clarity for the full game world that was completely fascinating at such an early point in the game's development. On top of this, Chair developed a "player legend." This is the size of the player, the way he can charge in either direction before he hits critical speed, how high a single jump goes, how high a double jump goes, and the maximum height of the player's hook shot. The team then dragged this player legend around the map to get an approximate idea for how Shadow Complex's planned game world would play out. Once the team was happy with it on a paper level, the entire game world was blocked out in Unreal Engine in BSP and with some pick-ups and enemies and very basic cover. This allowed the team to get into the game with and iterate on and perfect the core gameplay loop. Mustard said handling the development of the game this way allowed them to add more and more weapon functionality that really worked together with the world to create emergent strategies and functionalities. It was a fascinating look into the game's development on a level that I would have adored to see in, say, the Uncharted 2 post-mortem. I asked Mustard how they handled changes once the BSP world had been made, and he said that once the game world block was in the engine that all changes were made directly to the BSP layout (which makes sense) and also that the original BSP brushes formed the basis of the game's collision volumes in a lot of cases. Lee Perry's prototyping talk the day prior had as imilar level of depth and behind-the-scenes to actually aid developers as well. I ran out of the Mustard's session once I had my process question answered and ran into a nearby lecture hall to get my MacBook power cord back. It was here that I realized the woman who asked to borrow it was Christina Norman, lead gameplay designer at Bioware on Mass Effect 2, and had just finished giving a giant speech on the design refinements between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. So that was awesome. Next up on my rushed attempts to get back to the hotel and head to the airport was a quick meet-and-talk with Manveer Heir, lead designer at Raven Software. He was talking to Michael Abbott when I came to say hi, so it was great to briefly talk about Manveer's talk with him and once again thank Michael for organizing last night's dinner. And this brought an end to my first-ever GDC. GDC was, quite simply, a totally fantastic week. I'm not a quiet person, but I am very shy about introducing myself and meeting people, so it was totally great to meet all these super friendly people who I've talked to online about games in various forms for years. And listening to five days of sessions gave me some great insight into various design processes as well as some ideas of my own both for my independent work as well as my work on our project at LightBox. My one regret is that there were some people I met that I didn't get to talk to in much detail, but that's just kind of a thing that's bound to happen at a ginormous conference like this. Here's a wrap-up of my daily GDC write-ups. It's also worth noting that I didn't do full write-ups of all of my sessions as I don't complete hate myself enough to do that, so there are analyses and summaries of various other sessions buried throughout my daily write-ups.Day OneDay TwoDay ThreeDay FourDay FiveDay SixAnd here's a list of all of the live write-ups I did on various sessions/lectures throughout the conference. I can't stress enough that these are very rough, but I felt it was more important to get them up for people who wanted the information than to spend a lot of time on polishing the writing. This is why I'm not a real journalist.Abusing Your Players Just for FunIncreasing Our Reach: Designing to Grab and RetainNinjaBee's Top Ten Development LessonsIndie Solutions to Design Savvy SomethingsUniquely Ruthless: The Espionage Metagame of EVE OnlineThe Complex Challenges of Intuitive DesignFive Ways a Video Game Can Make You CryThanks to and LightBox Interactive for making this whole trip possible.
