Blog Archive

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

GDC 2008 Diary Day 5 (friday)

On the last and fifth day of GDC my energy started to run out, but i managed to bounce up early enough to get to

Designing Conflict Resolution without Combat
Gordon Walton
Designing Conflict Resolution without Combat
...and to:
Hitting the Jackpot in the MMO Game Space
Allen Partridge
Hitting the Jackpot in the MMO Game Space Allen Partridge

... but didn't really wake up until
Defeating Designer's Block, Tools to Boost Creative Output – Part 2: Putting the ideas into Practice
Graeme Ankers
This was an excellent session. My notes won't do it justice so i recommend downloading their presentation when it comes online. I photographed some slides for my own memory.


At 12.00 I faced the difficult decision of either going to listen to rants, or to go listen to what Damien Shubert had to say about writing game design documents. In the end i figured that the rant would probably be live blogged anyway so I could read what was said later, and I really wanted to hear Shubert. I heard a speech by him at the Austin game conference in 2005 with was excellent (about what VW designers can learn from casinos) so i found myself hobbling towards west 2001.

Writing Great Design Documents

Damion Schubert
I was not disappointed, Shubert's speech was practical, down to earth, and very sensible. A lot of it may seem like common sense and "hey I already knew that" but how come not all GDDs are prefect then? Shubert has been kind enough to share his slides here.

Damion Schubert

Regarding the rants, Liz Lawley posted extensive notes about the rant on Terranova! Thanks for that!

After a very quick lunch (picking out the meat from one of them lunch boxes) I tried to hurry off to the hotel for a power nap. I wasn't sure if my throat was sore from speaking in loud environments or if i had a flue coming (it was a flue). But I ran into Victor, also tired, and we came to the rational conclusion that one might never rise from a nap, and that a screwdriver contains c-vitamins.
Victor and me

Next i had a meeting with the company HumanNature and the team behind a gorgeous personality test game for the DS. I fell in love. So instead of listening to Raph Koster's speech about Meta Place (again trusting in Koster's own documentation to be available later) i just played and played and asked and asked.
Team behind personality game for DS

The AI Dinner in the evening was very enjoyable. I both got to talk to people I wanted to speak to and to people I there and then realized i wanted to have conversations with.
AI Dinner

Later on I joined a bunch of people who knew how to end the conference in style:
by playing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

GDC 2008 Diary Afternoon Day4 (Thursday)

On my way to lunch I ran in to Olivier Lejade who agreed with me on the lameness of the Future of MMO panel, but who said that Chris Hecker's speech on Structure vs Style had been fantastic. I missed out on that - Michael Mateas had also recommended Hecker's speech. That will be the first one I check out when all the slides are put online next week.

For lunch i was in for a historic moment. Michael Mateas and Mike Sellers are on my top-two list of the most intelligent persons in the world who not only in thought focus on the most interesting topics in there world but also hands on build things that will be crucial for the future of mediated experiences. There you have it, and I'm not exaggerating.
Mike Sellers and Michael Mateas

As i was about to scoot off to the next session on my list i gave Elina Ollila a call to see how she was doing with her flue. Not too well, so i went to buy some thai food for her. She had been too sick to deliver her keynote for the mobile track on Tuesday and had missed out on the whole conference. That should not be allowed to happen!
Elina with flue
Here Elina is showing the video parts of her presentations that wouldn't port over to my computer. Everything i know about user testing i have learned from her in some way or another, and i continue to learn from her work. She my guru!

Next I went to the AI roundtable
Artificial Intelligence in Computer Games (Day2)
Neil Kirby and Steve Rabin
which was so popular it had flowed over to a second room.
Topics that were thouched upon:
  • gesture recognition
  • NPL
  • reasoning under uncertainty
  • reputation systems
  • middleware (if any uses them)
  • LOD
  • Emotion
  • Multiagent coop such as squad behavior (Fear was mentioned)
  • game theory economics
  • storytelling <---> simulation

ai roundtable

Dinner gave me the chance to catch up properly with Sam Lewis who I haven't met since ACE06 in Hollywood.
sam lewis
Sam was kind enough to accompany me to the speaker's party - i hate entering parties alone - those few first minutes of disorientation you know.
Turned out to be another night of great conversations and good laughs. And we got balloons!
me and bob has balloons

GDC 2008 Diary Morning Day4 (Thursday)

I started out with a breakfast meeting with Mike Sellers from Online Alchemy. This was one of my highlight of the conference. You probably know that feeling of meeting a universe of ideas that is chillingly familiar to ones own but yet different. I get that when speaking to Mike.

