Today’s talks:

9:00 am: GDC Microtalks 2010: Ten Speakers, 200 Slides, Limitless Ideas!

I really enjoyed the microtalks last year, so I had to go again this year. It had nine people speaking in a slightly modified pecha kucha format; nobody was boring, some were quite interesting, and it seems to be a much more reliable multi-user format than panel discussions.

Some highlights:

  • Kellee Santiago talking about the design of online multiplayer, and relating it to Stewart Brand’s New Games Movement. (Whose motto was “Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Hurt”.) One of Kellee’s points is that online multiplayer isn’t just a technical feature: it needs to be part of your design plan, you need to work to craft it to get whatever sort of behavior you wish to promote. Simply blaming the players is just laziness.
  • Chaim Gingold talked about the trickster mythos; unfortunately, I can’t read my own handwriting, else I’d give a list of qualities here.
  • Jane Pinckard talked about designing for the limbic system. (Favorite quote: “I really don’t care about the Citizen Kane of games, I want the Pride and Prejudice of games.”) Basically, current video games are good at triggering the reptilian part of our brain (fight or flight) and the neo-cortex (puzzle solving), but not nearly as good at targeting the emotions in the limbic system. Too often, they present love as a discovery process, uncovering a pre-existing story instead of participating in creating it; they should let players express themselves more, should allow vulnerability, should give you the feeling that the object of your affection is unique.
  • I’m really not sure what I have to say about Ian Bogost’s talk, other than that I’m very glad that he’s planning to post the slides on his blog, because I’m fairly sure that they deserve a good deal more time and thought than I could give them in the moment.
  • Jesse Schell: his recent DICE talk wasn’t presenting the future as 1984, it was presenting the future as Brave New World.

10:30 am: The Psychology of Game Design (Everything You Know Is Wrong), by Sid Meier.

This was the keynote; after Kojima’s keynote last year, I wasn’t particularly optimistic, but I thought it was pretty good. Interesting examples of how players interpret what look like mathematical calculations: e.g. if they see numbers giving them a 2-1 advantage, they accept that they might lose occasionally, but once they get to 3-1 or 4-1, any loss just feels wrong. But they’re happy to win occasionally at a 3-1 disadvantage; also, if they have a 20-10 advantage, they feel they should always win, unlike the 2-1 situation.

(Incidentally, it’s not entirely clear to me that players are behaving irrationally in most of those examples: if people mentally map M-N to M people fighting N people, then probably losing in a 4-1 situation really is hugely rarer than in a 2-1 situation, and a 20-10 situation is different from a 2-1 situation. But rationality isn’t the point, anyways: the goal isn’t to blame players for behaving irrationally if they don’t like our game design, the point is to make a satisfying game design.)

Also, in general, players want a game that works well in a story for them. They don’t want moral uncertainty: if you’ve invested 10 hours into a game, you don’t really want to find out that you were inadvertently working for the bad guys all that time. Players and designers work together in a sort of delusional alliance: if the designer pretends that the player is good at the game (both in terms of skill and morality), then the player is willing to suspend disbelief in the world that the designer has created.

Of course, those aren’t universal game design rules: for example, I certainly wouldn’t blame game designers for wanting to create games with rather more moral uncertainty, and I’d like to pretend that I would enjoy such games. (So I guess it’s true for me on a meta level: I want to pretend good things about myself!) But I agree with Sid that you should know what you’re getting into if you work against such forces. (And should, presumably, have a strategy for dealing with reactions, which may include resigning yourself to your game’s not being popular…)

I was planning to sort of wander off by myself for lunch; but then completely by chance I wandered into the same place where Ben was buying food, so I ended up having a pleasant lunch with him, Charles Pratt, Nels Anderson, and Wes Erdelack.

1:30 pm: The Nuovo Sessions.

A bunch of relatively experimental games. All of which looked interesting; I’m rather curious what Hazard: The Journey of Life would be like to play (could be wonderful, could fall flat on its face), I really liked the cover art for A Slow Year (especially in the context of the grand tradition of Atari 2600 cover art), and I’m glad to see that somebody has apparently picked up The Unfinished Swan. (And that they’re keeping it a game about curiosity.)

3:00 pm: The Connected Future of Games.

I really should learn not to go to (non-microtalk) panels one of these years. It wasn’t bad or anything (though too much of the moderator asking questions of individual panel members instead of letting a discussion develop), but I just skimmed my notes again and I’m not seeing anything I feel like writing down here.

4:30 pm: The Evolution of Habbo Hotel’s Virtual Economy, by Sulka Haro.

The most interesting talk of the conference so far for me; I’ll split it off to a separate blog post.

After which was the second annual blogger’s dinner, where I talked to too many people to be able to link to them here; many thanks to Michael for doing almost all of the organizing legwork!

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