I broke two talks out to their own posts:

The rest:

10:30am–11:30am: “Biofeedback in Gameplay: How Valve Measures Physiology to Enhance Gaming Experience”, by Mike Ambinder

Current control schemes: one dimension of input, map intent into control schemes, lacking feedback mechanism. Add in player sentiment, emotional input, get more immersive and calibrated game experience.

Emotion is a subjective internal state, usually a response to external events. A vector: has both magnitude (arousal) and magnitude (valence). Correlates with physiological signals of various sorts.

Heart rate. Beat to beat interval of blood flow; measure both baseline and deltas over time. It’s a cheap, easy way to get at arousal; not so easy to get valence. Also, its prone to movement artifacts, and the onset after stimuli is delayed.

Electrical resistance of skin. Measures arousal; get both responsive and anticipatory spikes with low latency. Hard to get valence, though; can’t always associate spikes with events; range varies across subjects.

Facial expressions: track muscle movement. Get both valence and arousal. Not well automated yet.

Eye movements. Fun fact: when our eyes are moving, our brain isn’t processing. So if you measure eye movements, you can find windows when you can update the screen without the player seeing! Index of attention, arousal (pupil dilation), reliable. But very expensive, requires lots of analysis.

EEGs: electrical potentials of the brain. Different frequencies represent different emotions. Get arousal, valence; expensive, intrusive, noisy, though.

(I took a nap during the rest of the talk: it wasn’t bad, but I was quite tired. He showed using these to affect the AI Director’s behavior in Left 4 Dead and using eye tracking for control in Portal 2.)

12:00pm–1:00pm: “No Freaking Respect! Social Game Developers Rant Back”, by nine speakers

This was largely excellent.

Brenda Brathwaite: Resists the title: won’t turn against her fellow designers who have supported her for 30 years. (History lesson.) We stood together because we love games. … Wish I could have recorded end of that, really something.

Update: fortunately, it was recorded! Here’s the transcript, and here’s the video.

Brian Reynolds: Really boring.

Steve Meretzky: No, you can’t #%*$&ing design. Execs who think they can design; execs who think that game design isn’t needed at all! 10,000 hours of learning experience is way low, in his opinion, and everything is constantly changing. And then the rant really heats up…

Chris Hecker: Potential Unreached. Was going to rant about gamification, but doesn’t care about selling shoes. Games as a means to save the world is great, but games are valuable as an end. And we’re not reaching their potential: lots of emotional headroom we’re not reaching. Want “lifification of games”. Games currently can’t express the difference between Seinfeld and Friends. (The Sims is the only game that looks like either.) Want to increase our expressive range; need more human interactions, we don’t need more aliens and orcs. Doesn’t have to be difficult to implement, or result in casual games. We just have to try.

Scott Jon Siegel: You’re Doing It Wrong: Why the Last Few Years Have Not Been Awesome Enough. Never gets feeling of a really awesome system in social games. In 2009, had Parking Wars, Bejeweled Blitz, Mouse Hunt. Fault of Farm Town. Led to current great social game fallacy. Need to rethink the last two years of social game development, start over.

(His slides are up.)

Mini rant: Jane McGonigal et al. Games as escapism is bullshit.

Trip Hawkins: Fear that we’re all lambs to the slaughter. Licensing agreements. At least Nintendo had the decency to tell us how they were going to screw us. Don’t try to be the winner of American Idol.

Ian Bogost: Shit Crayons. Amazing performance.

1:30pm–2:30pm: “Experimental Gameplay Sessions”, by fourteen speakers

Focus on experiments: in search of dynamics, or new meanings.

Hanford Lemoore, Maquette

It’s about recursion. The game world contains a model of itself inside one of the buildings: changes in one are mirrored in the other. What’s more: can take block out of model world, put it in outer world, and vice versa: effectively shrinks / enlarges objects. (A key turns into a bridge.)

Michael Brough, Sense of Connectedness

Game board is a brain, with no explanation. You have to make and test hypotheses over and over again. E.g. you explode at some point: why did that happen?

Nicolai Troshinsky, Loop Raccord

Raccord: the feeling of continuity that you get when a cinematic cut works well, looking smooth and continuous. The game shows you a chain of video clips: you have to stop and start them so that it looks like objects are passing smoothly from one to the next.

Stephen Lavelle, Opera Omnia

There are several time manipulation games: all about cooperating avatars to modify the present. Opera Omnia: the present is fixed, need to find a better explanation for how we got here. The playing field is cities: you can control migration between cities, and there are various events (e.g. famines) that happened in the past that affects population as well. Takes an Orwellian turn when a population segment was massacred in the original history, but the population migrated in an alternate history.

Jason Rohrer, Inside a Star-Filled Sky

Recursive shoot-em-up: it’s gotten a fair amount of coverage recently, so I won’t go into details here. The death mechanic resets a level when you progress; that seems punishing, so an earlier version kept your progress. But then a simple “always move towards the exit, never shoot” strategy works; that’s boring, prevents learning.

His explanation for why he did the game basically boils down to conveying the experience of yak shaving.

Agustin Perez Fernendez, Mantra

An experiential game about meditation. There’s an endless spiral that you have to avoid; it makes a noise if you hit it. As you do better, the visuals go away; want to play guided by the mantra and the sounds that happen when you make a mistake.

Andy Schatz, Experiments in User-Generated Content

Started with The Abrupt Goodbye. It presents a conversation tree, with up to five answers. With fewer than five, it gives you the opportunity to enter a new response; the game ends when you do that, and adds your response to the list of possibilities. Unpopular choices get culled; also, there are male and female branches, so both sides of the tree are user-generated.

PlayPen. Collaboratively built world: comes with a graphics editor, users can edit screens and add hotspots.  Infinite Blank. A platformer: when you come to a new area of the level, you own it and can do whatever you want. PlayPen has collective ownership, with all the good and bad that that brings. 

6:00pm: Dinner

The annual game bloggers / journalists (with a few developers sprinkled in for good measure) dinner; I had a fabulous time. I spent most of it talking to Tami Baribeau and Dan Apczynski.

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