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:

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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?

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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.

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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…

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Game talkGDC and Flash Backward

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Mar 032016

Officialspeaker_400x400GDC is fast approaching! I am only doing a five minute talk this year (much like last year!). But boy, I have a big stage for it. Instead of a regular keynote, GDC is doing a Flash Backward “keynote” where a bunch of veteran devs will share the stage giving a history of the last thirty years of game making… and I’m very honored to share the stage with a bunch of amazing people.

I’ve added it to the events calendar.

My portion, needless to say, will be on MMOs… the hard part will be squeezing all that history into only five minutes.


Nov 102015

I posted up the slides to my talk at SGC earlier; now the conference has released video of the session.

This talk was a joint keynote for both the Sweden Game Conference, which was a typical industry conference, and the smaller VS-Games conference for serious games academics. So I tried to straddle the line by doing a talk that would be helpful both to indies and interesting to game studies folks.

Questions start right around the 49:00 mark, and in particular there’s a bit of a rant on my part about the value for interdisciplinary learning for people who are going to creatively lead projects. After that answer, Rami Ismail (who was there, of course, he is everywhere) asked if I could list the five most important or relevant books for covering the various fields that I had described in the talk. I couldn’t… so I listed more like 30.


Sep 192015

Slide15I had a great time in Sweden, despite the fact that there did not seem to be a canonical way to pronounce the city was in (Skövde — sort of hghuheffdduh-ish, but depending where I was in the country, it was also hgheffduh, hghuffda, and a few others).

The talk I gave, put together after some rather late nights with boardgames and beer (well, hard cider in my case), was called “Teaching to Fish.” It had to work as a joint keynote for both the Sweden Game Conference, which was a typical industry conference, and the smaller VS-Games conference for serious games academics.

I ended up doing a bit on game grammar, but focusing more on the fact that given the breadth of the field, it is important that practitioners know what sort of thing they are making, and use the right tools for the job. And that they take their field seriously, study the relevant literature from both games and the countless other disciplines that interact with and impinge upon games.

A lot of the audience was students; I was told afterwards multiple times over that I might have scared half of them right out of the course of study. I was asked two questions at the end, and one of them was “so, since learning all that is impossible, what then?” more or less, to which I answered “it’s not impossible, I did it.” That was followed by a question from Rami Ismail basically designed to force me to prove it, asking me to list of some relevant books; so I gave title and author recommendations for each of the fields in the slides — more like twenty than the requested five. 🙂

Besides Rami, I also got see old friend Lee Sheldon and Mike Sellers, and make many new ones. I learned a lot about the Nordic LARP scene, which is utterly fascinating. Tommy Palm (formerly King, now doing VR) and Ben Cousins and David Goldfarb (now at new studio The Outsiders) were kind enough to host me for meals on the last day as I attempted to sightsee Stockholm on foot. Twelve miles, one blister, and I had managed to walk most of the core of the city in the rain, visiting museums, tourist traps, and sites from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Slides for the talk are here. It was filmed, and I imagine that at some point I may get a link to that to share it with you. For now, you will have to make do with a parable about fish with a couple of bad puns. Well, one REALLY bad pun, a few middling ones, and one fairly decent one.

Game talkPAXDev Game Grammar talk

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Sep 092015

At PAXDev I gave a talk on Game Grammar. It’s an overview of my current understanding of how all the parts of games fit together. I don’t touch on how every part works — that would have taken far too long for the time allotted — but I do provide the overview, what I have taken to calling my “map of game.”

For the last few years, the tension between the various different ways of looking critically at games has often run high. With this view of things, I wanted to reconcile things a bit. It draws a bit on the stuff from the essay “Playing with ‘game'” and also from the presentation with the same title, which is actually about something else entirely. It pulls in stuff from Games Are Math and from the deck on Social Mechanics.

It tries to map it all out in terms of how it fits into the classic interaction loop that we’re all familiar with, and discusses the techniques used not only for creating solid game mechanics but also what sorts of rhetorical and artistic techniques work best when you are working towards, say, Tadhg’s Kelly’s notion of “storysense,” or towards putting someone in shoes that are not theirs, as in the efforts that are happening so much in the indie narrative game scene.

This also has a few little examples of how you can use simple game diagrams to look at game designs and assess them for flaws or scope.

It’s dry and full of diagrams. Enjoy!


Game talkOff to PAX

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Aug 252015


I fly off to Seattle in a few hours, barring rain. It will be my first time ever at PAX, and I am looking forward to seeing what the hubbub is about. I will be carting some of my tabletop games with me, so if you run into me, ask about them and you may get to play one spontaneously.

I will also be talking twice. For those who haven’t noticed, there’s a little events widget on the sidebar now over to the right, listing upcoming speaking gigs. But I’ll try to be good and post about them on the blog too, since I have been neglecting it quite badly lately.

In any case, I’ll be talking at PAX Dev — for which there are apparently still tickets — giving the closing keynote. It’ll be on game grammar: Continue reading »

Mar 312015

The GDC Vault has posted up one hundred and forty free videos from GDC 2015. Holy Cow, almost as good as being there. 🙂

Among them is the talk that Rich Vogel, Gordon Walton and I presented on “Community Management in the Culture Wars.” I’ve embedded it below, and I’ve also added it to the already existing page for the presentation, which also has the slides.

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