I made it to the second half of
The Next 20 Years of Gaming
Ray Kurzweil

keynote, singulariites

A few random notes:
  • RK showed a number diagrams with similar curves. (exponential growth)
  • Do we have the SW to simulate the human brain?
  • uncanny/creepy valley
  • first phase - demented (simulated) humans
  • turing test was based on language
  • language + intelligence
  • Brain Scans -> can we understand the data.
  • Maybe our brains can't understand themselves?
  • Visual cortex, cerebellum, skill formation, the calculations needed to catch a flying ball.
  • In 20 years we will have more knowledge about our brains. Means to simulate human intelligence. Our learning will happen through virtual environments.
  • Self organizing systems. Speech synthesis.
  • Ended session with a speech synthesis, translation of the words "In a few years everyone will be able to talk to anyone"
The extensive use of diagrams showing exponential growth reminded me of Kelly who was so popular a few years ago. I noted down the word Singularity and thought about the Hello Kitty Singularity in one of C Stross's books. I thought about one of Marvin Minsky's texts where he too wondered whether we humans are capable of understanding our own brains. I thought about the fact that USC recently hired Damasio. I also realized I haven't read RKs books, so I ordered them - one is on singularity, the other on spiritual mashines.

Next I made it to
Future of MMOs
Jack Emmert, Min Kim, Ray Muzyka, Mark Jacobs, Rob Pardo and Jon Wood

future of mmos

I took extensive notes listening to this panel, but now when I read through them I dont find them very interesting. The panelists were asked the following questions:
1. There is a trend to use existing IPs. Will it be possible to dev without IP?
2. Platforms, consoles. Is it necessary to make cross-platform development?
3. Micropayments or subscriptions in the US?
4. It is getting more and more expensive to build MMO's. Will it be possible to dev without a monster budget?

Well doh. We all know the the answers tho those questions so i won't write down the obvious answers. The panelists did the best what they could with those lame questions. Such a waste of a good panel to not go beyond the obvious.

...But that's just me. Liz Lawley put her notes up on Terranova, and ill read those later to see if i have missed something.

Personally i would have found themes that went outside the sphere of revenues, IPs and platforms more interesting for the future of MMO's, such as:
  • The future develempment of the avatar - online personas (and maybe touching on the rights of avatars)
  • The future of meaningful experiences tied to thematic content in MMOs (individual stories etc)
  • The future of game mastering in MMOs
  • The future design of conflict resolution without combat (the topic of Gordon Waltons Roundtable)
  • ...etc...etc..

GDC 2008 Diary Day 3 (wednesday)

I ended up having an enjoyable social morning, starting with a breakfast at Lauries with Mike, Patricia, and papa Mike,
Patricia, Mike and Mike
Once I reached the convention centre i ran into George,
and we continued an old conversation about hedgehog mating rituals, concluding that we all are but humping soufflés. One of my favorite conversations of the day.

After some more random conversations I made it into the session
Rules of Engagement: Blizzard's Approach to Multiplayer Game Design
Rob Pardo

Rules of Engagement: Blizzard's Approach to

Pardo stressed the importance of using the Beta for design iterations, and recommended boosting features to start with. That way players really use them, so there is feedback. Easier to downplay them later than the opposite. He also recommended to not make changes to often. To not panic - players often find their way around features that at first seem impossible from the player's perspective.
He made an example of battleground balancing. Alliance players win the battleground Alterac Valley 95 times of hundred, and loose Arathi Basin 90 times of 100. Therefore players are rewarded honor points also when they loose, though not as much as if they had won. I guess that an obvious question to this would be - why not balance the battlegrounds so players don't have to go in there knowing that they will loose? But since the question is so obvious I am sure it is thought of already.
When it comes to maps Pardo and his team prefer pre-made maps to generated ones - it gives more control and players can learn them more easily.
On match making Pardo recommended "fewer buckets". If there are too many criteria to fill for match making players may end up not finding anyone to play with.

