GDC: Bite-Sized Concepts of Fun

GDC: Bite-Sized Concepts of Fun

Game designers have a lot of abstract ideas that often do not fit into the confines of a typical Game Developer Conference panel. That’s why Richard Lemarchand, a game designer at Naughty Dog, hosted a series of Microtalks Thursday morning that allowed game industry thinkers to espouse about a “concept of fun” for 10 minutes. Here are the highlights:

John Sharp, Professor of Interactive Design at Savannah School of Art and Design

Sharp’s chosen topic was the primacy of play. He walked the audience through the history of play, noting that Plato and Socrates believed play was an experience worthy of being explored on its own merits. Roman historian Tacitus, says Sharp, noted that soldiers were obsessed with games of chance and were willing to gamble away their freedom for the sake of play. Knowing the game "Go" in Japan is a sign of great respect. Games provide an experience different than what anything else does, he says. And that play has value.

N’Gai Croal, Consultant at Hit Detection

Don’t alienate game audiences through assigned difficulty, says Croal. Prince of Persia came under fire with Elika’s save mechanic because it took away a player’s ability to control how difficult the game experience was. He hints that the standardized difficulty settings–easy, difficult and hard–are dinosaurs. Games should instead allow gamers to choose their own difficulty setting based either on a conscious choice between risk and reward or based on a player’s real-time display of skill.

Clint Hocking, Creative Director at Ubisoft

Hocking delivered a passionate rant against the 100 point review system, arguing that critics should adopt a five star rating system instead. His argument is that the 100 point rating system cultivates the “cult of 90”– people who are automatically elevated to elite status by achieving this score. And since there is publisher pressure for developers to obtain a high score, the developers pressure critics for higher scores, and the whole system leads to score inflation.

Right now, Hocking says he can only compare contemporary games (say Metal Gear Solid 4 with Grand Theft Auto IV), and can not compare game historically (Splinter Cell versus Splinter Cell Chaos Theory) based on score. Hocking needs to be able to do that to do his job, he exclaimed. He believes that that the five star system relieves some of that pressure from review scores and put an end to score inflation. Then, he says, we can develop meaningful and thoughtful analysis instead of what the dubs “a comically absurd arms race.”

Jenova Chen, Creative Director at thatgamecompany

Since their inception, games have been built on the back of technology. Therefore, like early film, games have relied on primal emotions to sell their technology to consumers—stuff like aggression, rage and fear. But Chen poses that games should address the entirety of emotions—all the hues of fun. They should also make us laugh and cry. There is a desire for new user experiences, and it is up to developers to combine emotion, social interaction, and intellectual stimulation in new and exciting ways to engage the whole swath of game players, not simply the hardcore.

Frank Lantz, Creative Director, area/code

Games are not media, says Lantz. Games have been dubbed media because it’s an easy way to compare them to other forms of entertainment. The thinking is that games are media because you put a game into your disc tray in the same way you’d place a DVD into a player he says. But games existed before computers, and will exist after computers. Eventually, says Lantz, at some point computer processing will just be a feature of your game.

Games are also not consumables, he says. There are a lot of opportunities for profit by looking beyond at games as a service, he says. Games are not a medium. They do not carry an idea from one place to another. Instead, they are a conversation between developers and players and game systems. And that is what will propel gaming into an age of meaning, he says.