GDC15: Day 1


So as I mentioned in Majora’s Mask, part 1, the next few post will be taking a break from the New Year’s resolution project of not killing in video games (which can be found here). Instead we’ll be doing 5 posts covering each day of GDC. Each post will most be comprised of a few notes about the lectures I went to, and then my thoughts/reactions to it. Lastly each post will probably end with whatever cool game industry thing I did that night. Let’s get started.


Harvesting Interactive Fiction – Heather Albano

So the short version of this lecture was examining the qualities that make interactive fiction, such as text adventure like games, unique as well as there more recent successes in the market with examples like 80 Days. These qualities were poetry, ambiguity, and complicity. I’ll go over each just a little. Poetry was used to mean how imagery can be used in text based games. You can describe a chair in an infinite number of details and metaphors, but modeling the chair into the game will give you only the one way of seeing it. Ambiguity was referring to the writers control over what information the player gains, allowing the player to fill in the blanks with ideas probably way more compelling than would have been written. Which leads into complicity, which is the stakes that the player has in the story, both through the game mechanical choices and their investment into the story writing.

I thought this talk was pretty interesting. I hadn’t bee previously aware the financial successes such games were having before then. I definitely think these will be notes that I return to when attempting to work on any writing projects.


Attaining and Retaining Whales (Presented by npnf) – Akio Bandle

So for anyone that hasn’t already gleaned that I’m not a production/business minded guy… well I’m not a production/business minded guy. So that being said, there was quite a bit in this one that had never occurred to me and I found interesting.

Typically a Whale is a player in a freemium game that is paying large sums of money into the game, fairly regularly. So while the term “Whale” often has a negative connotation, for the purposes of this talk it was viewed more as a casino high roller. The value of a whale to a game company can be pretty clear, but they also have value as the people most likely to tell others about your games and advertise for you.

This talk was geared more toward the Clash of Clans, pay-to-win model, so an emphasis was put on making sure the game play requires both money and skill to be successful. I imagine the situation as something like the inclusion of an expensive, powerful ability, that still requires a level of mastery of the game to be capable of using it to its fullest effect.

A part I found interesting was, what is the player’s role within the community (Clan)? The example was given that in some clan’s, Whales will finance the playing of highly skilled players on their team to maintain the overall competency of the team. I really dug this concept, as from a narrative side I thought this could be amazing. I was imagining in a sci-fi setting you can have high paying players acting as the Badger’s or Niska’s of the world (Firefly reference) so that this broker status is very real because of the game purchases, and contextualized to the game world.

Then there was just a couple other points of note. Pandering to whales can obviously backfire, and you just need to make sure it doesn’t harm the experience of the the more casual player. After all, a whale needs a big, populated ocean to live in to feel cool. Another point was to listen to player’s feedback, without listening to their solutions (this was better explored in another talk, so I’ll wait till then to talk about this).


Education in Gaming: Narrative as a Tool for Fostering Engagement – Jennifer Young

This one was interesting, but had a great emphasis on implementing education right into a game and not about gamification of the existing compulsory education model, which was kind of what I was expecting. It was also formatted more as a narrative than a lesson, as in “This is what we wanted to do, and here is how we did it” without really touching on the broader ideas for implementing it across games or school subject matters. For those reason’s I’m not writing much for it, but it was interesting and worth participating in. I just think there isn’t much to elaborate on beyond what the talk is itself, so I’d recommend just watching it when it gets added to GDC Vault.


In It for the Long Hall: How Wooga Boosts Long-Term Retention – Sebastian Nussbaum and Adam Telfer

The first part of the talk was about prototyping with long-term player retention in mind. This started with exploring new genres within the freemium market. This is because cloning the design of existing hits is more likely to fail than with more traditional gaming tracks, as player’s are already financially invested in the game they are playing and have cultivated friends there, so why would they leave? Instead it need to be a different game play genre with with lasting gameplay.

The lasting gameplay is accomplishable through long term goals for the players and investments. Long term goals can take form through things like story progress, end game content, or leader board. Investment is accomplished through obvious things like items, leveling (stuff like what was mentioned to be keeping player in the other big games) or something I hadn’t heard of before in the freemium space such as lasting decisions (narrative or gameplay wise) and rewarding players for making though decisions with ramifications.

Along with this the prototype needs strong session design, in allowing the long term goals as well as creating gameplay reasons to be returning to the game. (The most simple and direct way would be something like daily rewards.) In addition to this was social pressure for returning to play, such as guilds/clans, where games require socialization for winning or progressing.

Lastly for really pulling off this prototype was was to really swing the scale in terms of the costs for generating content v.s. its consumption by players. Some examples were to crowd fund the generation of content, our source it, or have it be procedural.

Then this prototype need to be play tested, but in a way unique to it’s format. By this I mean it has to be tested to see if it’s still compelling after a month of play. (They’d mention later in the Q and A that this was done by asking every one in the studio to play test the new prototype over a month.)

The second half of the talk was more specific to there thought process for implementing such ideas in a narrative heavy hidden object game. This was done through a couple of goals and solutions. To make the narrative scale to a long story, they introduced two big factions at conflict within which the episodes could take place. To see if the story through text was retaining the players’ attention, they recorded data on how long it took to progress to the next text segment. Too long or short and clearly the player isn’t reading it.

They finished with talking about how they eventually finished their story, but allowed players to reset their story if they chose, while retaining all their rewards. 80% of players did this and kept playing. I thought this was really interesting because I think the fear of losing players keeps long form narratives out of social games, opting more for the sitcom frame work.


Comedy Games: An Underexplored Genre – Zoe Quinn

This talked focused on how to utilize the ideas of comedic timing and subversion of expectations with games. I think the most interesting idea was to focus towards implementing comedy in a minigame like format. This is because jokes can’t really work repeatedly, so would work way better in singular moments in the game. As such games like Surgeon Simulator, where the gameplay is the joke, don’t hold up through longer play sessions.

Another idea was to focus on level design. This is because it is through level design that the developers can control the pacing of the player’s progress, and better time a joke.

The talk also covered some of the less obvious risks of comedy in games. Specifically with Satire and Camp. Satire needs to include criticism, other wise it’s just reproducing the existing problem and reinforces it as humorous and worth emulating instead of deserving of mocking for it’s failure. Camp is meant to be sincere. I’d list The Room of Batman ’66 as something that isn’t good, but is enjoyable because it’s clear that there was intent in the projects, while Asylum films fall flat. The last risk is in play testing. I think the difficulties in play testing a comedy game should be apparent, but if not simply stand in those imagined shoes for a moment.

The talk also emphasized the unique placement that games are in, in that we have years of trope within the media  perfectly fresh for the mocking. In addition to this, designers can leave the comedy in part to the players, as they can create things that designers could from being too close to the project.


…And that wraps up the first day of talks at GDC. Went to some really great talks. I can’t emphasize enough how much I admire these people, for working in this industry, learning as they do so, then going out of their way to share it back with the industry.

Hence the need to post about it now. Now realize this is far from the extent of the depths of these talk, only just my first thoughts. It’s likely that I’ll reflect back on these and the other ones I attended for some time.


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