Pardo showed many colorful slides which I photographed.

I had lunch with Ghodrat and Kenton from Distil Interactive that are doing some very interesting stuff which i will dip into.

Pollinating the Universe: User-generated Content in SPORE

Caryl Shaw
Caryl Shaw showed web features that let spore players share their inventions through webpages. What blew my socks of was when she showed the music editor.

I couldn't concentrate properly since Gamestudies Download 3.0 was at the same time, so i surrendered and ran over to that session.

Game Studies Download 3.0
Jane McGonigal, Ian Bogost and Mia Consalvo

Game Studies Download 3.0

I didn't get there in time to hear the whole presentation, but luckily the slides can be found online at Jane McGonigal's website.
I recommend browsing through the slides, the selection of research results is spot on. I was especially glad they included the work of Aki Järvinen, and work by the people at the Hypermedia lab, it deserve a bigger audience. And I got to add to my reading list, always welcome.

Between sessions I ran into Sam Lewis, who is not only a friend but one of my advisors. We hopped into
Collaborative Writing and Vast Narratives: Principles, Processes, and Genteel Truculence
Ken Rolston and Mark Nelson
Collaborative Writing and Vast Narratives:
Rolston and Nelson had a lot if interesting things to say, and I photographed some slides, but again I found it diffucult to concentrate. I was so curious to see the MMO Sam has been designing for Cartoon Network, so eventually i surrendered to that and we scurried away to the press room so I could try it out.
Sam Lewis
It was pretty amazing to see the game design i first tried on pen and paper 2 years ago form on the screen.

For dinner I met up with my colleagues from Gotland University again, our professor Steven Bachelder had arrived, and I was eager to get to talk to them again. This is Steven:
Steven Bachelder
After dinner my jet lagged colleagues went for a nap while i scampered away to the Marriot for a quick drink with Ren and friends of his before the evening party.
I found them deep in conversation about zombies and bottled water:
Bottled water menu

The Nordic game party featured a concert by Skid Row
Skid Row Concert

Among others I found Jesper Juul there, and TL, and my former colleague Johan Peitz who is here to show his new game with his company Muskedunder (coolest company name ever in my opinion.)

Jesper Juul Johan Peitz

I listened a little while until i scooted off to a bar where the EIS lab had settled down.

GDC 2008 Diary Afternoon Day 2 (tuesday )

I caught the last minutes of
Learning to Love Virtual Item Sales
Speaker(s): Andrew Schneider (Live Gamer), Steve Goldstein (Ping0)
Time: 3:30pm - 4pm

Q: Loans?
A: Nooo!

Hallmarks of a Legitimate Secondary Market

Socioeconomics in Online Worlds
Moderator: Michael Zenke (Slashdot Games)
Panelist(s): Eyjólfur Guðmundsson (CCP Inc.), Craig Sherman (Gaia Online), John
Bates (MindArk)
Time: 4:15pm - 5pm

Socioeconomics in Online Worlds

Q: Is RTM (Real Money Trade) a cover-up for bad design? Players paying their way out of boredom?
A: The market is big... Look at the number of Youtube users vs WoW. //answer didn't make much sense to me, but there it was.
Q: The three most important factors of success for Gaia?
A: 1)Listening to the users. And making changes that we think are "wrong", taking the advice from players //exact opposite of what Bartle recommends
2)Communication with the players. For example we needed to explain why we needed to have in-game advertising. The players understood, but needed the discussion.
3) Luck. Users found us despite we didn't advertise much.

I found my colleagues from Gotland University and had a wonderful reunion. How I have missed them!
Jacob, Marcus, Don Fredrik

After dinner i went to the Marriot to catch up with the wonderful bunch of people i got to know at project horsesoe - it turned out to be a nice evening with lots of game grammar!