  11. Richard Rouse III, a narrative director at Ubisoft Montreal, begins his talk with a slide: "Five Ways a Video Game Can Make You Cry" and the image of a woman wiping away a tear from her right cheek. He opens it with the EA ad in 1983 "Can a computer game make you cry?" and pointing out that a lot of great works of art, like the Mona Lisa, do not make you cry. Our industry commonly makes the mistake that people cry due to melodrama/tragedy rather than any other emotion (which he believes is false). Rouse displays a slide with the quote which will define the theme of his lecture: "Weeping is an interesting touchstone because it assumes that melodrama is the measure of narrative art." Janet Murray, George Institude of Technology, Hamlet on the Holodeck. Steve Meretzky said the crying debate is "so 1993." Richard Rouse says he crieda t the end of Titanic. Also a General Hospital montage in the mid-90s. Also a Rush concert because they're "so awesome." The first way that a game can make you cry goes up on the screen, with the text "This Was Your Life" in big, bold letters that fill the screen. Rouse shows a music video of Johnny Cash's "Hurt" which shows various clips of Johnny Cash's life, his family, his present, and other images were obviously important to him. So a montage. I was kind of hoping for a clip of the General Hospital one. Rouse says "the sort of flashback looking back at the life technique is a powerful technique used in a lot of tear-jerkers" as covers of the Titanic, The Notebook, and Away From Her are shown on the screen. Rouse then goes on to discuss the importance of long-term characters in The Sims. He then references and shows a clip of the end of Fallout 3, which had an ending that showed a montage of the player's accomplishments throughout the game. "I don't know if this is necessarily tear-worthy." The second way that a game can make you cry goes up on the screen is "Amplification Through Abstraction." I think: oh, come on, Richard Rouse, is showing a clip from the hyper-sad Grave of the Fireflies really, really necessary? Come on. That was completely tragic. Rouse says that the movie being an anime/cartoon allows for a level of abstraction that the viewer projects a person onto the little girl, rather than dealing with the barrier that a real actor would create ("poor performance" or "too specific"). Rouse now shows Jason Rohrer's "Passage." "I think the reason this works at all [...] is because it's just these two little pixel-y characters and not this photorealistic person" so the player projects his life onto these characters. The third way that a game can make you cry goes up on the screen: "The Weak Shall Inherit (aka Transformation)." Rouse cites It's a Wonderful Life, which he then summarizes because it's such an obscure, unknown movie. George Bailey goes through life all philanthropic-like until he has his moment of crisis at which point he is shown how great it was and he begins to appreciate the life he led and then at the end everyone comes together to help Bailey out. I hate you if you haven't seen this movie, by the way. "It's interesting we're crying at the happiest part of the movie, not the saddest. Which is a recurring thing with crying," Rouse said. He goes to the game example with Bioshock which he details his player experience where he saved all of the Little Sisters throughout the game ("because [he is] sappy that way"). The "touching moment" is when the Little Sisters come in and band together to kill the bad guy while the player is weak. Let's face it, a bunch of little girls stabbing someone to death with Adam really is a lot like the end of It's a Wonderful Life. The fourth way that a game can make you cry goes up on the screen: "Don't Know What You've Got Until it's Gone (aka Loss & Recovery)." Rouse displays a clip of an old silent movie where a husband took his wife on a trip where he planned to kill her, but in the end he can't do it because she's too important to him. She runs away and the man is forced to realize what he had. Eventually the two accidentally meet in a church with a wedding going on and the man cries a lot, the girl realizes maybe he really does care, and they re-fall back in love. And at the end of the movie the woman dies in a boat accident. Then, I guess, a woman found the man's wife and she really wasn't dead. Or something. Moral of the story: "it's only through losing it that you realize what you had." Rouse then brings in Portal and the confrontation against GladOS where the player destroys her individual personalities one by one and one of them begs for its life and it's this bittersweet moment. Now... Nintendogs! Rouse describes his dog in the game that, eventually, his daughter took over playing with. When Rouse was away on a business trip, his wife called him and said that Rouse's dog in the game is "gone." Rouse describes his sadness regarding the loss of his dog in the game until he came back to the game when he returned home and the dog came back and he was brought to tears by this joyful reunion. The fifth way that a game can make you cry goes up on the screen: nostalgia. Rouse brings in Mad Men and the COMPLETELY AMAZING scene where Don Draper demonstrates the "Carousel" to Kodak. Draper displays a very emotional, meaningful slide show of his life with his family, causing Draper to rethink his current state in life. So we're back to montages again, basically. "Nostalgia -- it's delicate -- but potent [...] nostalgia, in Greek, literally means 'the pain of an old wound'," Draper says in the clip. Even I'm getting weepy here. It's so good. Rouse goes into the love between two children in Ico, the attachment to Rapture in Bioshock, the lives we never had in The Sims, or simply the experience in Rohrer's "Passage." Richard Rouse concludes by pointing out the sentimentality in relationships with people and characters in games, rather than in tragedy.
