GDC 2004: Day 2

Wow - Day 2 of GDC coverage nearly a month late!

Game Design: A Love Story - Raph Koster, Warren Spector, Will Wright, Eric Zimmerman

A lightweight session with Warren Spector, Raph Koster, and Will Wright all designing games about "love." Raph Koster blatantly ignored the instructions of "no interactive fiction" and created a multiplayer romance novel game called "Passion's Tender Embrace" where people play out different parts of a generic romance novel online.

Warren Spector didn't finish a game idea claiming "I just can't design a game that doesn't have guns." He discussed what he thought was needed to make a game where the player falls in love with a computer character. He clearly did a lot of research on the subject but the design area he was approaching was very difficult and possibly intractable.

Will Wright made (yet another) sublime presentation. He proposed a mod called "Collateral Romance" for Battlefield 1942 where lovers, initially separated, had to find each other in a war torn battle field then make their way to safety. This would be a standard BF1942 server with the two sides waging war against each other and there was no punishment or benefit to killing these civilians. I think this is such a brilliant idea - two seperate audiences playing completely tangential games in the same game world. This is not the first time the Sims designer has tried to hijack a multiplayer game - in his keynote three years ago he talked about how he would play Tribes and attempt to make peace with the opposing side. He said it was "really hard" to make peace with a group of heavily armed 12 year olds.

What Lies Ahead in the Ever-evolving Interactive Entertainment Industry? - Tetsuya Mizuguchi
Miziguchi's presentation, while he spoke in extremely good English, was typically Japanese. It wasn't a discussion of the subject matter; more of a hour long portfolio presentation. It would have been a disaster if Miziguchi hadn't of made some of the most amazing pieces of software to date.

The overview of his career was interesting and gave some insight into how he came up with the idea for Rez. His initial project was a movie ride for Sega where the audience sits in a tilting vehicle. (Think Star Tours.) This initial project, made in 1992, was shockingly similar to Rez with its trance music and the feel of flying through a sci-fi environment. For 1992 technology, it was surprisingly fun to experience even when sitting in a GDC conference room.

He talked about Space Channel 5 a bit and showed an early (and truly awful) clip of the first version of the game. The initial prototype movie involved the name "Space Channel 5", a scantily clad blonde(!) chick with a space helmet, shooting aliens, and the main theme "Mexican Flier". It doesn't seem like they had any idea of what the game would be about, but they went ahead with it anyway.

The game design initially came from the musical "Stomped" where the performers would clap and expect the audience to respond with the same clapping pattern. The performers would do one pattern and the audience would respond, and then the performers would do a more complex pattern. This would continue until the performers would do an outrageously complicated rhythm and then the audience would laugh as a response.

To develop the game, the design team and artists would have a weekly session where they would try to move around in a funny manner and figure out amusing things to do with the animation. They showed a videotape of these sessions and they were indeed bizarre. The lead artist would think of an idea that the other artists would have to mimic; in the case that was shown, waddle around pointing quickly and having a surprised look on their face. Then all the artists would move in a big group and attempt to mimic this action. Miziguchi said that they lost two female designers due to these sessions - they were too embarassed to perform these silly actions in front of other people.

He then continued to talk about the Space Channel 5 cell phone that had Ulala as the "personal assistant." I thought this was a niche device in Japan, but Miziguchi stated that it sold over 8 million copies. One of the wackiest elements of the phone was that Ulala would talk to you after you completed a call and ask you how much you enjoyed it. I assume you'd type in a number ranking and the phone would track which callers you enjoyed talking to the most. Funny stuff.

When he talked about Rez, he said his goal was to "see how far a game could go to make you feel good." The two major inspirations for Rez were the audio/visual connection in raves. He also said that he got a lot of inspiration from a videoclip he saw of a street corner of an unnamed African city where a group of people were creating music using clapping, humming, and rhythm provided by elements of commercial waste. (Bottles, tin cans, serrated pieces of plastic.) The music was mesmerizing and he said he wanted to capture the groove of making that music for game players.

