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The only thing that stops the dust is the rain. It’s a sweet reprieve, but there is no middle ground. The land is either as dry as the Betty Ford clinic, or as wet as the ocean floor. Everything can be seen from the ridge overlooking Armadillo as John Marston gently bounces along atop...


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Game Developers Conference 2009 - Day Three Coverage
Posted on Wednesday, March 25 2009 @ 22:58:07 PST

Contents: Three Influential Game Designers, Nintendo DSi Development, Game Stories Suck, 2009 Game Developers Choice Awards

Wednesday, 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM

Evolving Game Design: Today and Tomorrow, Eastern and Western Game Design
Speakers: Emil Pagliarulo (Bethesda), Goichi Suda (Grasshopper Manufacture), Fumito Ueda (Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., Japan Studio)

General Philosophy
(Emil) Fallout 3 is much less technical than you might think. I like outlining experiences for the player. An emotional connection between the player and the other characters and even the environments. Love "Agatha’s Quest" in Fallout 3 and its reward of a possible radio station.
(Ueda) Graphics are my foundation, and that takes a lot of programming. I'm very close to Emil’s philosophy.
(Suda) I take a look at TV, film, and games, and then try to accumulate my ideas. Being alone is very important… I try to poop and then I get a good idea! (queue toilet in No More Heroes)

Prototyping / Planning
(Emil) Need to be brutally honest with yourself, or else you get yourself committed on an idea that doesn’t work and have to abandon it later. The big robot at the end of Fallout 3 was initially going to be five times bigger and the player would be in its head; but that would take too much work in terms of production, so it was cut.
(Ueda) The original vision does evolve a bit but the team is usually in sync. With ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, the initial game design was more about teamwork but then it was made into more of an individualistic exploit.
(Suda) What? I make a perfect deadline plan. *crowd laughs* No, actually we are always in flux, since I’m always bored with old ideas. When I can try something new, I do it.

Knowing if you wrong / Feedback
(Emil) Constant feedback between team and self. Sometimes the team is right and you have to trust them. And other times, you have to trust your gut instinct and cut/edit something.
We thought we would change things up with an ending - by having it, you know, end - but since people view Fallout 3 as a re-working of the Elder Scrolls, players wanted to stay in the universe and continue playing. So we are addressing this with Broken Steel, the third DLC pack (which increases the Level Cap to 30).
(Ueda) When I say “yes” with my intuition, it’s usually right. I listen to my reactions and feelings.
(Suda) Sometimes my ideas aren’t compatible with the console or we are limited by the game console. Sometimes then we have to change up our game for the worse, but sometimes, that makes us improve the game.

What if you’re the only one that wants to do something?
(Emil) No matter what changes in the game, it’s important to note that the inspiration of the game doesn’t change. So always look at what has inspired you and see how to rework a tough patch in the game for a place of edit.
(Suda) “I’m the boss.” Heh, yes, I use that line sometimes. However, focus testing and listening to the team are very important.
(Ueda) Not that much conflict. In terms of world view and vision, our team and I were in sync. Perhaps we disagree on a task. Sometimes you’re into it so much, I think of my game as a series of quest, so I like to stand behind focus testers and see how they react and if they think something is boring.
(Emil) It’s hard for me to see the game in it as well. I just see missed opportunities and interacting systems.

(Told to stand up, because sitting was against the law. I'm media! I've got a laptop! This room is packed! How do you expect me to type? Are you kdding me? Oh, yeah, GDC is going to be fined for having people sit. There's really nothing left to say but "That's ****ing bullshit." Luckily, they were able to get me an empty seat before I started cracking skulls.)

