DigiGirlz and other Events

Look! I'm in the news!:
DigiGirlz article

I spoke with Marcella at the Microsoft DigiGirlz event at the University of Albany a couple of days ago. It's an event put together by Microsoft to educate high school girls about careers in tech that they can pursue - and encourage them by having women speakers. It was a lot of fun, although I worry that the exercise we brought ended up being a little too young.. We had some extra time at the end, so I used it as an opportunity to get on my soapbox a little about girls in games. ;) 

I also spoke at the Girls, Inc Summit at the college of St. Rose with Kristen in December (I had made these images for our presentation). I don't think I ever posted the news clip about it, so here it is: video. This event was for middle school students and it was really cool.

Finally, here is the STEM video that VV put together for Activision's participation in the STEM video contest a few months ago. I'm in there, but I don't really say very much.. haha.

I also do a lot of presentations at work when students come in for tours. I really love doing events like this because I sort of stumbled into gaming by accident - I didn't really know what it was all about, and I thought that because I hadn't been a hardcore gamer all my life it wouldn't be for me - but I couldn't have been more wrong! I want to share this knowledge with as many students as possible so that they can understand what it really means to have a career in games, and they may find that it's for them. I don't want anyone to miss out, like I almost did - especially girls. ;) We need as many of them in the industry as we can get!!


C# Learnings

So for anyone that doesn't know, I've decided to make an effort to learn C# so I can make games in Unity. I'm working from Learning C# 3.0 Liberty & MacDonald. It's cool because it assumes I know nothing (which is true!)


PAX East 2011 Recap

PAX East was last weekend! Now that I'm finally done typing up my GDC notes and my Game Journal entries from the games I played at PAX's Console Freeplay, I want to do a quick writeup about what I saw at PAX.

- Death of an Indie Studio
Presented by Scott Macmillan (who started and ended the studio), this was the story of the 3 year history of indie studio, MacGuffin Games. Key Points:
  • Art != Business: Before you jump into the world of indie games, you have to ask yourself "do I want to start a company, or do I just want to make my game?" You may find that it's the latter (which is the boat I'm currently in), in which case you might find that it's smarter to keep a normal, paying job, and make the game you want to make if your free time.
  • Learn to code. If you really think making games on your own is something that you want to do, you should probably learn to code (this is also something that I'm currently doing). If you've got a friend to help you and they're not fully invested in what you're doing, you'll probably find that they're going to flake out. It's much easier on you if you figure out how to do it yourself.
  • Find a community. Whether you're making a game on the side, or starting your own company by yourself, it's really important to have as many people as possible playing your games, giving you feedback, and sharing their knowledge with you. Working by yourself in a basement might work for some people, but it probably won't work for most people.
  • Find a place to work. If you've quit your job and you're working at home, see what you can do to separate your work space and your 'at home' space (I've heard this in other talks too). It's confusing and emotionally exhausting to have your work space and play space be the same. (Plus, as I've heard in other talks, you want to be able to have something of a cut off point at the end of the day - which is hard if you're always essentially at the office.)
  • Pay attention to scope & set deadlines - or you will never get anywhere. :)

- From Background to Center Stage: Building Game Worlds as Main Characters
This talk was presented by a panel including Ken Levine about Bioshock Infinite. It was mostly about the art direction concerning their environment:

  • Prototype. "City in the sky" is a cool concept, but there are a lot of challenges when you really dig into it. One of them was the idea of how you get from building to building quickly and easily for more interesting gameplay - to which the solution was the 'sky hook.' A non artist (I think it was a programmer?) made a gameplay demo of the sky hook concept which first showed the player moving from line to line to see if it was even fun - which it was. The artists still weren't really sold until a second prototype was made (I think by an artist this time) which was more cinematic, and added sound effects. In this prototype, they proved out how to make it feel tense and exciting to travel by sky hook, and the artists were able to get more excited about it. 
  • Small details matter. This is one of the things people are most drawn to in the Bioshock series - when you go into someone's office, every small detail - from the magazines, to what's hidden under a pile of objects, says something about the character who worked there. This started back in System Shock when you'd have a box of porn and a bottle of beer hidden behind someone's desk. Small details like this make the world more real, and the player notices. 
  • Take your time. They definitely took awhile to flesh out the overall direction for Columbia - at first it mostly felt the same as Rapture, until after a lot of back and forth they arrived at the idea of American patriotism, and then everyone was able to get on board and feel like they understood what the city was all about.

