Thursday, March 31, 2005

God of War/rior Within

I'm about 2 hours into God of War (decent, short review over at Wired, another at the Onion), which has successfully drawn my attention away from any other games I may have been playing or thinking of playing. Here's a few initial impressions:
  • Similarity to Prince of Persia: In some ways, this is the game that Warrior Within should have been. If you're going to go all dark and goth, go all the way. Where PoP:WW let the player chop baddies in half, God of War has the player character ripping enemies in half with his bare hands (not to mention tearing the wings off harpies, and the heads off gorgons). Where PoP:WW has female characters with silly proportions and skimpy outfits, God of War has full-on nudity and a playable sex scene (off-screen, but still...). In terms of theme/style, God of War takes the safe, sanitized, teen-angsty, "generic rage" of PoP:WW and pushes it so far into the ferocious and brutal that it actually becomes interesting. In my opinion, PoP should stick to the fantastic navigation of complex spaces that both The Sands of Time and Warrior Within pulled off so well. Leave the darkness and ultra-violence to those who are willing to go all the way.
  • Story: Told in classic flashback form, the story starts at the end, leading to a sense of inevitability that plays off the palpable rage and frustration of the main character, Kratos. Kratos himself is an enigma that draws the player in. He's disarmingly simple in his savage disregard for life, but there are hints at a deeper complexity to his character, hints that he has a reason for being this way, which make the player all the more curious to learn his story.
  • Combat: Joyfully brutal. I can't add much to what's already been said. But it is the core of the game, and it's executed in superb fashion.
  • Puzzles: So far, the few puzzles I've come across are well integrated into the action, some even involving combat and the use of special powers. Turning an enemy to stone in an opportune place, for instance. Generally, these are not the spacial navigation puzzles of Prince of Persia, but rather they elegantly combine Kratos's combat abilities with environmental elements, leaving the player feeling clever and satisfied without having to change gameplay modes. There's no feeling of "Ok, now I've got to think about this puzzle" or "It's time to switch to the combat mindset."
  • Camera: Unlike just about every other game of its kind, God of War doesn't give the player any control over the camera. Every once in a while this bothers me, but I think that's just because I haven't internalized the fact that it's essentially unnecessary for the player to look around. Whereas in PoP, I would have looked around with the camera control to find solutions to a puzzle, I've found that movement and exploration in God of War will often acheive the same end.
  • Violence: And Hillary Clinton's worried about GTA. Clearly, she hasn't witnessed the gleeful decapitations and constant, unrelenting gore of God of War. This game is extremely cathartic in its violent release of pure anger. Whether this is a good thing could be debatable, but I'm certainly enjoying it. It's not for kids, though, in case you haven't figured that out by now.

PS. Did anyone else find it a little disturbing that the same left thumbstick twiddling is used both for popping the heads off gorgons and for pleasuring the two ladies in Kratos's bed on the way to Athens?

Chaotic Theories

Yeah, yeah, I know. I still have a load of GDC write-ups to do. In the meantime, here's an interesting anecdotal review of the new Splinter Cell over at Joystiq. Apparently, the author's experience started out pretty rocky, as detailed in the first entry. However, things seem to be getting better. It's quotes like this that make me want to play this game:

"We took a few dry runs (no mercs) in Story Mode as spies, setting the time limit to infinite. Yeah, we looked like a couple of blind mice at first, but we were also kids again, exploring the woods behind his house. There’s something deeply satisfying about running through a spooky, abandoned orphanage, albeit virtual, with a life-long friend—knowing that in reality we are separated by over 100 miles."

I can't wait.

GDC 2005: Brian Allgeier and the Attack of the Design Directors

So here is my last GDC Summary! Woo-hoo, I'm finally gone through all my notes. I know CJ still has some more to go through, but for now I will revel in my completeness.

Attack of the Design Directors
Brian Allgeier

Brian detailed his job as Design Director at Insomniac Games and how that company realized they needed someone to lead the design team without being a strictly-defined manager. He presented an interesting analogy, using the A-Team as an example of the qualities a design team needs. Each team needs:
  • Hannibal – The Planner - Someone who keeps the big picture in mind, is the organizer and keeps his eye on the core gameplay
  • Face - The Promoter – Someone who can speak the language of the other disciplines and management and is great at pitching ideas.
  • Mr T - The Mechanic – Someone who keeps the technical in mind and makes sure that ideas can be implemented.
  • Murdock – The Creative/Crazy One – Someone who thinks outside the box, can visualize an idea and tends to innovate.
If team has all those qualities, then the Director must always be weighing each of these aspects of a design and keep them in balance. How does he do this? Communication was the obvious answer, but he realized you have to structure this and build it into the schedule.

