On January 19th, 2013 I was given the opportunity to volunteer at this year’s Game Design Expo, which presented some fantastic guest speakers from all around the games industry, giving their take on some fascinating topics. When I wasn’t chatting up other attendees, setting up presentation booths, passing around microphones like an Olympic torch bearer, or snagging a few chocolate croissants (I’m addicted, now), I had a chance to attend some of the presentations held by the speakers throughout the day.
It’s been a week since the Game Design Expo, and I’ve had a lot of time to soak in what Industry Speaker Day day contained, and to allow the mass amount of information to stew around in my brain like a game design tea-bag. But I find myself resonating with one particular talk given by a very off-the-wall, yet incredibly personable individual. The man I speak of is Patrick Plourde, the Creative Director at Ubisoft, whose latest project, Far Cry 3, has earned much attention and acclaim these past few months.
Unfortunately, and ironically, due to the nature of being a game design student, I haven’t had a spare moment to play Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3, but I have played Far Cry 2, and the differences between the two are plain as day.
Patrick Plourde had a chance to briefly speak about his experience working on Far Cry 3, and how he went about creating something dramatically different from it’s predecessor by relying on influences and interests in his own life. However, the talk Patrick gave wasn’t just about how he tackled the creation of Far Cry 3, it was something much more.
A Creative Director is a tough job to describe and its definition can be a little blurry, but looking through Patrick’s eyes it becomes a little easier to understand. It involves a lot of outside-the-box thinking — and one of those moments occurred when Patrick tried to sell us on the notion of creating a game based on the movie Precious.
Going into further detail, Patrick used real-game mechanics and examples to really place what is otherwise an absurd game idea into a more real context. Although it’s a bit of a stretch, Patrick went so far as to compare the gross profits of Precious to other Hollywood blockbusters such as Conan the Barbarian (the reboot of course, no one can touch Arnold) and The Eagle. As Patrick put it, we’re trying to “enable players to live somebody else’s life”, and a game based on the emotional powerhouse that is Precious draws in a much deeper connection than does being a muscle-bound warrior day in and day out.
Straight out of the pan and into the fire with the crazy game ideas, Patrick went on to talk about utilizing the technology we have right now to create a fun dating game — In a nutshell: Speed dating with the Xbox Kinect. Many would scoff at the idea of a “dating sim” that could read facial expressions and voice tones in order to track dialogue options in the vein of Mass Effect — I know I did. But Patrick delved deeper into this notion by working with a Quebec-based University to detail facial tracking, like something you’d see out of Lie to Me (in fact, I recall seeing a picture or two of Tim Roth). Although a lot of the data and research seemed to conclude that we’re not very close to producing a game of that caliber, Patrick did not seem deterred — he believes that we could see the technology capable of doing so in the near future. And that’s the one of the major points consistently made through this crazy case study: the industry is always evolving and growing, and as game designers it’s our job to plan for what’s ahead and to provide experiences that are always one step ahead of the curve.
In the end, that’s what really keeps me thinking about Patrick’s presentation. Growing up from a young age as an aspiring game designer, I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me I’d be learning how to make full-fledged gaming experiences on cell phones. Being raised on the ideals of cartridges and memory cards meant the thought of playing the games we have today on a phone seemed impossible to me just five years ago. But now, advances in areas of graphic rendering, motion controls, sensory immersion and social gaming are creating platforms for game designers to do great and wonderful things. And Patrick can see how we, as creative thinkers and creators, need to design those experiences for what we could have and not always just for what we already have. It’s that philosophy that draws me towards a career as a Creative Director, and Patrick’s insight has made that definition and dream a little clearer.