- The Making of an Announcement - Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Presented by Naughty Dog's community manager and one of the lead cinematic animators, as well as the 3 guys that make up 2 Player Productions spoke about the making of The Reveal: A Behind-the-Scenes Documentary (there are also 2 more parts).
  • Wanted to give a public face to the studio. Videos like this help build up a fan community even more - fans want to see what goes into the games they love, and when it turns out that the people making the games are really cool, it makes people feel even more excited.
  • 2 Player Productions were great in terms of not disrupting the general studio flow. They were filming people at their desks, talking and working - as opposed to the more standard game dev interviews where you get taken out of your office for and official interview. It seems they also focused on a lot more of the actual devs, in addition to just the higher ups at the studio (which is something else than fans like to see).
- Console Freeplay: NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
(Click for my Game Journal entry)

- Penny Arcade: The Series, Season 1 Screening
Also made by 2 Player Productions (season one only), PA : The Series is a behind the scenes look at the day-to-day operations of Penny Arcade. I really think the truly interesting thing about Penny Arcade isn't the comic, but Mike and Jerry themselves (in fact, that's how I really got into all of this stuff. Issam and I sort of wandered into the Penny Arcade Q&A panel at the NY Comic Con a couple of years ago, and that's when we realized how cool these guys really are.) It's really fun to see how this company of, basically 15 or so friends, works together daily. I definitely recommend checking it out.

- Just Because You Have an Idea, You Are Not a Game Designer
Presented by Scott Macmillan of (the now defunct) MacGuffin Games, Chris Oltyan of Dire Wolf Digital, Ichiro Lambe of Dejobaan Studios, and Eitan Glinert of Fire Hose Games, this talk was mostly about what steps you should take if you are an aspiring game designer -- but then, they really didn't get into any specific, actual steps for you to take (except for an argument about whether or not you should learn coding). Honestly, I don't feel like it was a very valuable talk - it was too disorganized, and it didn't seem that any of the panelists had any significant experience working as designers in the mainstream industry. They were all founders of indie studios, which I do think is a totally different experience than working with the job title of 'Designer.'

- Console Freeplay: Punch-Out!!
(Click for my Game Journal entry)

- Females on Female Characters
Presented by a group of game journalists and an actress, I thought that this was the worst talk I attended all weekend. It was basically a group of women gamers (no devs included), a folder of .jpgs of girl characters, and a completely free form discussion, which mostly consisted of people trying to make humorous one-liners. Every character mentioned was vastly oversimplified - for example, the discussion about Princess Peach came down to one woman saying "I hate Peach" to much applause, and then all of the typical arguments about how she's basically just a lame plot device (which I think really overlooks fact that there are many victories in how Peach has been treated as a character over the years, considering that at the start she was simply a plot device.) I think the whole hour of conversation could have been boiled down to: "we would like to see better written characters (male and female) in games." 

- Console Freeplay: Marvel vs. Capcom 3
(Click for my Game Journal entry)

- Penny Arcade: The Series Season 2 Q&A
After seeing season one of PATV the night before, as well as a panel with the 2 Player Productions guys, it was really interesting seeing this panel with the creators of season two, Vantage Point Productions. Interesting things:
  • They never discussed why they had decided to go with a different production company, but Issam and I did a lot of speculating after seeing the respective personalities of 2 Player and Vantage Point - the guys from Vantage Point had personalities that really seemed to mesh with everyone at Penny Arcade, and they talked a lot about how they had all become friendly with each other. They said that they felt like part of the team at Penny Arcade
  • Because of this closeness, they were able to get a lot more out of the guys at PA that were more camera shy. Also sometimes they felt that they were breaking the 4th wall a little too much - but the connections have been made, so there's no going back
  • One of the Vantage Point guys has a more serious documentary film background. He had made a documentary about living conditions in Haiti (before the disaster), and was planning on returning to more serious documentary filmmaking after this season. The other guys were planning on staying on.

