Wednesday, May 13, 2015

2015 Birthday - Part 7: GDC Notes

I've had to table a few birthday achievements until later (getting a belaying certificate at Planet Granite, juggling, cartwheels, biking without hands, bringing about world peace).  Unfortunately, that leaves me with a week before my birthday with nothing to achieve.
Achievement Unlocked: Nothing to do!
So, it's time to do something I've put off for years and years and years.

I've been carrying in my backpack a worn, brown envelope filled with old notes from Game Developers Conference talks.  The GDC is the most important conference in the games industry.  I've been for so long, I forgot when I started going, so I called CMP (the parent company).  The call went like this:
Me: How long have I been going to GDC?
CMP: Since 1997.  You only missed 2006.
Me: Wow, I'm old.
CMP: And you never accomplished anything in life.
Me: [Sobbing]
At the earliest GDCs I attended, technology wasn't very advanced.  The World Wide Web was new, few people had cell phones (let alone smart phones), and things were rougher.

Lunch at my first GDC.
They used to give you little slips of paper to evaluate the sessions (now they just send you email).  I'd always write my notes on the back and take them home and transcribe them.  That way, I'd always know what talk they were from and I'd limit the notes I'd take.

A few times, however, I wrote my notes on notepads.  Then I'd forget to label them.  Then I'd forget to transcribe them.  Then I'd stick them in my worn folder and forget all about them.

I've been carrying these notes for years and years and years.  Well, to hell with that.  It's time to birthday these suckers.

That's my new expression: "It's time to birthday these suckers!"  Feel free to use it wherever appropriate.

I just sat down in Starbucks this morning and transcribed them all.  Here are the bulk of them; the notepad ones from (I think) 2002.  Sorry I didn't format them or correct errors, but I'm so done with them.

Ernest Adams - Why we shouldn't make games
Problem: Real world gameplay without real world ethics
(people get upset over them)
Games with vagueness are the more memorable ones
(asteroids, tempest, battlezone)
Only show things we have to
Don't add so many pieces of minutia
Shouldn't always fear death
            Gameplay tension is nearness to a goal or failure

America McGee Alice Postmortem
Keeping it simple was a primary goal
Difficult != fun
Consider a toy line/franchise properties
Character studies
Engineering does not rule the world
Get design much more complete (80%) before going to development and then let them run with it
Music as 50% of the experience
            (but managers control the musician and they back out)
            Always establish business end first
A good trailer is a good beginning to a project
            Sold the movie (cost 100k but was worth it)
            Got people back to the concept and motivated
Publisher should have little or no work to do
50% women players-
            Don't make women characters too blow-up doll

Warren Spector - Producing (preproduction)
Try not to overdocument
Start with a small team
"Behind the scenes at Sega" - a book that's out of print
Different for different types of games
Generate art, design, and tools, schedules, documents, prototypes, team building
Can begin with almost anything (concept-wise)
Manifesto: What ist he game about in one sentence, why different, what is the core experience
First document (1-2 pages): high concept, why should we make it, overview, tech overview, competitive titles, audience, projected budget, risks, next step
Company manifesto is important
Pre-production includes: director, producers, leads of disciplines,(5-7) peoples
"Individuals don't make games, teams do"
Director - keeper of vision
Producer - process, budget
L. Designer, L. Art, L. Programmer - Manages design/art/code on day to day basis
End Products: Design doc, tools and tech, look and feel, geared-up team, prototype, road map for team, tech design doc
Need a spec to deviate from
            Everyone contributes to a piece, one person who as al. control
Producer has veto power (money guy makes last call)
Plan cuts ahead of time (prioritize features)
Preproduction becomes obsolete but come back to doc some day

Game Hooks - Dave Perry
Go to
Dp (at)
Controversy sells
What emotions are you trying to evoke
            When you are ready to reward, don't pause
Must have unique selling points
            These aren't hooks, though
I figured out a paradigm for the game that works for me.
Name and logo
ST:BC  H=11 M=11 L=11

