November 8, 2006

Montreal Game Summit: Day 1

by Michael Mateas · , 5:55 pm

Notes from the first day of the Montreal Game Summit (excluding final keynote of the first day, which starts in a few minutes). Arrived at 1:00am this morning; feeling some serious jet lag starting in…

Tetsuya Mizuguchi – Co-founder of Q Entertainment, maker of Rez.
Inspiration Led Creativity

Been working in the game industry since 1990. Turned on to videogames by Pong when he was 11. Studied media aesthetics as a university student.

15 years ago, saw a large sit-down arcade game, thought “this is cool, I want to work for the company who made this.” That’s how he joined Sega.

His first game was Sega Rally Championship, 1993-94, created shortly after 3D really hit the game industry. Showed a video where they placed a real car on a motion platform and used it to play Sega Rally.

Isle of Man has the oldest bike race in the world. Inspired Manx TT Superbike, an arcade game with a motion-controlled bike you sit on.

Describes the game/player loop as call-and-response. As a game designer, you add stimulus to this call-and-response loop.

After working on racing games, he was feeling an increasing desire to break with realism. One day he saw the musical Stomp and decided he wanted to create a game that gave you the same feeling. Thus was born Space Channel 5. In Space Channel 5, the call-and-response rhythm has been made explicit. It was very difficult to get the team to produce humorous animation. During the development of the game, he held a weekly two hour mime workshop where team members had to perform different actions in such a way as to make people laugh – “it was hell.”

Kandinsky, particularly his notions of synesthesia, Sensorama, and raves were the inspiration for Rez. Used alignment techniques (quantization) to align player created sounds on the beat. So, even if a player doesn’t have very good rhythm, the sounds from their button presses always sound great. Explicitly designed the vibration independently of the sound. Not just use the vibration to “illustrate” activity in the game, but use vibration as its own, independent, aesthetic sensory channel. Created the trance vibrator add-on to enable the player to more explicitly experience the vibration channel.

The concept behind the PSP is an interactive walkman. Lumines is intended to be played anywhere, anytime, as opposed to the longer-term trance engagement demanded by Rez.

The last inspiration he talked about was the war on terror, and how, watching world-wide coverage, everyone had their own point of view, their own truth, as well as Rashoman (again, multi-viewpoint). In Ninety-Nine Nights the player starts as humans battling the forces of darkness (goblins), then switches to the goblins point of view.

Greg Costykian – Manifesto Games

Game genres are defined (should be defined) by systems of shared mechanics, not by market (e.g. action) or platform (e.g. handheld).

There’s no shame in creating a game within an existing genre, but we should be looking to innovate by creating new genres (new systems of shared mechanics).

Gives a brief history of genre innovation since 2000BC. In the videogame space, there has been no genre innovation since 1996. The genre innovations he describes in the 2000s are all not videogames (includes ARGs in this list).

Reasons for no genre innovation: rising budgets, no “stars” who can push their creative vision (Wright, Molyneux, Miyamoto being the exceptions that prove the rule).

With the effective abandonment of the PC game market, genres continue to narrow as game styles that are more appropriate to the PC are abandoned.

Electronic Game Distribution has the potential to change the situation (Steam, Manifesto).

Go where EA dares not go – indys can’t compete with the production machinery of the big guns on mainstream genres.

Genres that still have markets but aren’t pursued by the majors (and therefore have indy potential):
Adventure Games
Shooters that aren’t FPSs (e.g. shmups)
Turn-based strategy (though Civ?)
Sim/Tycoon games
Sports management

Create new genres! Why? You’ll be rich, famous and a great artist.

Look at historical examples of new genre creation.

Doom and the FPS: a technical improvement (the 286) finally gave the ability to do fast, smooth 3D.
So one approach, look to technology: physics, AI, social networking, cross-platform/mobility/ubiquity, procedurally generated content

SimCity: turned to subject matter, city planning, that no one else had treated in a game.
Difficult, because existing approaches often don’t work.

Some topics currently not treated by games but amenable to simulation:
social interaction
make roleplaying meaningful in digital games
game as theater
the love story
“Take a dictionary – open it to a random word, there’s an idea. The number of topics we know how to treat is tiny at this point.”

Magic The Gathering: turned to a new business model (collectable cards plus game).
What kinds of games could be sold at Starbucks, music outlets…?

Other approaches:
Study other games and experimentally combine game play patterns.
Find an interesting mathematical idea and try to get a game out of it (e.g. Crawford’s Scram, playing with non-linear equations).

Ken Perlin – New York University
Can Games Achieve “The Illusion of Life”

Starts with his faces demo, based on a girlfriend at the time. Currently being used by a group in Texas with autistic people, and was used to explore rigging for Half-Life 2 faces.