The key point was that a design lead has to empower his designers to review and critique each others work. He believes by making them get up and go over each others work, it elevates everything. So a lot of his job is making sure the team’s feedback loops are tight and that the weekly reviews get done.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Bungie: Harbingers of Episodic Content?

If you are a fan of Halo 2 and haven't seen this yet, go check it out now.

Bungie has officially announced that they'll be releasing 9 new multiplayer maps for Halo 2, some for free, some for sale (though all will be free by the end of the summer). They will be released for download over Xbox Live and also on store shelves as a $19.99 disc.

First off, I have to say that it's really cool to see a prominent developer trying out this sort of business model. Others have certainly dabbled in post release, "premium" content, but to see Bungie/Microsoft pursuing it to this degree gives me hope for the future of game distribution. Although 9 new maps could hardly be called "episodic content," this model could be seen as the first step towards a distribution system that sits somewhere between retail-only releases and constantly updated MMOGs.

I can envision a day (very soon) when a player will buy a $19.99 retail box that includes the game engine and base-level assets, along with, say, the first 5 episodes of the game story. Each episode would be a self-contained set of levels. Episodes would be tied together with an overarching theme or story. After release, the developer would release new episodes for purchase (download or at retail) on a regular schedule, once-a-month, for instance. Episodes could cost $5 or less. With this model, developers and publishers would have a chance at making more than the standard $50 on a single game, and by using the same engine for what could be more than a single game's worth of content, the developer stretches technology farther.

From there, it's not to hard to imagine games that have no retail releases, just online, downloadable episodes. But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

These are not new ideas.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Graphics vs. Art Direction

The other day, I posted a link to this Grumpy Gamer post about the graphics for the new Zelda game. Joystiq now has an equally grumpy rebuttal. Generally, I agree with the Grumpy Gamer position that the quest for more realistic graphics tends to lead people away from more interesting art styles. However, having seen the new Legend of Zelda trailer, I have to say that my problem is less with the realistic graphic and more with the inconsistent art direction... which brings me to my point. I think that we're basically at a point now where advances in graphics will be pointless without good art direction.

With advanced engines, such as the Source engine, the Doom 3 engine, or Unreal 3.0, readily available to developers, art direction is going to be the difference between one pixel-shaded, normal-mapped world and another built on the same technology. To me, art direction is the [graphical] difference between Doom 3 and Half-Life 2. Though HL2 has what most people would call "realistic" graphics, there is a very subtle and very powerful direction to the art that reinforces all of the other elements of the game.

Have to get back to work now... Perhaps I'll update this post later with a more complete breakdown of art direction in the new Zelda trailer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

GDC 2005: Nicole Lazzaro and Why We Play Games Together

I'm about 2/3s of the way through my GDC notes. I'm hoping I can finish my debriefing sometime in the next week, so we can get to other topics, such as how great Resident Evil 4 is, and if God of War is going to come out of nowhere and redefine the action genre. Until then, here is another GDC Update:

Why we play games together
Nicole Lazzaro

Nicole’s session focused on her work at XeoDesign, doing games usability and research testing. Specifically she got into one of the four reasons why people play games: The People Factor. The other three, Hard Fun, Easy Fun and Altered States are explained in her white paper . The essential part of her thesis is that people are addictive, not the game. Games make being with people more fun as much as people make playing games more fun.

For most of her lecture she showed video clips of her subjects playing games together in their own homes, at their own desks or on their own couches. The information gained just from the video clips was so worth it. It really reinforced how important doing focus testing and play testing is to a game’s iterative process. I hope we can eventually start doing more rigorous testing like this at my studio.

The other takeaway was her list of emotions that people go through while playing games together.