When he talked about where he wanted games to go, he talked about applying to the very essence of humans; those natural, subconcious basic instincts that are known by every person regardless of culture. I find this very interesting because it is a completely different approach than Masahiro Sakurai's risk and reward talk and all the work that I've done at Big Huge Games. I think that's a big reason why I'm attracted to his work is that it appeals at a much more primal, immediate level than a typical videogame.

As for future titles, he sounds quite unemployed. He says that there are "ongoing talks" with unnamed parties about making games and mentioned that he's really interested in the PSP and Nintendo DS. Specifically he was very interested if the PSP would ship with headphones and was eager to work on a Rez-type game with a system that could completely consume the user's senses.

Experimental Gameplay Workshop - Jonathan Blow et al
I was able to attend the first session of the Experimental Gameplay Workshop three years ago and it was the best GDC session I'd ever attended. This year's presentation didn't let me down at all.

The three hour session was broken down into several sections. The first hour was spent discussing the results of the Indie Game Jam 2. This year's focus was using a 2D physics engine and the different games created were overall very excellent. There was a weird caterpillar game, a bouncing stick game, a game where you balanced a board on a wheel, a yoga game, and this weird fruit picking game by a fellow from Maxis. They had some issues developing this years games because there are so many assumptions with a physics engine that it is hard to determine if it can realize your game components. They said there were more games ditched at a later stage this year than any other year because the programmers would get to a point where they discovered that the cool thing that would make their game fun would be impossible to articulate in the physics engine in the time available. They talked about how they would try to balance their game by tweaking the elements of the physics engine, and with one tweak, another tweak would need to be made, and another tweak, and another tweak and soon the code would start breaking and the game would behave entirely differently than they originally anticipated. I highly recommend downloading the demos and checking them out. Unfortunately they were designed to be used with PS2 controllers so I don't know how well you could play them with typical mouse and keyboard PC components.

Other notable talks were Ken Perlin's interesting project to make a programming environment where girls would be encouraged to learn to code. He said that between the ages of 10-13 boys become more inclusive making them more likely to pick up the solitary activity of programming, girls at the same time became more socially involved. So he's creating a real time environment where kids can work together, share code, and direct these cute little bipedal things to do hop-skotch or skip rope. (Sounds a lot like AquaMoose3D, except, well, I shouldn't say. . .)

The designer of Katamari Damashii came to demo his game and talk about the process in designing it. For those unfamiliar with it, the game is about this little midget guy rolling around a ball and things in the everyday world stick to it. Initially only small items will attach themselves - tacks, paperclips, but soon the "snowball" will grow large enough to adhere small birds and soda cans. The game is a riot to watch, especially when something long gets attached to the ball and it flops around rather than rolling smoothly. They showed other video of the game where the ball was at a human-sized level and they showed cops running and shooting at the ball (gta3 style), only to be "snowballed" and made part of the giant mound of trash. The scale of the game seems to gradually increase, with another humorous segment had the ball rolling through a metropolis and getting skyscrapers attached to it. The grande finale was what the designer "made the game for": it featured a map of the globe and you could roll around and pick up the countries. You had to start small initially, so you have to roll around northern europe and south asia to get things going, then northern South America to get some larger countries. He said that Russia was the last one you could pick up and it was "really hard" to get. When asked how such innovation was possible in Japan while the US had such derivative games, the designer said that he thought the opposite was the case and he said that his game getting made was a "miracle." (I believe the designer is correct - a report found that out of the top 100 videogames in Japan, only 2 were original titles. The rest were sequels.)

I want to describe the intro movie for Katamari Damashii, but I feel like I can hardly do it justice. Think of a super-saturated technicolor Noah's Ark + South Park with dancing giraffes and giant purple guys with capes. It's even weirder than Oh-ha, and that's hard to top.

While the novelty and creativity Katamari Damashii should be commended, the game looked too simple to be enjoyable for any time over half an hour. There didn't seem to be any challenge or any payoff other than "haha, now look what's now stuck to the ball!"