Talks about Façade; mentions that, because of the heroic effort of trying to do everything ourselves, we didn’t have the tools to make the characters physically express their emotion. I think the Façade faces are very expressive, but I will agree our bodies are not expressive.

Gave his Poly demo.

Argues against realism in favor of believability.

Gave his emotive virtual actors demo. We need to move towards a directing paradigm rather than an animating paradigm for authoring interactive characters.

Respond to events and other actors: get annoyed when your date checks out that girl…
Emotional direction: act angry, confused, wistful, weary, …
Physical direction: shoulders back, knees bent, eyes quiet, …
Physical movement: elbows, feed head

Distribution of talent. Different artists/programmers establish the mappings between the different layers. By the time you get to the runtime, you’re standing on top of a mountain of talent that you’re collaborating with. Gives the example of a word processor, where a typography expert has carefully tuned internal style sheets so that when you say “give me a paragraph break,” the right break is created given font size, etc. You’re effectively collaborating with the typographer. We need to do the same thing for characters.

His work focuses on the lower layers and mappings.

Gave his puppet demo (not online).

He’s been focusing on the lower body. Feels we have reasonable tools now for facial expressions and arm poses, and techniques for interpolating between them. But these interpolation techniques fall apart for the lower body. Believes that the brain first controls the feet and pelvis, then layers emotion on top of it. Need to get the lower body right first, or the character just can’t be believable.

Gave a demo of a technique for taking an animator-created walk-cycle, proceduralizing it, then being able to apply his procedural features.

Gave a nice demo of a scene-planning – dynamically drawing walls, obstacles, etc. and the characters automatically do the right thing.

Ends with a call to game makers to solve the problem of expressing emotion so that games can broadly participate in culture.

Elan Lee – 42 Entertainment
Alternate Reality Games: Check Your Joystick at the Door

Opens with a description of I Love Bees.

Microsoft and Bungee approached 42 Entertainment to create a marketing campaign that would make Halo 2 a cultural phenomenon. “We thought, Halo 2 is a game about aliens invading the earth, and you want to make it a cultural phenomenon. This has already been done – it’s War of the Worlds.” So the design challenge was how to update a radio play.

Hex 168 – The beginning is nigh! A marketing ARG for the xbox 360. The mysterious logo was stamped everywhere – as cross circles under major flight paths, on t-shirts, on sides of buildings, in beach sand.

They’ve started another company, the clothing company edoc. Embedded in every article of clothing is a secret code, sometimes embedded in the graphics, or in the stitching, or in puff brail in a blank part of the clothes, or in infrared ink. The codes open up movies online, which reveal a murder mystery. The idea is to try to make a stand-alone ARG that isn’t about marketing, but is something that will make players want to turn their lives into a game.

Question from the audience: What went wrong with Majestic? Was it a poorly made ARG, or just ahead of its time? It released about a month after The Beast. One problem; poor timing with respect to 9/11; people weren’t in the mood for a conspiracy. Another problem: the revenue model. Pay $20.00 a month to get the amount of content that’s been created for that month; after you’ve consumed that content, sit and wait (compare with paying a monthy rate for cable TV for as much content as you want). The framing was also a problem; before every in game call there was a little message saying “you’re about to receive an in game call from Majestic.” Burst the bubble.

Chaim Gingold, Chris Hecker – Maxis
Advanced Prototyping

Creating a game:
Have Idea
Discovery (what?)
Preproduction (how?)
Sell it

Prototyping good for the first 3.

Prototype to:
Answer questions (the most obvious)
Find upside & downside (should be finding new and amazing things – good and bad)
Persuade and inspire (team communication)

Prototypes do not generate ideas from scratch! Prototyping without ideas results in flailing.

Naïve model of prototyping: iterate between idea and toy version of game, then build the final thing. But actually much messier than this. Production suggests new questions you need to prototype, prototypes being pushed into real product, multiple streams of prototyping, more polished prototypes yielding new questions…

Prototypes should be cheap – agile and light. If there are more than two people on a prototype, alarm bells should go off.

Falsifiable – make a claim, testable, tested, learn
Showed some slides for a prototype of the space game. A failure. Took 6 months – the space game (last level of Spore) was too big to prototype. Though some good things came out, failed the falsifiability test (other than the terraforming part).

Relevant – generalizable
Showed prototype of emergent agent behavior. It was cheap and light, but failed to generalize (didn’t know how to apply lessons to real game).

Surprising – feedback, upside and downside, inspiring.

Persuasive – fun, tangible, clear, disruptive
Showed a series of incremental prototypes for the creature game that turned around the design of the design doc.

Document vs. prototype
really cheap vs. cheap
static vs. interactive
boring vs. sexy (the prototype can actually contain the fun of the real product)
faith vs. science (with prototypes have an artifact you can actually test)

Question: is Leg UI concept user friendly?
Good. Specific question. With three prototypes they could answer “yes”

q: Can we make a fun social game between characters
Bad. No idea to test.

