The seventh VFS Game Design Expo took place over the weekend of January 19-20 2013, and was a sold out success. Industry Speaker Day offered a wide range of speakers and gave the audience a chance to participate in two Panel discussions.
After an introduction by Game Design’s Head of Department Dave Warfield, the day of presentations kicked off with 343 Industries‘s Lead Designer Chris Haluke on The Making of Halo 4’s Episodic Co-op Adventure: Spartan Ops, a great talk that also provided a sneak peak at the latest episode, which launched on Monday January 21.
Chris touched on such matters as the impact of episodic content, as so well developed in The Walking Dead game, and taking cues from the TV show of the same name, as well as Game of Thrones, he sees this narrative approach becoming generally more prevalent with games in the future. Halo 4 picks up on this trend, and with Spartan Ops affords the player an opportunity to dig ever deeper into the Halo Universe.
Next up was Richard Rouse III, Senior Game Designer/Design Lead, Microsoft Game Studios, whose presentation More Than Fun: Balancing Engagement and Meaning in Game Design offered some tips for getting into the game industry — and once again The Walking Dead was referenced as exemplary — This time for its use of Expressive Systems (as was FarCry3). Richard posited the notion that games should worry less about realism and more about playability, that they should let players make interesting choices and provide logical but artful consequences.
One great surprise moment was when Richard asked “Is there a Far Cry 3 Creative Director in the house?” and Patrick Plourde stepped up to speak at length with Richard about what it takes to create “meaningful” game play (e.g., definitely some rule breaking).
Next, Alexandre Mandryka, Design Consultant, Game Whispering, gave a very interesting presentation entitled A Plea for the Social Core Gamer, making observations like “Geek is Chic”, suggesting that game companies can best structure themselves for original content by allowing for the creative tension between order/disorder, conformity/non-conformity, and examining some misconceptions around the free-to-play movement via theories of “the dopamine field”. One very important take-away from his analysis was “gamers need to see to the potential for pleasure — to increase their skill — they like to work for their pleasure.”
Then came the first Panel: Storytelling and Sound Design in Halo 4, moderated by Lead Designer Chris Haluke and featuring VFS graduates from Game Design (Armando Troisi & Cory Hasselbach) and Sound Design (Robbie Elias, Kyle Fraser, Noa Lothian, Daniel Raimo) who all worked on the recently released Halo 4. This was an important occasion to celebrate the essential value of the Sound Designer’s contribution to the game experience, including how it helps to drive play and enrich the narrative.
It was great to hear VFS graduates reminisce about their experience in the program and speak to the value of their education as it related directly to their professional lives. One of my favourite responses to a member of the audience, who wanted to know “what advice would you give to students now developing games with regard to audio”, was from Kyle Fraser, who said simply: “Don’t forget about the audio.”
After lunch, we were treated to an engaging talk by Clive Downie, CEO of DeNA on The Art and Science of Mobile Gaming: Being Consequential in a Transitory World. Clive gave us a brief history of Ngmoco, who pioneered free to play games for the first platform on iOS, leading up to its recent acquisition by DeNA. He focused here on DeNA’s innovative platform Mobage, but underlined that ultimately the reason for their success, and what made their games great, was their observation of the principle that “Content is King — Without it, players won’t come, and they don’t stay.”
The second afternoon presentation was by Tuomas Pirinen, Game Director, Slant Six Games, whose talk was intriguingly entitled, What do Zombies, Bowling Balls, and State-of-the-Art 3D Graphics on Mobile Have in Common? The game had already been met with enthusiasm by members of the audience, who were given a chance to play it in the lobby of the Expo during lunch. Developed on Unity Game Engine, the game met its first challenge “How to make a Zombie game that stands out”, rather neatly — partly because of their choice of platform. The Unity engine allowed them to get into production right away and they used real life users to test every iteration. One nice bit of advice: “If there is a problem, change the game – you cannot change the gamers.” This crazy Grindhouse -like game with a comic book aesthetic and with “gameplay on steroids” definitely had the audience’s attention.
Patrick Plourde, Creative Director, Ubisoft, followed up with an engaging consideration of the New Horizons for Game Design. We have a more detailed post about Patrick Plourde’s presentation coming up in the next couple of days, but we were all struck by Patrick’s notions about the future of AAA games, and his bid for innovation while making sure that you find the work you love to do. The more radical you are with your idea, the better. His suggestions for entertaining absurd ideas in order to produce innovation were sometimes inspired and and sometimes hilarious.
Finally, after a short break, the presentations closed with the Panel looking at The Gaming Press & the Little Guy: How Can Indie, Mobile and Social Devs Be Heard?, which was made up of Wyatt Fossett (Geek Badge Media), Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch (Silicon Sisters), Blaine Kyllo (The Georgia Straight), Shane Neville (Ninja Robot Dinosaur), and moderated by Scott Jones (Electric Playground). This session provided some great insight into notions of how to get your game and/or your company on the public’s radar.
The mixture of media figures and key Indie Game company representatives offered a number of good examples and advice. Indeed, some of the advantages of being an indie company to start with, as suggested by Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch, is that you’re not going to make a game unless you’re passionate about it. She also offered this valuable lesson from when she was first trying to market her company Silicon Sisters: “Here’s a mistake I made: I went to everyone to establish strong relationships, and didn’t do it strategically. Now, it’s important to thank everybody, but it’s very time consuming – you have to manage your time – for me, all that time was wasted because my clientele don’t read the press that I courted. But when it showed up in Elle magazine, that’s when it got traction.”
After the final panel ended, a reception followed, allowing participants to speak more informally with the diverse group of presenters and panelists. Some great video interviews were shot during the reception and throughout the day, which are being gradually featured on the Game Design Expo website — so keep tuned for more great content.
Congratulations to everyone, and a big thank you to all the participants, and the fantastic crew of Game Design volunteers. We’ll be hearing about their experience at the Expo in the days to come.