October 18, 2003

Find a Way to San Jose

by Andrew Stern · , 1:39 am

The extensive list of presentations for March’s Game Developers Conference in San Jose is now online, and it looks as stimulating as ever! If you’ve never been to a GDC before, this looks like a great year to make the trip. There are a lot of talks to look through, so I took the time to pull out abstract excerpts of the ones I imagine would have particular interest to the GTxA crowd. Note there are a couple of presentations that specifically address issues of game research.

This conference has been getting better over time. It’s still definitely an industry conference (versus, say, the brand new Level Up, an academic one); GDC consistently and primarily offers hard-nosed, practical advice and information on building better games. But in recent years it seems to be trying to include more theoretical, experimental thinking and research. Cool.

Would the Real Emergent Gameplay Please Stand Up?, Randy Smith. “This presentation takes a stab at defining emergent gameplay and describing how to create it. A variety of angles are covered, from traditional academic definitions of emergence to compelling examples from modern games. Topics include the costs, benefits, and risks of emergence, and the role of game systems, game mechanics, autonomous agents, and behavior models in creating emergence. The presentation focuses on practical recipes for designing and implementing emergent gameplay and concludes by discussing how to add it to real game examples fielded from the audience.”

Game Design Challenge: The Love Story, a panel moderated by Eric Zimmerman. “A few months before the GDC, the panelists were given a design problem: come up with a concept for a game that tells a love story. At this session, they each present their solution. Each love story game concept offers a very different approach to this particular game design challenge, and each has been conceived for different gaming platform. In addition to presenting their game concepts, the panelists critique each others’ work and the audience is also encouraged to join in the critical discussion as well.”

10 Tricks from Psychology for Making Better Characters, Katherine Isbister. “Attendees learn a few key ideas from social psychology that can help make characters that feel alive and really enhance a player’s gaming experience.”

Storytelling in Earth & Beyond, Chris Klug. “The writing team on Earth & Beyond had to figure out how to tell a story in the new environment of massive multiplayer games. This technology opens up a new stage upon which to tell stories, and players are the new actors in this new kind of drama.”

Beyond Finite State Machines: Managing Complex, Intermixing Behavior Hierarchies, Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern. “Developers generally want more richness and reactivity in their AI agents. However, cleanly and elegantly managing the complexity of intermixing hierarchies of AI agent behaviors is very hard. The traditional finite state machine approach is simply not capable of this level of sophistication. This lecture describes the presenters’ approach and attempts at solving this problem in Facade, an interactive story discussed last year at GDC.”

Experimental Gameplay Workshop. See last year’s workshop for examples of what this entails.

The Philosophical Roots of Computer Game Design, Ernest W. Adams. “As digital technologists we work with the classical tools of logic and order; as creative people we strive for the expression of romantic ideals. This tension between the classic and the romantic sides of our medium is the source of some of our more intractable creative problems. This lecture is not intended to offer specific solutions, but to enlighten and entertain.”

Practical Game Theory: Academics Fragging Developers, a panel moderated by Gonzalo Frasca. “This roundtable discusses what has been done in video game study and theory during the last few years, what is currently being done, and which direction it may take in the future. … By bringing [developers and academics] closer, this roundtable aims at helping them to better understand what they can expect from each other.”

Towards Relevant Research: Collaboration 101, panel with Raph Koster, Will Wright and Robin Hunicke. “This panel of veteran developers will discuss both technical and humanistic approaches to games research, weighing the pros and cons of specific approaches. In addition to evaluating current work, the panelists will discuss their own pet projects and failed experiments, sharing insights about the areas most likely to benefit from extended, academic research. Discussion will balance ‘blue sky’ thinking about potential projects and collaborations with honest, no frills talk about the realities of ‘keeping it relevant.’”

Triangulation: A Schizophrenic Approach to Game Design, Will Wright. “This talk covers practical approaches to applying various design methods. In particular what can you, as a designer, do when you don’t seem to be getting traction with your current approach. Learning to jump out of your current mindset and attack from an entirely different point of view seems to be a key skill for dealing with ‘designer block.’”

What to Do When it All Goes to Hell: Lessons Learned Shutting Down a Game Studio, James Gwertzman. “Escape Factory, Ltd., opened its doors in 2000, and closed three years later in 2003. They had everything going for them: money in the bank, incubation with Valve, passionate and talented employees, and a multi-millon dollar PS2 and Xbox development deal signed within their first year. So what happened? This talk analyzes and dissects their failure and highlight extremely valuable lessons that they figured out hard way. They learned more in the six months it took to take Escape Factory apart than in the 2.5 years they spent putting it together in the first place, especially since in their case the most fatal mistakes were made after their first game was cancelled.”

Requirements for a Next Generation Massively Multiplayer Online Game, Gordon Walton. “Though there have been more massively multiplayer online game launches, none can yet be called next generation beyond the old stand-bys of Ultima Online and Everquest. This session outlines the presenter’s requirements for a next generation MMOG.”

And don’t forget about the Independent Game Festival, now in its 6th year.

One Response to “Find a Way to San Jose”


  1. Michael Says:

    Andrew and my GDC programming talk from 2004, “Beyond Finite State Machines” is available in quicktime.

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