Thursday, March 15, 2012

GDC 2012 -- Day Three

It's the third and final day of GDC. Things are starting to wind down a bit, so I actually didn't go to any of my morning talks. It was a combination of being tired, but nothing sounded interesting either.

Frozen Synapse: award-winning indie game that utilizes simultaneous asynchronization

Relaxed Hardcore: Why Asynchronous is the Next Big Thing in Core Gaming

Mode 7 Games' Ian Hardingham gave this thirty-minute talk. It discussed the importance of using asynchronous gameplay and the reasons why it was used in their game, the indie-hit, Frozen Synapse. Asynchronous gameplay is a fancy way of saying turned-based over a network. The difference in Frozen Synapse is that instead of taking my turn and then waiting for my opponent to take theirs, we both decide what we are going to do at the same time and then watch it play out. It would have been nice to see a little code or some details on how to implement the simultaneous asynchronous gameplay discussed, but it was a design discussion -- and a bit of a postmortem -- so I couldn't complain too much. Overall, this talk was decent and well delivered but not overly inspiring or special.

Promotional image for the Indie Games Summer Uprising

Marketing for Indies: The Indie Games Summer Uprising

After lunch, my friend, Dave Voyles of Armless Octopus -- a review site specializing in XBLIG and indie titles -- gave a talk about the Indie Games Summer Uprising he helped put together in the summer of 2011. Despite a Zune-related hiccup, it was a well-delivered talk and interesting. Battle High was part of the Indie Games Summer Uprising, so not everything I heard was completely new to me, but there was a few bits that I was surprised to hear about like the dashboard update and its related secrecy. Overall, I appreciate all that Dave did for the Summer Uprising even more now because of this informative talk.

Image of Osmos, a game Andy Nealen worked on that exhibits texture...I think?

Minimal vs Elaborate, Simple vs Complex, and the Space Between

This talk was given by Andy Nealen of Hemisphere Games and Rutgers University. This was my last talk of the conference, so I was waiting for something to get me inspired, ready to return to work with new ambitions and desire, something to end my GDC with a roar, but instead it was just a whimper. Maybe I was tired, maybe I wasn't prepared for a talk like this, but overall: I just didn't get it. Nealen seemed to bounce around from various topics such as why games that look simple are actually complex because of the number of game-states they can have but then went to the importance of texture -- and not texture used for applying models -- but the overall appearance of a game screen. I guess I was just looking for something more directly related to the topic's title, but instead I just got a talk about "What does Andy Nealen think about game design?" which seemed to be a lot of computer science based ideas. Overall, it just was a bit disappointing for my last talk of GDC 2012.

Maybe "Meh Face" is a bit extreme, but I did feel this at times after leaving most talks this year
I guess as a whole I was a bit disappointed about the talks I attended this year at GDC. They all weren't bad, but I didn't really learn anything groundbreaking and wasn't overly inspired. It's partially my fault for not picking better talks, but a part of me suspects that maybe I'm just harder to inspire than others. What I did like about GDC this year though was meeting new people and catching up with people that I don't see on a regular basis, and maybe that's the more important thing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

GDC 2012 -- Day Two

So it's now Thursday and my second day of talks at GDC.

I actually think this image was used in the presentation...

Bootstrapping 101: How College Kids Built a Thriving Game Company in Under Three Years

This talk was given by Justin Beck of PerBlue. Firstly, I have to say, I felt he was a very good speaker. Anyway, the topic discussed the history of his company and their game, Parallel Kingdom. It was a mix of postmortem, business information, and anecdotes of starting a company. It was a very interesting talk, even if, at times, it went over my head with business information and numerical data. It did teach how to bootstrap -- or self-fund -- your own company without investors. Offering equity in the product to people working on it seems like a major key. Anyway, I liked the talk despite its few flaws and early morning time.

Jetpack Joyride. If I had an iPad, I'd probably love it!