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    GDC 2010 - Day 6

    I'm kind of a big fan of this whole game development and game developers conference thing. This is especially true since the main conference started on Thursday. The Indie/Serious Game Summits are both fantastic, but the lectures and sessions in the main conference are just so good. And it's hard to deny how awesome it is to see people you respect and who made great games talk about a topic they're passionate about. After the normal, at this point, morning in the Marriott lobby writing about the prior day, I went on over to the conference to attend Richard Rouse III's "Environmental Narrative" talk. Coincidentally (or not?) enough, this session took place in the same room as the excellent Harvey Smith and Matthias Worch talk on environmental storytelling on Thursday. This means that there was a significant amount of people who wanted to get into this session in one of the smaller rooms of the conference that were unable to fit in. Rouse's lecture went through a series of examples on various types of objects/scenarios that can be used to both convey a story in the environment as well as aid players in navigation through a level via visual cues and flow hints. Much like Smith/Worch's talk, Bioshock was frequently cited as a brilliant recent example of a game with a very carefully and effectively designed environmental narrative. Once Rouse had gotten through a series of techniques and practices, he used his work on The Suffering (a superb game, by the way) to demonstrate ways that he and the rest of the development team handled the game's design. One of the more interesting examples is that, despite gathering an abundance of information on prisons through the internet, The Suffering's development team did not actually get to visit a real prison until late in the game's development. This trip gave them several ideas as to how they could make a more cohesive, believable prison (such as using awful shades of paint to visually separate various wards of the prison), but since it was so late in development a lot of the more interesting discoveries were unable to be used. While Rouse presented some solid level design techniques and ideas, I feel like the entire presentation failed to make the leaps in critical thinking and design methodology when it was so close to doing just that. And this was actually an issue I discovered with a couple sessions throughout the day: a seeming unwillingness to attempt to draw general design lessons from experiences or to think critically about why (and where) a given design technique "works." Going up to the podium to talk about how a game handled its approach to level design is interesting, but failing to think critically about why that design approach works is a step I consider both incredibly useful to a wider audience of designers and necessary for a compelling lecture. Granted, it's hard to think critically about why the practices and techniques we employ as designers "work" (or don't), but it's the effort put into that thought which should define our role as designers. When I think about the talks/presentations I've heard from GDC either in-person or ones which have been archived online, they're the ones that make that extra logical leap to answer "why?" When Clint Hocking gives a talk inspired by one of his games, he talks about the design lessons (such as intentionality vs. improvisation, simulation boundary, etc.), he does not point to a feature on a game, show the audience a video, and then cap it off with "so we did that." The Worch/Smith session from the day earlier, for instance, covered how people, in general, "fill in the blanks" of a situation by going through an elaborate series of events to, ultimately, come to a conclusion. Worch/Smith then take that extra step to explain that this player-initiated investment into a situation not only enriches the environment they're in, but brings that player closer to the game as a whole. I'm not intending to single out Rouse's talk for this rant (because it's actually inspired by another session that I won't mention), but Rouse gave a very solid lecture that just came so close to that last necessary step. Next up: Sid Meier's keynote, "The Psychology of Game Design (Everything You Know is Wrong)." I had been told by several people throughout the course of the week that, generally, the keynotes are generally a letdown. Supposedly this is due to the incredibly large, diverse audience of people and disciplines that keynotes have to appeal to, but I was hoping that, being Sid Meier, this wouldn't be the case this year. Unfortunately, it was. Sid Meier took audiences through a series of explanations as to why things that seemed "cool" ended up being received poorly by players. The primary example that Meier cited was that of "Mathematics 101," which he exemplified in the display of Civilization Revolution's pre-combat information. When the aggressor had an attack rating of 1.5 and the defender had a defense rating of 0.5, Meier said this was a fairly self-explanatory display of the odds (3:1): the aggressor would win three times out of every four attempts. Players, he said, did not interpret it like this and, instead, assumed that their number was higher so they should win. He then took the audience on a few iterations of this concept in what I actually took to be somewhat of a condescending manner towards the players. In essence, the combat in Civilization Revolution evolved because players couldn't get the "mathematics 101" of the game, so Meier went on several iterations to make the ratio representation make sense to the player as well as to take into account how prior battles fared so that if the attack:defense was 2:1, then players wouldn't lose two fights in a row. One of Meier's strangest examples throughout the keynote was that of flight simulators, though. He feels the genre started out by being "accessible" and "easy to play." Then as they went through iterations they became more complex and more realistic and "pretty