Game Design Seminar – Weekend Edition

Seminar_03We’ve run the first Game Design Seminar and we’re getting ready to go at it again! After the initial announcement of the seminar it became clear that there was a local demand for training in game design here in Vancouver and that 5 days in a row wouldn’t work for such a busy crowd. This is why adapting the content to make it fit on four days, over two weekends, seemed a winning proposition. Holding it in a central location is also key, and I was very fortunate that East Side Games had agreed to host us in their studio in Gastown. We were able to spend these two weekends in this space, with on-site lunch to optimize time spent and allow for some impromptu networking between the participants. The attendance was composed of people from Black Tusk, Blackbird Interactive, Kabam, Eastside Games, Hothead and Greencod, showing a great representation of our local studios and demonstrating that good game design principles apply to all branches of our industry, AAA, social as well as indie games.

In terms of content, we started by covering the difference between creative direction and game design and exposed the notion of creative process by giving examples of how it helped structure successful projects by aligning business, creative and the different technical disciplines. We then went through the detailed exploration of three main areas of game design: Motivation design, system design and interaction design. Each of these topics were covered through lectures using detailed analysis of existing games Seminar_04as well as from relevant examples from other creative industries. Hands-on exercises were also proposed to put the participants in situation and let them experience the difference between a vision holder, a lead designer and a game designer position. Personal homework was also given at the end of each day to round up each topic and create continuity across the days.

Based on the experience of the first run and with the feedback received, we are now ready to open the seminar to a wider audience and we will organize a new session in April. If you are interested in attending or if you want more details, please send a mail here, or check the seminar description page here.

As a final note, I want to thank all of the attendees of the first run, as well as Lidi (@lpgiroux) and Josh (@joshnilson) from East Side Games, and the incomparable Susannah (@Majord0m0) for taking care of us all during these four days.

Here are some more pictures taken during the lectures and group exercises:

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Understanding Gameplay – Part two: Technique

Gameplay_title_2

In the previous article, we’ve looked at gameplay from the perspective of a symbolic system that proposes abstract problems to players, and that requires structuring norms while allowing for variation and uncertainty. I commend you if you survived through part one and its heavy-handed theories, now is the time to explore this approach and see how it can inform the technique of game design.

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Understanding Gameplay – Part One: Definitions

Understanding_Gameplay_OneJust like fun, gameplay is a word that always felt awkward to me. This is critical for game designers as it is mostly their responsibility, yet there doesn’t seem to be any established definition of it. Dictionaries generally point in different directions and alternatively define gameplay as game content, game plot or as the actions of a player. Specialized literature often goes one step further by noting the emergence of gameplay and describe it as the interplay between the player and the game systems. They generally carry on by describing constitutive elements like challenge, fun and player choice to great benefit, but they always left me disarmed when asked the dreaded question: “Is the gameplay of our game fun?”. I believe that more scrutinization of gameplay as the essential part of a game would be beneficial and could help identify principles and rules that govern it and inform the process of game design.

  Continue reading ‘Understanding Gameplay – Part One: Definitions’

Game design seminar announcement

After over ten months of work and research, I am happy to report that my game design seminar is finally ready! Game design is a discipline that suffers from lack of established structure which may lead to unpredictable quality and costly delays. It can also make the experience of designers frustrating when they have to rely on gut feeling as articulated debate can be complicated to establish. Through the many years I spent as director of design at studios like Ubisoft Montreal and Relic Entertainment I was able to help established designers learn and grow. But when asked by consulting clients and universities if I could teach design from scratch, I had to admit that I was missing enough high level perspective to turn intuition into technique and provide a solid foundation to aspiring designers. The daunting quest for the essence of game design and a clear enough theory that could be taught laid before me. Here is the retelling of that tale.

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Design your team like you would a game

RealityWorstGame_OptimCompared to video games, life can feel bland. Video games have an incredible power of motivation and this is why the American government has been looking into applying their appeal in the education field and gamification has become quite a buzzword around many industries that want to engage customers with products and brands. As I identified key elements of how well made games engaged their players, I started realizing that the same principles could be applied in structuring a team of professionals in order for them to feel engaged and safe to be creative.

Reality gives unclear feedback because its functioning is hard to interpret and its perceived reaction often delayed. For instance, when choosing between an open or fixed rate for your mortgage, it is hard to feel something else than anxiety as you will only know if you made the right choice in years. Games avoid that looming feeling of anxiety as they will often give you immediate feedback on the action or decision that was taken. Also, good games have clear rules that help evaluate the value of different actions that can be taken within them. With clear ways to anticipate the results of different moves, the participant can start to develop his own strategies and try to optimize his results.

