Game talk

Game talk

This is the catch-all category for stuff about games and game design. It easily makes up the vast majority of the site’s content. If you are looking for something specific, I highly recommend looking into the tags used on the site instead. They can narrow down the hunt immensely.

Game talkMy UAH talk: Digital Bards

 Posted by (Visited 95 times)  Game talk
Oct 172016

CulOlhYWAAARDBHI just posted up the slides and a video of my talk at the University of Alabama Huntsville, called “Digital Bards: Interactive Media and the Evolution of Storytelling.”

The video is an audio recording plus the slides; something I suppose I ought to do more often. It’s also two hours long, because there is a full half hour of Q&A at the end. Alas, the slides have basically no text on them, so the recording is really the only way to get the gist.

The talk is indebted to Matt Worch’s GDC talk on oral and print culture, which I have showered praise on before. It takes quite a while on the history of authors pushing against the conventions of print culture (as described in my post on interactivity) before giving a brief tour of some of the ways in which games are and aren’t traditional storytelling forms. So it’s fairly academic — but if you are interested in any form of digital storytelling, whether it be adventure games, hypertext, or walking simulators, it might be of interest.

Plus, I called Dungeons & Dragons “the most important advance in the field of literature in the last 500 years.”

Sep 282016

I recently had the chance to sit down with Markee Dragon, during AGC. It was at the offices where they are making Crowfall, but we didn’t really talk about Crowfall. Instead, we talked about… fish tanks.

Or more exactly, about game design in general, and then about how there are systems in the world around us which provide inspiration, and how a lot of them, like gardening, just have really bad user interfaces. Which led us to fish tanks, and the rich and complex game system that exists in one. So we kind of started designing that game right there on the fly.

It was a highly entertaining conversation, for me at least — and now Markee has released the video, so maybe it’s entertaining for you too!


Sep 252016

slide1Here it is, in all its mathy glory: Gritty Systems Design for Retention.

I barely pulled off getting this one done in time. I knew what I wanted the shape of it to be, largely prompted by some of the design choices I saw in Pokemon Go. But I also knew it would involve an awful lot of spreadsheet work and an awful lot of graphs. And I wanted to make those graphs real, not just sketches, so that people could walk through the math and see how it worked.

So — I had notes, but then worked from 10pm to 3am the night before, and then from 9am to 2pm the day it was supposed to be delivered. I don’t recommend cutting it quite this close (the talk was at 4:45, so I finished with not quite three hours to spare).

Continue reading »

Aug 152016

agc2016logo-547x286I’ve mentioned it a fair amount of Twitter and Facebook, but I wanted to call attention to it here again, for those who still follow such antiquated things as blogs! I’ll be speaking at the newly revived Austin Game Conference, taking place in Austin of course, on Sept. 21 and 22.

For those of you who fondly remember the various incarnations of game conferences in Austin — this event is going to recapture that vibe, I think. The advisory board is pretty much the same crew of folks who curated all those excellent conferences for a decade, starting back in 2003.

My topic:

Continue reading »

Game talkA Poke-roundup

 Posted by (Visited 1373 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 192016

My piece on how “AR is an MMO” traveled far and wide this week. Among the appearances:

There’s probably more to come — I was asked about interviews by several outlets this week, and actually said yes to at least one, as I recall.

If you’re looking for more to read from a game-design specific angle, I recommend

Also, you may recall I mentioned that alternate client views is common in MMOs? Well, here’s your global map of where all the Pokemon are. If you can get in — it’s overloading with traffic.

Game talkI really did mean “MMO”

 Posted by (Visited 1791 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 142016

A lot of people, as I expected, have focused on the semantics of whether or not “AR is an MMO.” Mostly, they say “well, you really mean ‘it’s like an MMO.'”

It isn’t really “like.” It actually “is.” I think people fall into the trap of thinking that the physical trumps the virtual, but that’s not the case. The virtual trumps the physical, or as Marc Andreessen puts it, software swallows everything.

Think of it this way: the phrase “geotagging” suggests that we are applying a small bit of virtual to the real. But that’s not what is happening at all. What’s actually happening is that we are building a truly massive digital world, and attaching a tiny piece of real to it, via a DB entry with a coordinate.

Currently, there are a zillion databases that hold this sort of data, siloed from one another, but the big project that Google and others have been engaged in for quite some time is to unify them. Amazon’s ASIN is a great example of one such scheme to unify “template IDs” for as many object types as they can. Put another way: the single largest database of “object types” in the world is Amazon’s, and to build it, they basically cloned the existing UPC and ISBN and other such similar databases, plus some, and unified them. They created a metaobject type that became the parent object type, only they own the address space.

Continue reading »

Game talkAR is an MMO

 Posted by (Visited 4527 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , , ,
Jul 112016


I’ve said this before, but in the wake of the viral success of Pokémon GO, it needs to be said again. Augmented reality is just a virtual world, an MMO, a MUD even, with all of the same design issues, plus a few new ones.

The goggles fallacy

I asked a high-powered Silicon Valley exec about the ethical implications of social VR and AR. Their response was “what ethical implications?”

To some, particularly vets of online worlds of various stripes, this may seem obvious. But most days, it feels like the average person working in social VR, AR, and the like, is ignorant of this. It’s evident in the very large pile of past lessons they are failing to heed in their designs.

Continue reading »

May 232016

Slide2I spent last week up in the mountains around Banff, Canada, with a spectacular group of people, as we talked about “computational modeling of games.” This was a workshop held at the Banff International Research Station, or BIRS, and organized by Andy Nealen of NYU and Michael Mateas of UC Santa Cruz. As you may be able to tell from the title, it was moderately mathy, though I was assured by several of those there that it was dramatically less so than an actual mathematician would expect, and certainly less so than the other workshops in the series!

I was asked to give a “seed talk” on the question of “the limits of formalism.” The questions Michael and Andy asked me to answer were

What leverage does a formalist approach to game design give you? What might it leave out? What are the broad contours of the landscape of formalist game design theories? What intellectual commitments are formalist game designers making? What are the biggest holes in our current understanding of formalist approaches to game design?

Continue reading »

May 022016

ChDzrYSW4AE9pVn.jpg largeI just got back from a week in Helsinki, Finland. I was there to run some game design workshops at Next Games, and do a lecture for them as part of an event they were hosting.

The request was for a talk of a similar shape to the one I gave at GDC: looking back over the history of games over the last couple of decades, identifying some cycles and trends, and discussing the ways in which those cycles were carrying us back again towards familiar territory. In particular, a huge topic of discussion all week, with many separate people from many different companies, was the way in which mobile gaming is discovering that the games need to be more social, more like games as a service; and more and more they find they must draw lessons from MMOs.

This isn’t that dissimilar to what I have been saying about social VR, either, and of course mobile is going to collide with AR given enough technological advances and time. So that was the skeleton of the talk.

Continue reading »

Mar 212016

flashbackwardstageI hear video will be up in a few weeks, but in the meantime, here are the slides and the text for the little five minute talk I gave at GDC as part of the FlashBackward keynote.

For some reason, I felt the pressure on this talk much more than usual. Five minutes is not a lot of time, and I had a lot I wanted to say. This resulted in fifty slides. There were, all told, four hours of rehearsals, although I only attended two of them. The animations on my slides were lost along the way, and when I did my runthroughs, I botched it both times. By the time I gave the talk, my hands were shaking and I had trouble pressing the button on the clicker to advance slides with my thumb. I had to set it down and press it with my index finger. But by all accounts I nailed it, so…

Continue reading »