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17 March 2005

Borrowed notes from GDC

I just devoted my lunch break to the latest from Gamasutra, which includes a slew of fantastic postcards from the recent Game Developers' Conference. There is so much here about simplicity, player creativity, multiplayer, intuitive interface styles and gentleness.

From Gamasutra's account of Nintendo President Satoru Iwata's keynote:

Iwata announced that the Wi-Fi protocol for Nintendo DS will provide users with a link to other players across the country or around the world. Once the service begins later this year, Nintendo DS users will be able to connect to the service wirelessly at Wi-Fi hot spots, whether they're at home, in a hotel or at a coffee shop. As one of several Wi-Fi games, Nintendo's in-house development team is creating a new Animal Crossing game for global Wi-Fi play.
...

The speech featured a live demonstration of two Nintendo DS software titles that Iwata said represented types of entertainment that go beyond the traditionally accepted definitions of "video games." One, Nintendogs, asks owners to nurture and interact with a variety of breeds of digital puppies. Puppy owners can issue voice commands, play games and train their puppies while developing real emotional bonds with them... The second title, Electroplankton, offers an otherworldly array of sights and sounds aimed to soothe or stimulate players with the innovative use of both the touch screen and voice interaction. "This is designed to produce harmony, not adrenaline," Iwata said.

From Gamasutra's Will Wright postcard, Future of Content:

Just a little bit of person ownership, Wright insisted, increases the value of the game in a way simply adding more content cannot... "Ownership translates into much more meaningful character stories." And from this, "Player stories will always be more powerful than scripted stories."
....
"I want to lure players into being creative," Wright explained. "Games like Pokemon with their elaborate rule sets… offer a sense of mastery. But imagine if you could create the monsters from scratch!"
...
He also emphasized the creative nature of the gameplay; instead of Luke Skywalker or Bilbo Baggins, "I wanted to put the player in the role of George Lucas…or J.R.R. Tolkien."

From Gamasutra's Peter Molyneux postcard, Agenda for Next-Generation Games:

Lionhead's newest simulation game, called The Movies, lets players not only run a virtual movie studio, but also write, direct, and export their own machinima-style short films.

Notable here is the game's simple interface – the left mouse button picks things up, and the right mouse button talks to people. Molyneux wanted to do away with icons, informational screens, and nested lists – and instead create a game that would allow players to spend their time interacting in the actual game world.

From Gamasutra's account of the talk by Keita Takahashi, creator of Katamari Damacy:

He wasn't out to create a game into which a player could escape, nor a device for relieving/venting frustration. He just wanted to make something fun, that would make people smile...

The development for Katamari was a year and a half, with 8 months of prototyping. A CG design school was used to make all of the objects in the game, just because of a brainstorm that Takahashi had at the time. He then showed a movie of the prototype, musing as the movie played; “Hmmm. I guess the game hasn't changed at all since then.”

The fact that the game was so simple actually inspired some criticism both internally and externally. His higher-ups said that more features should be included, so he proactively ignored those suggestions. While simple is not necessarily best, he does think that it's nice to be able to sum up a complex design in a single word, in this case ‘rolling'.

Takahashi's background is in sculpture. He thinks that the tactile aspect of games is very important, which is why he made a game that uses only the analog sticks.

From Gamasutra's Puzzle Pirates: Lessons from an Indie MMOG:

The major design principle of Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates was to create a game that is both simple and achievable. "Graphics and realism aren't fun," he argued, "fun is fun." James said that he was more interested in usability over technology, and that binding players into social groups, and having them both play with each other and with a living, thriving economy is the key to replayability...

As is the nature of games, and particularly in multiplayer online games, player behavior took some unexpected turns. For instance, early complaints centered mostly around players not having any direction, forcing Three Rings to add a new "mission system," which was essentially a fancy instruction sheet guiding players to features that had been in place the entire time. Another unexpected factor is that the community that formed in Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates are just too nice to each other, and that no one seems to be taking advantage of the player-versus-player mode, or the very profitable venture of island blockades. "We're going to have to do something about that."

And a timely offering of open source game-creation tools perhaps answers the call for more innovation via indie game development*:

PopCap Games has released its in-house development framework. Used to create titles such as Bejeweled, Bookworm and Zuma, the toolset is to be offered under an open source license and can be used free of charge by any developer for commercial or non-commercial use.  

"Our primary goal is to help grow the casual games space," says PopCap President and CTO Brian Fiete. "But we're also hoping that by sharing our toolset we'll come into contact with innovative and talented developers."

And Three Rings Design, the indie developers behind Puzzle Pirates, have launched Game Gardens. Here's why:

Making any multiplayer game requires a bunch of work that has little or nothing to do with the game design but stands in the way of someone getting their idea turned into code. Being firm believers in (and users of) open source, we realized that the toolkit we'd written to save ourselves that trouble is exactly the sort of thing that makes a perfect open source project and we jumped at the chance to share it with the community. 

With these obstacles lessened, we feel that many more ideas will make their way into code, and with an audience to appreciate and give feedback on those ideas, they may even evolve into really fun games.  At a time when everyone in the industry is lamenting a lack of originality and wishing developers and publishers would take more risks, we are hoping to plant the seeds (pardon the pun) of innovation in this small way and do what we can to smooth the path for new game ideas to be born and grow.

* See Wonderland for a blow-by-blow account of the conference's closing panel, where game developers were invited to rant about the state of the industry.

My final GDC takeaway - I want to play Gish.

Wow, so much to think about. Imagine the state I'd be in if I'd actually made it to the conference. Now, back to work for me...

Posted at 10:15 AM in Games | Permalink

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