  • Threat of harm, object moving quickly to hit player, fall or loss of support, possibility of pain
  • Sudden change
    Briefest of all emotions, does not feel good or bad, interpreting event this emotion merges into fear
  • Rejection as food or outside norms
  • The strongest triggers are body products such vomit, urine, mucus, saliva, and blood.
Naches/ Kvell (Yiddish)
  • Pleasure or pride at the accomplishment of a child mentee. (Kvell is how it feels to express this pride child or mentee to others.)
Fiero (Italian)
  • Personal triumph over adversity. The ultimate Game Emotion
  • Overcoming difficult obstacles players raise their their heads. They do not need to experience anger success, but it does require effort.
Schadenfreude (German)
  • Gloat over misfortune of a rival
  • Competitive players enjoy beating each other especially long-term rival. Boasts are made about player prowess ranking.
  • Over whelming improbability. Curious items amaze at their unusualness, unlikelyhood, and improbability without breaking out of realm of possibilities.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

March 22 Links

Life is a bit crazy, between recovering from back-to-back conferences and getting ready for one more trip this weekend. While I'm collecting myself in preparation for the next glut of GDC-related posts, here's some linkage, pre-digested.
  1. Wanda and the Colossus is now called Shadow of the Colossus. See for new screenshots, video, and an interview with Kenji Kaido.
  2. I think I might have to pick up God of War.
  3. I can't decide between the Nintendo DS and the PSP.
  4. Here's a free game that's fun: N.
  5. Alex at Damned Machines has written a sweet poem about the Game Design Challenge.
  6. [via Kotaku] This video is actually a public service announcement about teenage motherhood, but whoever made it captured the feeling of a game perfectly.
  7. Grumpy Gamer weighs in on the new look for Zelda.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Digested Links for March 18th

  1. A long response to GDC's Game Developer's Rant is posted over at TerraNova.
  2. Penny Arcade launches a "friendly zinger" at Bungie after losing to them (badly) in a Halo 2 match.
  3. Sean Connery to appear in the next Bond game.
  4. News Flash: March continues the glut of high-quality games. How am I going to get anything done?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Understanding Entertainment

Deca has alluded to Jesse Schell's ideas about gameplay and story. Now, thanks to the kindness of Prof. Schell, we can offer this link to the actual article. This is really good stuff. Enjoy!

Understanding Entertainment [PDF]

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

GDC 2005: Clint Hocking on Narrative

Here is another in our series of GDC session summaries.

Deconstructing Sam: Narrative in Splinter Cell
Clint Hocking

Clint’s talk was a great overview of how he sees storytelling in games. He broke things down using a lot of analysis that I have heard before, but the difference here is that he has put much of Marc LeBlanc and Jesse Schell’s theory into practice in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. It will be very hard to summarize his entire talk so I’m going to concentrate on the part where he discusses his variant of Schell’s Theory that Story and Gameplay are the same thing. Clint explained that games have four types of narrative: Emergent, Embedded, Strong Procedural and Weak Procedural.

Emergent narrative comes from the difference in what a player tells himself will happen and what actually happens. For example, a player observes an NPC’s behavior and creates an expectation of what will happen when he attempts to subdue that NPC. But if what actually happens is different in someway (that isn’t perceived as cheating) then the player’s experience will be richer.

Embedded narrative is anything that is authored. This is anything written, modeled, scripted or hard-coded. His example was blood on the walls in Doom 3. He also described how in SC:CT they worked from the assumption that the ‘who’ or ‘what’ of a scenario was not that important, but concentrated on the ‘how’ and ‘why.’

The two kinds of procedural narrative are closely related. Weak procedural is when a game system generates changes to the flow of the game in the micro, in order to increase dramatic tension. This can be as simple as spawning a few extra guys if the player is cruising through a level. Strong procedural is when game systems generate responses to possible player actions in order to change the narrative, by adding complications and strengthening the rising action

This is a small slice of his whole talk, but I thought the definitions and examples he uses were worth relaying.

Linkage for March 16th

  1. Gamespy has a great summary of Will Wright's talk about Spore last week. I was at the session and it was incredible. Rather than go into too much into detail, I'm posting this link.
  2. Not that these link digests have to focus on a single game, but there's some [illicit] screenshots of Spore over at the Ludologist.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

GDC 2005: Why Aren't We Doing Interactive Stories?

Why isn’t the Industry making interactive stories?
Panel With Michael Mateas, Tim Schafer, Warren Spector and Neil Young

This panel wasn’t nearly as incendiary as a few of the other panels through the week. Overall it lacked cohesiveness and didn’t really get at a solution to the problem. There were, however a few interesting gems hidden throughout.

Warren pointed that games have yet to resolve the deep conflict between a game’s need for a victory condition and a story’s need for an emotional or compelling narrative end. The only stories where these two come together are the typical game fantasy stories that we have always done. I thought this was a interesting way of stating why you don’t see many romantic comedies or deep tragedies in games.

