GDC 08 - A Post-Mortem

A week has gone since I flew back from San Francisco to France. I had to jump in the flow of life right away, which didn’t really give me time to catch up on everything that had happened in that week. Maybe what remains now is what was more important? Anyways, Sunday is always a good day to look back.

I devoted the first day of the expo to the Independent Games Summit. The most prominent feature was a panel named Scattershots of Play, with ThatGameCompany’s Kelly Santiago, Jonathan Mak and Pekko Koskinen. Three subjects, only loosely related between each other.

Kelly talked about the way games are measured. The time needed to “finish” a game is often different whether you’re talking about a linear or non-linear game experience. Thus, Katamari Damacy is “shorter” than, say, God of War, but the replay value and intellectual half-life are seldom talked of. There are games you play for a mere 10 minutes that will stay with you longer than 60-hour experiences, but to understand this you will need to stop seeing a player solely as the consumer of a product.

Jon took the discussion to different waters by explaining his theory of “Output ownership”. He demonstrated using various examples the fact that videogames are also about graphics, or more generally, “output”. Ownership of outputs is what makes the Guitar Hero type of games so appealing: press the right button, rock music comes out.

Pekko’s section was extremely interesting: He talked about the way games are independent from any physical medium, using the media they are carried by only to help grasp their inherent system by the player’s mind. Games are systems that live in people’s minds, and thus can also be thought of as behaviors. Designing a game might then be more like designing a behavior, a life. Games can also be designed as lenses which modify the way we see the world, rather than fixed explorable environments. One example of these “lenses” is as follows (he has them printed out on his business cards):

Even Dracula likes to talk about tomatoes:

Character: you’re a vampire that gets sustenance from people talking about food, the more detailed their description, the better.

Mission: Mind what you’re eating: a lengthy explanation of a burger would not be good – steer the conversation to the seeds of the bun, if you’re able. Also, lure people into detailing the reasons behind their eating. This should help you to figure out their food totem. With these totems, you can induce food with the spirit of a particular person, thus casting spells on those that eat your culinary enchantments.

Through the interaction of many different concurring lenses, carried by different people, play naturally emerges.

There were other conferences, but they were a little less remarkable than this one.

Day two was devoted to the IGDA Education summit, where I was presenting a Post-Mortem for Poesysteme (which you can download here, if you’re into it). It was the second time I ever spoke in public, so I was pretty nervous, but I guess I did OK.

There was also another panel called “breaking into academia”, dealing with the issues professionals had to face when they wanted to make the transition to the teaching side of games. Most notably, Brenda Brathwaite, Tim Langdell and Warren Spector got to share their varied experiences. Mrs. Brathwaite already wrote about it in such a nice way, so I won’t be redundant.

This summit also supported Ian Bogost’s insightful (and rather vitriolic) keynote on how game studies are (mis)treated in academia, who mistakes them for interdisciplinary subjects. The matter might be more like a marriage, he argued.

I think talking about the expo days (wed. to fri.) would be hypocritical, since I was mostly stuck at the IGF pavilion. This was not to say that it was a bad experience, it was actually the best moments of the GDC. Well, that, and being in Sid Meier’s ZOC for merely a turn at the awards show :-)

Okay, just three highlights for those crazy, crazy days. The first one was obviously every other person demoing their games at the pavilion, you guys (and occasional girls) deserve the best. The second was a very good moment spent with Chris DeLeon, who really reeally wanted to have a game developer orgy in Poesysteme form. Also, he is probably the most prolific person I have ever met.

Finally, I happened to meet Brian Dodd, who, upon being shown Poesysteme said “This makes me think of something I developed a while ago, it was called Darwinpond“. Wow. I had actually met the guy who engineered Poesysteme’s main source of inspiration. Full circle-ness!

Okay, that’s it. Enough about the GDC already. Have a nice week.