Two grad students from Stanford presented Haptic Battle Pong. Best game name ever. It is a very interesting game where you manipulate a stylus to orient your paddle in the game world. There are various effects where you can mess with your opponent in real time so that they will feel you pushing their paddle around to mess you up. Too bad the game requires two $15,000 controllers to play otherwise I'd love to try it out.

There were two short talks during the session. One on the manipulation of time in last years games, focusing on Max Payne 2, Prince of Persia, and Viewtiful Joe. The other was a bit on WarioWare by a guy from Maxis discussing how it broke down games into simple, enjoyable atomic elements and then, during boss battles, created more elaborate, enjoyable sequences by combining the discreet elements into a larger experience.

Overall, the session was very inspirational because there were a lot of people doing a lot of exciting work and thinking about a lot of exciting things. I love how the Indie Game Jam shows that cool smaller games can be made in less than four days using an existing engine. Making a game in less than a year and a half seems revolutionary; four days downright instantaneous.

Boy, this was freaky. The GDC conference center was remade to be this stylized hotel lobby and the guests pretended that they were visiting this "hotel". I'm not that surprised that the first GameHotel debuted in France. Some guests they had almost nothing to do with the game industry, including some designers of "urban vinyl" from KidRobot, and some cool French guys that made weird (but excellent) MTV videos.

From the game industry, they had Phil Harrison, head of Sony Entertainment Europe up for an interview to talk about EyeToy and the game industry in general. When asked a question about a "big game magazine" saying that games were no longer stylish while a French newspaper recently had an article saying that "games were finally stylish", Phil Harrison took a moment to mention that "the magazine in question is Edge from the UK" and that they were the type of people that they would reject something when it became "too cool" and mainstream. He then noted that the Edge staffers in the audience weren't laughing. If I worked for Edge, I'd be so proud. Do you think EA, Sony, or Nintendo gives a crap about what EGM or PC Gamer editorials say? Yet Edge saying that "games aren't fashionable" really rubbed the president of Sony Europe the wrong way - awesome! That said, he seemed like an extremely cool dude; certainly not like the other suits I've seen at the show. One other interesting thing he said was that there was an element of "unlocking" extra games in EyeToy and he told them to take it out because the audience they were targetting wouldn't understand at all why they wouldn't have access to everything in the game immediately. The development group was saddened by this, but I got to say it was the right decision for the EyeToy market.

Masaya Matsuura presented a new game, VibRipple, and a whole new genre to the world. While the "trampoline action photography" genre may certainly be new territory for game design, I'm pretty sure that VibRipple will be both the first and last title in the genre. The game involves jumping on images, either stock photos from the game, ones downloaded from the internet, or from your digital camera, and "pulling" various creatures out of the photograph. They tried to play initially on a photo of Phil Harrison's face (something I'm sure will be a part of an Edge mag article) but Matsuura (and his helper) repeatedly lost. Then they used to stock photo of a piece of pie and it seems the game involves jumping on various colors in the photo to pull out little icon creatures. A few jumps on some strawberry filling and you collect a cool red crab creature. Jump on some other color and you get another creature. At the end of the level (who knows what determines how long you get to play) the Vib rabbit character will sing a weird song about the characters you collected. Matsuura said the game would be available in Japan by this summer! I'm not entirely sure how fun this game would be, but I would love to have a chance to play it.

Tetsuya Mizuguchi also talked for a bit without a translator. Both Matsuura and Miziguchi didn't use a translator, and while their English is excellent, the interview format required them to pause and formulate (often unintelligible) responses made their sections plod at a snail's pace.

As a whole, GameHotel was a bit of a letdown. It was clear there was a lot of money spent on the set and making awesome MTV style montages for the various videoscreens around the set. They had a great line-up of people, but with the exception of VibRipple, there was a content-free experience.

I hope to get Day 3 posted by the end of the weekend, but at this rate, I'd be happy if it arrived by the end of 2006. . .

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