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GDC Europe 2009 report

 GDC Europe 2009 report

GDC Europe 2009 in Cologe was a success ad EGDF was a strong parter. Ad we have writen indepedent reports on some sessions:

Some examples:

Writing Interactive Narrative for a Mature Audience by David Cage

The reason why we now talk so much about emotions is the fact that demographics of gamers have changed. Today about 40 percent of people playing computer games are females, 75 percent are over 18 and average age of them is 35. But at the same time games have not really changed during last 20 years, although also game designers are getting older.

Emotions can be divided in two groups: primitive emotions and social emotions. The primitive emotions are emotions like fear, aggressively, excitement and frustration etc. In general, the emotions about survival, the emotions with strong body response. The social emotions like empathy, happiness, sadness, jealousy, anger and shame are about sharing emotions.

In art emotions exist to trigger emotions, as humans like to feel. It does not really matter, if emotions are pleasant or unpleasant. Therefore art (and entertainment) can be seen as emotion simulator and that is the reason why most of the art forms offer depth and meaning.

So far computer games have focused more on the primitive emotions, because they are easy to trigger, they work very well for kids and teenagers and they work well in patterns. Consequently most games have no meaning, as their stories are very basic, violence is usually only motto and they do not really have anything to say. Also the narrative structure of games is broken. Normally story and action progress simultaneously, but games work like game movies, where narration is in the beginning and action comes after that; no one really cares about the story.

Today games’ characters are caricatural, as they usually have clear and simple goals. They show from they look what they are and in addition they are created to look cool for teenagers. In movies characters have background, believable and motivated reasons to act, relationships, narrative and emotional arc – in general they are created to generate identification and empathy.  

Thus it can be said that games’ art is mediocre compared to movies, but luckily there are at least some games that are comparable.

When games for mature audiences are created one has to make a decision between the primal and the social emotions, between toys and art, kids and adults, sand box and roller coaster, journey and achievements (for kids achievements work, for adults the goal is in journeys) and traditions and new paradigms (why games have to become more difficult as you progress. 

Consequently the main paradigm of game has to be redefined. Game developers should assume that they are creating games for adults, not for teenagers. Game experience has to be redefined as a journey and not as a challenge. Developers have to get rid of patterns. Rules have to be broken to create new paradigms.  Games are art, not toys. Interactive story telling is the answer for all of this and for that we need following rules.

Firstly, free your minds. Place creativity at the heart of game and do not follow trends. Instead follow instincts and open games to all emotions.  Put narrative at the heart of experience and offer experiences that bear meaning. In addition, dare to evoke new themes and understand the importance of the characterization.

Secondly, find new answers.  One has to rethink interfaces and make them contextual. One has to think narrative, emotion and interactivity at the same time. Game developers have to invent their own narrative grammar. And most importantly, non-creative people have to be kept out from a creative room, game designers have to become authors and good interactive writers have to be trained.

Thirdly, forget technology. Technology is just a tool, not a goal. Believable vehicles for emotions should be created instead.

Fourthly, be proud of who we are. One should stop making stupid games and prove that we are an emergent culture. This means that censorship has to be taken to normal standards (same rules for games than for movies and television),

Fifthly, be ready for new business-models. E-distribution is happening now. People want new formats and thus it is game developers’ responsibility to be creative, ambitious, early, patient and innovative with business models.

Sixthly, have courage and patience: evangelize publishers, evangelize press, evangelize the market, be ready to lose your core audience and have enough time.

Because it is difficult, risky and painful, no one lives by these rules at the moment. The game industry is at the moment in a crossroad. It can either become comics (only for teenagers and have very limited market), movies (different games for different audiences) or a Pixar model (being creative, original, visionary and is creating trends instead of following them)

New Human Machine Interfaces from Europe for Games by Malte Behrmann, Andreas Stock, Ulrich von Zadow, Mike Song and Pasi Pirttiaho

As Wii has demonstrated new human-machine interfaces are relevant to markets and therefore now there are more and more new platforms and models coming. It should be remembered that the new human machine interfaces offer possibilities for European companies to conquer larger market shares, e.g. Ball-it, Archimedes solutions, Scoreloop and Digivinner. Wii is a good example from the fact that it should always been looked what is going on in the whole world, not just in USA.

  • Ball-It has developed “Blobo,” a spherical computer controller. The Blobo is shaped like a ball and can be held in a palm. The controller can be used to control games, etc by shaking it and pretending to throw it.
  • Archimedes solutions develops interactive presentations systems. They offer among other a session desk making it possible to play together, share information or experiencing vividly presented content over a motion-sensitive desk. Company also develops interactive tools for science museums.
  • Scoreloop develops the infrastructure technologies to help their partners improve the gaming experience with global high scores, player challenges, and by connecting friends by leveraging social networks. Real player challenges let users pit themselves against friend of foe, keeping them coming back for more. Not only will they play more often, but they’ll also invite their friends to join in on the fun. In the future money comes from a community playing games against each other, not from the games themselves. And public and private zones come arenas for them. In the future money comes from a community playing games against each other, not from the games themselves. And public and private zones come arenas for them.
  • Digivinner has developed a new low-cost 3D camera which is able to track up to 15 objects as long as their remain within a 5 meter radius.

Ascending the Cursed Mountain – The Hollywood Model In Real Life by Harald Riegler, Bob Bates, Hannes Seifert and Hetal Bhuva

During the production of Cursed Mountain the development of the game was done in a similar way to a movie production. This meant using multiple companies for different tasks instead of doing all the game in one company.  Thus the team actually making the game was distributed all over the world (263 people in 16 companies in 14 countries in 17 locations were credited).  This does not mean that development would have been done only in low-wage countries; instead development was done, where one could have the most reasonable results. 

Basic reason for this experiment is the fact that there are never enough people in a so-called normal production model, when they are needed, but there are always too many people between projects.  This forces companies to run many projects at the same time or fire and hire people constantly.

During the production the advantages of the distributed development mode were identified as following: faster than usual production cycle (10 moths for pre-production and 19 for development), the documentation of project was elevator pitching (art of getting your point across to an executive in less than 60 seconds), which gave a clear and easy way to communicate a vision on who is doing what; partners succeeded surprisingly well on managing other partner.

On the other hand following issues clearly caused problems in the project: assuming roles and responsibilities among core partners without defining them clearly, the amount and importance of emotions that people, who are passionate to their work, have was underestimated and mismanaged; the dropout risk of suppliers was underestimated and not reacted early enough, the cultural differences between companies were underestimated and in addition a vertical slice was not polished early enough.

All in all, the Cursed Mountain project demonstrates that one cannot over invest on communicating and maintaining the common vision of a project. This means that there has to be a plan for co-ordination on all sides of a project, different roles in a project has to be clearly defined and requirements has to be defined clearly.

This also means that suppliers have to understand their role as a service provider and the company running the project has to prepare to be involved more in the creative process than in traditional outsourcing. Therefore it is important to choose reliable partners, that have to be involved in a project as early as possible and the starting point of production should be flexible in order to have best service providers in the project.

From practical side, the desktop computer conferences were found extremely useful for avoiding lots of trouble. It also helps to work according to one time zone and give open feedback all the time. In addition it is important to have a kick off meeting, where people can meet face to face, because it is important to have physical contact with a team one is going to work with.

In a distributed development model costs are higher, but people really work when you need them. Thus it is more suitable for independent and big players. Consequently most probably the traditional production model will not die, but in future distributed development model will have a stronger role.

Here is the complete report by J-P Kaleva:

GDC Europe report