GDC 2006 Notes

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• Everyone and their mother is waiting for the game Spore.
• Will Wright is really smart.
• Xbox Live Arcade might be an interesting and practical endeavor but not cheap.
• The game industry doesn’t include many females.
• Nintendo cares about good games and innovation.
• Sony cares about impressive tech specs
• Microsoft wants to take over your home.
• The Casual Gaming industry is going to explode.
• A successful casual game is one that Grandma can play with a remote control (and enjoy).
• A good development process is key.
• San Jose is clean but boring.
• Bob Saget is hilarious.

Xbox Live Arcade
Xbox Live Arcade is in place for what is referred to as “Casual Gaming”. The idea behind casual gaming
is that someone can download a simple, yet enjoyable game for ~$5.00. In typical Microsoft fashion, they
sell how easy and great it is to develop for XLA even though a dev kit costs something like $10k and there isn’t
a test rig for Windows yet. Good ideas and partners could be given free dev kits. There was also mention of limited
Flash support. There are all sorts of MS checkpoints and tech specs which make it look like a pain to actually get
something out the door. Probably similar to the MCE deal of insisting an app doesn’t crash on an OS that always
crashes. This lecture was mostly a sales pitch and didn’t offer any hands on. However, this is probably a worthwhile
area for Nickelodeon to explore. Can we get a free dev kit?

The next Nintendo will also be big on casual gaming. They are going to offer support for downloading old
Nintendo and Sega Games through a portal like XLA.

Experimental Games (

One of the more interesting lectures I attended. It focused on games and game play ideas that differ from
the typical Tetris, Pacman, and First-Person Shooter. They showed examples of some better ideas (links above)
and they talked about the idea of game jams where a group of programmers, designers, etc get together and create a
game over a short period of time(a few days). These are often sponsored/hosted by schools or companies. There was
even some talk of using games for therapy (the Cloud game).

Artificial Intelligence in computer games
A lot of geek talk going on here. The speakers didn’t talk much on present or future status of computer AI.
This turned out to mainly be a Q&A session with fairly low-level ideas being passed around. Below are some AI
links that could be interesting.

Spore: PrePD Prototyping
The major take-away from this lecture was that large groups trying to accomplish large tasks in pre-production (PD)
or planning is a waste of time, money, and energy. It is also demoralizing and unmotivating because no one’s single
input is really felt to have made a difference – unless one person’s did and everyone hates that person. There is
the idea that game development in comprised of four major areas: Game Mechanics, Kinesthetics, Technology, and
Design/Art. The game Spore involves an extremely vast amount of all four areas – much more than a typically game.
All examples given were taken from experience working on the game.

In the beginning of PD, an attempt was made to create a game prototype. After months of work, what was created was
a product that was unfocused and failed in each of the four areas for varying reasons – it was thrown out. One
mistake is that they tried to implement the game on top of an existing game engine (The Sims) to “save time”. Another
mistake was that the team was too large – too many cooks in the kitchen. Also, the team was too diverse. It consisted
of programmers, artists, and game designers. This created conflicting goals and interests.

They decided that creating small, focused prototypes – each one focusing on either game mechanics, kinesthetics,
technology, or design. A prototype only had a few people working on it or even better, one person that had design
and programming skills. With this method they were able to develop better, more focused prototypes in a matter of
days or weeks. Eliminating a bad idea was a matter of not working on it rather than carefully removing it from a
large pile of code. This also allowed single people to have ideas and prove them as viable in a short time frame.

A small idea mentioned was how a prototype comes off to an executive or stake holder. Another reason the first
large prototype failed is because it looked like crap. What are the chances of having everything in a huge prototype
well-designed? You can tell a person “This is not what the final design, just look at how it works”. Then at the end
they will say “Is this what is will look like? It’s ugly as hell.” With a small prototype you will can either have time
to give it some polish to make it presentable or you can completely ignore design and deliver something that looks like
DOS – in which case, it’s obvious you are only demonstrating functionality. This is assuming you are demonstrating any of
the areas besides design.

Metaverse Roadmap: Pathways to the 3d web
I went to this roundtable thinking that we were going to discuss 3D graphics on the web at a lower lever. 3D was a minor
focus but it turned out to be more aligned with massive amounts of information management on the web – information being
the third dimension I guess. A non-profit is attempting to create an ever-evolving roadmap of what will happen with the
internet over the next 30+ years – called the “Metaverse”. Kind of interesting, kind of overzealous, kind of hard to be
on target (I think).

What’s Next In Design
This was a keynote given by Will Wright. The focus was his R&D process for the game Spore. His talk bounced back and forth
between Astrobiology and his R&D process. To see the keynote was somewhat inspiring – the guy is really smart, and funny as
well. It’s hard to capture any solid themes or lessons to write down. The main idea was to be inspired by everything and to
read a lot of books – or match a lot of movies – or whatever floats your boat. Also, to follow your inspiration into new realms.
For example, reading a sci-fi book which talks about communicating with aliens, then reading a book about how radio waves work
then reading a book about the basics of animal communication, etc. I’m hoping a video will hit the web – it’s worth a watch.

Building community around pollinated content in Spore
This lecture was about the plan on how Spore is going to share user-created content to create a massive online community. In
the game, a user designs everything that is created – animals, plants, building, planets, etc. The game will automatically
upload these objects and share them with the rest of the Spore users. User-created objects will be downloaded into users’
games automatically by an algorithm which matches the user’s style to other users. So a user that creates a big aggressive
animal will be matched with an aggressive animals created by other users. Users can rate other users’ creations, add them
to their buddy list, or choose an exclusive list of users to automatically download content from. Soon enough content will
be “pollinating” all over the world at a very fast rate. The content will also be user moderated through a rating system,
plus some official moderation. This game is going to be huge.

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