(Moderator) Suda51 is usually known for pop culture references and being wild (kind of like a Quentin Tarantino). Emil likes having thousands of NPCs and many lines of dialogue. An Ueda uses almost no dialogue at all.
(Emil) We are actually inspired by Suda’s and Ueda’s games, the latter of which have little to no words. Since our roots are in PC, the users expect a lot of dialogue. But I see Bethesda trying to move in that "less is more" direction as soon as possible.
(Ueda) The most important thing is reality. Conversations between characters are repetitive, and if that continues, it makes it difficult to believe that the characters are real. Of course, it also may be that I’m not good at conversation, but until we get to a point where the AI can talk to back to us and make its own decisions, the characters who are made to be like people will not feel like people completely.
(Moderator) Suda, did you take drugs before writing your stories?
(Suda) Well, actually before I write a story, I drink cold medicine. No, I’m kidding. First, I have a story and the scenario that no one has really thought of, and then I try to translate that into a game. I like it if the world is changing in the background without your immediate presence and when the dialogue is coming from those changes. Emil, how did you write all that dialogue, anyway?
(Emil) All our designers are writers.
(Suda) Ooohhhh!

Q&A... or not
(Suda) Actually, can I ask a question? I think I can stand for everyone elses, and say "what are you two creating"? And don't try me. I can’t talk about my own game.
(Emil) Lots of DLC.
(Suda) Will Fallout ever go to Japan?
(Emil) Hmm… what famous landmarks can we destroy in Japan?
(Suda) Umm... yeah, that game would never be sold there, never mind.
(Ueda) My game will be like the other… we are struggling. The essence is…
(Suda) Who is your partner?
(Ueda) Okay… it is… no, no, I can’t say it. "They" are going to shoot me.

- Video games on human psyche?
(Emil) Not our primary responsibility. Our primary goal is to entertain. But if we can tell a story about the human psyche, then that’s the sweet spot.
(Ueda) A player should have a personality, and have the characters embody a kind of that personality. Do we need a game over? Maybe we should not have a "game over" at all.

Games as art?
(Ueda) I don’t think I’m creating art. I’m doing it for entertainment. So I don’t look at it that way. I’m from art school, but I don’t see what I’m creating as primarily a form of art.
(Emil) Early films were meant to entertain and then films have become art. I think we can take that analogy to games. We’ll come into our own. The art will eventually become a part of the process.
(Suda) The power of games is different. We put the lights on a display and that makes other artists jealous.

Wednesday, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
The Inspiration Behind Nintendo DSi Development
Masato Kuwahara (Project Leader of Research & Engineering Department)

(Get ready for personal postmortem and history lesson, people. This is what happens with Nintendo talks.)

- Kuwahara is a part of the department that handles all handhelds and integration testing. But the DSi required nearly everyone in the deparment.
- Product launch dates in this article refer to Japanese launch dates
- Precedents: Game Boy Camera (February 1998) and Game Boy Printer (heat-sensitive paper for Game Boy Camera)
- More precedents: Game Boy Advance Wireless Adapter (January 2004)
- Important Note: He and the team played LAN parties with his boss, so he was never chastised for playing games (Nintendo and Game Revolution are alike, I see...)
- Other versions of DS: Nintendo DS (November 2004) and Nintendo DS Lite (June 2006)
- Never made to market: Game Boy Advance Predecessor (picture compares the size of it to the DS… will not fit in your pocket), Touch Panel Adaptor for Game Boy Color circa 1998 (not favorably received at that time, possibly because GBC was not back-lit so everything looked dark)

Nintendo DSi
- Concepts behind Nintendo DSi: Goal to increase DS from one per household to one per person (notably in Japan) [ mainly, it's for people who have not yet bought a DS]
- Features/Differences: Slimmed down by 2mm, weight is slightly less of DS Lite (a DS Lite Lite?) LCD screen increased to 3.5 inches (from 3 inches), can adjust back light settings just be selecting “select”, can turn back light down to save battery, power button at the bottom (can “reset” system as well)
- Highlight: an inner and outer camera: Initially, just had inner camera, but the outer camera was already so well-integrated that it was kept. The outer camera, though, is not a Megapixel camera: did not fit, slow response time. But it has superb color.
- SD card slot: Music files, backup photos, some storage of DSiWare
- Speaker holes: Oval-ish rectangles are not the best for sound quality but it's still good (we hope)
- Digital volume controls: Changed from analog switch which can be turned completely on or off by the DS just moving in and out of pocket.
- Hardware: Initially, it had two slots for game software, as it was thought to be a good idea giving users the ability to switch back and forth, but it made the handhelftoo hefty
- Added parental controls (set rating limits, use of DS shop, restrict access to browser, restrict transmission of user-created content)
- Redesigned menu interface, can set the order of menu items to your liking
- Ability to show a photo on the top screen (adds personal touch and identifies your DS quickly)