Depth in Simplicity: The Making of Jetpack Joyride

This talk was given by Luke Muscat from Halfbrick Studios. This talk was average. It was mostly a postmortem -- a common trend this GDC -- of Jetpack Joyride, which I should have known from the title. It was well delivered, some good information about the importance of prototyping and playtesting but also to not rush a product if it's not really done like Jetpack Joyride, which I believe was supposed to be done in 4 months but took 9. I don't right this blog right after GDC to see how much I can remember and this talk just wasn't that memorable.

Logo for The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, a very fun, 2D hack-and-slash

DIY XBLA FTW: The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile Postmortem

Unlike the previous postmortem, I remember a good amount of this one. James Silva of Ska Studios delivered this talk with a mixture of humor and respectable humility. He talked about differences between this game and the prequel to his game and how they differentiated it on a wide variety of topics: technique, sales, marketing, fans, etc. I guess what I liked was that, as a fellow XNA user, I got a lot out of the technique and tools stuff. If the Jetpack Joyride speaker would have done the same, however, I probably wouldn't have gotten as much out of it because I don't develop for mobile in my spare time -- yet. Anyway, I really enjoyed this talk and even of all the postmortems I've seen at this and previous conferences, this was probably my favorite.

I kind of want to see this movie only because so many famous designers seem to love it

GDC Microtalks 2012: One Hour, Ten Voices, Countless Ideas

This is a lengthy one. Essentially hosted by Richard Lemarchand, ten different speakers -- including Lemarchand -- spoke on a topic for about five and a half minutes each. Again, I don't really remember all of them well. I really only remember the ones I really liked and the ones I really hated. I'll start with the ones I liked. Cliff Bleszinski of Epic Games and Brandon Sheffield of Game Developer Magazine both had similar talks. They discussed the importance of doing what you want when it comes to independent game development a bit and to not be afraid to do it. A part of me liked this, but I feel it's advice that suffers from "easier said than done" syndrome; it's especially to say when your "likes" are usually in a popular realm. I think designers can do what they want -- in reason. Maybe the real point of their talk was to make a good game and don't worry about the theme too much. Sadly, "good" is subjective and what I think is good many may not and vice versa. Dave Sirlin, who helped rebalance Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix, discussed how "quick" games can be more strategic than games with long, thought-out gameplay because of its use of the unconscious. Dan Pinchbeck of Dear Esther fame bitched about people over-discussing certain aspects of games like changing the world, "being games", mechanics, etc. Overall, his outspokenness seem to overshadow what he was really saying and instead made everyone just blindly agree with it -- whether he was right or wrong. Alice Taylor of MakieLab spoke about the improving affordability of 3D printing and its uses in game marketing, which was cool to hear about. Amy Henig of Naughty Dog spoke about a movie and how it has inspired her design. This movie is entitled Sullivan's Travels; an older movie about a comedic director who enters the world of poverty to help him make a movie that shows the darker sides of humanity. It's a strange movie that mixes comedy and drama, but this is an important mix, Henig explains and it's exhibited throughout the Uncharted series. Unfortunately I don't remember Heather Kelley -- who she was or what she had to say. I remember who Erin Robinson was, but her talk escapes me as well. Mary Flanagan of Tiltfactor spoke about the importance of cooperation, which was fine, but then she made the audience play "Slaps" and then a weird, eyes-closed version of slaps that resulted in high fives. Overall, I felt this was awful and was my least favorite of these talks.

Pass for getting into the Microsoft Studios Mixer
Anyway, that was my last talk of the day. After that, I attended a small mixer for XBLIG developers. I got to meet some new people and talk about our games and our hopes and wishes for the XBLIG platform. After that, I attended the Microsoft Mixer with some coworkers and again networked with some very cool people and received some pretty cool swag! Overall, Thursday was a major improvement over Wednesday!

