in the footsteps of the now recognized highlight of GDC, the game
design challenge, host Robin Hunicke explained that the GDCE version of
it was going to be more of a remix – a twist on the usual theme. The
goal was the same, to approach a hard design problem from a new
perspective – and with an important sense of humor still intact.
theme for the Game Design Mash-up was particularly apt in a development
age highly concerned with diversity – devise a game for Granny. Robin
laid down the rules of engagement and asked some important first
questions: the audience is mainstream, casual, female and gray. How do
we reach them? Who is your Grandma? What would she play?
panel assembled for the event were drawn from a wider variety of game
design backgrounds. Demis Hassabis, currently spending a year studying
cognitive neuroscience was first to address the challenge. He explained
he was going to explain his process, look at the concepts he rejected
and then present the idea he had selected. His initial question, "What
do Grannies like?"
apologizing for any stereotyping, he proceeded to generalize at an
entertaining pace. Grannies, Demis surmised, like knitting, reading,
gardening, reminiscing, telling stories, playing bridge, grandchildren
and gossiping. The full-house audience murmured an amused recognition
at the selections. He went on to point out that complex controls would
be unacceptable and that gratuitous violence, sex or profanity would
also be a problem. What is clear is that it should be is social,
friendly and in a familiar setting.
then presented the ideas he had rejected. He dismissed the Hobby
Simulation, real-time knitting guide and landscape gardening program as
being 'too obvious'. His 'War Story Constructor' was a fascinating
proposition, using voice input to render the wartime memories of the
player in the Half-Life 2 engine. Demis conceded however that
this was, 'too fantastical' – although he did flag up the tantalizingly
possibility of the constructed levels being released as maps for
grandchildren to play; FPS-ing their way through Grandma's memory.
He settled on 'The Village', which he billed as the 'World's first MMO gossip simulator' – or at a pitch level, 'Shenmue meets Sims Online meets Eastenders'.
A mission based environment invites players to enhance or decimate
reputations of others as they see fit, with AI characters playing key
roles within the world and stimulating mission content. To the delight
of the audience Demis alluded to the possibility of the kids playing
within a game-world that they might find entertaining, creating the
kinds of GTA-esque content that Grandma might not be so excited about – but actually unwittingly participating in the Grandmothers game.
James from Bizarre Creations had only had the train journey down to
prepare and apologized that he wasn't actually going to pitch a game
anyway. He began by answering a few questions. Firstly, he explained
that being a Granny is, 'a bit like being drunk', having slower
reaction times and poor hand to eye coordination. He went on to
conclude that Granny is much like everyone else, in that she wants to
be entertained, challenged and interact with like-minded people. He
argued that Granny needs games that are relevant to her interests with
relevant music and other cultural reference points, that the interface
need to be much simpler with larger, bespoke controls. Finally he
suggested that the gameplay ideas are actually already out there and
what is needed isn't a revolution in gameplay, but in marketing.
did venture an entertaining suggestion as to what a new 'granny game'
might be, 'Ballroom Dancing Revolution' is at the right pace with
relevant music but unfortunately requires a dance-mat the size of a
Finally Katamari Damacy
designer Keita Takahashi took the podium. He introduced his
presentation, "I thought really hard about this one, I haven't thought
this hard since I was coming up with the idea for Katamari Damacy.
I decided that I wanted to get old ladies playing games and bring a
little of the sunshine that they end up losing when they stay indoors
all the time back into their lives." The focus of his talk began with
the controller, he explained that current hardware designs are
inorganic and difficult to understand. He introduced the design of his
new controller specifically tailored for the Granny, and a picture of a
cat appeared on the screen to great amusement. He explained, "the shape
of the cat and the heat waves that it gives out really gets the old
ladies going as they get quite cold. They like the cat shape. The cat
is designed to be rested on the old ladies knees." The cat controller
was met with rapture from the audience as Takahashi went on to explain
the gameplay concept.
game would begin with the family suggesting to Granny that she wear the
cat because, for example, her knees looked cold. Embedded in the cat is
the capability for it to communicate wirelessly with other cat
controllers (on other Grannies' knees) in the neighborhood. When the
cat connects to another one, "..the onboard a.i. kicks in." This causes
the cat to speak, paraphrased as "meow, meow, grandma, meow". Takahashi
explains that the family are required to participate in the game by
pretending that they haven't heard anything, because of this – Grandma
begins to build the perception that she is able to communicate directly
with the cat.
the dialogue with the cat develops, it suggests that Granny make some
soup – but faster than the other granny down the street who has also
received the instruction. A competitive element emerges and gradually
the cat suggests more and more group activities that Grandma might
engage in, culminating in trips to the park. "..So they all go outside
and eventually they meet other old ladies with cats and they all become
friends. So it's a game that involves the participation and love of the
entire family." Takahashi ended the presentation by commenting on the
possible production path of the cat, "Namco and Bandai are merging so
when I get home I will submit my proposal."
a vote-by-applause awarded Takahashi the first prize, questions were
invited from the audience. One question in particular struck home, "Do
any of you envisage playing games when you are older? If so, won't the
problem just solve itself?"