Monday, March 12, 2007

GDC 2007

I just got back from the Game Developers Conference 2007 in San Francisco. I hung out with Ken Kopecky, Andres Reinot, and Josh Larson most of the week.

Here is a very terse summary of each day at the conference:

I attended Creativity Boot Camp, a full-day tutorial by Paul Schuytema. The morning was more lecture style, covering a set of practical tips on how to live a lifestyle that fosters creativity. In the afternoon the audience formed groups to work on several exercises. One was a problem solving task (deciding which objects to bring along when trying to escape a mall full of zombies). Another was a board game design task based on a random set of pieces, randomizers, and board layouts. Alexey Pajitnov happened to be there observing the groups as they worked.

I attended the day-long Independent Games Summit, which included sessions on prototyping, bootstrapping an indie game dev project, retail distribution, indie development logistics, the casual game market (presented by Eric Zimmerman of gamelab), the story behind Cloud, marketing for indie games, physics games (presented by Matthew Wegner, creator of Fun-Motion), and a panel discussion on the future of indie games.

At the Sony keynote they presented a "home" feature for the PS3. It looks like a SecondLife kind of thing with much better graphics. They also introduced an great-looking game called LittleBigPlanet. I went to a round table discussion on non-profit games, moderated by Martin de Ronde of OneBigGame. I also went to a round table on security and privacy in games, which touched on the legal and marketing issues related to storing user data. Finally, in the evening we went to the Independent Games Festival & awards ceremony and Game Developers Choice awards.

Shigeru Miyamoto gave the Nintendo keynote, discussing his vision and how it relates to that of Nintendo. One interesting point was that his goal for the original Zelda for NES was to introduce a new form of communication: instead of playing the game in isolation, gamers were forced to talk to each other about how to solve puzzles. Miyamoto also showed a video of Super Mario Galaxy.

At the annual Game Design Challenge, three designers were presented with the task of creating a video game using a needle and thread interface. Alexey Pajitnov won. I then attended a game design talk by Clint Hocking entitled Exploration: From Systems to Spaces to Self. The talk was based on the idea that humans have a need to explore things and that every game is an exploration game. "Exploration" was defined in several ways, including system exploration (the general idea of exploring the properties of some system, like the mechanics of a video game), spatial exploration (the special case where the system in question is defined spatially, e.g., a physics simulation). A third type, rarely seen in video games, is self-exploration, which refers to the process of putting ourselves in situations that lead to us learning something about ourselves.

Chris Hecker gave a talk on "how to animate a character you've never seen before," referring to the challenge of animating the user-designed creatures in SPORE. In the evening we went to the Programmer's Challenge, a game show with six of the industry's leading programmers.

Tom Leonard from Valve gave a talk on making the Source engine scalable to multiple cores. It sounds like they built a custom framework to support several different concurrency models (course-grained and fine-grained parallelism) for different situations. Chaim Gingold gave a talk entitled SPORE's Magic Crayons, which was about limiting the parameters available for user-generated content in order to push the space of probable designs into the space of desirable designs. In other words, for SPORE it was important to avoid giving users knobs that tend to yield ugly results.

We went to the Video Games Live concert in the evening, which included performances by Koji Kondo and Martin Leung (aka the Video Game Pianist).

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