Game talkSpeaking on “Practical Creativity”

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Sep 232014
 

I’ll be talking at GDCNext in LA in early November about “practical creativity.”

Over the last couple of years, I have had no commercial masters over my creativity. Oh, I’ve done some consulting and whatnot, but the vast majority of my time has been on projects that I am pursuing out of pure passion, a desire to make them. And I’ve had an incredibly prolific period; the most prolific of my life, actually.

One of the things that has been really striking about it for me is the high hit rate on prototypes. Some strange alchemy between the indie strivings towards art and the accumulated lessons from game grammar and “formalist” thinking, between reading up on human psychology and mathematics, has created for me a toolset that is in some ways very practical, even dull. Very straightforward and easy to share. So, I’m going to!

Practical Creativity

Raph Koster  |  Designer, Independent
Format: Lecture
Track: Design
Pass Type: All Access Pass, GDC Next Pass

It’s a world of clones, of derivative ideas, of repackaging games in genres. It can be hard to be creative. And all too often, creativity is treated as a magical talent that few have, when it’s actually a skill that anyone can learn and that improves with practice! Come learn what science tells us about creativity, and practical straightforward steps that any game designer or developer can make use of in order to get more creative. We’ll actually try these things out in the talk, and I promise every attendee will leave with a brand-new game idea, never before seen.

Takeaway

Attendees will learn what “creativity” is currently thought to be, and specific tools and tricks for making their games more creative. We’ll even try to be creative during the actual talk!

Game talkGDC: Building game retention tips

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Mar 252014
 

Aside from the ten minute talk at Critical Proximity that I posted yesterday, I spoke for an additional six minutes at GDC2014 (yes, that’s unusually low commitment for me!). It was a microtalk on retention tips for free to play games in the “build and invest” genre — stuff like farming games, city games, all those isometric games where you plonk down little objects. You can find the archived presentation here.

Quests work against self-expression. They force you to build what the developers want, not what you want.

Most of the panelists focused on the “modern” use of the term “retention” — which is to say, they focused on how to get people to come back for the second day, or for a week. The phrase “daily login bonus” was a common reference. But I knew that would be the case, and so took the opportunity to continue my hapless crusade to get social-style games to greater heights of community and user involvement.

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Mar 242014
 

The debates about “what is a game” happened between multiple overlapping circles that have very little to do with one another… “Games” is never going to fall into one bucket or critical lens… We enrich ourselves and our mutual understanding not by claiming pre-eminence of one circle, but by learning to move between them.

On the Sunday before GDC, I attended and spoke at Critical Proximity, a games criticism conference. It was quite excellent. I am left with many thoughts, which will have to go into a separate post on the subject. In the meantime, there are write-ups available in several places:

As regular readers know, I have been involved in a lot of discussions about “formalism” in games over the last few years. This talk was an attempt to reset the conversation with insights into “formalism in the real world” as Brendan Keogh put it on Twitter, a look into the ways in which looking at the formal structure of games is able to help out and illuminate all sorts of games criticism. Including “softer” or more humanistic approaches, such as historiography, study of play, and cultural studies approaches.To that end, I deployed a set of analogies from other media: fine art, and poetry, and music, to help draw connections between the ways formal approaches and even notation are used in these other fields, and how we might use them in ours.

My talk is below the fold (hover over the slides for the notes text), and for the full transcript plus a link to the video, go here.

There were many other talks I highly recommend… the entire Twitch stream is available (see that same link) and lasts 8 hours!

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Game talkMe at GDC 2014

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Mar 132014
 

gdc_2014As usual, I will be in San Francisco this year! It’s a relatively quiet year for me though.

I’m giving a talk at Critical Proximity, which is a brand-new conference held on Sunday, the day before GDC kicks off. It’s a conference all about games criticism. My talk is called “A New Formalism,” and it’s about ways to apply various sorts of picky craft approaches to games in ways that hopefully enrich the non- formal styles of critique.

I am also giving a microtalk as part of the GDC F2P Summit, on retention tips and techniques specifically for “build and invest” style games:

Microtalks: Retention Tips for Free-to-Play Genres

The two pillars of free-to-play gaming are retention and monetization. Because players monetize over time, you need to keep as many of your players coming back for as long as possible. But how do you accomplish that? In this uniquely-formatted session, seven battle-hardened free-to-play veterans will give microtalks about retention techniques for seven different free-to-play genres: builders, hidden object games, card battle games, RPGs, word games, shooters and social casino. Learn the tips and tricks that the pros use in each of these genres.

