Friday, March 09, 2012

The GDC 2012 Summary: 3 takeaways from each talk

Game Developers Conference has come and gone for 2012, but my write up has not.  Like last year, I'm going to highlight my personal top 3 takeaways from each talk.  Once again, my summaries are focused on the Independent Games Summit.  For a variety of reasons, I find the content of the talks in this summit to be relevant to developers both large and small and I intend on focusing on the Indie Games Summit for the foreseeable future.  Attending a single summit makes my schedule easy to follow and frees me up to network and catch up with old friends for the rest of the week.

Learning to QWOPerate - Bennett Foddy (
  • Bennett loves griefing players and players love being confused, humiliated, and frustrated.
  • He also loves controls analagous to game verbs and feels that not enough games are doing this (examples include Marble Madness arcade, Paperboy arcade, Wii Sports).
  • Suggests developers make multiple games and should not assume failure early on.  Each game adds to total revenue and eyeballs.
Folk Games, Festivity, and Subversive Game Design - Doug Wilson (Die Gut Fabrik)
  • The appeal of folk games is the joy of subversion.
  • Folk games are simple, require common equipment, spread by word of mouth, encourage "house rules, and are physical and silly.
  • Motion control technology isn't great, so embrace the limitations.  The idea is not for technology to improve games, but rather how games can improve technology.
  • Collaboration was the key to success.  Vision is easier when everyone is collaborating regularly.
  • Sworcery was originally intended to be finished in 10 months.  At 7-8 months it felt halfway finished and Capy almost panicked to push the game out to keep it on budget and schedule.
  • Making a risky game on iOS isn't really that risky.  Target 100 percent of the 1 percent of people you think will be interested in your game.
Ponycorns: Catching Lightning in a Jar - Ryan Henson Creighton (Untold Entertainment)
  • Ryan wanted to make a game with his 5 year old daughter at a game jam to make up for being so busy with work.  She came up with the characters, drew all the art, and performed all the voice acting.
  • While he managed to generate a lot of press, he ended up 6k in the hole, although he was able to raise 3k for his daughter's college fund.
  • He felt passionate about making games into a family business and teaching young children to code in order to encourage a new generation of game developers to start at an early age.
Trail-er Blazing: Creating the Trailers your Game Deserves! - Kert Gartner (Independent)
  • Get people hooked on the trailer quickly. Almost half the audience is gone after 60 seconds.
  • Focus your trailer around one core concept. Don't try to tell the story, all the platforms, tone, awards, etc. Just make sure people walk away knowing something relevant and important about your game.
  • Tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Build towards an awesome climax
The Pursuit of Indie Happiness - Aaron Isaksen (Indie Fund, LLC)
  • When you work less, you get more done. Flashbang worked 4 hours a day, Mojan does 8.
  • Focus on the work you want to do. Outsource features you don't like and cut features.
  • Don't overdo it - create a realistic schedule with obtainable goals and don't check email at night.
Nuke it from Orbit: Making of Atom Zombie Smasher - Brendon Chung (Blendo Games)
  • It's important to make games that are personal. Flotilla was a personal message about his terminally ill grandmother. Atom Zombie Smasher was a personal message against corporate politics.
  • An early version of Atom Zombie Smasher had a lot of unnecessary pre-game steps such as research and building.
  • The board game "make a game" workshop made him create a smaller prototype in less time, and helped him discover the simplicity.
Cubes All the Way Down: Fez Technical Postmortem - Renaud Bedard (Polytron)
  • Fez was made with XNA, which has a number of limitations, but Renaud couldn't have done Fez in C++.
  • If he had to do it over again, he would have used Unity or hired an engine programmer.
  • Phil dictated the design, but Renaud pushed back when features took too long or were beyond his abilities. He wanted to support the auteur while finishing a great game.
The Failure Workshop - Jamie Cheng (Klei Entertainment), Steve Swink (Enemy Airship), Scott Anderson (Enemy Airship), Colin Northway (Fantastic Contraption), Ron Carmel (2D BOY) and Amir Rao (Supergiant Games)
  •  The developers of Bastion spent 1 year trying to build a planting and gardening system that was tied into upgrading. They threw it out and found that a menu worked better.
  • Shadow Physics failed as a result of a low budget and a high budget target in addition to a drive towards fame and fortune over great gameplay.
  • The developer of Fanatastic Contraption spent 4 years making the game while exploring a lot of ideas. In the end, he learned to focus on the ripest fruit and knowing when to quit.
The Indie Composer Speaks - Laura Shigihara, Danny Baranowsky, Rich Vreeland
  • Laura is inspired by complex NES game music such as the Gravity Man stage of Mega Man 5. She manually enters all notes into the software she uses.
  • Rich sees robust tools as a way to enable to the possibility for audio to act as an extension of game design. Give audio people good tools and you will have better audio.
  • Danny advises that you get to know your composer well enough to understand when to apply pressure and when to back off. Deadlines are helpful.
Clones: Advancing the discussion (Vlambeer)
  • Cloning hurts the industry and discussion on clones has stalemated.
  • Cloning causes a loss of faith in the medium and a loss of literacy.
  • We should improve literacy and build a foundation for originality. Offer insight into our process, protect open development, and spread and multiply.
Galcon: A Quest for the Perfect Triangle - Phil Hassey (Galcon)
  • The first version of Galcon was developed as a child in Ascii. The second version was a web game.
  •  The third version was a Ludum Dare entry and the version that became a hit was an iOS game. Iteration is important.
  • All other non-Galcon games are not making money.
Designing for Friendship Shaping Player Relationships with Rules and Freedom - Chris Bell (Chris Bell Design)
  • Chris was inspired by the spontaneous bond between strangers that sometimes forms. His specific experience was during a trip to Tokyo where he lost track of time at a fish market and a stranger hurried to help him catch his bus.
  • In Journey, call and response behavior enables flying power. This creates a dance between strangers.
  • To make a connection requires an investment and responsibility with high stakes and real consequences.  There is also empathy, vulnerability, free choice, teaching, and communication.
Middleware vs. Build Your Own - Alexander Bruce (Antichamber), John Edwards (thatgamecompany)
  • If a game can't get on every platform, that's bad, but not finishing is worse.
  • Engines create leaky abstractions. Shooter engines make shooter games.
  • Tech isn't the problem. It took 3 years to make Braid, Castle Crashers, and World of Goo. Design was the hard problem.
A Strategic Approach to Crowdfunding Julie Coniglio (Awkward Hug) and Cindy Au (Kickstarter)
  • Most referrers are category discover, then live search, then thanks page of other funded games
  • The top external referrers are BoardGameGeek, then Facebook, then Twitter, then Google, then Reddit
  • When making your video be honest, sincere, get straight to the point, and establish your credibility
Indie Soapbox Session Ben Ruiz (Team Colorblind), Hanford Lemoore (Maquette), Matthew Wegner (Flashbang Studios), Rob Jagnow (Lazy 8 Studios), Tom Francis (Suspicious Developments), Phil Fish (Polytron), Mike Meyer (Independent), Alexander Bruce (Antichamber), Mike Boxleiter (Mikengreg), Steph Thirion (Little Eyes) and Raigan Burns (Metanet Software Inc.)
  • Game developers aren't doing enough to make tools better. We should look to other industries to see how we can improve, such as the way the web community embraced Ruby on Rails.
  •  Chase down opportunities when you can. Alexander Bruce ran into a series of people at TGS he didn't expect to, including Simon Carless, Mark Rein, and Steve Swink.
  • IGF success doesn't matter. Hard work is what makes you a superstar.