Nintendo DSi Camera
- Local wireless communications to send photos
- Ten different lenses (or tools, really): standard, distortion, graffiti lens for decoration, color lens for adding color to black and white photos, color pad lens for altering color, mirror lens by adding mirror effects, mischief lens for humor [uses facial recognition], emotive lens, merge lens [create one face from two faces], comparison lens [compare two together], frame lens [embedding pictures within pictures]
- Can combine lenses/effects together

Nintendo DSi Sound
- Music player and sound recorder
- Four sound filters, speed up or slow down, record and edit a sound, play with your music on SD card, can adjust pitch and layer in sounds

Nintendo DSi Shop
- Nintendo DSi Points for DSiWare. Similar to WiiWare. Purchase points through cards and online redemption or through shop with a credit card. 1000 free point campaign in America (October 5th).
- DSiWare categories: "Free", 200 points, 500 points, 800+ points
- 30 current DSiWare in Japan
- (In US) Nintendo DSi Browser (free of charge), can hand-write or use keyboard
- Two examples of games: WarioWare: Snapped!, Art Style: Aquia
- How software gets to consumers: Digital Distribution (Nintendo DSiWare via Nintendo DSi Shop), Traditional Sales (DS Game Cards), Nintendo DSi Enhanced Game Cards (will play regularly on DS or DS-Lite), Nintendo DSi Game Cards (will not work on DS or DS-lite)

(I don’t think many games will use the non-enhanced versions of the Nintendo DSi Game Cards. Why restrict the user base? I can only see these being used for camera-intensive games and how many EyeToy game have existed?)

Sales Projections
- Nintendo DSiWare sales can sustain higher sales for a longer period of time
- In part, this could be because DSiWare doesn’t go on the used market

(If you ever get an all-access or main conference pass... get lunch. It is free. U eatz it. And if so, eat at the South wing. They take your trash out for you there. And it is less crowded.)


The Career Pavilion

Nothing really around for casual attendees, as it is not a convention in the same sense as Wondercon is. But it is a career pavilion, as it states. So it's much more relevant to any one of the many, many laid off people in the industry already.

Another important note: Activision had Guitar Hero: Metallica and a stage, so you can figure out what I did next. Unbeknownst to me, however, was that there was a tournament going on and this was the preliminaries… which meant I had to play on medium. What the hell?

And then I asked about the rules, and the attendent said that the top scores go into the semi-finals tomorrow. How? By getting the top score with two other people (so I have to find two people that are actually good?) on a random song (even when certain songs can yield a 400,000 difference from each other). That means that I had to hope to get two other bandmates that didn’t screw up andknew when to activate star power. And then, even if I got 100% on my section, the random song choice meant that it likely didn’t make any difference. Yeah, why don’t they just have a drunk monkey in drag start humping my shoulder while I’m playing Queen? Geez…

Other than that, I took a Guitar Hero button. Later, I looked at it, and it said Guitar Hero… Aerosmith. And then I stared at the trash can. (Awww….)

Wednesday, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Stop Wasting My Time and Your Money: Why Your Game Doesn't Need a Story to be a Hit
Speaker: Margaret Robertson (Lookspring)

- Her plea to say onto her fellow developers: Why?
- Margaret worked as a game consultant on a whole range of games, casual/hardcore, AAA/Indie, etc. And must admit her disappointment with the stories, most of which had fundamental problems. Usually, the stories were too much of a waste of time.
- Reasons why I am wrong about story games: sell loads, win awards, review well.
- So why then is she saying that there is a problem?
- No, not with stories themselves as stories are useful.
- What games get from stories: motivation (say, as a reward for beating boss), entertainment, communication (relationships, familiarity, relevance to the human condition), metaphor of the intent/mood of the game world