soon the player went from 'I'm good' to 'I'm confused'. My plane is falling out of the sky." Then, Meier said, "the fun went out of it." He wrapped up this analogy by saying "keep your player feeling good about themselves." I thought this little anecdote actually put me off from a lot of the rest of the keynote: who is anyone to say that the evolution of the flight simulation genre was a bad thing? It's a definite niche genre, but that doesn't make the genre bad or completely invalidate the design evolution it took. Then again, it's an anecdote, so I'm probably over-thinking Meier's intent. After meeting with some old friends from Stardock for a bit, I went to the "What Color is Your Hero" panel featuring Mia Consalvo, Leigh Alexander, Manveer Heir, and Jamin Brophy-Warren. Without even a doubt in my mind, the panel was one of my highlights of GDC. It was an intelligent, insightful, and important conversation about the role of diversity in both video games and in the game development community. I wish I had some of the stats that Consalvo presented at the beginning of the panel, but alas. Heir championed the idea that utilizing a character's racial/social background can enrich a game experience in ways that most all video games fail to realize; specifically, Heir cited the Native-American protagonist in Human Head's Prey. The lead in Prey was ashamed of his background, wanted off the reservation, and was completely uncomfortable with who he was, but through the course of the game he learned to "spirit walk," talked to his ancestor in a vision (which took place at what looked like a burial site, if I remember correctly), and so on. This feature of Prey's narrative transformed what would have otherwise been a game about dudes shooting aliens into somewhat of a Native American spiritual journey. Alexander, in a discussion about the role of the developers and creatives in creating a more diverse cast of characters in their own games, raised a very noteworthy point: Resident Evil 5. In the case of Resident Evil 5, there are developers who were attempting at diversifying the characters and settings of their game and this, essentially, completely blew up in their faces. Alexander went on to say that it is understandable that a culturally homogenous development community would be nervous about attempting to portray a non-white character and subsequently screwing it up. She went on to say, however, that it can be done, the cultural/gender research just has to be done. The Wire was cited as an example of the work that series creator/writer David Simon did to present a wide variety of characters in a responsible way (though the series did take fire for its presentation of women). This was a great panel which gave a proper kick-off to some very necessary, important conversations. My final session of the day was Lee Perry's "Prototyping Based Design: A Better, Faster Way to Design Your Game." Perry, a senior gameplay designer at Epic Games, took audiences through Epic's process for game design starting with Unreal Tournament as the studio moved forward to the bigger, more cohesive project that eventually became Gears of War. The studio had a very design document-heavy and haphazard design process which was yielding poor results for what needed to be a more well-designed game than the studio's prior projects. Kismet, which was an unrelated tool and "smaller problem" at the time, was being developed around the time when design documents were being tossed around the studio. One day Perry mentioned that he was screwing around with Kismet and tossing scaled-up shoulder pads on this big monster in order to, in a way, get this buff, big dude in the game. He tossed some "boom" speech bits on the character, showed it to some people, and eventually this little prototyped monster became the Gears of War Boomer. Perry took the audience through the transition in design practices that occurred after this prototype was done; this involved the change from "design bibles" (very large, unwieldy design documents) to very active, designer-driven prototypes in the Unreal Engine using very basic Kismet parts such as elevators, triggers, and so on. Perry indicated the need for a designer to be more of a Chef, actively involved in the creation and iteration on a design, rather than a Food Critic, a designer who writes a doc and waits for the plate to be prepared by someone else before providing feedback. Perry's session was a very practical, thorough, and well-presented lecture on the importance that rapid iteration and quick prototypes when it comes to showing everyone in a studio an idea. The importance of feedback (blood, audio, camera shake, etc.) to a prototype was also stressed; regardless of how quick a prototype is, the prototype must sell everyone in the studio on the idea and, as a result, it needs to properly and effectively communicate that idea. Immediately after this session ended, I went on over to the IGDA/ mixer being held at Jillian's in the Metreon. I was held up at the door momentarily since I didn't have the proper "IGDA Party" ribbon on my badge, but then I flashed my badge at Joshua Caulfield at the door and say "I'm" and was let immediately in. I felt powerful for approximately five minutes. And that was a fun little power trip. Finally, I ended the day with an immaculate dinner organized by Michael Abbott. I met people like Matthew Burns, Simon Carless, Borut Pfeifer, Chris Dahlen, Krystian Majewski, and oh my god the list goes on and on and on and on. It was an incredibly couple of hours filled with the kind of fascinating conversation you'd expect from some of the most insightful writers in the game industry. It was a great 'end' to GDC (as I only have a couple sessions on Saturday and then I'm off to the airport).
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    GDC 2010 - Day 3

    Quote:Original post by lmelior Wolfire released Lugaru several years ago, as well as an iPhone port of one of their open source games. Were they rocking their open marketing style then as well?