- The Twisted Pixel Variety Hour
I liked the premise of this "panel" - basically it was a couple of the guys from Twisted Pixel goofing off for an hour. They showed us funny videos that they had made at the studio, told us stories, had the audience do some crowd recordings, had a video chat with the guy that was supposed to be there but had a cancelled flight. They also showed some character designs and talked about their upcoming game, the Gunstringer. I've always had a soft spot for this company since I had a couple of phone conversations/interviews with their Creative Director when I was looking for a job out of college. Having this panel was a cool sort of community building exercise I thought - maybe VV should try something like this next year. :)

- Penny Arcade: The Series, Season 2 Screening
Just more PA TV, but now we got to see some of the differences between the 2 Player Productions and Vantage Point Productions approaches. 

- Game Mechanics and Mechanism Design
Issam and I wandered in here not knowing it was being presented by the GeekNights, who were one of our favorite presenters at NY Comic Con this year, so that was a cool surprise. This talk was mostly about different aspects of game design, but unfortunately I did feel that they were a bit out of their element. Obviously this is something that they think is interesting, and have been studying on their own for fun, and they know some things about game theory - but in the end it was too disorganized, and they didn't do a good job actually explaining the principles they were trying to teach. It might have been cooler to get some actual game designers, or game design professors in there instead. It was still entertaining though. I like those guys. :)

- Console Freeplay: Dragon Age II
(Click for my Game Journal entry)

- Console Freeplay: God of War III
(Click for my Game Journal entry)

- Getting to Know Your Games
This was a really cool talk. It was by Dan Amrich, who runs the Activision Corporate blog One of Swords, the community manager for Irrational games, and a guy and girl that work at a PR firm which works with game companies. It was mostly a free-form Q&A, but it still felt very organized compared to a lot of the other panels I attended.
  • Why was Bioshock Infinite announced so early, considering the fact that they couldn't share anything about the game (since so little of the game was actually decided on)? Because they were about to start building the team up more and hiring a lot of devs. You can pretty much assume that when you've got a giant list of job openings, people will speculate. Also when you get that many people in for interviews, the likelihood of leaks skyrockets. You always want the information to be coming from you instead of speculation, so they figured they'd rather announce it than have someone nonchalantly leak "Oh yeah, it's just set in the sky.."
  • Funny story about NBA 2K11. They got Michael Jordan for the cover, and it was exciting and a big deal. They had this whole plan for how they could reveal it to maximize the impact - and then it got leaked. After this is quickly turned into the "what are we going to do now?" meetings. They decided the best thing to do was to bring the message back to them - they called all of the news sources that leaked it and requested interviews so that they could get the right information out there.
  • Dan Amrich - took the job working as Activision's corporate blogger because he wanted to make sure that people were getting the right information. There are so many rumors out there, so it's nice to have a place where you can go to get Activision's official message to clear up misunderstandings. We spoke to him after the talk and he was really cool. It's nice to have someone in the media who is on your side in terms of providing the truth. :)

- Console Freeplay: Bulletstorm
(Click for my Game Journal entry)

- Start Your Own Damned Company
Presented by the same guys as the "Just Because You Have an Idea, You Are Not a Game Designer" talk, plus Damian Isla (co-founder of Moonshot Games). It was cool to have Damian on the panel because he had actual experience in the mainstream industry - he had worked as an engineer at Bungie for a number of years. Overall, this one was also really disorganized and full of strong personalities.

