[This week, Andy Baio from Waxy.org, creator of the Yahoo!-purchased social events site Upcoming, is attending GDC as a guest 'Web 2.0/geek culture/game culture crossover' observer, and blogging about it both on his popular blog and Gamasutra. Here's his first dispatch from the wilds of San Francisco.]
I'm already overwhelmed at my first Game Developers Conference, and from what I've heard, things don't even really get moving until tomorrow! The first two days are dominated by a number of excellent summits and tutorials, but apparently, the real action doesn't start until tomorrow when the game competitions, expo floor, major announcements, and big keynotes all begin in the morning.
I'm very interested in the parallels between gaming and web, and how the lines have blurred between game-like social software and social games.
With that in mind, several people told me Worlds in Motion summit would be most relevant to my interests with sessions that "delve into online worlds, social gaming and media and player created activity, providing insight for developers of all backgrounds into how the game industry is collectively building socialization into games and integrating personalization and player-generated content into gameplay."
Instead, I've found the most inspiring and innovative talks have been in the Independent Games Summit. Unlike the companies in World in Motion, these tiny two-person startups and student projects are operating on a shoestring budget and exploring territory that the big guys aren't.
It seems like most of the interesting new projects are happening on the web or as PC/Mac downloads, partly because they don't have the funding or support to acquire dev kits for the consoles and partly because it gives them more control over their own fate. (For example, Xbox Live Arcade costs a minimum of $125,000 to create a game. The overhead for a Flash game, like starting a website, is mostly your own time.)
And because they have so many resource constraints, they're developing gameplay that's often experimental and completely unique. The IGF finalists are a laundry list of intriguing gameplay ideas (many of which I've mentioned on Waxy before):
Audiosurf, a rhythm/racing/puzzle game that analyzes and visualizes your MP3 collection to create a dynamic 3D racetrack with characteristics pulled from tone, tempo, and volume.
The Path, a horror game based on Little Red Riding Hood, with ambient music by Jarboe. If you follow the path before you, you lose the game.
Several speakers have discussed how the art and design are more important than the technology, that games are more about conjuring emotion than showing off graphical effects. Aquaria co-creator Alec Holowka described game development as a Zelda Triforce, with three parts of Art/Design, Business/Marketing, and Technology.
Some games, like movie-licensed games, are led by business but have poor technology and design.Others, like many big-budget games, are led by technology. Indie games need to support their work with honest marketing and solid technology, but it's the creator's voice, vision, and passion that ultimately make the game resonate with an audience.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to playing and meeting this year's finalists tomorrow when the IGF Pavilion opens tomorrow.
Some notable quotes from the first couple of days of the show:
Gabe Zichermann on Facebook and eBay as MMOs: "I think we need to acknowledge there are things in life that are fun that game designers didn't make... People are engaged in playing all the time -- they're not fake worlds a game designer made... Everybody plays games all the time, whether we as game designers make them or not."
Raph Koster on virtual worlds: "We're building theme parks instead of parks."
Tracy Fullerton from USC Game Innovation Lab: "Indie's not about finding a backdoor into the industry or building games on a shoestring budget. It's about tearing down walls to create a new culture."