Austin GDC Notes: Day One

Here’s my notes from the first day of the Austin Game Developers’ Conference:

chris crawford on paradigm shifts

  1. proper study of man is man
  2. interactivity is most important part of software
  3. graphics exist only to support interactivity
  4. no plots; storytelling is process, not plot
  5. focus on what the user does
  6. worry about the verbs of the story
  7. need a linguistic user interface (language) to get large number of verbs
  8. but, probably can’t get natural language on a computer
  9. chris recommends using Deikto to build toy reality-stories
  10. use swat to create social-focused games; storytron.com

living with a legacy: lessons from everquest (sony’s everquest team)

  • pitfalls in mmo systems design
    • correcting poor documentation (now wiki-based): made custom data search tools, run checks for new-found bug combos
    • non-scaling design: capped % modifiers, capped melee attack speed and other stackable modifiers
    • complicated systems: legacy systems accrue cruft over time
  • problem resolutions
    • reworked obsolete systems: again, systems that worked early on, but failed over the length of the game; had to redesign to scale indefinitely
    • adapted problem systems: dealt with system interactions that were only revealed to be problematic after release
    • removed some problems entirely: e.g. beam-kiting, combining item and power boost for item
  • designing scalable systems
    • use visible game systems to give feedback to players
    • use game system models/mockups to test new systems before implementing them
    • avoid complicating systems through stacking or using non-formula-based calculations
    • always design systems with opposing systems to make sure new systems/items scale over time
    • design a backup plan for each system in case new systems don’t go over well
    • be conservative when tuning new systems, it’s better to improve a bad system than nerf an overpowered one

writing for cinematic design (bioware)

  • now have dedicated cinematic designers (crafting interactive narrative content with cinematic presentation)
  • feel cinematic design the best way to deliver story to the player
  • building blocks: writing, audio, settings, camera, digital actors, player choice
  • in the future: need to find the right balance between audience-led agency and designer-led emotion
  • have to watch what audience expects: their expectations constantly change with the medium and we have to change our approach to match
  • lately, have moved from writing in novel-style to writing in more film-script format
  • involve player in the narrative as much as possible

easy is f**king hard (eric zimmerman with gamelab)

  • game design is a design discipline, designers make the rules
  • hardcore vs casual: complexity of interaction, time investment required, gamer content
  • game design means thinking of games as systems
  • as systems, games will have emergent behavior, often social behavior
  • via the game, we explore the system as a form of play
  • designers describe the system through rules
  • need to ensure players have meaningful actions to take during play
  • to have a choice, player needs to be able to see the state of the game system and the available choices (but not necessarily the possible consequences of those choices); to evaluate choice and learn, consequences of choice (once made) need to be obvious to the player
  • current choices should be integrated into later choices
  • slow but powerful advancement keeps players hooked, especially if player can see future rewards (turn them into play goals)
  • remember, games take place in a social context; you’re really designing a social activity