Day 1 GDC 2012 – All the things!

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GDC proper was about to start, i’ve been around san francisco seeing the sites, eating burgers, visiting alcatraz and prepping my liver with various people and / or scholars. So I’m prepped, ready and raring to go right? Let me put it this way, when faced with too much choice, indecision takes over and well, I had a few to make today.

For those that don’t know, Monday and Tuesday at GDC are occupied with Tutorials and Summits, focused sets of material that last the entire day on particular topics, from Google developer days, Social Media and AI summits to tutorials on game design, mathematics and scrum training. So I had a choice, business and leadership training, game design workshop or smart phones summit. As i’m doing the producer boot camp tomorrow I decided I would be better off attending the smart phone summit and see if I could learn something new, I was slightly afraid it would be very hands on with current technology which wouldn’t be immidiately beneficial to myself, but sometimes you just need to take a leap.

For the record, I’m going to try and do sketches of as many of the panellists as I can through the week, my art skill’s pretty poor but we’ll see where it goes ^_^; My apologies in advance if you’re the person I’m talking about and it looks nothing like you, this is pretty likely.

Jamil Moledina

So the first talk of the day was “Guidelines for Building Cross-Platform Games” with Linda Tong (Tapjoy), Martin Chamrad (Craneballs Studios LLC), Kyu Lee (Gamevil USA), Jamil Moledina (Funzio), Perry Tam (StormB) and Mike DeLaet (GLU). So between them they have created one of the largest pile of multiplatform games on mobile platforms around including Modern Warfare, Zenoia, Overkill, Crime City (and if you don’t know GLU you haven’t been near a mobile phone store in the last ten years) and many more.

Their talk was focused on a much higher picture than I expected, discussing multiplatform development from a business perspective, when and where they would choose to utilize the other platforms. Of no surprise, no-one was currently working on Windows Mobile 7 due to several reasons, primary of which was the current install base, tho everyone expects that to change. Mike DeLaet had nothing but good things to say about Android as a platform, but always have a eye on what’s coming out in the future so they can start to filter out older devices now and make sure their development is keeping up with the market at the correct pace. Gamevil had to make a similar choice with the iphone 3G in order to keep with the curve, it was apparently a difficult choice. Currently no-one uses HTML5 due to performance and distribution, but they expect it to change. Mike DeLaet also said that he currently expects WinPhone7 to grow in 6-18 months and will be in a three horse race by 2014. Of final note, people are looking for true cross-platform play, as in between console, portable, mobile and more and that people should really make this happen. On the whole, not too bad but it really was from the perspective of having a highly successful business, not of too much worth.

RJ Micael

Second was “Designing the Five Second Game” with RJ Mical who (sadly) I was not aware had made video games at Williams Electronics, involved with inventing the Amiga, Atari Lynx and the 3DO and more recently was a senior manager at Sony for the Playstation. So pretty much a very amazing (read:fucking awesome) guy. The point of his talk was to present analysis he had done in order to create a game as a personal project, so he had looked at about 50 games (partial list is here) and found common criteria.

  1. Easy to Play, Mildly Challening & Fun
  2. Learn the rules in 5 sec
  3. Learn the interface in 5 sec
  4. Finish the level in 1-5 Minutes
  5. Anyone can pickup and play but challenging to become an expert
  6. no real time investment, can walk away mid level
  7. simple graphics and fun audio

RJ went on to display a game by Secret Exit that he felt had those items in common and went into statistical (basic) detail on what percentage of games used those points and what other points were also common, but not between all the titles. But at the end of the day, less is more, simple ideas and art trump expressively detailed worlds and you have to have the decent sound (not soundtrack) as “all the little beeps and boops” will make all the difference.

“Thing I remembers when I went back to programming OpenGL is how much I hate OpenGL!”

Graeme Devine of GRL Games

Next up we had “Designing a Game your teenage daughter will actually play” with Father and Daughter pair Graeme and Rocque Devine from GRL Games (Giant Robot Lizard apparently 😉 and the basic idea was Graeme presenting the games he had published by his own business in the last year (well, just six out of eight) and his daughter would comment on them from her perspective. The session was pretty interesting (and lets be honest, will be invalid shortly unless you can repeat the process with your own procured teenager) but the main issues that were highlighted by her preferences were a desire to be lead in the correct direction (was a fan of hidden mystery games), sharp graphics, a desire for customisation (in both music and graphics) and a request to avoid spamming facebook as it isn’t the done thing.

Rocque, the (dare I say it) 'smarter' half of the panel.

What was interesting is that Graeme went onto how he works with his daughter designing a game she wants to play. Apparently the typical prototyping cycle involving regular iteration she wasn’t interested in, he had to come back every fourth or fifth time with a slew of changes as in Rocque’s words “she trusts him to make the right decicions”. That being said getting the game ideas out of her head is a very painful and drawn out experience. But the game he has designed with her “Dance City” is a combination of Space Channel 5, Temple Run and LMFAO and will be interesting to see finished.

“Guidelines for successful mobile apps for children” with Carla Fisher was next in line (@nocrusts). This was a gentle introduction to design considerations for ipad and tablet based materials for young children and justification for said choices. The most depressing fact that I walked away with was that only 1% of children will play an app or a game more than once. But many considerations include;

Carla Fisher of No Crusts
  1. Keep buttons you don’t want kids accidentally using high up out of reach.
  2. Any buttons you want the kids to use, make sure the “hit zone” includes space lower than the target, as kids aim low.
  3. Drag and Drop is hard!
  4. Multi-touch, swiping and scrolling are all learned behaviours.
  5. make sure that you interact on touch-down, something needs to happen.

She also went into considerations concerning text & speech, syncing text highlights to audio helps reading comprehension and support text with audio cues wherever possible. Carla then went further into changing development and narritive guidelines for 2 – 12 and how the cognitive processes change over that period and how we can use scaffolding to support our games. So overall a very imformative panel to someone who has no idea about that field.

Finally for the day we had “Life in the Funds Lane” with Brian Robbins from Riptide Games. The purpose of this talk was to discuss a variety of funds that developers can gain access to with some work, and how they would do that. The basic fact is that most of the funding companies he was speaking about want eyeballs / network and reach out of their funding, therefore their priority was marketing and any money allocated would usually be used for marketing budget, quite sobering really.

Brian Robbins

The first thing you need to gain said funding is a track record, but seeing as those are in short supply at the moment what you’re usually requiring is a nearly completed game only really seeking money for marketing and porting between systems. Brian then went into what he called “5 Minute MBA” to talk about some realities involving costs of running a studio, running costs, cash flow and other bits and pieces. But the main point was “be careful, think about literal contracting costs, you can make this work and good luck”. I only wish I had seen this six months ago instead of having to learn it myself on the go (school of hard knocks and common sense >.< ).

So that was pretty much the day, after which I found the scholars, doped a pile of mates into the metagame (to get free cards) and went and drunk a couple of beers, not too shabby. Tomorrow is Producer Boot Camp, so wish me luck!

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