Here are my selected notes from Game Developers Conference 2006:
- It was good to see Chris Crawford actually attending GDC sessions. He has also solved the problem of interactive storytelling: You see, the problem is language, and language is really hard. People have traditionally tried to work on interactive storytelling by first building a world model, and then building a language. But, since according to the Sapir-Whorf thesis, we perceive everything through language, the problem can be solved by building the world and the language at the same time. That’s it.
- My own talk was a balance act in that I tried to provide interesting “think outside the box” observations for the serious game people, while acknowledging the very strong constraints that they work under, saying something concretely useful, while not stepping on the toes of the (unserious) game devs in the room… I think the balance was largely successful, and the whole serious game summit was a really interesting place to be.
- Noah Falstein’s Serious Game Summit presentation was a great talk on how to build great games. The 400 project has now been updated with The 400 Project Rule List, an excellent resource for game design.
- Casual games had their share of the buzz this year, already a cutthroat business, but spirits seemed high at the Minna Mingle. The Xbox Live Arcade came out as a really interesting platform with a 22% conversion rate (way higher than the more usual 0.5-2%) out of 30 million downloads. But if you do the math, this translates into 600,000 downloads at $15 max, which is a total income of $9 million. Which can only support a very small number of companies as it is.
- Cloud is wonderful, but I may not be playing it long.
- But the really recurrent topic was prototyping. Chaim Gingold and Chris Hecker (both at Maxis) made an excellent “advanced prototyping” lecture.
Here are some characteristics of good prototypes: Testable, falsifiable (must make a claim), quick to make, relevant, surprising (feedback, upside, downside, inspiring), persuasive (a tool for at changing people’s mind at your team), prototypes ask questions. The hard thing is then decomposition: What part of your game can you prototype and how? Prototyping code must be agile and fast, but not robust, elegant, or optimal. Use toolkits, not frameworks (frameworks want to own the project).
- Kleenex testing (term for using new players who haven’t seen the game before and are then discarded).
- Astrobiology is really interesting, and I also enjoy the Russian space program, but not much info was given for the Spore-hungry audience.
- Also an interesting session about prototyping Civilization 4.
- Eric Todd from Maxis also discussed prototyping, focusing much on the decomposition problem and breaking game design into 4 areas named Game mechanics / kinesthetics (how you feel where your body is) / aesthetics / technology.
While your prototype only specific aspects of your game, polish matters. “It is worth the time to use the 10% extra time and make your prototype cool and obvious”.
Tips: Enable tight iteration. Don’t try to create the real game in preproduction. Don’t prototype for every discussion, but when you get stuck in discussion. Design documents get written during move to production.
- And back to Chris Crawford: According to the leaflet for his new Storytron system,
“Chris Crawford is considered by some to be the finest interactive designer alive“.
But really, there are very few dead interactive designers, so a more precise description would be,
“The finest interactive designer since the universe was created 14 billion years ago.”
I would suggest infusing a dash of modesty and keeping it to,
“Chris Crawford is considered by some to be the finest interactive designer since the Pleistocene”.
GDC as keywords: Prototyping, games without goals, offbeat games, digital distribution, casual games.