The final day tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

GDC 2012 -- Day One

So another Game Developer's Conference has come to a close so I've decided to write about my experience and talks. So here is a list of each talk from Wednesday, March 7, 2012:

Another year, another GDC
Quick note, before Wednesday, I explored the conference a little bit to discover a new section of GDC known as GDC Play. It was a small section displaying a variety of games and companies. I heard the goal was for indie or other people to get noticed by possible publishers. It's unlikely, but I was even contemplating on getting a booth one year for my work -- of course I need to actually finish stuff. I played a very nice, yet overly sexual, 3D fighter known as Girl Fight, and an interesting fight simulator called graFighters in which players draw their characters and using some unique, easy-to-use tools, create it and watch it fight others' creations.

graFighters -- interesting concept and name
So Wednesday started out with a new concept for GDC known as the Flash Talks. These, in a way, replaced a universal keynote. During the Flash Talks, 100 speakers pitched the audience their talks in about 45 seconds. Unfortunately, there were more than 100 speakers at the conference as a whole, so there were some that you only had to go by with a description and title -- which I later learned isn't too reliable. Overall, I liked this concept and it definitely helped sway me which talks to and not to attend during the following days.

Laralyn McWilliams worked on Free Realms

Get Over Yourself: Making Someone Else's Game

This was my first real talk given by Laralyn McWilliams of iWin, Inc., and though it may not have been my favorite or the best, it was definitely the one I needed most. It discussed dealing with and motivating yourself and/or a team to work on games that may not be their style or their taste. A couple of weeks ago I was rather depressed with the current projects at my job, and this talk definitely helped motivate and inspire me to continue working and that there are more important things than what I do during my "9 to 5". McWilliams went over things like how to get a mindset for preparing to create a game for an audience you don't belong in or understand and techniques to help satisfy any feelings that your main job might not be satisfying. I didn't suffer a bit from "easier said than done" syndrome, but it was still a good talk.

This guy -- Frog Skin Pro

Upgrade Humanity in 60 Seconds Flat: The Game Design Challenge 2012

Again, I went to my third Game Design Challenge. I sometimes question why I go to these things. This year the theme was to design a game that would have measurable improvements on humanity and only takes a minute to play. After hearing the theme, I wanted to leave. Eric Zimmerman -- the host -- and his themes get more esoteric and confusing it seems, but I guess dealing with such unique and challenging themes is why these guys are famous. Anyway, the contestants were Noah Falstein, the designer of Sinistar; Richard Lemarchand, Naughty Dog designer; and Jason Rohrer, last year's winner. In order of presentation, Rohrer's game, Frog Skin, involved turning your money into a trading card game. The difference is that you can extend your hand by ripping the money in half. How did this help humanity? Well, by ripping money and making it worthless -- much to the audience's chagrin -- it caused deflation, counteracting inflation, which did help the world economy and humanity as a whole -- I guess.
The game presented by Lemarchand -- whose last name I can barely say as much as type -- was entitled The Shame Game. He went through the high-level explanations of what a game is and how shame motivates us and is dangerous -- essentially all done to support the game he was presenting. Said game was entitled "The Shame Game" Essentially, for 30 seconds we looked into the eyes of our neighbors while humming a song, in this case, the Katamari Damacy theme, while thinking about our most shameful moment. Then, for the other 30 seconds, we looked anywhere we wanted, continued humming, and thought without shame. The goal was to help us eliminate shame, which he measured by asking the audience to raise our hands. Overall, I felt more shamed in the second half, because while everyone stood and sang aloud, I just didn't want to but conformed and did so.
The third and final presented by Fahlstein was essentially a YouTube displaying "good deeds" -- moments that you would see on the local news of firemen in action, people saving cats, essentially Good Samaritan acts. It wasn't so much a game though. It felt similar to Jenova Chen's last year. It wasn't so much a game but just socializing and monetizing a site to display good deeds, deeds that I guess helped improved humanity and documenting them made it measurable. It was well thought out, answering questions like, "How do you prevent people doing dangerous, stupid stuff just for possible rewards?" Overall, it just didn't feel like a game. In fact, none of them really felt like real games to me. I know there are board games and card games and all types, but at GDC, video games seems to be the main thread running throughout the conference, so when presented with these, they all felt like cop-outs?
Anyway, Lemarchand won -- I think. The end was very scrambled since Zimmerman had to leave to do his talk. Again, it was interesting to see how famous game designers work and present but it wasn't overly inspiring.

