Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Day 3 Coverage: Peter Molyneux, Nintendo, Achievements are Harmful?, GDC 2010 Awards
Featuring Fable III, Metroid: Other M, and Warioware D.I.Y.
The Complex Challenges of Intuitive Design (or just Fable III)
Speakers: Josh Atkins (Microsoft Games Studio), Peter Molyneux (Lionhead Studios)
If a big-name developer speaks at a GDC panel with a title that's full of game design buzzwords, you can usually bet that it's just a long-winded disguise for what is essentially a preview on their latest game. And Peter Molyneux is no exception. While he reiterates much of what Blake has already said in his preview for Fable III - the now infamous 'Touch' feature, the morphing weapons, the lack of a health bar, the main character's role as king halfway through the game - he has revealed some information that we haven't covered yet. And I'm not even talking about how your dog is afraid of rabbits and how John Cleese voices your butler (more on that later).
Your main character's appearance isn't based on meat or tofu consumption anymore, but on what weapons you use. Adventurers who wield swords will build muscle, hammers even more so, guns will make them lankier and swifter, and magic will affect their complexion. To help reduce the number of inventory lists, your clothing options are made much simpler. At any time, you can enter your dressing room and choose from among your apparel or preset options presented by your butler for specific functions, like a regal, ruffly shirt for a kingly occasion. Better yet, your dressing room contains a depression map of the entire kingdom where you can zoom in and out, checking everything from the status of every house on a block.
Also changed is the idea of experience, which will also come in the form of followers who can be used as a resource during your reign. This is affected by which promises you decide to keep with those who lead you to kinghood and what Judgments, which are basically decrees across the land. Abolishing child labor is certainly benevolent, but that means the factory that enslaves them can't produce food for the land, either. Of course, you can probably solve any solution by swinging your weapon around performing slow-time death kills using the simple one-button combat system. Yes, murder is a perfectly legitimate solution too.
From Metroid to Tomodachi Collection to WarioWare: Different Approaches for Different Audiences (or just tidbits of Metroid: Other M and WarioWare D.I.Y.)
Speaker: Yoshio Sakamoto (Nintendo)
Just like Molyneux's lecture, Sakamoto began to talk about how he can adapt his design process to serious games like Metroid as well as comical games like WarioWare and Tomadachi Collection... but really ended up talking about Metroid: Other M and WarioWare D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself). First shown at E3 2009, Metroid: Other M fits right between the stories of Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, marking the return of Commander Adam Malkovich in the story. Apparently the controls, made in collaboration with Team Ninja, only require a Wii-mote without a Nunchuk accessory, with the D-pad controlling 3D movement along an invisible rail. Not sure if this means whether this means Metroid: Other M is really a third-person rail shooter, but that seems to be the case.
Sakamoto showed one teaser trailer that flipped between 8-bit depictions and current-gen 3D renderings of the same scene, which had a Metroid suspend Samus Aran in the air before a dinosaur-like boss shot it down. Then after Samus falls and gets herself back up, with the remains of the Metroid dissipating into the air like water droplets, her helmet begins to glow for a few seconds before she calmly says, "Mother... time to go!" Intriguing, no? Alas, we will have to wait until June 27th before Metroid: Other M finally releases on Wii.
WarioWare D.I.Y., which was also making an appearance on the expo floor, is a DS title that allows players to create stylus-happy WarioWare mini-games and send them to their friends. You can also upload your creations online and download user-created mini-games, notably those done by Nintnedo contest winners in Japan. Just as you would expect from a game like LittleBigPlanet, the editor is robust and allows you create pretty much anything you want, including graphics and music, as well as establishing elaborate winning conditions for your games. So in essence, you can jumpstart your career as a game designer by creating everything from hide-and-seek to shooting and rhythm mini-games.
Achievements Are Harmful?
Speaker: Chris Hecker (definition six, inc.)
That's right, Achievements/Trophies and just the reward systems embedded in games can be harmful to players. Now, this doesn't mean that rewards don't do its job as a way to get players to do a task, and I believe that rewards are an intrinsic part of the hero's journey, which the vast majority of games with stories follow. Where common sense and metrics can backfire is in the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
In most cases, if an extrinsic (say, monetary) reward is imposed on an task that player's already perform out of interest and inner passion, that task suddenly turns into work. The extrinsic motivation meant to reinforce a specific "good" or "fun" behavior usually diminishes the intrinsic motivation by the player to do it in the first place out of their own automony - in the specific case of money, it can even taint the virtue of "good" behavior. (For instance, researchers found that giving money to blood donors actually decreased the number of blood donors.)
Psychological research very strongly suggests that once a person receives a reward for doing a task, not receiving a reward in future iterations of the task will likely be deemed unacceptable to the player. And that's devastating if that person was doing that task from the very beginning out of their own volition. With the inception of Achievements and Trophies, it can then be reasoned that taking away those rewards would greatly deter players who actively strive for them, and reduce their likelihood of playing those games in the first place.
There's also the argument that a reward sets up an unnecessary expectation for the player to have that reward in other games in its genre and can force players to do things they don't like just for the Achievement/Trophy; for instance, playing ranked matches, which usually means not being able to play with friends, for the sole purpose of additional Gamerscore points.
These concerns are legitimate, but since many of the elements are still vague (does a hi-score count as an extrinsic or intrinsic reward), what Chris Hecker calls out for psychologists, sociologists, and behaviorists to (stop worrying about game addiction and) study the possible negative effects of rewards in the game industry before it's too late.
12th Independent Games Festival and 10th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards
Some comments before the list of winners:
Warren Spectator is a great designer, just not a great host. Far too professional and lecture-y, made too many Disney references, and just sucked the air out of the room with phrases like "Isn't this exciting?" Yeah, he's the kind of guy who you'll tell a joke to and he'll say, "That's funny."
Mega64's skit on Flower was the comedic highlight of the night. The most triumphant were the Lifetime Achievement Award given to John Carmack and the Ambassador Award given to Penny Arcade.
Gabe Newell of Valve won the Pioneer Award, but his acceptance speech turned into a mini-lecture on the future, literally, complete with Powerpoint slides. I will give him points, though, for calling out developers who use intrusive DRM.
The red wine at the bar for the VIP and preferred seating area tasted like grapes marinated in sawdust.
International Games Festival
Best Student Game - Continuity
Technical Excellence - Limbo
Excellence in Design - Monaco
Excellence in Audio - Closure
Excellence in Visual Art - Limbo
Nuovo Award - Tuning
Direct2Drive Vision Award - Max & The Magic Marker
Mobile Best Game - Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor Seumas McNally Grand Prize - Monaco
Games Developers Choice Awards
Best Debut Game - Torchlight
Best Audio - Uncharted 2 Best Game Design - Batman: Arkham Asylum (surprise win over Uncharted 2)
Best Writing - Uncharted 2 Best New Social/Online Game - Farmville (debut category)
Best Handheld Game - Scribblenauts
Best Technology - Uncharted 2 Best Downloadable Game - Flower
Best Visual Arts - Uncharted 2
Innovation Award - Scribblenauts Game of the Year - Uncharted 2 (5th Win)
Oh, and our reward for sitting through all this was the debut teaser trailer for Deux Ex: Human Revolution. He's a cyborg now... and he's going to kick a lot of ass.