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    GDC 2010 - Day 5

    Yesterday I learned the meaning of the oft-heard phrase throughout the early part of the week: "GDC hasn't even really started yet." It appears that the Summits/Tutorials make up only a fraction of the total GDC audience once the main conference has started and the expo floor is opened up. All of the parts of the Moscone Center that I've gotten used to navigating have approximately three times the amount of people as they did during the days prior. The other main difference is the kind of people you just randomly see; I left a session a yesterday and ended up pushing through a crowd of people right behind Reggie Fils-Aime. That was kind of a random thing. I started off my day with the typical write-up and catch-up on my MacBook at the Marriott Lobby across the street from my hotel. At some point during this phase of the day I realized that my first session was at 9:00am, instead of the 10:00am start time for the summits/tutorials, and quickly packed up my stuff and booked it to my first session of the day: "The Complex Challenges of Intuitive Design" which I somehow failed to realize was a presentation by Peter Molyneux. The session was, fundamentally, about Fable 3 and about 50% of the presentation was irrelevant as a design talk, but I still managed to get some really great insight into why the changes between Fable 2 and Fable 3 were being made. Immediately after Molyneux's talk I went over to check out what I felt would be one of the best sessions of the conference: "Uniquely Ruthless: The Espionage Metegame of EVE Online." One unique aspect of this session is that it was given by a player, not a developer. That said, this was also one of the most complex talks that I attended over the course of the entire conference thus far (and for some reason chose that one to write up). The speaker was Alexander Gianturco (The Mittani), a director-level member of SomethingAwful's EVE corporation: GoonSwarm. Over the course of the talk, Gianturco illustrated all of the crazy depth, time, and subterfuge that makes up EVE's espionage metagame. I already wrote-up the talk, so I won't go too much into it, but this talk was far and away the most original of all of the GDC presentations of the year. I pointed this out in my write-up, but it was just mind-blowing that such an infamous EVE player actually plays the game very rarely these days. Most of Gianturco's work in EVE is the management of the espionage metagame versus ICQ, Jabber, and forums. Unfortunately, I made the poor decision of switching from my planned attendance of "Design in Detail: Changing the Time Between Shots for the Sniper Rifle from 0.5 to 0.7 Seconds for Halo 3" to the Uncharted 2 Post-Mortem by co-lead game designer of Naughty Dog Richard Lemarchand. This wasn't a bad presentation by any means, but it was a completely sterile, typical post-mortem. Very little in the way of behind-the-scenes information or nitty-gritty design details were presented throughout the entirety of the talk. One interesting studio practice, however, was Lemarchand's discussion of the sole deliverable of the studio's pre-production process: a macro game design. Unlike some studios, Naughty Dog treats the macro game design as a somewhat high-level, abstracted spreadsheet of the entire game's progression, gameplay, story beats, characters broken up level-by-level. I would have adored to hear Lemarchand talk in more detail about how this document was created and what its level of granularity was (all that could be seen was a small screen shot), but that was apparently not in the cards. While the EVE talk by The Mittani was fascinating, the absolute best session of the day was Harvey Smith and Matthias Worch's "What Happened Here? Environmental Storytelling." This talk was given from the perspective of level design in first-person games and how to imbue non-critical small vignettes/stories into the environment of FPS levels where normally a designer would just mindlessly place props. Smith/Worch focused on the active process of thinking through a series of events and how intelligent prop/asset placement in a game environment can create interesting stories that the player can connect the dots with in his head. Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics was cited as saying, paraphrasing here, that the most powerful part of a comic is what happens in between the panels where the reader bridges the gaps in his own mind. The idea here is that inviting players to use their own minds to figure out what happened in a given scene and, in doing so, these players become more invested and more interested in the game world as a result. It was at the point where Smith and Worch began discussing systemic environmental storytelling techniques where my glee hit its ceiling (well, that's not entirely true, but more on that soon). The pair brought up an example of the user of decals in Half-Life 1 where a player would shoot walls to make smiley faces out of bullet holes. This player did this two or three times in the same hallway. A bit further into the hallway, you see the dead body of a player right below a half-finished bullet hole smiley face (which has a bunch of other random bullets strewn around it). The story that arises from this is that there was this player just completely screwing around with environmental "damage" and he was so invested in creating his 'art' that he had no idea someone was right behind him when he/she shot him in the back. As the viewer, we saw none of this occur in real-time, but we put the pieces together by looking at the scene. Since multiplayer games entail players going through