That’s on Monday, Room 2016, West Hall, at 4:30pm-5:30pm. Remember, my part is all of six minutes — I share the time with a bunch of wonderful folks.

Beyond that — a whole bunch of business meetings, dinners and networking and whatnot. I will have a copy of my card game with me at all times, so if you see me, expect to get dragooned into playtesting. I will also have a variety of other game prototypes too…

 

 

Feb 052014
 

Slide14My GDCNext talk “Playing with ‘Game'” has been posted up here as video with slides:

Gamasutra – Video: Playing with ‘game’ – What games can be, and what they can mean.

I described the talk thus a while back:

The talk starts out with some basic semiotic theory — basically, the difference between a thing, the name we give a thing, and what the thing actually means. This serves as an entry point into talking about not only the way the word “game” is incredibly overloaded with different people’s interpretations, but also as a way to start discussing the way games themselves can mean things.

This leads to exploring the notion of “play” as space — free movement within a system, which is not a new idea at all, ranging from Derrida to Salen & Zimmerman. And then to looking at the two big sorts of play I see: the play of the possibility space of a set of rules, and the possibility space of a set of symbols or signs, which we might be more used to calling the thematic depth of a literary work. Along the way I break down writing techniques, game design techniques, and more, trying to find the ways in which these tools can be applied to games of different intents — which tools work best for a given craftsperson’s purpose?

For me, a lot of the reason I did the talk was to try to bring together the parties separated by contention over “what is a game” and similar debates. I wanted to show that there’s a lot more commonalities there than not, but also that different creators have different goals for their work, and therefore pick up different tools from the workbench. And that, actually, sometimes this means that games we’d never link together actually have structural commonalities just because the techniques that the creators choose to use.

I actually think I ended up spending too much time on the first half, which is effectively “game critic inside baseball” for quite a lot of people (though might be interesting nonetheless). The result was that I kind of rushed the second half, the part with the tools and techniques. Ah well. I am told it was an interesting talk anyway, just not one of my best.

Enjoy!

Nov 062013
 

Slide20Here are the slides for the talk I gave yesterday, entitled “Playing with ‘Game.'”

The talk starts out with some basic semiotic theory — basically, the difference between a thing, the name we give a thing, and what the thing actually means. This serves as an entry point into talking about not only the way the word “game” is incredibly overloaded with different people’s interpretations, but also as a way to start discussing the way games themselves can mean things.

Slide14This leads to exploring the notion of “play” as space — free movement within a system, which is not a new idea at all, ranging from Derrida to Salen & Zimmerman. And then to looking at the two big sorts of play I see: the play of the possibility space of a set of rules, and the possibility space of a set of symbols or signs, which we might be more used to calling the thematic depth of a literary work. Along the way I break down writing techniques, game design techniques, and more, trying to find the ways in which these tools can be applied to games of different intents — which tools work best for a given craftsperson’s purpose?

I was really stuck on this talk. I had it conceptually all worked out, and could ot figure out a good way to convey it at all. My first several drafts were dry and jargony and a mess. And then I saw Daniel Benmergui give a talk at EVA in Argentina about the difference between “sense” and “meaning,” using David Lynch and Braid as examples, and it unlocked everything for me.

So if you want to know why I think a six-word story is like Journey and how Howling Dogs is like Super Mario Brothers, this is the talk for you. And if the above sounds incredibly intimidating and way too much like grad school in literary theory, the good news is that the talk is full of waffles.

Slide107

Game talkGDCNext: Playing with ‘game’

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Oct 112013
 

I’ll be speaking at GDCNext on this, in the future of gaming track.

Playing with ‘Game’

Raph Koster  |  Designer, Independent
Location: Room 515 B
Date: Tuesday, November 05
Time: 11:15am-12:15pm

Never mind the future – the present of games is quickly carrying us well beyond the classic understandings of what a game is. We’ve got gamified restaurants, psychological self-help tools, immersive narrative experiences, quasi-gambling experiences, political statements and more. Along the way, we’re seeing conflicts between subcultures in our audience, and within our development community as well. Players get mad when a title isn’t what they expected. Developers watch the encroachment of business practices they dislike. Designers try to apply the tools of one genre to another, and find they don’t always work. Is “game” even a thing? And if it is, in what ways do these varied approaches relate to one another? In this lecture, we’ll take a look at a craft-centric approach to the question: what do we make, who do we make it for, and how can we best make what we want?

