Best of GDC 2008 – Best Panel or Lecture

Game Developers Conference 2008 is over and it’s time to return to the snowy North. Here are my picks for the best and worst of everything i experienced there.

Best Panel or Lecture

There were so many amazing sessions that it’s hard to pin one down. Last year, it was Damion Schubert’s “Writing Great Game Design Documents”, which i thoroughly enjoyed. It actually turned out to be the highest-rated lecture last year, and i can understand why. Unlike most of the other sessions, i used the information in Schubert’s lecture all year long since that last conference. Here’s an example of the wisdom imparted by Mr. Schubert:

5. Limit your use of the phrase “Man, this game’s gonna suck” in your GDD.

i keed, i keed.

The first two days of GDC are home to the summits – clustered lectures strung along a certain theme. i chose to attend the Worlds in Motion Summit this year, because i had already been to the Casual Games summit. Anyway, it looked like the Casual crew were getting comfy. Their schedule listed the same speakers talking again and again throughout the two day Casual Games Summit. And get this: the first session was called “Intro to Casual Games”. The second session was “Intro to Casual Games Part II”. Puh-LEEZE. Get a job, guys.

The Worlds in Motion’s chair, Leigh Alexander, was a self-aggrandazing egomaniac (it takes one to know one) who had to introduce herself before every session, although the room’s turnover rate was low. Despite this, if Leigh was the one responsible for booking the summit’s speakers, she did a great job (with some exceptions).

Get On With It

This year, two sessions stood out in my mind: Treat Me Like a Lover by Margaret Robinson, and Let Me Win! Best Practices for Approachable Game Design by Katie Stone-Perez.

Katie’s “Let Me Win!” talk began with a provocative opening volley befitting a Microsoft-sponsored session: if the player doesn’t finish your game, he’s less likely to buy your sequel. The speaker backed her point up by showing the kind of data-mining MS does on its XBox 360 players:

This is Joey. Joey played Call of Duty 3 on his XBox 360, but as you can see from his player profile, he didn’t get many Achievements in the game. He also hasn’t played the sequel.

Meanwhile, he got all 1000 Achievement points in Viva Piñata, AND he bought Viva Piñata Party Animals (poor, poor Joey – ed.).

If you didn’t realize that Microsoft is carefully scrutinizing its Achievement infrastructure like this, i hope you’re enjoying your latest adventure in Gullible’s Travels.

Call of Duty 4 vs Viva Piñata

As this side-by-side analysis clearly demonstrates, Joey is a pussy.

note: In Joey’s defence, let me point out that the speaker likely chose a Viva Piñata because it sounds easy. If you’ve ever played the game, you’ll know that Viva Piñata is a very complex and challenging simulation. If Joey actually did get all 1000 points with no help from GameFaqs, frankly, he’s a bona fide badass.

Easysaurus Rex

The speaker went on to talk about ways to make your game easier. For example, if the player tries three times and can’t defeat your T-Rex boss, maybe the T-Rex picks the player up and throws him over the wall into the next level.

Immediately, the blue-blooded gamer in me raged “Yeah! And why doesn’t the T-Rex chew up the gamer’s food and regurgitate it into his mouth for him, huh? WHY DOESN’T THE GAME SUCKLE THE PLAYER AT ITS WARM COZY VIDEO TEAT?? HUH????”

i calmed myself down by hyperventilating into a paper bag. When my ire had settled, i thought through it calmly and rationally. She’s right, of course. i can count on 400 hands the number of games i’ve had to abandon halfway through, either because i reached a stopping point, or because i’m a weak sissy girl-baby and i can’t play video games worth a damn.

Here’s my latest unbeatable T-Rex: i’ve stopped playing the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney because i’m stuck in an endless line of questioning with one of my witnesses. She states a series of truisms like “the sky is blue” and “water is wet”, and i’m supposed to object to one of them and show the court evidence to the contrary. i have no idea where i’m supposed to speak up to further the plot, and the judge keeps saying “Why don’t you repeat your infallible witness testimony, ma’am?”

Phoenix Wright

I object! (to the lack of an in-game hint system)

Stupid game. i actually do wish a T-Rex would pick me up and throw me into the next courtroom, where the guilt is a little more obvious. An OJ trial, for example.

Gettin’ Sexay with Margaret Robinson

For her part, Margaret Robinson opened with a provocative tale of sharing a bath with her new lover, which turned out to be the DS version of Advance Wars. Meh – it was still kinda hot. i’m ashamed to admit it, but for the whole first half of Maggie’s talk, i sat there wondering if she was a good kisser. It was probably her UK accent.

When i snapped out of it, i found she had a few profound things to say. i’ll paraphrase:

Imagine a game where all of your cut-scenes and story exposition were available to the player right off the top of the game. Any new player could watch the whole story from start to finish without actually playing your game. (Pause for effect.) That idea makes many of the developers in the room uncomfortable, and yet we’re somehow not uncomfortable with a game that the player might never finish. The player might never see those cut-scenes or experience the story that we put so much hard work into, but that seems to be okay with most of us.

An excellent point.

During one of these two lectures, a lady stood up and introduced herself as the site manager for an online women’s game review magazine. She said that if one of her readers can’t finish a game and see all of its content, she should return it to the store as a defective product.

It’s an entirely new way of thinking for me, but i’ll give that a tentative … amen?

You’d never rent a movie or pick up a book and expect to miss the ending because you’re not smart or crafty or skilled enough to get through it. Why should we endure that kind of punishment from a game? i’m all for rewarding the players who were smart or crafty or skilled enough to experience all of the content without my help, but after attending these two sessions, i’m a changed man.

i am a reformed game developer. i will forever strive to make my games forgiving, loving, accessible and approachable to the throngs of hot young women who clamour to play them.

4 thoughts on “Best of GDC 2008 – Best Panel or Lecture

  1. Leigh

    Teehee, ouch, dude! Maybe ’cause I’m a journo, and I hate when I go in a session and people are egomaniacal enough to assume I know who they are already.

    And yeah, I did pick the content.

  2. Ryan

    Good point! And honestly, i can’t fault you for self-promotion. Conferences like GDC are made for that sort of thing,

    i just love that you obviously stumbled upon this blog by Googling your own name! CAUGHT IN THE ACT! :)

  3. Leigh

    Haha, Googling WIM, actually, looking for other coverage of the panels — not that I don’t google myself sometimes. Who doesn’t?

    Anyway, the event holds hands with the WIM news site, of which I’m editor, and of course I wanted to make sure all the attendees knew who I was so that they can pitch stories to me or give me biz cards with which to harass them for interviews. Sor-ry! :)

  4. Ryan

    That’s a very awkward way to invite me to speak for a whole two hour session at next year’s Worlds in Motion summit, Leigh, but … SIGH. i accept.

    (PS – your mugshot’s getting a lot of play on Joystiq’s Featured Galleries. It’s like you never left me.)


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