Notes from today:

9:00am: Iwata’s Keynote. The part I enjoyed the most was his discussion of Miyamoto’s development style. I wish I’d taken better notes on one slide in particular; a few things he talked about:

  • No design documents. Instead, they depend on personal communication among small teams.
  • They use very focused prototypes. These are designed to answer some specific question about how the game might work, and ruthlessly omit anything that’s not necessary for that. (He showed an example of a Wii Sports Boxing prototype that just had cubes fighting: the only point there was to test fighting mechanisms involving wiimote/nunchuck controls.)
  • They spend a lot of time on these prototypes; by the time they’re done with those, they’re pretty confident in how the game will work and that it will work well. (Though surprises happen nonetheless.)
  • Frequently, the prototypes reveal difficulties and are discarded. Sometimes those prototypes can reappear years later.
  • Miyamoto will grab employees in the hallway, have them play a game, and watch from over their shoulder, seeing how they react to various aspects of the game.

I’m trying to figure out how to link this to lean/agile thoughts. (Because, of course, everything I care about must be related!) Certainly the emphasis on personal communication is right up there in agile land, as is the emphasis on prototypes and iteration. But I see a strong lean flavor here, too: the focussed prototypes designed to answer a single question remind me somehow of A3 reports. And the early, exhaustive prototyping reminds me of set-based development, too: you spend a lot of time exploring different solutions up front; it’s a lot of work, and takes a lot of time, but leads to a design that allows you to confidently hit the ground running once you’ve worked that out. And, as with set-based design, solutions that aren’t adopted for one project aren’t thrown away, they’re shelved in a way that lets them remain accessible for future use.

I would complain about the product announcement parts of the keynote, except that I’m happy enough to have gotten a free prerelease copy of Rhythm Heaven. I also had a quite pleasant chat afterwards with somebody I didn’t know and whose name I’ve forgotten (sorry, I’m bad with names); he doesn’t have a blog yet, but if he’s reading this, please start one! (Update: his name was Joe Osborn.)

10:30am: Evolving Game Design. I went to hear Ueda and Suda 51, but they didn’t have much to say; Emil Pagliarulo (Fallout 3) was better, but it was still the talk I got the least out of today. I got to meet Michael Abbott in person, though!

12:00pm: Threaded AI for the Win!. I figured I should give a programming talk a try at some point, and there wasn’t anything else that was pulling me strongly at this time slot. I won’t say it was a great talk, but there was one useful takeaway: a lot of concurrency issues go away if your state at time N depends only on what other objects’ state was at time N-1, instead of their state at time N. For example, don’t worry if you want to move objects in a way that will cause them to collide now: instead, look to see if the movements they just finished doing caused them to already be colliding! (Which reminds me vaguely of the first of Michael Feathers’ Convenient Lies about Functional Programming.)

1:15: I was planning to attend a poster session, but reading the poster made me think I had philosophical objections to what he was going to say, and objections that are boring ones rather than interesting ones. So I had lunch with a bunch of blogger and media types; I won’t try to name them here, since I’m sure I’ll forget some of them if I try, so I’ll just cite Michael’s tweet instead. Very nice to put faces to names!

2:30: My Professor Layton fanboyism led me to attend Level-5’s Techniques to Producing a Hit Game. He talked about how they plan the marketing for the game right from the beginning; at first, I was a bit put off by that, but now I rather like the idea. Part of that process is to come up with three talking points about the game: the good thing here is that those talking points serve as a mechanism for all the people working on the game to align themselves, to help get everybody on the same page. So if marketing works as a way to get a strong vision for a game, I’m all for it.

He also put up some sales numbers; the one that I cared about the most, namely US/Europe Layton numbers, was the only one that he didn’t give details on, but it was over a million. So they have to be localizing the rest of the games in the series, right? One of the audience members asked about that, and he said that yes, they were planning to; no explanation of the holdup, though, so, while I remain cautiously optimistic on that front, I’m also not holding my breath.

4:00pm: Margaret Robertson on Why Your Game Doesn’t Need a Story to be a Hit. By far the most interesting talk of the day; I still haven’t processed it, though, so I’m hoping that somebody else can do a better job of blogging it. Basically, her point is that story mechanisms that we’re using now cost a lot of time and money and don’t have commensurate benefits; a lot of games would get along just as well with much lighter weight mechanisms to provide the benefits that those expensive mechanisms are supposed to have. But that leaves out a lot; good slides, good details, good presentation style.

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