Creativity is a frightening place, mainly because you are looking for solutions to a problem that hasn’t been solved yet. To engage in this difficult search, you need to allow yourself the possibility of being wrong or you won’t be able to go out of the beaten paths. As a creative manager, you need to establish the framework in which your collaborators will understand how they can score points in the clearest way possible. Short of this, the solutions that are brought up can’t be evaluated in a constructive fashion, and “No, because I don’t like it” can very quickly sound like “No, because I don’t like you”. In such an unstructured environment, one can only rely on intuition and gut feeling and the whole discussion will only revolve around personal opinions. While luck can be on your side and help you make it through, this situation is also prone to encourage internal politics that can only lead to herd behavior and consensual thinking that defeat the purpose of creativity.

If instead, you spend the time to clearly establish the problem you want your team to solve and write down the metrics by which you will evaluate the different solutions that will arise, you create a very different dynamic. If the rules of your creative game of “find-the-most-adapted-solutions” are very clear, shared and don’t suffer misinterpretation, even an idea that scores poorly can be an opportunity to better understand the characteristics of the task, or a chance to refine them if they needed better definition. It then becomes easier to discuss the proposed solutions detached from their initiator and to find the one that scores on all criteria, or to point at the weak spot and then ask for another proposal that will score higher.

Creative people just want to perform at their best and see the team succeed in finding the best solutions to the problems at hand. Formulate the rules of evaluation of the propositions as clearly as you would explain the rules of a game, you will offer your collaborators a work environment that encourages creativity by making it safe, comprehensible and engaging.

Game Design Expo debrief and slides

GameDesignExpo_RedOceanIndustry speaker day just ended at the 2013 edition of the Game Design Expo. It was a pretty packed day of talks and panels with an interesting focus on mobile, social and indie development that reflects the orientation of Vancouver’s scene. I was pretty excited to see that everybody seems to be trying to figure out where these new parts of the industry are going instead of relying on established formulas.

You will be able to find the slides of my own talk here, and please note that the whole speech is in the comment section.

Powerpoint presentation: A plea for the social core gamer

 

The video recording is also now available on youtube:

Back from MIGS 2012 + conference slides

So I’m back from a two weeks trip to Montreal where I attended MIGS 2012. It was probably my fourth time at this event, and I believe it was the most interesting one for me. Event director Emmanuel Viau shared with me that the typical student attendance was slightly lower this year because they were finishing last year’s term as it got delayed by the protests that took place earlier. This probably made recruiting slightly slower, but it didn’t hinder the quality of the talks, my personal favorite being Jeffrey Yohalem’s conference on how Method Acting can help us with gameplay development if we apply a director approach to players and treat them as actors.

My own talk went alright as it seemed to bring some answers to different people on the difficult task to manage design and designers by giving them proper objectives instead of calling upon “the fun”.

You can find the deck file here: MIGS 2012 – Solving the design puzzle.

Colombia 3.0 debrief + conference slides

I just came back from Bogota where I was invited to Colombia 3.0, the digital content summit. Over the four days of the summit, and according to the officials, over 12.000 people visited the site, three times the attendance of the 2011 event. The crowd was mixed, with exhibitors and industry professionals, interested investors and enthusiastic students eager to learn more about the domain. The vibe was pretty good and the recent growth of the industry coupled with solid government backing can only set high expectations for what’s ahead for game development in Colombia.

Twenty experts were invited to give talks to an engaged crowd. Most notably for me, Mitch Gitelman from Harebrained Schemes retraced his Kickstarter campaign to get funding for the Shadowrun Returns project..

Here is the powerpoint from my own talk – Establishing a creative vision.

The conference is also available on youtube, translated in Spanish.

Speaking engagements ahead

In October, I will take part with 20 other speakers to Colombia 3.0, a 3 days event supported by the Colombian IGDA chapter and the ministry of IT and communications.

On Friday, October 26th, at 16:30, I will give a conference entitled Video game design: Establishing vision. In this talk, I will describe what is, for me, the first step that a project should go through, establishing clearly what the end product should be about, who is its end-consumer and how do you want him to relate to your game. More details available on Colombia 3.0 website.

In November, I will participate in the Montreal International Game Summit. The talk, Solving the game design puzzle: From management to execution, will attempt to bring the points of view of managers and designers together and propose a rationale and efficient way to establish objectives and evaluate results, you know, past the “is it fun?” mark …

The talk will be given on the 14th of November at 14:45 and you can find more details on it here.

See you there!

Had a blast giving a talk at Intecap Guatemala

As I was in Guatemala for a mission with the fine folks of Lion Works, I was invited to give a talk on design at the Intecap institute of technology on the 14th of August. The amphitheater was quite full as they had to close the door and let some people out. The mood was quite high, the crowd quite excited and I was happy to give some insight on the way game design is actually backwards from what you can expect coming in with a user mentality. The response from the attendance really made me feel like the “reconocido experto internacional” that they advertised I was, so thanks to everyone that showed up, as well as to Lion Works and Intecap.

As promised, here are the slides of the presentation.