Tim mentioned that one approach is not to try to force the game to follow a big story, but to take that big story, shatter it, then shove the pieces into the gameplay where it will fit.

He also said that you can't expect game publishers to take the risk of interactive narrative. It isn’t there job, it is his. The difference is that he doesn’t have to tell them about it. The panel seemed to agree that at big companies, the Trojan horse method is the best for innovation.

GDC 2005: Raph Koster's Game Notations

A Grammer of Gameplay
Game Atoms: Can Games be diagrammed?
Raph Koster

Raph’s talk center around the goal of creating a way to diagram or notate gameplay the way that music or choreography can be notated. While he failed to convince me this was possible and his end result was not satisfying, his process did answer a lot of open questions. He even admitted that he had not succeeded, but was happy with some of the definitions he managed to create as a result.

He started by defining the problem through comparison. It took dance centuries to find a way to write out choreography, poetry has intensely formal rules, and musical notation can actually reproduce the experience of listening to music, even if it can’t reproduce the playing of skilled musicians.

He got very detailed as he tried to define what a basic element of the notation, a game atom, would be. A few more scattered points he made along the way:
  • In-game physical space and Game design territory are different things
    He uses the example of checkers. It looks like an 8x8 grid of squares, but really it is played on a diagonal set of nodes
  • All games have sequences of nested and looping events. The more nesting elements the have, the deeper a game is.
  • Most games have parallel paths of nested events. The more paths they have, the broader a game is.
  • The most basic element must involve skill, which he defines as having risk. Any element with no risk is not a gameplay atom. He marked these in his notations with red squares. If a chart has more than one of these in a row, he equated it to boring gameplay.

    There was a lot more there, but it was a pretty dense talk, I’ll look for his slides and see if they are online.

Monday, March 14, 2005

GDC 2005: Peter Molyneux's Personal Demo

I also got to attend GDC, although only about 1/3 as much as ClubberJack. I'm going to start putting my notes up throughout the week. So here is the first one:

Gameplay in the 21st Century
Peter Molyneux

Molyneux’s talk was very reminiscent of every all his previous talks. He spent his first 10 minutes talking about what he had done to that point, then his next 10 minutes apologizing for how his last game did not meet up to the colossal hype he built up, then the rest of the speech creating even more colossal hype for his next game. I’ve seen three speeches by him, all three have followed this exact same pattern.

In between all the hype he did mention his theory for what next-gen games need to be. They are not all that different from other ideas I’ve heard, but here there are: 1. Clear concepts, 2. Morphable gameplay, 3. Simpler but deeper, 4. Play not learning. Of these I thought the ideas of simplicity are noble, but may not be easily done given commercial pressures. I disagree with his last point, if you interpret this as meaning players don’t want to learn, they just want to play. I prefer the other view that play is in fact the same as learning. The reason we don’t like the term “learning”, is that we associate it with forced learning, like school, not voluntary learning like hobbies. Thus, if the player perceives that they have to learn something, then the something is not fun in itself. Thus, I think is emphasis on getting rid of learning is misguided.

GDC 2005: Serious Games Summit - Design-O-Rama

Hosted by Ben Sawyer

In this session, designers presented their solutions to some serious game design challenges which had been posed to them earlier in the week. Unfortunately, I didn't catch the whole session, so I won't dwell on this too much. Supposedly, these designs will make their way onto the Serious Games wiki, but that hasn't happened yet. Here's a quick rundown of the parts that I saw:

America's Army for Teaching - The client wanted a tool to recruit potential teachers and give them some idea of what a career in teaching would be like. The solution was a community-based, puzzle MMO (think Puzzle Pirates) for teachers and pre-teachers.

3rd World Microfinancing Advocacy - The client needed a tool to introduce 3rd world microfinance administrators to the challenges and benefits of picking the right people for their loans. The solution was called something like "Sim Village" and modelled the effects (and ripples) caused by giving microfinancing loans to certain families.

Terrorist Trainer - The client wanted a training program that would train military types in terrorist tactics. The idea was that by teaching our military to think like terrorists, we'd be better able to combat them. The solution was a three-tiered design that involved both FPS and RTS gameplay at different levels. Honestly, I thought the problem was more interesting that the proposed solution.

