GDC Sessions

by Samm Bennett
While I wrote about my reflections upon GDC as a whole this year, I didn't really comment on any particular sessions. Truth be told, no session really stuck out this year like Creating a Character in DRAKE'S FORTUNE; instead, a collection of speakers sparked my interest and motivation to create games. So, which were they?

Clint Hocking's Fault Tolerance: From Intentionality to Improvisation showed a new flow to have in games, one in which designers stop punishing the player. This flow results from the user creating a plan of action, and then acting upon it over short periods of time, from one to the other. Most games break this flow by forcing intentional gameplay - the player dies and then goes back to some checkpoint. Improvisation suggests the user reflects upon what happen, how it changed the gameworld, etc (creating a new plan), and then acting upon it. While Clint suggested Bioshock accomplished this, I disagree in that the transitions could be smoother.

From CS to L4D: Creating Replayable Coop Experiences was interesting, well, for creating replayable coop experiences. This was likely a full sessions since it's a Valve design session, and rightfully so. The core idea behind the talk was simply force cooperation by punishing those who refuse to work as a team (using mechanics, not some force field, etc), while also creating randomness to break down the group on occasion. Fairly obvious, but I suppose the limited number of good co-op games establish how non-trivial this is (that, or companies are too lazy to change the status quo...).

I recall being disappointed with The Tech Behind the Tools of Insomniac Games, but in retrospective, hearing them discuss how their build system is pretty interesting for someone who has never worked in such large environments.

The GDC Microtalks had the highest idea/time value (not surprising since 10 talks in 1 hour). Jane McGonical's talk was, as always, inspiring and gave me some game design concepts. The topic(s) was/were CZADOF: Confucious Zombie Apocalypse Dance Off Fraction. To sum up, people have fun when doing good, which happens a lot when there's a zombie apocalypse, and enjoy themselves when embarrassing themselves with others. Clint Hocking attacked game review inflation, John Sharp reminded everyone that video games are nothing truly new given the history of games and play, and Eric Zimmerman presented an impromptu game questioning fun. One of my takeaways on Zimmerman's talk: impromptu games + a requirement to cooperate = willingness to open up with strangers.

The Beauty of Destruction was an interesting talk on some pitfalls and lesser known facts about C++ destructors. I found it enjoyable, but would have had a more rewarding experience if I was currently using C++ (obviously). Still, nothing like someone forcing you to question how your memory is managed!

Experimental Gameplay Sessions made me realize I sincerely need to stop criticizing current game mechanics and start prototyping my own. Big motivator, as I now have a goal to present something of my own next year.

State-Based Scipting in Uncharted 2, had a few gems. I was surprised to hear a decorator pattern was used instead of inheritance, although given the cost on the stack, function lookups, and the purpose of the pattern, I suppose it makes sense. Also nice to hear about the message passage system for "threading" events across multiple objects, where dependencies might occur. Really wish I could mod their games, if just to see how Lisp fits in.

And that was my quick explanation of what sessions I attended and thought were notable at this year's GDC. Unfortunately, I missed quite of few very interesting talks due to conflicts with other sessions (such as On the War Path: Tactical AI in Dawn of War 2) and had to order the recorded sessions on DVD.