Game talkMy big GDC takeaways

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Mar 122012
 

Just some hastily scribbled notes here:

The art & the science are at least yelling at each other across a divide, if not talking.

Chris Crawford is more relevant than he has been in years. At least more discussed. People are now embracing things he said that they used to disdain. His face was put up on slides a bunch of times, and his spirit was invoked a lot. There were many calls for games to “grow up.”

On the flip side, the social/F2P model is clearly not just winning but dominant — but there were a lot of discussions about how to do it ethically, rather than just rejecting it out of hand or embracing the monetization.

There’s a little bit of an identity crisis. Some of this is from debates over terms (“is Dear Esther a game?” was a constant thread), which some feel to be exclusionary. Now that interactive art is burgeoning, it is either growing out of the rubric of “game” or expanding the definition. This is leading to people calling each other fundamentalist or clueless, which is not very productive.

In the process, that term definition exercise and the deeper analysis of the “science” of how games work has continued to make great strides, and many of the best talks were about understanding the audience psychology or understanding mechanics in greater depth. Game grammar-like diagrams popped up on many slides, and concrete game design exercises were showcased at great length — where we used to just get special-cases, we now get general principles.

A lot of the above was enabled by back-to-low-budget trends that enabled the indie and art game movements, and by the fact that mobile tech was easily accessible. The center of gravity has clearly shifted to mobile.

But there was also general agreement among business types that this Renaissance period is over. Budgets are about to skyrocket again, and we’re now at the start of a “mature” period akin to the early glory days of consoles, or the early glory days of PC gaming. Expect creativity to give way to conservatism again and the stakes get higher in terms of budgets and time.

Basically, it feels to me like we’re just about cresting the edge to a new plateau. We’ll see what happens to disrupt this one. :)

  15 Responses to “My big GDC takeaways”

  1. When Rez came out, people said it was not a game.
    When Animal Crossing came out, people said it was not a game.
    When Peggle came out, people said it was not a game.
    When Passage came out, people said it was not game.
    When Farmville came out, people said it was not a game.
    When Flower came out, people said it was not a game.

    And the list could go on and on, of course.
    Anything that pushes against accepted boundaries will be rejected by conservatives. The new always has to fight the established.
    That’s how progress is made.

  2. I think the biggest difference this time around is that people are talking about experiences that are more like toys or more like pure exploratory spaces, with no goals in them whatsoever.

  3. Shall we see what happens, or shall we figure it out first and do it, to make sure that lovely disruption shows up on schedule? ;)

  4. There are a lot of analogies made, and making analogies between cultural forms is a fool’s game. But I seem to be playing it.

    Perhaps clear, understood goals are to “games” as a category what representation used to be “paintings” as a category. There are still people who don’t believe paintings are “real” paintings unless they represent something.

    In any case, whatever the relationship between projects like Dear Esther (and Dinner Date and the Tale-of-Tales work) and the category and cultures of games, it’s clear that they rely on end-user literacy about controlling an avatar in 3D space that comes from games, among other literacies. If they aren’t treated as games by the people who gate-keep such things, then it may be a greater loss to “games” than to those projects.

  5. My main concern in all of the discussion around it is pretty simple. We currently have a couple of terms available. If “games” widens to include what were non-games before, then we need a new term for what used to be called “games.” And that bugs me just because we’re actually making progress on analyzing the-art-form-formerly-known-as-games.

    That’s all. I watched it happen to “virtual world” and it muddied the scholarship and the theory considerably.

  6. Perhaps a modifier should be sufficient. I never was confused by “virtual world” – it was clear to me than an MMO is a subset of virtual worlds. (I always thought the theory was muddled up by looking at writing meant for MUDs and applying them to other MMOs, but that’s another story.)

    So, a modifier should really be enough: “autotelic” vs “heterotelic” games, perhaps.

    The question is really whether definitions are based on necessary and sufficient conditions (they aren’t) or whether they are used to aggregate things based on family resemblance (as per Wittgenstein) or on radial and fuzzy membership criteria (as per Eleanor Rosch.) Since I think it’s the latter, I’m inclined to include these things as games. (I actually think that, according to a very strict understanding of what a game is, you could even exclude most all videogames from them, if you think of games as activities in which the players must share an understanding of the rules – and that digital games represent a dramatic break and the introduction of something very, very foreign, but I think that ship has sailed. It seems intuitively obvious to me that Dear Esther is much closer to Mass Effect than either are to a game of tag played by children, but YMMV.)

  7. People are now embracing things he said that they used to disdain.

    I’m curious what specifically people have said. Given the storytelling focus of Storybricks, I’ve been paying attention to Chris Crawford’s writings a lot more. Curious to find out what others are thinking these days as well.

  8. 1) pc + mac + 3 set top game boxes + 2 mobile game devices + umpteen tablet/phone devices + legacy devices = hell

    2) you need txt to speech so players can talk with npcs

    3) you need a checkmate-detecting ai to ensure that players don’t dead-end the game 1/3 of the way through. This ai looks forward in time to make sure that given the players prior bad choices, they can continue to have fun in the game. Very important! Games are limited to prebalanced simplelistic gameplay without this.

  9. Another way to think about game design is this model: Grand-unified theory of world-like games.

    1) You have AI’s for every NPC. NPCs are contolled by their AIs MUCH-MORE than they are controlled by a movie-like script.

    2) You have a predictive psychology model for the player… determining how intelligent (good at gameplay) they are, as well as what choices they are likely to make.

    3) You have an “AI” predictor that looks forward through a (theoratical) ALL-possible-choices that the player can can make, as well as the NPCs. This will consume most of your computer’s CPU.

    If the AI-predictor determines that the player has gotten into a losing checkmate solution, say within the next 5 – 10 hours, then then it (a) stears the player into a non-losing direction, (b) stears the NPCs in a direction that won’t encourage the player to lose (such as ensuring that a hard-to-find NPC suddenly needs to visit town more-often to pick up groceries), (c) makes gameplay easier, (d) etc.

  10. @Olivier

    When Rez came out, people said it was not a game.
    When Animal Crossing came out, people said it was not a game.
    When Peggle came out, people said it was not a game.
    When Passage came out, people said it was not game.
    When Farmville came out, people said it was not a game.
    When Flower came out, people said it was not a game.

    I don’t remember anyone saying that any of the above games were not games. I wonder if you could back up any of those claims with citations from game review sites or otherwise.

  11. Perhaps a modifier should be sufficient. I never was confused by “virtual world” – it was clear to me than an MMO is a subset of virtual worlds.

    In that particular case what happened was a subset of virtual world appropriating the term to mean only social worlds, which actually left us without an umrella term at all, barring perhaps Ted Castronova’s “synthetic worlds.”

    I think I may work up a blog post…

  12. [...] Raph Koster’s GDC takeaways: There’s a little bit of an identity crisis. Some of this is from debates over terms (“is Dear [...]

  13. It would be really interesting if you could give a few examples for each point, especially when you are referencing to talks. For instance, which lectures featuring “Game grammar-like diagrams” did you attend and what ideas did they discuss?

  14. Also: beards and game designers have never been closer. And tablecloths are the new essential design tool.

  15. [...] developers and gamers alike. “The center of gravity has clearly shifted to mobile,” wrote Raph Koster, a seasoned game [...]

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