GDC 2005: Serious Games Summit - Playing Games with Jim

Playing Games with Jim: Demonstrating the Important Learning Found in COTS Games
James Paul Gee

James Paul Gee, author of a great book about games and learning, did something I have yet to really see in a videogame talk. His only visual aid for the entire talk was live gameplay. He showed Ninja Gaiden and Animal Crossing, though he had wanted to play Full Spectrum Warrior as well. Just as in his book, Gee's point was that COTS games (that's Commercial, Off-The-Shelf games... it took me a while to figure that out) already embody solid learning principles.

Ninja Gaiden, according to Gee, is a game of mastery and therefore a game of learning. It starts off by establishing a strong identity for the learner: You are a ninja (plus some backstory). Gee argues that taking on an identity is important for good learning. You should think of yourself as a scientist when you learn science. As you learn skills, you learn to see the world through the eyes of your assumed identity. You see the world in terms of opportunities to use those skills. So Ninja Gaiden gets off to a good start (as does Animal Crossing). Gee pointed out that exploration is always rewarded in Ninja Gaiden; no matter what you do, you'll probably find something, either an ability, an item, or a pathway. Verbal information (ie tutorial tips) show up "just-in-time." Rather than reading a book on playing Ninja Gaiden, you just play, and you get important info just before you need to apply it.

Some people call Ninja Gaiden hard, even punishing, but Gee frames the difficulty this way: failure leads to practice and eventually to success. The level design, however, constantly challenges the player to be flexible. Once a set of skills has been learned, a powerful wall attack, for example, the level takes it away, giving you a battle with no walls, for instance. The boss at the end of the first level forces the player to begin thinking consciously of their skills as elements of strategy, adding a further level of complexity to grasp. Gee cites games as engaging the player in "performance before competence" learning. The player is thrown immediately into play and eventually "gets it." Schools, on the other hand, engage students in "competence before performance" learning, where students are expected to learn material before they are allowed to apply that learning. Naturally, Gee sees the later method as counter-intuitive.

I totally buy into Gee's ideas. Games are super good at teaching players the skills they need to excel at the game, and these techniques ought to make brilliant learning techniques for real education. My main issue with Gee's thesis is that there's no way any of it will make it into schools anytime soon. With standards-based teaching, is there room for game-based (or game-modelled) learning? Perhaps these are techniques that should be used in designing educational games, intended for after-school audiences.

GDC 2005: Serious Games Summit - 500 Serious Games!

500 (Serious) Games Later: Best Takeaways
Marc Prensky

With years of experience in the serious games space, Marc Prensky gave a great overview of where serious games are today and how they got there, extracting ten lessons to keep in mind as we move forward. While all of the lessons were important, I found a few to be particularly interesting. The idea of complexity came up more than once. Prensky was arguing that games are good at complexity and should embrace it. The power of games as learning tools comes from their ability to model complex systems. Designers shouldn't over-complicate their games (and especially not their interfaces), but complexity shouldn't be eschewed in favor of dumbing down difficult concepts either.

In discussing new ideas to pursue, Marc mentioned the idea of immediacy, citing games such as 9/11 Survivor, Madrid, September 12, and Kuma War. Though there has been mixed reactions to these games, Prensky sees the immediacy of these games as something we'll see more and more of in the coming days. As people begin to get used to games as a medium for expression, they will be come more natural as a way to react to events as they unfold in the world.

Other new ideas and nuggets cited by Prensky include parody & satire, shock as motivation, character development, and unexpected topics. He even mentioned a project that has NASA working with Nintendo to add real-world viruses to the roster of pocket monsters in Pokemon. In another example, an FBI training game tracks the player's play style and then adjusts future situations to force the player into playing against their preferred style.

One final thought from Prensky's talk that I agreed with was the idea that designers of serious games should consider the entire system in which the game exists. Is the controller appropriate for the experience? What sort of chair will the player be sitting in (especially important if the designer can control this)? What greater environment will the player be situated in? Marc had many other great points, so if anyone finds a copy of his slides... post a link.

GDC 2005: Serious Games Summit - MMOG Econ 101

Online Worlds and Serious Gaming
Edward Castronova

Ted Castronova's background is in economics. His passion is clearly the economics of virtual worlds (ie, MMOGs and related things). Anyone interested in this sort of thing should check out TerraNova and Ted's papers on SSRN. In his talk, Ted hit the high points from his experience as a virtual world economist. For instance, by his latest calculations, one gold piece from World of Warcraft is worth $0.40 USD. Perhaps the most interesting idea centered around the notion that there is very little difference between the virtual and the real, at least in terms of economics. According to Castronova, only about ten percent of real-life economics can't be "ported" to virtual economy, and that ten percent mostly consists of eating and sleeping.

