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In this monthly series we invite brilliant people from the game industry to curate their top 5 videos from the GDC YouTube archive.
For December, we bring you the top picks from Jana Sloan van Geest (@janamakesgames), senior game writer at Berlin, Germany-based studio Wooga.
van Geest is known for her past writing and narrative work on Guerrilla Games' Horizon Zero Dawn: Frozen Wilds, Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Origins, and Ludia Games' Battlestar Galactica: Squadrons. She is also co-founder of Pixelles Montreal, a writing incubator focused on helping women develop games and forge careers in the game industry (apply for the Pixelles GDC Ensemble here!).
"'My talk title is a complete lie. We're going to do the opposite of forgetting protagonists; I'm actually going to try and convince you to make them pay, because they've had it their way for too long.' Meg Jayanth's talk is a 26-minute-long quotable line, and this is how it begins. In an electrifying wake-up call to the games industry, Meg asks us to set aside the pathological heroism that defines most player characters and consider what we could accomplish by allowing these characters to fail and be vulnerable. She also asks us to consider which cultural norms we are reinforcing in choosing whose stories to tell. We are beginning to heed her call, but the talk is a reminder that there is still work to be done, and that we are more than capable of doing it."
"Though this talk is nominally directed at UX designers, its explanations of the foundational elements of cognitive science, explained in clear, accessible terms, can be applied to almost any discipline. Understanding how the brain works doesn't just help to craft a compelling onboarding experience -- it helps to craft a compelling story. Emotion, perception, satisfaction, and memory are the responses we use to process and respond to narrative. Celia's talk inspired me to consider story in a way I never had before, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to radically reimagine their own work."
"When someone asks me for resources related to branching narrative, I direct them to this talk. As Cassie Phillips says, non-linear and choice-based narrative is 'hot right now,' but we as an industry are still working to establish best practices in this area. Cassie's talk provides guidelines for intelligent choice design based on data gathered from the 3.5 million weekly active users of Episodes Interactive games. This is also the first branching talk I've ever seen. The talk provides the essential reminder that the foundation of a good choice-based story is a good story."
"This is the only programming talk I've ever attended, and I'm so glad that I did. Piotr Tomsinski provides an inside look at the systems and tools used to generate the cinematic dialogues of The Witcher 3 -- hundreds of hours' worth of animations meant to be indistinguishable from cutscenes in quality. He describes the pipeline of a single dialogue, the realization of which requires the cooperation of multiple developers in a variety of disciplines. Piotr's talk is essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand the process of bringing an AAA game story to life."
"This talk is dear to my heart because it discusses a program that's had an enormous impact on my own life. Stephanie Fisher, one of the directors of the Montreal-based Pixelles program, takes to the stage to explain how Pixelles has helped women make and change games. I participated in its 2015 game incubator, attended GDC as part of its GDC Ensemble program, and went on to build a game writing program under its umbrella. The support and community provided to me by Pixelles is the foundation of my eight-year career in games; my life would not be the same without it. Pixelles and its founders provide a sterling example for anyone who might wish to develop a similar program in their own area."
"Don't forget that GDC is not the only conference out there! One of my favourites is the AdventureX conference. It is an intimate, leisurely event dedicated to the craft of game narrative, run entirely by volunteers. Its 2019 edition took place last month in London, England. Here are a few of my favourite talks from previous editions of the conference."
Black Panther, Afrofuturism, and Writing Meaningful Black Characters - Chella Ramanan
What Makes a Great Video Game Protagonist - Rebecca Harwick
Sparkling Dialogue: A Masterclass - John Ingold
Gamasutra and GDC are sibling organizations under parent Informa Tech. Photo credit: Wooga.