GDC 2008 Diary Morning Day 2 (tuesday )

I wanted to go to listen to Jeffrey Steefel at Turbine since i am still impressed by the social system that was built into Acheron's Call. It was pure genius to use experience points as a carrot for encouraging "old" players to help out new players. The social system was pyramidical. Each player chose a patron. The patron on top became the guild leader. This meant that each patron had to earn the trust of his of her followers, creating a guildstructure based on individal trust in layers. This is probably a bad explanation, but it is so many years since i played AC. You who built it and played it know what I mean. Anyway, this is why I was so curious about listening to:

Gaming's Future Via Online Worlds
Speaker(s): Jeffrey Steefel (Turbine)
Time: 10am - 11am
LORD OF THE RINGS ONLINE developer Turbine has been quietly implementing some best-of-breed virtual world and social networking elements into its fantasy MMO for some time, and the company's passionate about evolving the multiplayer experience based on lessons on user engagement, connectivity and user-generated content that have come out of the virtual worlds movement. Executive producer Jeffrey Steefel will provide some exciting examples of how users in any sphere can respond to and invest in these innovative ideas.


I listened to the speech, but part of me is wondering if I missed something, because after some initial comments about the nature of virtual worlds MMO's and sandboxes, and the sweetspot between structure and freedom, Stefeel went on to describing how Turbine in the LOTR have enabled players to use web pages. Ie tied in a wiki like structure of player created information into the game. He also described the music system where player can choose an instrument and play it on the keyboard.
This was of course very cool, and I clearly had the wrong expectations when i started to listen. An interesting feature though that was highlighted during the QA, was that players could through multiple character gather "destiny points" that could be used on a character of choice.

In the break i ran into 3 exceptionally talented people:
Mike, Chris and Raph
and Mike had the courtesy to take some time off his very busy schedule to give me a reality check on an endeavor I'm planning to undertake.


GDC 2008 Diary Aftenoon Day 1 (monday)

I made it to

Multiverse: From the Field
Speaker(s): Corey Bridges & Rafhael Cedeno (Multiverse)
Time: 4:45pm - 5:30pm

I have been following Multiverse's work since i first got to know about them through a press release, i think it may have been two years ago. I am fond of their philosophy and approach: the revenue model is based on sharing future income from a game when it starts to gain revenue, not before. There is also a preparation for trading of media assets between developers.
Here is a slide showing a few games currently under development on the Multiverse platform:
multiverse slide

Besides multiverse i find Raph Kosters Meta Place intersting, as well as the Unity engine.
In the QA after the speech it was mentioned that Militverse are putting a special effort into the avatar parts, which renewed my interest.

Immediately next:
Habbo's Huge Success
Speaker(s): Sulka Haro (Sulake)
Time: 5:30pm - 6pm

I remember so well when I, a few years ago, spoke to someone from Sulake who humbly explained that Habbo Hotel was a retro inspired virtual world for teenagers and that people do a lot of role playing there... so that I might find it interesting from that point of view. Coming home i created an account and did some web searching... finding that, at that point in time, they had 10 millions users. I couldn't believe my eyes - how could i have missed something so huge!?
Today it is even more huge. Sulka Haro told us that Sulake expect to break the 100 million user wall during 2008.
Habbo Hotel started in Finland, and now basically 100% of the Finnish teenagers at some point log in to Habbo. I wonder how that will impact the future culture, to have such a generally shared cultural experience. People who, later in their life, find that they can bond with strangers by locating each other in the memory of the virtual space of Habbo.
Sulka Haro affirmed that the inhabitants of Habbo do spend much more energy role playing than players of MMOs such as WoW.