the same map over and over and over in a circular progression, systemized environmental storytelling was the long-term persistence of decals/bodies/shell casings (and anything else that is the result of a player action) which persists in the world to create an overarching narrative of player actions. I can't even convey how much of a nerdgasm I had throughout this talk. And then Clint Hocking asked an insightful question and then my glee level hit the ceiling; Clint Hocking action shot: The sessions for the day ended with a psychology-focused analysis of the role that achievements play in video games and whether their use as external motivators for tasks is "harmful." The talk was given by the super intelligent, fast-talking, quick-thinking Chris Hecker and was a very responsible look at the role that these external motivators factor into our psychological development as we play games. It's hard to properly summarize the talk, but the general message is that while rewards for tasks are generally "bad," the closer they are to endogenous awards (thematically/media-appropriate/related) the less damage the reward does as a Skinnerian conditioning technique. Achievements, however, are not endogenous whatsoever and, therefore, become a completely abstract reward which damages a player's intrinsic motivation to do what should be an inherently fun task. The night ended with my first-ever attendance at the Independent Games Festival/Game Developers Choice Awards. Over the course of this event I got to see Cactus deliver a hilarious acceptance speech, Warren Spector, Will Wright, Gabe Newell (introduced via a very earnest and fantastic speech by Chris Hecker), and John Carmack. Overall, the day was like a nerd heaven. It also ended with a meal involving margaritas and chicken flautas, so, I mean, an all-around win, really.
  15. Peter Molyneux's "The Complex Challenges of Intuitive Design" was first and foremost a talk about Lionhead Studio's current project: Fable 3. Behind all the talk about the new game, though, are interesting design discussions. The game aside, the theme of Molyneux and lead designer Josh Atkin's presentation was centered on this statistic that the company learned through Microsoft research: "more than 60% of players understood less than 50% of [Fable 2's] features." Lionhead took this statistic to heart with the development of Fable 3. Molyneux started his talk by citing the statistical number porn of games like Wizardry, Ultima, and Fallout. Using Fable 1 and Fable 2 as a baseline comparison for all things, Molyneux detailed how the team was reworking the franchise for the third iteration on their overarching design. They started by identifying what was core to the Fable experience amongst which are: character morphing, choices, drama, and emotion. These qualities, along with a few others, are absolutely core to gameplay experience and should be evolved, not cut, as the team ventures forth on a new project. As an example of the evolving design paradigm is the way that Lionhead is handling character morphing for Fable 3. One of the problems that Molyneux cited with the original game's character morphing was the oft-heard unfortunate-looking body image that female characters saw as they played through the game. The other primary problem was that all of the character morphing happened as a result of leveling-up which occurred in Fable 2's 2D UI rather than naturally in the game world as a result of player actions. The solution that Lionhead found for both of these problems involved mapping all character visual changes to in-world player actions. If a player uses a sword, his muscles will get bigger, and if a character uses a giant hammer (also a melee weapon, but a heavier one) the character's muscles will increase at a faster rate. Using ranged weaponry will result in a taller, more athletic character. Using magic will yield a character whose complexion looks like that of a heavy-duty magic user. The more followers a player has, the more "powerful" his character will look. The way that Lionhead solves the problem of the character statistical evolution/leveling up is by giving "experience" an in-world currency. This currency, in Fable 3 is that of "followers." Followers are characters which, uh, choose to follow the player as he ascends to power and royalty. Molyneux said the inspiration for this came from his experiments with Twitter and the feeling of having internet followers and interacting with them over a long period of time. Another major change that Molyneux is bringing to Fable 3 is changing up the "hero's journey" which a number of games (and both prior Fable games) and movies and books and films all employ as a character progression structure. Granted, Campbell's "Hero's Journey" was originally used as a means of critiquing and analyzing literature, but whatever. Instead of Fable 3's full narrative arc covering the entirety of the player character's journey from lowly street-rat to full-on hero, Fable 3 will have the player ascend to royalty (kingship or queenship) halfway through the game. The last half of the game, then, will allow the player to play from this place of power in the game world. More interestingly, the promises that the player can then make good on the promises made to the people of Albion as he rose to power. Molyneux said one of his inspirations for this mechanic was Obama's campaign versus his presidency. Molyneux then showed Fable 3 and, well, it looks pretty amazing. The industry setting looked absolutely incredible and provided a nice change of pace from the theme of most games. And, most importantly, the dog is back.
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