Takeaway

Attendees will learn about a framework for thinking about varied types of interactive experiences and the four types of problems that make for compelling play. They will also take away practical design checklists and techniques for these different approaches: top five tips for narrative experiences, ludic experiences, coercive experiences and so on.

This isn’t the same thing as the blog post of the same name — though some of that material will be the first few minutes. Instead, it’s an attempt to synthesize understandings coming from different quarters about what games can be and what they can mean, and how they can be and mean. I am sure that there will likely be some stuff in there to annoy people from every faction! :)

Most importantly, though, I want to focus back in on craft. Craft seems like it is often the forgotten root of all these approaches. Whether you are trying to make games that are personal, pure experience, narratively centered, systemically driven, emergent, linear, abstract, or Dadaist, there is always the how underlying it all. And “how” is interesting, because there’s what works for you the creator, and what works for a given audience, and in a very real sense, as creators we don’t get to quarrel with what the audience likes or accepts. It is always up to them whether to listen to what we have to say.

So this talk is going to be about how as much as I can make it… about the raw tools that might help a designer in their goal of making either a polished AAA experience or a raw emotional outpouring.

Hope to see you there!

Game talkGDC Next call for submissions

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Apr 292013
 

The call for submissions for GDC Next is now open. I am on the advisory board.

The conference will be in Los Angeles, November 5-7. This is the conference that is replacing GDC Austin; basically, it’s intended to be the most forward-looking of the GDCs, intentionally looking at what comes next, not what happened in the last year. Because of that, the tracks aren’t quite what one would expect:

  • The Future of Gaming is going to focus on things like second screen play, new kinds of play around mobility, episodic, and the like.
  • Next Generation Game Platforms will be digging into not just next-gen consoles but stuff like VR headsets, and glasses, microconsoles, motion tracking, smart TVs, watches, and whatever else looks like it is around the corner.
  • Smartphone and Tablet Games is a bit more here and now, but given the enormous worldwide growth that still remains ahead of these platforms, there’s plenty of cutting edge stuff to discuss, and current lessons to share
  • Cloud gaming will talk about game streaming — the tech, the business, the design
  • The Independent Games Track — we all know that indies are where the future lies. Lecture, postmortems, rants, covering design, business, and everything else.

We’ve got a mix of folks from the GDC Austin board plus a bunch of new advisors.

Go submit your talks!

Game talkMiscOnline Game Legend

 Posted by (Visited 6891 times)  Game talk, Misc  Tagged with: , , ,
Aug 302012
 

Today the press release went out announcing that I was selected to receive the Online Game Legend Award at the GDC Online Choice Awards. This award is voted on by fellow developers, and it’s basically a lifetime achievement award.

The Online Game Legend Award recognizes the career and achievements of one particular creator who has made an indelible impact on the craft of online game development.

This rather leaves one thinking, “Well, now what?”

(Warning: introspection ahead…)

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Game talkGDCOnline: Ultima Online postmortem

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Aug 172012
 

Game Developers Conference | Check out the origin of Ultima Online at GDC Online 2012.

This is one of three things that I’ll be doing at GDCO in Austin this October. I’ll let you know what the other two are as they get announced. :) Have you registered yet? Why not?

Speaker/s: Rich Vogel (Independent)Raph Koster (Playdom, San Diego) and Starr M. Long (The Walt Disney Company)
Track / Duration / Format / Audience Level: Design , Production / 60-Minute / Lecture / All
GDC Vault Recording: TBD

Description: At first, it was mostly a team of newbies. For a while, the office space was a few rooms on a floor that was gutted for construction — you could literally walk off the 5th floor of building and plunge to your death if you weren’t careful. The artists sat in the hallway. And the team was out to change everything. Ultima Online was not only one of the first graphical MMORPGs, it also set the standard for player vs player combat and sandbox/emergent gameplay in online titles for many years to come. Three of the UO team’s chief members — Raph Koster, Rich Vogel, and Starr Long (all of whom went on to shape the online gaming landscape) — will deliver a postmortem on the landmark title, reflecting on the challenges they faced from early development to maintaining the game well after its launch. Come learn how a combination of insane ambition and idealistic cluelessness can sometimes result in creating something that changes people’s lives and the course of an industry.

Takeaway: Skunkworks development can actually work! Learn about the challenges in spinning up a service organization from scratch. And what exactly happened with that crazy dragons eating deer thing?