Design Theory

GDC 2016 Personal Highlights

This year was the first time I’d been able to attend the Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco. I went primarily to talk on the subject of women-in-games initiatives and how they make a difference. This panel session – in which I was joined by Zoë Quinn, Rebecca Cohen-Palacios, Sagan Yee and Stephanie Fisher – will be made available on GDC Vault in the coming weeks.

Photo credited to GDC / Trish Tunney

Delivering my micro-talk as part of the “Ripple Effect” panel. Photo credited to GDC / Trish Tunney

I also attended in order to seek inspiration and some new direction, and to meet people working outside of Europe. Although I skipped past many talks in favour of the sorts of activities I couldn’t simply catch up on online afterwards (a strategy I’d recommend strongly to future first-timers), I did nevertheless come away with new insights – some whimsical, and some practical.

What follows, then, is a collection of personal reflections on the talks I saw, along with my tips for recommended GDC Vault material.

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Utopic Notebook

In design, it is generally understood that we must learn to let ideas go. If you are to successfully prototype either one project or many, you have to learn to divorce yourself from ‘precious’ ideas, lest you start awkwardly accommodating nuggets of ideas which, in reality, simply will not work as you might hope. What I’ve found more recently is that I have to apply this philosophy to the way I generate ideas, too. I have to learn to let go of design techniques.

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Not a Game Podcast, and the Multiplayer Sweet Spot

The Not a Game podcast has just released its 40th episode, and I’m delighted to say that host Tom Hatfield invited me on this week! Not a Game is a weekly panel-type podcast with freelance games writers and developers discussing all manner of games-related topics.

Designed by Jacob Smiley

The “Not a Game” logo, designed by Jacob Smiley

In this episode: Tom, myself, Paul Dean and Jordan Webber discussed Halo 3‘s rather baffling plot, what we felt was wrong with Bioshock,  and the potential for a game-cum-storytelling platform like Storium.

We also discussed whether or not a game like DotA can be relaxing, which put me in mind of the multiplayer games I used to play online. In the podcast, I cited the example of Wintergrasp in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. I realised that I seem now to have left this sort of gameplay behind, in favour of so-called ‘couch co-op’ -and while there are many other, more nuanced reasons for this, the most obvious reason is that I want to include my partner in these games, rather than playing with friends. Still, I long for this sort of gameplay and until now I wasn’t consciously aware of it really being ‘a thing’. Now that I think about it though, there is real value to be had in creating a game which accommodates this relaxed, social play – both for building loyalty and allowing players to explore the game at their own pace.

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