There were a lot of disagreements about best practices, which was cool - pretty much all of the guys on the panel had different goals, so they had different ideas of how to get there. For example, Eitan mentioned that you had to expect to kiss your money and social life goodbye if you wanted to start a studio, whereas Damian, who has a wife and little girl pointed out that this totally depends on what kind of studio culture you'd like to create.

I don't really have any specific notes from this talk - except that Damian mentioned that really, it's much better to start a company after you've been working in the industry for awhile and know more of the ins and outs about how making games works. If you come at it from straight out of school, you're going to have a much harder time succeeding.

- Omegathon Final Round
Even though we went to PAX East last year, I had no idea what the Omegathon was until we watched PA TV and saw the segment about it. Basically, the Omegathon is like the gaming Olympics. A number of contestants are selected at random from people who had pre-registered for PAX, and compete in 4 or 5 rounds throughout the weekend. I'm not sure what all of the events were this time, but I know they competed in teams of 2 and played Katamari and Jenga. The final, surprise round this year was Ikaruga co-op. It was amazing how dramatic it was. We need to do something like this at work. :)


GDC 2011: Game Deisgn Challenge

Jason Rohrer, John Romero, Jenova Chen

-          Introduction:
o   Contestants receive concept 1-2 months before GDC
o   Only real limitation is that it h as to be for tech that currently exists
o   Topic: Line have been drawn between gamification and religion: create a game that in some way can be a religion in its practice and how it operates
-          Jason Rohrer
o   Old purpose of religion was to explain the world
o   Science took over the explanations of most physical mysteries, so religion turned inwards
o   Thinking about his grandfather
§  He was the mayor of a town which I-77 was supposed to cut through, but he pushed back and to this day, I-77 makes this crazy curve around the town
§  This is his grandfather’s legacy
§  Through stories, he is less of a man, more of an idea of a man
o   The idea of legacy and shrines to the past
§  Think about Stonehenge – we become like gods to those who come after them
o   Rough idea:
§  1 person in the world plays the game at a time, then passes it on
§  This creates a predecessor relationship
§  In most games, the start state you get is THE start state – but gets more interesting when your start state is someone else’s end state
§  In most games, pursuing a goal modifies the terrain
§  Tried to come up with a game where the pursuit of a goal wouldn’t ruin the game for those who play it afterwards.
§  Got caught in the gravity of one game: Minecraft (so it’s a mod)
o   Rules
§  You get the ONE USB stick (this is the arc of the covenant)
§  Install Minecraft from this stick
§  You play the game until you die exactly once
·         You cannot leave signs with text
·         Suicide is permissible
§  Quit to menu, let it save, pass it on
§  Never discuss what you saw or did with anyone, never play it again
o   Player One
§  Talked for hours with his son to come up with game one
§  Had grand plans. ..but ended up dying the most heartbreaking and painful death in a game ever
-          John Romero
o   What is religion? Deity, worshippers, devotion
§  Religious wars were like games – the crusades
o   Rules
§  Created Twitter user @God6502
§  Chose person to be @Messiah6502
§  In real time (at the event) the first 12 that follow the Messiah will become apostles
§  The apostles have 2 min to find as many followers as possible
§  The winner is the apostle that has the most followers that contain miracles (whole pad to sticky paper)
-          Jenova Chen
o   From China, atheist J
o   Eastern religions are all about how to live life (Taoism, Confucianism)
o   Progression of “religions”
§  Socialism
§  Developmentalism
§  Consumerism
-          Religion Needs to address: fear of death, and lack of purpose
o   Needs to address these two main things
o   Spread ideas to others
-          Religion needs to address purpose of life
o   Something intuitive, survive the test of time
o   Primitive yet profound
o   Rights of life: born, growth, propagate
o   Propagation is the most fun part
o   Propagation of idea! Good purpose for life
-          Goals:
o   Dogma: promote anything which enhances the propagation of ideas
o   Create flow of ideas
o   Protected rights and fairness important (so anti-monopoly)
-          TED (http://www.ted.com/)
o   This is a good example of the spread of ideas
o   But TED has a very passive style
o   “Ideas worth spreading” is a very passive slogan
o   Just database
-          Religion Design:
o   Take TED and make it better!
o   Make it more active
o   New slogan: “influence with ideas”
o   Make spreading of ideas into flow experience
o   There aren’t even view counts on the TED website – add them
o   In addition to the view count, say if you were inspired by the video
o   Give TED video posters profile sites (more like Facebook or Twitter)
o   Like Chinese Twitter – show you how many people are now following (new followers)
o   Needs feedback loop
§  Promote ideas to win badges, then you get more opportunities for promotion (game aspect)
o   “Most influential people of the year” based on TED sites – who has the biggest following
o   Called “Propagationism”

