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Metaphysics of Game Design
Will Wright

Alexx: This was sort of a surprise keynote. Wright wasn't sure he'd be able to make it, so this was listed in the schedule without any description, and with an obvious pseudonym for the speaker. Apparently the truth got around pretty widely as a rumor, but I stumbled in by accident, thinking the topic sounded intriguing. Not that the actual talk had a lot to do with metaphysics per se. It was exciting and entertaining, but also rather scattered, and trying to say too much in too little time. Is this an endemic problem with GDC keynote speakers? At least this talk, unlike Sid Meier's, was future-facing. Still, I didn't get many directly useful notes out of it.

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Motivating Casual Players: Non-Traditional Character Progression and Player Retention
Speaker/s: Laralyn McWilliams (Sony Online Entertainment)
Day / Time / Location: Saturday 10:30-11:30 Room 133, North Hall
Track / Format: Business and Management / Lecture
Description: RPGs and MMOs rely on leveling up, stat increases, and item unlocking for the carrots that retain players. Multiplayer shooters and fighting games rely on competition and a skill ramp that encourages players to fight for positioning on ladders and leader boards. Traditional single-player games rely on new areas, new abilities, and storylines to encourage continued play. Yet all of these things are forms of progression.
This presentation presents examples of alternative player progression, using games like Free Realms, Pogo and Halo for development examples. It compares and contrasts progression at both ends of the spectrum to develop a methodology that steps you through the usual and some unusual choices in progression. It also takes a critical look at how casual games, social games and large brands are innovating in progression.

Alexx's notes )
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If you read only one of these posts, this is the one I recommend. Hands-down the most interesting thing at the show.

Train (or How I Dumped Electricity and Learned to Love Design)
Speaker/s: Brenda Brathwaite (Slide)
Day / Time / Location: Saturday 9:00-10:00 Room 133, North Hall
Track / Format: Game Design / Lecture
Description: Two years ago, after playing a run of games that both looked and played the same, digital game designer Brenda Brathwaite shut off her computer and consoles and began to consume dozens of non-digital games from all over the world. Soon, she returned to her native paper prototyping and eventually started work upon a series of six intentionally non-digital 'gallery games' each designed to explore a difficult topic. The result of this trek proved incredibly eye-opening and rewarding for her as a designer and culminated in the highest praise for a game she had ever received. In this lecture, Brathwaite talks about the design process of her series the Mechanic is the Message and specifically the award-winning game Train, and shares what she learned from our brothers and sisters in that other medium when she cut the cord, became incredibly inspired, and learned to love design.

Alexx's notes )
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Development Telemetry in Video Games Projects
Speaker/s: Georg Zoeller (BioWare Austin/EA)
Day / Time / Location: Friday 4:30- 5:30 Room 131, North Hall
Track / Format: Programming / Lecture
Description: As developement teams increase in size, new methods are required to deal with the ever-increasing complexity of videogame projects. Learn how Bioware leveraged a developer-facing telemetry solution to cope with the challenges of creating games like Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect. This session will provide details on our implementation of development telemetry, discuss some of the practical workflow improvements it has lead to and provide some interesting insights into what happens when you roll out achievements for game developers.

Alexx: I am extremely jealous of this toolset, and want to adopt as much of it as feasible. As a smaller, single-project studio, I presume we can't do all of it, but let's see how much low-hanging fruit we can grab!

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The Connected Future of Games
Speaker/s: Ray Muzyka (BioWare Corp.), N'Gai Croal (Hit Detection), Brian Reynolds (Zynga), Min Kim (Nexon America Inc.), Jason Holtman (Valve) and Rob Pardo (Blizzard Entertainment)
Day / Time / Location: Friday 3:00- 4:00 Room 306, South Hall
Track / Format: Game Design / Panel
Description: The world is moving online. This shift of content and consumers is challenging every aspect of our business, including design, pricing, distribution and marketing. Companies must not be creatures of habit as the industry evolves from products to services. The definition of games is expanding beyond what one is playing to encompass who one is playing with - and how they play. Come join our thought leaders as they explore the connected future of games.

Alexx's notes )
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The Nuovo Sessions
Speaker/s: Daniel Benmergui (Independent), Ian Bogost (The Georgia Institute of Technology), Matthew Wegner (Flashbang Studios), Steve Swink (Flashbang Studios), Ian Dallas (Giant Sparrow), Jarrad Woods (Farbs Farbs Farbs), Jonatan (Cactus) Soderstrom (Cactus Software), Alexander Bruce (), Terry Cavanagh () and Justin Smith ()
Day / Time / Location: Friday 1:30- 2:30 Room 306, South Hall
Track / Format: Game Design / Lecture
Description: 'The Nuovo Sessions' is a look at some of the new, alternative games and game concepts nominated for the Independent Games Festival's Nuovo Awards, along with prototypes and productions from like-minded individuals. (It replaces the time slot originally held for the Experimental Gameplay Workshop, which will skip 2010 and return in 2011.)