In the evening
we went to some parties (microsoft and zeemote) that had open bars but very loud music, so we quickly dashed off to dinner. Ended the evening at Marriot with interesting discussions and giggles.
IMG_1957 View from Marriot 39

GDC 2008: Our Panel: Cross-Institution Projects to Broaden Projects and Courses

After lunch on monday I was part of the panel:

Cross-Institution Projects to Broaden Projects and Courses

Stephen Jacobs (RIT)
Drew Davidson (Carnegie Mellon University), Ann DeMarle
(Champlain), Mirjam Palosaari Eladhari, Mary Flanagan (Hunter College),
Stephane Natkin (ENJMIN), Andrew Phelps (RIT)
2-4pm · Room 122, North Hall

Session Takeaway: A challenge for many institutions is creating a complete game project in a program that does not have all of the elements required to produce one (CS Programs with no artistic educators or talent, for example). Building relationships between game education institutions (or across departments within a given institution) would allow students to work to fill in the facets of a complete game they might not otherwise might not have access to. Beyond just filling in gaps, collaboration across departments and/or institutions offers new points of view, new energy, a broader set of students to draw on and many other benefits. This first half of this session will feature a panel of representatives talking about successful models
and the second half will be opened to the group to discuss how they might be replicated and to develop an on-line resource for facilitating cross departmental and institutional collaboration.

I did not use slides for what i wanted to say, instead i wrote down key words on big sheets of paper. In short, this was my contribution:

Gathering our resources towards the complete polished game project in education and research

A personal observation of sprawling success critera:


Working in the games industry

Success Critera:

1. playable game.


Working in applied research - game production team.

1. Playable game


2. publications of research results


Working in EU funded research project with multiple academic and industrial organisations

1. Playable game

2. publications of research results


3. Possible commecialisation of technologies/producs

4. Learning – for involved students.

Alas, in project with multiple partnes, such as many academic institutions and industrial parners we get multiple goals:

- research result (in form of papers)

- playable product (game prototypes)

- student learning (for student learning is more important than end product)

- commercialization (often needed for industry to legitimize involvement)

- cooperation between organizations (a goal in itself)

The primary challenge in cooperations in consortium with a heterogeneous group of organizations as members is the different traditions of success criteria. Added to that geographical distance, lack of knowledge of each other, multiple mandates or lacking mandates creates a lot of minor challenges. Crucial to remember is the responsibility the organizations have to the possibly participating students. They may never be used as cheap labor. Such a cooperation need to be monitored closely to make sure that the student has a learning experience. It is often necessary that the student is capable of taking on responsibility and is able to communicate early and clearly.

In the morass of multiple goals, success criteria and challenges projects for education and research has a BIG PROBLEM:

The lack of resources for game production.

For students the finishing thesis in the form of text often take precedence.

For researchers the publication of a paper takes precedence.


The complete (polished) game projects produced are few!

(With a lot of good exceptions, some shown by members of this panel.)

In the short run there may not be so much to do about the traditions that gives different success criteria, and in consortium driven project lots of challenges can be met by project managers from hell.

But WHAT WE CAN DO is to gather our recourses. There are good models to borrow from indie development.

We could for example create resources for

Forming teams

Students and researchers from different organisations could search for others with their passion in particular niches.

Sharing assets

A database giving a matrix of assets sorted according to media type and terms of use.

Sharing experiences

Collections of Post Mortems and pointers to downloads.


All the other panelists showed amazing stuff done at their institutions. If I can locate where the slides are I will link them in here.

As a personal note - when I see what students can accomplish with the limited resources at hand I am always humbled. On Gotland University our students are making tons of games, some of them you can see here:

GDC 2008 Diary Morning Day 1 (monday)

We drove up from Santa Cruz early enough that I could catch the few last minutes of Raph Koster's speech. (Why Gamers should Care about Virtual Worlds)
Totally out of context since i didn't hear what led up to it:
"VW's are a lot of windows"
" Don't only think of the hammer, but what you can build with it. "
Luckily Raph Koster is a master documentalist, so i could update myself on his site:

I also hopped into...
Entertainment Content Convergence in Online Worlds
Speaker(s): Reuben Steiger (Millions of Us)


Heeding the Lessons of Bartle in Socially-Driven Spaces
Speaker(s): Erik Bethke (


...but had difficulties concentrating since i was mentally preparing for being in a panel in the afternoon.


danc TL and me Ren and me