GDC 2011: Postmortem: Raid on Bungeling Bay

Will Wright, Stupid Fun Club

-          Bungeling Bay
o   Will’s first game
o   Didn’t consider himself a designer
o   Took him 1 year of work (1 byte/minute – now 100 bytes/minute)
o   Game came out in 1984
§  Same year as the first portable CD player
-          1980, Will was into robots and racing
o   Bought a computer to help with working on robots
o   It was the last time that one single person could fully understand the whole computer
o   Played the game “Conway’s Life,” recreated it to learn coding
o   When the Commodore 64 came out, decided to make a game for it (since it was new, so the game market wasn’t built up yet)
-          Inspiration
o   Loved helicopters
o   Wanted to create an intricate clock like world. Wanted the world to be large enough to get lost in
o   Commodore 64 allowed for screen to move seamlessly across several screens (before you just got what was on a single screen, but now you could have a bigger world)
-          Created tools: Cedit (character editor) and Wedit (character and world editors)
o   Wedit later became basis for Sim City
-          Memory
o   When working on programs, you knew where code was – it lived in a specific place in memory
o   You would spend time hunting through code to find single bytes to add up
o   Now he feels like a grandparent who lived through the Depression: “You’re using that many bytes?!”
-          Systems
o   Whole system of resources, war machine
§  Chain of resources moving from oil rigs -> ships -> tanks -> factories
§  People seemed to get some of it, but not all of it. Might have been better if showed resources actually moving?
-          Progression
o   As you got farther into the game, difficulty built. The escalation of difficulty doubled after each factory you destroyed
o   You always go back to the aircraft carrier for repairs, you build a relationship with it
§  2 factories into the game, bombers attack carrier. You have to protect it!
-          “Bungeling Empire”
o   Took game to Broderbund for publishing
o   They wanted it to be explicit that you were not killing humans in the game, so they came up with the Bungeling Robot Empire
o   They also were the bad guys in Choplifter and Logan’s Run
-          Piracy
o   Piracy was rampant
o   Spent hours trying to protect games
o   20,00 units sold on Commodore 64
o   800,000 units sold when game went onto the NES (piracy!!)
-          Evolved into Sim City – every version of Sim City has had helicopters (also Sim Copter)
-          Surprised at how many fans have remade this game

GDC 2011: An Apology for Roger Ebert

Brian Moriarty
You can also just read it in full here: http://www.ludix.com/moriarty/apology.html