Alexx: Lot of nifty stuff shown off very quickly. Not much relevant talk, but the games themselves were often interesting. Links here.

A Slow Year
creativity arises from constraints
making a game for the atari 2600 must create infinite creativity!
previously made a game for both atari 2600 cartridge, and for iPhone - Cartridge made more money (audience applause)

Chaim Gingold showed a bunch of prototype for works in progress. One of them I loved: "adobe illustrator with castles"

Tuning: mechanics of a classic platformer, but innovative display techniques to make it seem harder than it is.

unfinished swan
Wants to create curiosity and wonder -- not puzzle challenges, more relaxed exploration
goal: new stuff every 30-60 seconds
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The Psychology of Game Design (Everything You Know Is Wrong)
Speaker/s: Sid Meier (Firaxis Games)
Day / Time / Location: Friday 10:30-11:30 North Hall D, Lower Level
Track / Format: Game Design / Keynote
Description: When designing a game, particularly one based on real-world or historical topics, it might seem that hard facts, physical principles, painstaking research, and mathematical formulas would provide the foundation for a successful game. Wrong. These and many other seemingly useful tools will have to take a back seat to the real driving force in game design: the psychology of the player.

Gameplay is a psychological experience: it's all in your head. The vagaries of human psychology define your game more than the laws of physics or algebra. Egomania, Paranoia, Delusion - these are tools to be wielded with precision and care. For the player, perception is reality and the center of the universe is right here. As we follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion we discover a number of amazing things, among them: everyone is above average, 2/1 is not equal to 20/10, and the player is his/her own worst enemy.

Using actual examples from Civilization Revolution, Pirates!, and other games we'll look at how including player psychology as a fundamental part of game design can lead us to some strangely counterintuitive places and save us millions of dollars in time and resources. Along the way we'll learn why AI's should not be too smart, how nuclear weapons are like knocking over a chess board, and why gamers can't be trusted.

Alexx: This talk was very disappointing. Sid Meier is undeniably one of the greatest game designers of the twentieth century -- which ended some time ago. He hasn't kept up. He seems totally unaware of the growing role of metrics, and is still trying to design his games entirely by intuition. That said, some of what he covered is still true and valuable, if not exactly news. Here's some of that:

* When the player fails, always make sure they know what went wrong. They are then motivated to prevent that outcome from happening next time -- encourages replay.

* Designers tend to like to mathematically simulate situations -- players' expectations rarely match reality, though!
(Alexx version: We're not simulating reality, we're simulating an action movie.)

* Leverage the player's imagination. Go with flow -- present things player already wants to believe (I'm teh awesome!) with little art support.

* AI doesn't need to be another 'real' player -- role of AI is to be a foil.
- Players are predisposed to see AI as either dumb or cheating -- making the AI actually smart tends not to be perceived.
- Another AI function is to acknowledge and validate the player's actions; adds a bit of social dimension to single-player games

* Interesting decisions are ones which cause the player to think about the future, and to later wonder if they made the right call.
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Concrete Practices to be a Better Leader
Speaker/s: Brian Sharp (Bungie, LLC)
Day / Time / Location: Thursday 4:30- 5:30 Room 305, South Hall
Track / Format: Production / Lecture
Description: Becoming a stronger leader is like losing weight: both are conceptually simple, and yet in practice very, very hard. This talk will distill leadership to its essential qualities with practical techniques for developing them, drawn from a wide range of sources, from serene Buddhist meditators in monasteries to freewheeling pickup artists in Hollywood penthouses. The stronger you become at empathizing, maintaining a sincere intention, and remaining humble, the better you'll be at synthesizing a vision for your team. And the more initiative you take, the more heartfelt your communication, the more confident your approach, the better you manage your influence, the better you'll be at helping realize those visions. Come learn how to do it all!