Q: Can rolling around with a sticky ball be compelling?

Q: Here’s a design doc fo a game. Is it going to be fun.
Bad. Too large a question.

How to avoid prototyping:
Steal it – used the doc on Mac to think about a creature editor idea.
Fake it – 1 day of Maya work created an animation that answered a building editor question (morphing building parts).
Rehash it – built a 3D paint prototype by incrementally rehashing bits of existing code.

Step 2: permission vs. forgiveness
“it it takes less than two days, just do it”

Step 3: fail early
Do the weakest link first – don’t build a bunch of infrastructure before you fail.

Step 4: gather reference material
Mash up bits of media – mentions Experimental Gameplay Project.

Break big problem into smaller one, but you need to respect constraints. What stays in and what can be excluded from prototype?
Goes into a detailed example of linkages between many different prototypes of different parts of the creature game.

Prototyping makes you decide what’s really important. Setting resource constraints (e.g. I have one week to work on this) really helps elicit what’s important. Need to figure out which characteristics of the prototype to trade off.

Code vs. content.
Code: Initial cost high (the engine), but incrementally using it is cheap.
Content: A little more expensive at beginning, but basically flat (fifteenth model cost almost the same as first)
interactive vs. dead bits
autistic vs. emotional
you understand your problem vs. you are still clueless

Only spend code where you need understanding; throw content at the rest.

For prototypes, need agility (change direction easily) and velocity (quickly make tracks in a given direction)
Not important: robustness, elegance, optimal code (software engineering practices are out of the prototype)

Be lazy: computers are huge and fast.

Don’t commit to an abstraction!
Code influences you mental model. Must stay agile.
toolkit vs. framework
recombinant vs. static
compositional vs. controlling
immediate vs. retained
delicatessen vs. prix fixe dinner

Tower of Tuning
recompiling (just change number in code -> interactive editor (more locked down) -> data driven (locked down to data format) -> hotloading -> scripting (should never go to scripting for prototyping – duplicating mental model three times: in original code, in interface and in script).

Designer-programmer is powerful (and a movement in the industry). Incredibly fast feedback loops, but it’s too easy to talk yourself into your design.
Designer and programmer (separated) has the strength of keeping each other honest.

Prototypes are used to demo (PR) and test (science).
Demo: persuade, buy-in, harvest good ideas (people you share prototype with will constantly shoot off ideas)
Test: validation, quiet! (don’t argue or pitch)

Archive prototypes. People should be going back to review.

9 Responses to “Montreal Game Summit: Day 1”

  1. michael Says:

    Updated with notes from Chris’ and Chaim’s awesome keynote on prototyping. These guys speak faster than I do.

  2. Ian Bogost Says:

    Michael — I’ve seen/heard all of this material before (it’s good material, dont’ get me wrong). Maybe the conference is supposed to be a sort of greatest hits from GDC and other venues far away from Montreal, I don’t know. Can you comment on any new nuggets you’ve picked up?

  3. Jane Says:

    Wow. The echo the previous content… I’ve seen all these talks before, too, it seems like. That makes me really curious about the audience. There’s nothing wrong with recycling if it’s New To You. Was this a “new to you” crowd?

  4. andrew Says:

    Wait, wait, you haven’t heard the title of our talk yet: “Interactive Drama: A solution to the interactive story dilemma”.

    Er… um…

  5. Jane Says:

    Andrew… ha ha ha ^_^ Well some insights are definitey worth repeating for multiple audiences.

  6. michael Says:

    Yes, these talks are mostly reprises, though, since I didn’t make it to GDC last year, I am happy to see some of them. I think the concept of the conference is a “greatest hits” for the large Montreal game development community (who can’t all travel to GDC).

  7. michael Says:

    By the way, the last few demos Ken gave were just done since September, so it’s not all reprises…

    Here’s a gamasutra article about Ken’s talk. It mentions his mention of Facade:
    “When you see a movie … the only reason you care about what happens (because remember, unlike a game you can’t even change anything) is because you care about the characters.” Perlin declared, before explaining how the emotional aspects of Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern’s Façade (which “takes the level of psychological violence much, much further than a shooter game”) led Perlin to ask, “What’s the simplest character I can make that you can get a sense of emotional interaction from the character.”

  8. Jane Says:

    Greatest hits of a conference is not a bad idea… I for one would love to attend a greatest hits conference of game studies. Or maybe we could all just put together a rock n roll lineup and go on tour like rock stars…

    Okay, clearly I am procrastinating from finishing an academic article, as evidence by this recent flurry of blog comments. ^_^

  9. Reality Panic » An Emotional Montreal Summit Says:

    [...] he sessions in detail… Ditto for Michael Mateas’ live-blogging coverage of the day-1 and day-2 sessions that he attended. In its third year, the Summit i [...]

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