Sunday, March 18, 2007

GDC 2007: Sessions I attended

As I stated earlier, I only attended a small number of sessions. In ranked order, they were:

1. Clint Hocking's presentation on (self) Exploration in Games.

Clint's own post-mortem on the session, along with the slides and accompanying paper, can be found here. (Note that the talk was written as a paper first, like I did here, and like he, I and some others discussed here).

Clint is the awesome. At some point I decided that if I'm going to a conference where he's speaking, I block that time to attend and schedule around that. The guy takes some hard topic ideas, dives after them, and does some serious work on both the research and the resulting presentation. Clint is my presentation hero :-). Go read the paper, or get the short version in the gamasutra coverage here. (or buy the Mp3 version here, if reading is more painful to you than parting with $8 :-)

2. How Casual Games Will Kill the Console (and Why That's a Good Thing)

John Welch, President of Playfirst, gave a really good session that I'm surprised wasn't blogged more widely. John subscribes to the same Geoffrey Moore school of thought that I do, and he led the audience through a well thought-out argument about how open markets win, and how games will be no exception. Plenty of good analogies from other mediums & markets, and a good presentation style to boot. I beleive his pitch was right on the money, and is the long-term light at the end of the tunnel that Greg Costikyan presented during the rant session. Speaking of which:

3. Burning Mad: Game Publishers Rant

The rant session is always entertaining, enlightening, and provocative. This year's was a little more mixed, which is why this falls midpoint on my list. Some rants fell flat, while others were well prepared and thought through. Details on the sessions here. My short comments on each:

  • Great: Chris Hecker's Anti-Wii rant. Already blogged in detail around the web. I agree, and he's my hero for having stones to get up and say it, even if he regrets the way in which it was taken.
  • Great: Nicole Bradford's "excite the young'uns using games" rant. It was a strong message, well written, and well rehearsed. A lot of similarities (and no, I am not refering to race nor gender similarities) to Majora Carter's TED speech I blogged about a while back. Perhaps that's the style/effect she was aiming for? The only thing making me rate this one second is that it was perhaps a bit TOO rehearsed for the GDC rant session. It's supposed to come off as a rant; a little rough around the edges. That commentary aside, she was very good.
  • Good: Greg Costikyan's "wolf in digital distribution clothing" aka "the consoles will be our new overlords" rant. Greg is always a little understated in presentation style, but I beleive his to be the most insightful of all the rants. I beleive his argument is absolutely on the money and one that developers/publishers should keep in mind. And yeah, I say that despite his bagging on Arcade, and despite his misnaming Arcade 'Xbox Live Arena'.
  • Good: Richard Hilleman's Leadership rant. Spot on topic, well delivered, if a little understated for the flavor of gdc rant.
  • Good: Lee Jacobson's "some devs pull some funky sh*t" rant. A good look at walking in the other man's shoe that hopefully let devs understand why the evil publisher sometimes needs to be as evil as he is :-)
  • Poor: Jason Della Rocca's "I read some books this year" rant. Uh, sorry J, you're a friend, but that was a pretty shoddy rant. (a) it was more or less a repeat of Seamus' rant from last year, and (b) it was far less specific. It also made a pretty big assumption: That the rest of the industry doesn't already dabble in other media by reading books, viewing movies, etc. I don't know what your IGDA polls are telling you, but many of the devs I hang with are the biggest renaissance men & women I know, reading far more, and far more varied fare, than most folk I know outside the industry. Gotta ding you for this one buddy, sorry.
  • Poor: Alex St John's yet-another-vista-rant. I've addressed this in the IGDA Casual Games Sig Q&A, but I think he's overstating the issue, and came off looking that way. No real call to action anyway, though I'm sure he's pitching his company's product as a solution in other sessions/meetings. Whatever.
4. Innovation in Indie Games

An interesting and entertaining panel during the Indie games track. I commented to Jon Blow after the session that he came off as the time-tempered old veteran of the panel, whereas just a few years ago it seems he would very much have filled the raging, stand by your principles and damn-the-torpedos role that this year was filled by Jonathan Mak (creator of the brilliant Everyday Shooter). A summary of the session can be found here.

5. Jeff Minter 'keynote' from Indie Games Summit

Hrm. Jeff's a pretty poor speaker, didn't have a well thought out message to give people (other than perhaps "do your own thing") and labored through a bunch of demos of old games saying "I didn't want this to be a clone of X", and then would show us a clone of X where some element had been replaced by a bunch of wildlife. Sorry dude, but replacing a space ship with a camel doesn't exactly make it innovative. To boot, he was rude during Q&A by ignoring audience member questions while playing his own games on screen.

There were a couple highlights: (1) Space Giraffe does look to be an LSD-like trippy game. (2) I like than an equally, ahem, alternate substance afficionado got up to ask a question along the lines of "so, this is a game where I can take alternate substances and trip out while I play?" and he answered "alternate substances are optional, but yeah". Kindred spirits. (3) Clever wordplay when he said his small indie games that are visual-rich but not aimed at the commercial big time were "about electronic art, not Electronic Arts".

6. Sony PS3 keynote

This has been covered to death elsewhere, and I'm not listing it last because I'm a microsoft guy. I just wasn't wowed. I have two things to say:

I was asked *a lot* what I thought about PS3 'Home' while at GDC. Here's my opinion: It looked like the software embodiment of a knee-jerk reaction. It was a feature list, implemented, and wrapped into a demo. It's basically like someone said "Go do Xbox Live, Mii's, Habbo Hotel, and some of the better bits of Second Life". They concatenated those feature lists and then built it. Only then did it seem they said "what might we then do with it?". Rather than starting with "what do we want people to be able to do?". Many of the demos were about technically impressive things as a result. Few were 'omygosh gotta have!'. Mostly, I saw things that would be HARDER to do/use as a result of having been done prettier or in 3D.

On the other hand, LittleBigWorld looks *really* good. I really would like to have a go at playing it.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

I'm sorry I couldn't meet you at GDC this year Kim. I guess the needle in the haystack effect was working overtime this year. I missed out on Welch's session, do you know where any slides are posted?