-          Introduction
o   This is not an apology in the same sense as regret for anything done wrong
o   This is the Greek apologia – a defense of an opinion
-          History of Conflict
o   Started with Doom the movie. A bad movie and a bad review.
§  A reader’s comment about how the movie related to game prompted Ebert’s response: “As long as there is a great film unseen or great book unread, I will continue to be unable to find the time to play video games”
§  Ebert considers games to be an inherently inferior medium – because of the conceit of player choice
§  There is no game worthy of comparison to great art
§  Purpose of art is to make us more civil, compassionate, empathetic
o   A few weeks after GDC last year – Kelly Santiago gave TED talk about games as art (prompted by Ebert’s comments)
§  Talked about Flower, Braid and WACO Resurrection
o   Ebert responded – games can never be art. No gamer currently alive will live to see it
§  No one in or out of field has been able to cite a game worth of comparison to great works of art
§  (Kelly Santiago conceited this within the first minute of her talk)
§  As much as Moriarty loves games, he agrees with this sentiment
o   Ebert eventually admitted later that he never should have said it (although he does believe it)
-          Why are people in games so anxious to wrap themselves in the mantle of great art?
-          The Chess Players
o   Painting by Northcote, 1700s
o   2 guys playing chess, young boy looking at viewer, dog in corner
o   The boy becomes the center of attention because he is ignoring the game, and looking at you
o   More on this later…
-          Historically, games and sports have never been regarded as art
o   Philosophy considers games as categorically different
o   Natural to assume games all move into this pantheon of art
§  But! Games are ancient
§  They aren’t new technology like film or photography
§  Are analogue games less artistic than new games? If Go and Chess aren’t art, how can Missile Command be?
§  Are we so willing to refuse the wisdom of ages for the sake of our egos?
-          Most movies aren’t art
o   “Hardly any movies are art.” – Ebert
o   “Most of the movies we enjoy are not art.” – Kale
o   (2 of worlds great film critics)
-          Sublime Art – (Art with a capital “A”)
o   Art that’s good for you
o   Worthy of lifetime of contemplation
-          What is Art?
o   Some consider art to be anything that elicits emotion
§  Can end this idea pretty easily by seeing horrible videos of cute animals being killed
o   Is art something that is attractive?
§  Common attractions vs. sublime attractions
-          Enter Kitsch!
o   Highly charged with stock emotions
o   Simple ideas, automatic response
o   You know how you’re supposed to feel about James Dean or horses running on the beach
o   Instantly and effortlessly identifiable surface art
o   Does not enrich our associates related to subjects – not innovative
o   All popular art is kitsch
o   Could anyone be more familiar with what happens when commercial pressure is applied to a medium than Ebert?
§  COD Black Ops – doesn’t innovate, but doesn’t have to – well oiled machine
§  COD made more money than any game faster because it didn’t try to challenge us
o   This is product art – kitsch art
o   It’s not bad art, it’s commercial art - time tested, good for business
-          By contrast - Sublime art is fragile
o   In great literature, there is the idea of “That word and no other in that place and no other”
o   Sublime art is always relevant (or not at all) never subject of nostalgia
-          Kitsch is often regarded as art and celebrated
o   Camp = celebration of kitsch
o   We shouldn’t expect publicly traded companies to create anything other than kitsch
-          What about Indies?
o   They only have a little wiggle room
o   Really have much bigger risks involved – they HAVE to succeed
-          Danger in trying to create an art game – tend to just create an arty game
o   Not an excuse never to try
-          Back to the painting: The dog is in the painting because someone asked for it
-          Tools & tech for games is slippery
o   Film remained unchanged (largely) for 150 years
o   Compare this to the 4 decades of games – tech and business are constantly changing so fast and so much
o   How can anyone create in such a maelstrom
-          Last reason for failure – is there an intrinsic reason why games can’t be art?
o   Arthur Schopenhauer
§  Romanticist, believed in the idea of “Wille zum Leber” (will to live)
§  We are constantly willing ourselves to attain our goals but are constantly disappointed
o   Schopenhauer believed that the goal of art is to transcend the will
§  Thought that striving towards art is one of the noblest professions
§  Contemplation of sublime art is a door to perspective on reality, and a glimpse to what we really are
·         Bob Dylan – the purpose of art is to stop time
o   Choice is a fundamental expression of will (choice is what games are) – how can this be used to transcend will, when will is what you’re expressing to do it?
-          Sublime art is like a toy
o   no rules, goal, or purpose
o   All art is quite useless
-          The justification of art is the internal combustion that it ignites within the heart
o   Gradual lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity
-          Moriarty’s definition of art – “the still advocation of the inexpressible” 
-          Recreation is not a waste of time
-          All sublime art is devotional
-          Games didn’t need to be great art to get here – they just needed to be great fun