Beyond Psychological Theory
Testing with typical gamers
Not focus testing: fix bugs not marketing
See the CD-ROM
Can solve disagreements
Gamers evaluate, designers desgin and revise
Get competitor data first
Then get own data
People who betatest are too high up in ability
Don't want evaluation of a game, you want to find problems to fix (unless you want ideas)
Data on competitor's game helps you early on
Can affect schedule
Never have same people play game twice
May water down the vision

Outdoor Level Design - Jolyton Leonard
Creating It:
First figure out the scale (they used a flight simulator engine)
Big is better than walls
Can use physical boundaries (fences, walls, locked gates, cliffs)
Abstract boundaries (deterrents/boundaries, boredom, rewards)
Story and AI should interact deeply
Map and binoculars useful outside
Can still use triggers
Keep plans as simple as possible

Collectable Card Games - Richard Garfield
Unequal sides in games are okay and can be focus
Vanity objects - look different but act same
Adding cost to an object makes it tradeable or can just use time
Need to limit parameters to allow fairness
Don't want strictly better objects, must always be trade-offs
If you have a dominating object, everybody has it so it's just background
Want peopl eto mix up what they have, not homogeneity
Some are okay (if they are bad and people don't want them)
Size of collection is important:
Too small - limits the scope of the game
Too large - Intimidating, harder to master
Vanity objects can increase size for some, but not others
Rarity increases value
Should have item expiration dates
Limited uses, progressively more power
Question I asked : Why hide contents of packs? He said because that lets the value be set by the buyers, otherwise everything has a set price

Empathy vs. Agency
[There was a graphic here, but Google won't let me paste it and MAN I am so done with this]

Experimental Gameplay Workshop - Jon Blow
Arcadia - four games at once
Definition 6 (
Valve's Steam

Startup Horror Stories
Savage Entertainment Guys (
Lures are better than rewards (not much creative control)
Publishers give seeds of development to see if you can meet milestones
Be wary of big promises, only promise what you can deliver
Always be skeptical of time frame
Trust is a big factor w/startups
Know your partners
Be realistic about weaknesses and red flags
Be prepared w/ exit plans for your partner (like a prenuptual)
Marketing buy in is important
Work with publisher
Always line up the next project before this one ends
Lucrative projects can lead to mismatched expectations
There are still project risks
Publishers can be evil
            Will disregard contracts
            Will take over your company
Set expectations correctly
Middleware can be a good starting point and solves problems
Offer equity stake in company?
Ask for prototype funding (need good design work and visuals and enthusiasm)
Can offer to port a game
Keep $ burn rate low to get another chance

Sequels are now the best-selling games
            (in spite of the calls for originality)
Step back and decide if original had the right features - figure out why you added everything
Get to the core of the game
Grand Theft Auto 3
Prepare your engine for re-use
Can't throw out everything
I think these notes at the bottom of the page are for Arrival: Village Kasike
Miners - Resource for manufacturing
Farmers - Resource for populace
People production - Managers and creates workforce
Manufacturing - Builds equipment and ships
Colony management - Manages store, offense, defense, deals with disputes

Randy Smith - Stealth in Thief
Rsmith(at) - Lead designer
Discrete Interaction - Finite number of choices (conversation trees)
Analog - Freeform player movement
Want both types
Discrete- Must do one of the other of the choices
Aanalog- not picking from the menu
Don't want to use triggers only if you go to specific area.
            That's just like choosing from a menu.
            Can do many paths, but must avoid having only one path (secretly)
IF you can't do things programmer didn't predict -> Discrete
If you can do infinite things -> analog
Analog - interacting game systems
Avoid absolutes, embrace gradients
Simulation, expressions

Why they won't let you make good online games
Costs $15 mil to make a game
Want same formulas just more
People feel MUDs are like real life
Believe it only gets better w/technology
Managed conflict creates bonds between people
None of the problems w/games are because of bandwidth
Must have exhaustive research and then make it better
Best lessons:
people want to belong (make belonging faster)
Separate work from advancement (allow guilds to help people advance)
Rites of passage (more than one)
Membership of a group
Narrative generated through playing the game
Don't direct the game design
Make them group w/out forcing them
Adventure isn't something most people enjoy, try to find a more mainstream fantasy

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