conferences games design GDC 2008

GDC08: Scattershots of play – potential of indie games – 2


A very broad range of ideas on what should shape game design at a fundamental level. I greatly enjoyed this for the way it jumped to a bunch of related but competing ideals and perspectives.

Also very interesting for including a 20-minute section on How to Design for Alternate Reality Games (not billed as such, but that’s what it was: a theory on how to think when designing ARGs).


Section 1: Flow, and how to evaluate games

Section 2: Games break down into inputs and outputs
Section 3: Theories of design for Alternate Reality Games


[1] Kellee Santiago
[2] John Mak
[3] Pekko Koskinen

My own occasional commentary is in [ square brackets ]

Section 2: Games break down into inputs and outputs

Graphics over gameplay, AND gameplay over graphics don’t actually mean anything

Games break down into inputs and outputs. The game doesn’t exist without outputs, nor without inputs, so it’s meaningless to ask which is “most important”.

[Adam: I think you need to play ProgessQuest more… :P. Although I innately agree with this, or used to for many years, PQ eventually persuaded me that this was more of a personal self-delusion than a truism. Useful, but definitely NOT the full picture.]

You need to recognise that it’s not a game if there’s no ownership of inputs; you see something happen, and feel that’s it because of something you did.

Guitar Hero (GH) sucks because pressing a button when you have to isn’t owning any outputs, only owning an input. But … by giving you rock music when you press the butons, it DOES give you an output to own.

I had a sucky game that I was prototyping, and thought it was just really boring, I’d never pay for it, and then I added some cool graphics, and suddenly …it actually became really enjoyable. So I realised that graphics are actually essential.

I did a simple test where you could just jump high and low (small red ball on white bg).

All I did next was map every interaction to some kind of output.

Jumping made you squish narrowly, and when you move left and right a propeller on top rotates. Landing makes you squash out as you splat. Exponential decay on the animation of propeller.

All the gameplay rules are EXACTLY the same, but somehow it’s suddenly more compelling, and that’s what’s been blowing my mind.

[c.f. freecraft – try the early releases where no-one had created copyright-free art yet, so it was all just magenta blobs versus green blobs, and although the ruleset was standard Warcraft 2, the game itself sucked ass]

[c.f. Pixar’s very earliest animation work, the mini-story of the angle-poise lamp – look at how much inferred meaning humans can get out of the simplest of graphics, but they need SOME clues as to intent; in the pixar animation, the angle of the lamp, the speed of movement, and the direction of the light beam give you just enough to anthropomorphise it]


Its interesitng because I’ve seen a lot of designers wrestling with this, they feel the publisher isn’t creative, and doesn’t “get” the vision, and it’s because they’re showing the plain simple boxes and lineart version.

I think I see that there’s a certain amount of graphics that you need to even show your basic vision.


If you can’t see it, then it isn’t there.

The game developers are sort of projecting the gameplay, the feedback especially into the game that they know is going to be there, but isn’t there yet, because they have a library of this stuff in their head and know what it will be.


I’m wondering what is the level at which skinning the same mechanics does lead to a different experience, a different game.

What are we innovating on, how much is actually necessary innovation.


We talk about games as expression, and then go into the technical stuff. But I think a lot of the expression is simply “what you see and what you hear”.

Rez has very simple gameplay, not much expression, but the expression in fact IS how the visuals and audios all come together.

What if Call of Duty 3 (COD3) had Rez graphics? I realised that I would go from thinking it was boring and dull, to thinking that it was all about outputs, and that was when I started.


Much of the gameplay is seeing the difference between what you expected to happen when you did something, and what actually happened.

If you see exactly what you expected, then it’s dull.

If you see nothing like what you expected, then it’s ??? pointless??? [didnt hear this clearly]

The audio-visual are part of this feedback, they actualise the feedback. That’s the only way we get to see into the [FSM] of the game to see how it’s reacting to our actions, and to what extent.

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