Having said that, Ted went on to discuss the potential positive and negative impacts of mixing real world and virtual economies. He pointed out that there are important social justice issues involved in the visual anonymity of virtual worlds. People with real-world disabilities or non-standard bodies have a chance to start over with any body they want in a virtual world. Castronova worried that too much real-world involvement in virtual worlds might lead to a diminished ability to escape in this fashion. He suggested keeping some worlds closed to outside economies while opening up others, thus maintaining a safe refuge while allowing experimentation. Finally, Ted posed the idea that virtual worlds might act as a mirror for the real world, leading to positive change in real-life.

GDC 2005: Dear Friends

Dear Friends: Music of Final Fantasy
Nobu Uematsu, Composer

I have to say that the Final Fantasy games have never really grabbed me. They are beautiful, for sure, but the gameplay (and lack thereof during the frequent cutscenes) never really appealed to me. With that in mind, I pretty much planned to skip this live, symphonic concert of music from the Final Fantasy games. Fortunately for me, I read this short review of the Chicago concert and decided that I shouldn't miss such a culturally important event.

It was beautiful. The music was excellent, and the presentation was generally solid, with the exception of the non-gamer "MC," who clearly didn't fully appreciate what she was involved in. Uematsu's appearance toward the end was lovely. He seemed genuinely grateful for the enthusiasm of the crowd. This was an incredible experience, and I recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to see it.

GDC 2005: Serious Games Summit - A Force More Powerful

Case Study: A Force More Powerful
Doug Whatley

Breakaway Games was contracted by a non-profit to build a game that will be used to teach non-violent overthrow of dictatorships. With this very real, very important application, A Force More Powerful strikes me as perhaps the most ambitious application of game design and technology that I have seen. The presentation left something to be desired, as it was difficult to get a handle on what they had built. Such a complex system takes some time to fully grasp. Fortunately, I got a chance to hang out with one of the designers, who gave me a more in-depth tour of the current build.

It's essentially a turn-based strategy game in which only non-violent tactics are supported (though violent outcomes are common if the player doesn't prepare well enough). Underlying the game is a powerful simulation, modelling an economy, the media, religion, a political system, and so on. A scenario editor will allow trainers to customize situations to match real-world places and events. The point is to educate strategic planners about the planning and groundwork that must be laid before any kind of non-violent overthrow can happen. To ensure realism, Breakaway has involved people from Serbia and other areas, who have been involved in actual coups. I can't wait to see what happens with this.

GDC 2005: Serious Games Summit - Political/Activist Games

Political/Activist Games
Moderated by Ian Bogost

Another roundtable, this session turned towards questions of politics and activism in games and game design. My favorite part of the discussion centered on the idea of trojan-horsing political statements within commercial, entertainment games, rather than trying to make and sell overtly political games as activist statements in and of themselves. Oddworld was cited as a franchise that accomplishes this, conveying environmentalist views in the context of a popular entertainment experience. More compelling food for thought.

GDC 2005: Serious Games Summit - The Public-at-Large?

How Games Benefit the Public-at-Large?
Moderated by Ben Stokes

This roundtable posed an interesting design question: Can we design a game that benefits the public-at-large, not just one group? The session consisted of brainstorming with other developers and with non-profit representatives to find opportunities for this sort of development. Interesting ideas came up about games to encourage voting, games to help public transportation, games to reduce stress in stressful public spaces, and many others. Certainly, this is a question that I will revisit in my work in the future.

GDC 2005: Serious Games Summit - Games for Change

Games for Change Lunch

The Games for Change group is a SIG within the Serious Games Initiative that focuses on games used to benefit non-profits. Following the theme of communication and persuasion, this group considers games as tools for effecting positive social change. The conversation wandered around a number of topics, from funding to working with non-profits. The gathering got me thinking about a related concept: Game Developers for Social Responsibility (GDSR). Diverse fields such as medicine and computer science have similar groups. Perhaps it's time for the IGDA to start a SIG or some other type of group with that goal in mind.