What games don’t need to get from stories?
- Emotion itself. It's one thing if the story moves the player, but quite another if the character are just emoting for the sake of it.
- Thus, the assumption: Emotion = Story, Plot + Characters + Dialogue = Cinematic Presentation (or linear, character-led, dialogue-driven cinematics)
- But emotion does not equal Story does not equal Plot plus Characters plus Dialogue does not equal cinematic transportation
- Like paintings, not all stories are linear, character-led, or dialogue-driven. Stories can be tiny! (But do tiny stories sell?)
- Example: Shibboleth by Doris Slacedo. It's a huge crack in a museum. Hmm… it’s a crack... yay? But then when it was filled in, it became more interesting through its shift in state. There was a story: There was a crack, someone filled it in. In other words, you don’t need words to convey a story.
- How small can stories get with words? The six word challenge. Write a story in six word challenge. Best example: "For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn." Or if you like New Zealand Story by Taito: “A walrus has stolen my friends.” (What? That’s not acceptable. How dare the walrus steel my friends.)
(I think that the best “art”, though, has something to say about humanity, and that we shouldn't just abandon all text and cut-scenes.)

Generic Stories
- How many times have I saved the world? A week ago. Two weeks ago. More "epic" does not mean a bigger story.
- Why tiny stories are better: fresher, cheaper, responsive.
- Example: Majora’s Mask. A girl. You notice she’s sad, and she gradually tells you that Kafei has gone missing. She waits and waits for him to return, and if you wait with her until the third day (when the moon falls) you see that he doesn't. So then you want to save Kafei.
(I think that the real problem is marketing, pushing for a story that is "popular" and "sell-able". But since there's too many of them, they're usually too popular to be good.)

Where can I tell it?
1. In the setup like Space Invaders. That’s all you need: the words “Space Invaders”. That’s the story.
2. Externally. Example: Kingdom of Loathing by Zack Johnson and Josh Nite. Like an augmented reality game (ARG), you actually collect real stones, ship them to the publishers, and you complete the first quest in your game.
3. Subtextually. Example: Ico. The story might be about a 9-year old boy rescuing a 13-year old girl, but abstractly, it’s about puberty. There's a romantic and sweet relationship (like a boy to his mother). The horn. The blood. Got it? Good.
4. Environment. Example: Eternal Darkness. You fight a perpetual darkness throughout different time periods. You return to a cathedral during the 12th century, 15th century, 20th century, and speficially 1917 - a place where there is a war between humans brewing, supplying a contrast of human evil to the perpetual darkness. (Another example is the town evolution in Fable II.)
5. Gameplay: Story through gameplay? Call of Duty 4. Not because of its story, really. Aside from emergent storytelling (One time, I got an RPG, and I went around the corner, and then I totally owned that dude, and then got a shot…), the actual plot is hard to remember. But in one memorable section, they let you be your higher-ranking officer Captain Price when he was a noob himself. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes - empathy - is the ultimate connection to another person. This is the power of video games.
- “ACTION = CHARACTER” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, last thing he wrote in his journal before he died)

How can I tell It?
- HUD: Portal by Rob Swigart. The HUD changes, fills in, and mutates.
- Art: Assassin’s Creed by Ubisoft. It was all about the hoodie. It represents a rebellious nature. Character design is just one example..
- Animation: Polly’s World by Ken Perlin. Polly is a triangle. How it moves shows its personality.
- Sound: Defcon by Introversion. About how many people you can kill. But it has a subtly sad music. (I would also include Braid. That soundtrack is of a single melodic line that is complex, perfectly conveying it’s “simple depth”.)
- Text: No examples needed. Everyone gets that.
- Voice-over: Also no examples needed.
- Video: One word... “Kojima”

The Big Secret To The Above
- The order of is actually the hierarchy of cost and complexity (cut-scenes cost a lot in production due to localization in all the different languages, but basic level and sound design cost less).
- It is also a reverse hierarchy of intrusiveness. Video and text is very obtrusive. But HUD, art, animation, and sound is much, much more seamless.
- Counter-intuitively, the things that are easiest to do cost the least. Surprising, huh?