You get nothing but a glare, Nordic countries...

Stupid Nordic Party

So after the Game Design Challenge, a coworker told me about a large party being held dubbed "The Nordic Party". I wanted to go since others were going, but when I went to get a ticket they were gone. Strangely, I don't even know why there were holding the party and the PR lady giving out said tickets didn't know what any of the companies did. To make matters worse, I missed the talk I wanted to go to entitled, "Rapid, Iterative Prototyping Best Practice" being given by Eiten Ginert of Fire Hose Games. His Flash Talk was one of the most memorable, singing a silly song involving frogs and their demise at the wheels of trucks. Anyway, I missed it because it was filled; if I didn't waste time trying to get a stupid ticket for a party I later heard sucked, I wouldn't have missed the talk. That's what I get for trying to be a "Good Time Charlie" I guess.

Your game made more money on Steam than other platforms? I could have deduced that, but getting onto Steam? That's another story.

How Steam Worked for an Indie

This thirty-minute talk was given by Andrew Goulding of Brawsome. Essentially he explained how putting his game, Jolly Rover -- an adventure game involving dog pirates -- made most of its money through Steam. It was probably the worst talk of the conference I attended: boring, information that wasn't overly interesting and could have just been presented in a few slides, and not inspiring at all. I was hoping there was going to be more information on how to get your game on Steam. It was interesting to hear how Steam suggested when to change price and whatnot, but overall, this talk could have probably just been a "Poster Talk".

Anyway, the above was my last talk of the day. I could have attended another short talk, but I was too frustrated. I did hang out with some awesome XBLIG developers that night and that was much better than the either, expensive, overly packed parties taking place that night.

Day 2 tomorrow

Sunday, March 4, 2012

New Career Path?

The Game Developer's Conference is next week. As usual, I'm nervous and excited. I'm excited to see and learn about new technologies and game design approaches, but I'm also nervous because of the networking. Mostly I'm just going to try and be myself, outgoing, personable, yet professional and I'm hoping to make some new, important contacts.

However, the more important thing I wish to accomplish is a rebranding of myself and my career path. Right now, at Schell Games, I'm technically a programmer. I program things usually from other's designs, but I've been contemplating, especially since I'm more of a self-taught programmer and with my art and design background from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, if I should venture into the world of becoming a designer. One particular reason I think this would be a good fit for me is that I enjoy writing, and I know writing is a very important part of being a designer whether one is designing the story of a game, the UI, or the gameplay elements, but I think more importantly, is that because I can program and enjoy doing it, I can prototype a majority of my ideas. So not only can I write a well-thought-out, crystal-clear design document, I can build and portray what I'm actually writing about, so I know that what I'm asking for isn't insane because I've already implemented it to a degree.

Don't get me wrong, I like programming a lot, but I'm not getting any younger and in an already competitive field, competing with people who've gone to college for 4+ years to learn programming is not going to get any easier. Design positions are in no way any less competitive, but design is so much more...subjective. You can't really learn how to be a good designer. You just need to design and keep doing it. Battle High was definitely the first place I did this in a way. Though I was programming it, I had to design how pieces would work together with the assets I was given, and that was my favorite part of the project and continues to be as I work on the sequel.

Overall, I'm going to see how this plays out for me in the weeks to come, this attitude of designing instead of just a programming purists. I may write more blog posts about designs, heck, maybe throw a Unity prototype up here every once and awhile, but the true goal will be to transition from pure tech to a tech / design hybrid.

Anyway, wish me luck on my way to GDC. I'll do a report like I have in prior years when I get back!