GDC 2005: Serious Games Summit - Advergaming

Case Study: Advergaming for Private and Public Interests
Ian Bogost

Continuing the theme of games as a communicative medium, Bogost gave a great presentation summarizing the current state of advergames (games used to persuade people of something). The second half of his talk tried to tease out what sorts of advertising games are good at. After establishing that games could create a subjective response to a message or product, Bogost claimed that the best advergames actually cause the player to critically engage with the message or product. Therefore, the role of the message/product should be meaningful within the game. The game should embody the experience of the message/product.

Bogost shared an example in which players try to urinate into a toilet while fighting the effects of inebriation. The ad was for a "pacer" drink called J2O meant to hydrate drinkers between pints down at the pub (it's a Brit product). Though advergaming isn't my favorite application of game ideas, I enjoyed thinking of games from this different perspective. Even in an entertainment game, we, as designers, need to consider what messages/products we might, consciously or unconsciously, be selling.

GDC 2005: Serious Games Summit - Raph Koster

Alright, so we're a little behind. I'd rather be posting interesting, coherent thoughts though, so in this case, late is probably preferable. To start the week, I attended the Serious Games Summit (SGS), a mini-conference set within the larger GDC. The SGS focuses on games and game-related technologies applied to uses other than entertainment. Training, education, and military applications seem to dominate this field for now, but some new interesting applications are emerging as well. Here's a rundown of the SGS sessions I attended:

A Theory of Fun for Games
Raph Koster

Raph Koster kicked off the SGS with an interesting talk, one that boiled down to a summary of his book, A Theory of Fun for Game Design. While he didn't make too much effort to tailor the talk for serious games, his theory hinges on learning as key to fun, so it was pretty appropriate. For me, the highlight was his concluding point: "Games are communicative!" He elaborated, arguing that games are the only medium that allows experiential learning of abstract concepts. For more on Raph's thoughts, I highly recommend his book. Just keep in mind that it's only one theory of fun.

GDC Coverage: Notes on Format

Ok... so obviously there's a lot of GDC coverage. Here's how it's going to work:

All GDC sessions will get their own posts. We'll both comment on sessions we both attended (noting whose opinions are whose).

So... look for lots of GDC posts in the next few days.

Girls, Girls, Girls: GDC vs. LPSC

Every month, Wired Magazine prints a calendar listing tech culture relevant events. This month, I've had the good fortune to attend two of those events. Last week, as Laundry Sessions readers know, I was in San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference (GDC) and Serious Games Summit (SGS). This week, I am attending the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC). Normally, comparing such disparate gatherings would seem silly, but attending them back-to-back (I flew from SF straight to Houston) has thrown them against each other in my mind.

The first and foremost contrast became apparent when I noticed that there are a decent number of women at LPSC. I don't know what the percentages are for either conference, but I would guess ten to fifteen percent at GDC and thirty five to forty percent at LPSC. Planetary science (geology, physics, astrobiology) doesn't strike me as any more or less female-friendly than game development (programming, digital art, design, production). So why aren't there more women in games? Obviously, I don't know the answer to that, but it's nice to be at a scientific conference with a balanced attendance. Hopefully, more folks like Saralah, Jane, the Killer Betties, Sheri Graner-Ray, and others will continue to bolster the ranks of game prodution, design, and consumption.

Artifact Based Narrative

A co-worker of mine sent a link to this auction for a time machine over on ebay. At first I thought it was simply amusing until I read the details of what exactly came with the auction. This ins't just a tongue-and-cheek rewiring of a toaster, it includes a story of who created the time machine and what happened to the inventor. This is done through the inclusion of old photographs, letters, and other various items that are seemingly related to the time machine.

What the creator of this auction has done is create an entire narrative but rather than tell this story through printed or spoken words or even video, he has done it through artifact. The hunk of metal that was purchased for $647 is not what was was really bought, but the fiction that it reperesents. In this case, the artifacts are the medium.

An interesting side note, the same casino that bought the virgin mary grilled cheese sandwich bought the time machine.

Interesting Links For March 14th

  1. Last week at the Game Developers Conference, Greg Costikyan gave an interesting rant about the industry. A transcript can be found here. Costikyan also posted the text that he was working from here.
  2. There's some interesting response to the rant over at TerraNova.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Laundry Sessions GDC Coverage!

Laundry Sessions will be at various portions of the Game Developers Conference this year. Obviously, we won't have "comprehensive" coverage (there's only two of us after all), but we'll try to bring you our patented Laundry Sessions-eye view, with plenty of opinions and probably some bickering... er, informed discussion.

Look for Clubberjack's coverage of the Serious Games Summit, starting Monday.