My totally unfair narrative challenge as an example
- What communicates that time has passed since you were last in this world, you are now famous, you are the good guys, your army is low on resources, your army is dogged and determined, and is a gameplay hint?
- Nope, you don’t need a cut-scene. All you need is the “Half-life symbol”. Yep, and someone did the “****ing texture” in 10 minutes

Wednesday, 6-8pm
Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards

11th Annual Independent Games Festival

Best Student Game
- City Rain - Building Sustainability
- The Color of Doom
- Dish Washington
- Feist
- Kid The World Saver
- Tag: The Power of Paint (Digipen students cheer!)
- The Unfinished Swan
- Where is My Heart?
- Winds of Ormus
- Zeit2

Technical Excellence
- Cortex Command (like Worms, except with much more terrain deformation)
- IncrediBots
- The Maw
- Osmos
- PixelJunk Eden

Excellence in Visual Art
- Cletus Clay
- Feist
- Machinarium
- PixelJunk Eden
- Zeno Clash

Excellence in Design
- Musaic Box (He tearfully thanks his first music teacher. Aww...)
- Night Game
- Osmos
- Retro/Grade (It's a side-scrolling shooter that goes in reverse!)
- Snapshot

Excellence in Audio
- Blueberry Garden
- BrainPipe (like a cross between Tempest and Rez)
- Musaic Box
- PixelJunk Eden
- Retro/Grade

Innovation (Nuovo) Award (or having people say "WTFuck")
- Between
- Coil
- The Graveyard
- Mightier
- You Have To Burn The Rope (ha, ha)

Direct2Drive Award: $10,000
- Osmos (sort of like a 2D Katamari Damacy, except moving makes you lose size)

Audience Award
- Cortex Command

Semuas McNally Grand Prize: $30,000
- Blueberry Garden (it's the gorgeous soundtrack)
- CarneyVale: Showtime
- Dyson
- Night Game
- Osmos

9th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards

Best Debut Game
- Braid
- LittleBigPlanet (Winners Mark Healey and David Smith admit this is odd, since they've been "Doing this shit for 20 years!")
- Sins of a Solar Empire
- Soul Bubles
- World of Goo

Best Audio
- Dead Space
- Gears of War 2
- Left 4 Dead
- LittleBigPlanet
- Metal Gear Solid 4

Best Game Design
- Braid
- Fallout 3
- Far Cry 2
- Left 4 Dead
- LittleBigPlanet (Compliments his fellow designers as intelligent, ugly, and autistic.)

Best Downloadable Game
- Braid
- Castle Crashers
- N+
- PixelJunk Eden
- World of Goo (definitely an upset over the favorite Braid)

Best Technology
- Gears of War 2
- Grand Theft Auto IV
- Left 4 Dead
- LittleBigPlanet
- Spore

Best Virtual Art
- Fallout 3
- Gears of War 2
- LittleBigPlanet
- Metal Gear Solid 4
- Prince of Persia (surprise winner over Fallout 3 and LittleBigPlanet)

Innovation Award
- Boom Blox
- Braid
- LittleBigPlanet
- Spore
- World of Goo

Ambassador Award: Tommy Tallarico (Video Games Live!)
Pioneer Award: Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy (Harmonix creators - Frequency, Guitar Hero, Rock Band) - inspired by PaRappa The Rapper
Lifetime Achievement Award: Hideo Kojima

Game of the Year (Placement in GR's Best of 2008 Awards)
- Fable II (Duke's Pick)
- Fallout 3 (2nd place)
- Grand Theft Auto IV (7th place)
- Left 4 Dead (8th place)
- LittleBigPlanet (1st place)

And the winner is...

Fallout 3!

Wow, that was an upset! LittleBigPlanet was nominated in 6 other categories and won in 4 of them, whereas Fallout 3 only had 3 nominations in other categories and won only 1 of them (and lost to LittleBigPlanet in Visual Art and Game Design). But apparently, the game's scope, game writing, length, and modern design swayed the judges enough to award it this year's best.

The Bridesmaids: Metal Gear Solid IV (3 nominations, no wins, no Game of the Year nomination), PixelJunk Eden (4 nominations, no wins), Braid (5 nominations, no wins)

And before I forget, I saw a teaser trailer of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Oh, yeah!

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