Alexx: This talk had a lot of Buddhist influences that may strike readers as new-age hoohah. I encourage you to read it with an open mind. Some of the techniques mentioned here paid off for me significantly in less than 24 hours!
He had a really interesting lecture mechanic - instead of powerpoint slides, he had a camera focused on a sketchbook, which he would write and doodle upon to enhance his points. He would also occasionally put a physical photograph on the page, usually a portrait of someone he was quoting.

more notes )
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What Happened Here? Environmental Storytelling
Speaker/s: Matthias Worch (Visceral Games) and Harvey Smith (Arkane Studios)
Day / Time / Location: Thursday 3:00- 4:00 Room 125, North Hall
Track / Format: Game Design / Lecture
Description: This lecture examines the game environment as a narrative device, with a focus on further involving the player in interpreting (or pulling) information, in opposition to traditional fictional exposition. We provide an analysis of how and why some games in particular create higher levels of immersion and consistency, and we propose ways in which dynamic game systems can be used to expand upon these techniques. The lecture presents the techniques for environmental storytelling, the key to the creation of game spaces with an inherent sense of history; game spaces that invite the player's mind to piece together implied events and to infer additional layers of depth and meaning. In addition to commonly-used environmental storytelling tools (such as props, scripted events, texturing, lighting and scene composition), we present ideas for using game systems to convey narrative through environmental reaction. Environmental storytelling engages the player as an active participant in narrative; game systems that reflect the player's agency can do the same. The lecture will analyze existing cases and provide a framework for dynamic environmental storytelling in games.

Alexx's notes )
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Design in Detail: Changing the Time Between Shots for the Sniper Rifle from 0.5 to 0.7 Seconds for Halo 3
Speaker/s: Jaime Griesemer (Bungie Studios)
Day / Time / Location: Thursday 1:30- 2:30 Room 130, North Hall
Track / Format: Game Design / Lecture
Description: Halo's multiplayer is balanced across over 1000 objects, more than 40 of which are unique weapons including the Sniper Rifle, which has over 200 functional fields including one that determines the minimum time between shots. In Halo 3, that time changed from 0.5 seconds to 0.7 seconds, changing less than 0.00001th of the overall game data, an immeasurably tiny balance tweak that should not have been noticeable, let alone significant.

This session will address this design decision in exhaustive detail. Why 0.7 seconds? Why that particular field? What processes and design principles lead to that change? How was it proposed, tested, and evaluated? What were its effects on the game's balance? How were those effects evaluated to the effects of the infinite number of other changes that could have been made? What were the external considerations, such as community reaction or target demographics, that influenced it? And what can be learned from that change to improve our ability to make changes in the future?

Alexx's notes )
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Creating Successful Social Games: Understanding Player Behavior
Speaker/s: Mark Skaggs (Zynga)
Day / Time / Location: Thursday 10:30-11:30 Room 134, North Hall
Track / Format: Production / Lecture
Description: You can build the fastest growing social game the world has ever seen, but if you don't know how to analyze what your players are doing each day, your chances for real success are doomed before you start. We'll cover the key player metrics you'll want to start tracking the day you release your game as well as which become important over time. Why reinvent the wheel? If you're just getting started making social games or have been doing it for a while, save yourself time and effort on your way to success by attending this session.

Alexx's notes )
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The 4 Most Important Emotions for Social Games
Speaker/s: Nicole Lazzaro (XEODesign, Inc.)
Day / Time / Location: Thursday 9:00-10:00 Room 303, South Hall
Track / Format: Game Design / Lecture
Description: Social bonding drives Social Gaming more than spamming a friend feed. Ignored by usability testing, neuroscience proves that emotion drives decision making, performance, and social interaction. XEODesign's continuing Four Keys to Fun research identifies four social emotions required to create Massively Social Online games (MSOs) played by billions. These four emotions are the secret sauce to social games and create enjoyment, coordinate actions, drive viral distribution, increase monetization, and encourage player retention.

Come see how Facebook and iPhone games increase player engagement with Amici (friendliness), Amiero (social bonding) and others. This session dissects the secret mechanics behind Mafia Wars (Zynga) and Farmville (Zynga) and new social mechanics from Tilt our experimental iPhone game. Whether it is hiring a friend as a janitor in Restaurant City (PlayFish) or icing one in Mobsters (Playdom), social emotions drive hours of play. After all, who doesn't enjoy feeling closer to friends?

Alexx's notes )
alexxkay: (Default)
Finally getting around to posting my notes. Here's the high-level:

If I had to sum up GDC 2010 in one word, it would be "metrics". If you let me have a second word, it would be "service". The two ideas that were repeated again and again, by many people, in many contexts:
* Don't just guess about game design -- *measure*, empirically.
* Games as 'products' is an obsolete business model; more and more games are becoming *services*. You'll need to keep a team on the game long after your initial ship.

Observations from the Expo floor:
* Anyone whose booth said "We're hiring" had a HUGE line in front of it.
* IGF games were generating way more attention, buzz, and play than big, traditional titles.
* That said, there were a lot of tech and middleware people who were using BioShock 2 as their demo, and these screens were generally being played (though often without much other audience).


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Alexx Kay

September 2017

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