20 talks Gamasutra wants to see at GDC 2017, from sex scenes to grouchy fish

Gamasutra writers recently put our heads together and picked some of our most-anticipated GDC sessions, with topics ranging from designing sex scenes in games to math(s) to...a grouchy fish who lived on the Dreamcast.

Gamasutra is just as excited about Game Developers Conference 2017 as all of you are! We’ll have reporters on-site at GDC 2017 covering the show all week. We recently put our heads together and picked some of our most-anticipated GDC sessions (in no particular order), with topics ranging from designing sex scenes in games to math(s) to...a grouchy fish who lived on the Dreamcast.

Join us at the Moscone Center February 27-March 3 for GDC 2017 (and if you see us around, don’t be afraid to say “hi!”)

'Owlboy': The Evolving Art of a 10 Year Project
Jo-Remi Madsen  |  CEO, D-Pad Studio
Simon Stafsnes Andersen  |  Art-Director, D-Pad Studio

'Owlboy' has been in development nearly 10 years, outliving an entire console generation. To keep the game relevant, D-Pad Studio has had to re-design the game several times, redraw art assets and spend years and years on polish. The team's number one goal has been to make sure that, despite being a decade old, 'Owlboy' will look like a game worthy of its time.

Put a Face on It: The Aesthetics of Cute
Jenny Jiao Hsia  |  Artist/Designer, Hexecutable

In this talk, Jenny Jiao Hsia will present a case for why game developers should care about cuteness. She will address where this form of counterculture originated, how it resists current trends, and why cuteness is empowering, both on an individual and social level. Jenny will explain how she values cuteness as a central component to her design aesthetic by sharing the experiences she learned from making games like IGF Best Student Game winner Beglitched, IGF-nominated Stellar Smooch, and other various prototypes.

Failure Workshop
Adriaan De Jongh  |  Game Designer, Independent
Michael Molinari  |  Developer, Studio Bean
Tim Rogers  |  Founder, Action Button Entertainment

In this session Adriaan, Michael, and Tim will speak candidly about failure. Adriaan will discuss the difficult decision of having to close Game Oven. Michael will discuss his Twitch experiment Citystream, Tim will discuss his game 'VIDEOBALL' and the various "business accidents" as well as other "what went wrongs". They will share their perspectives on what happens when things do not proceed as planned and how to recover for something you may deem a "failure".

Building Game Mechanics to Elevate Narrative in 'Oxenfree'
Sean Krankel  |  Co-Founder, Night School Studio

When Night School set out to create their debut game, 'Oxenfree', they had one goal in mind: merge storytelling and mechanics as closely as possible. Throughout development, the developers constantly evaluated 'Oxenfree' through the lens of two critical questions: "Why is the player playing this?" and "What is the player doing while we have them?" In Night School's game, the "why" is the player defining Alex's story, and the "what" is a set of mechanics built to make interacting with the story feel personal and novel.         

The Casual (but Regal) Swipe: Creating Game Mechanics in 'Reigns'
Francois Alliot  |  Game Dev & Writer, Nerial

The development and writing of the "year by year" strategy game, 'Reigns', explored the potential of its core system, the swiping mechanic "à la tinder". In this talk, 'Reigns' co-creator Francois Alliott explains how the team gave themselves a set of constraints defined by the gameplay they were exploring and the tone they wanted to give to the game. But these rules never dictated the writing of the game or the extent of what the game could be. 

Experimental Gameplay Workshop

The Experimental Gameplay Session, which debuted games like 'Katamari Damacy', 'flOw', 'Braid', 'Portal' and 'Storyteller', is back for its 15th year at GDC! In this fast-paced, game-packed session, panelists will showcase a selection of surprising and intriguing prototypes made by innovation-minded game developers from all over the world. By demonstrating games that defy conventions and traditions in search for of new genres and ideas, this session aims to ignite the imagination of all game makers. Come see what's happening on in the world of Experimental Gameplay, and be inspired!

The Narrative Innovation Showcase
Matthew Weise  |  Game Designer, Writer, Fiction Control
Clara Fernandez-Vara  |  Associate Professor, NYU Game Center
Emily Short  |  Improv Engine Product Manager, Spirit AI
Francisco Gonzalez  |  Game Designer, Independent
Cara Ellison  |  Narrative designer, Independent
Greg Heffernan  |  Game Designer, Composer & Sound designer, Cosmo D Studios LLC
Navid Khonsari  |  Founder & Creative Director, iNK Stories

This session presents short-format talks from leading innovators in game narrative, who will share the stories behind their most cutting-edge creations, the ambitions they had, the challenges they faced, and the solutions they invented. Each speaker will reveal in detail the experimental storytelling techniques they developed to advance this new game design frontier, dissecting particular narrative design problems and revealing the strategies they deployed to tackle them.

Building Beauclair
Kacper Niepokolczycki  |  Senior Environment Artist / Environment Art Team Coordinator, CD PROJEKT RED

This session will cover the process of creating the city of Beauclair from Blood and Wine, the final expansion of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – from early design to final pass. It will precisely break down what kind of technical restrictions we were facing when working on this most demanding area of Toussaint, as well as how we managed to overcome them. It will present efficient ways of using available budgets for textures, meshes and other game elements, showcase techniques and ideas for environment and asset creation within those limits, and present how technical and environment art go hand in hand to achieve stunning, huge open world locations.

The Sound and Music of 'Hyper Light Drifter'
Akash Thakkar  |  Sound Designer, Heart Machine
Rich Vreeland  |  Composer, Disasterpeace

Join Hyper Light Drifter's composer Rich Vreeland (Disasterpeace) and sound designer Akash Thakkar for a behind-the-scenes look at the game's audio design. Along the way, you can learn how creators of all disciplines can garner massive emotional impact through the audio in their next game.

Building Non-linear Narratives in 'Horizon: Zero Dawn'
Leszek Szczepanski  |  Gameplay Programmer, Guerrilla Games

Open world RPGs require deep stories, which emphasize player choice and freedom. The bigger the games grow, the more complex systems managing these stories get. See how Guerrilla Games tackled the issue in 'Horizon: Zero Dawn', by creating a quest system which has non-linearity at its base.

Building Worlds Using Math(s)
Sean Murray  |  Founder, Hello Games

'No Man's Sky' is a science fiction game set in a near infinite procedurally generated universe. This lecture will describe some of the most important technologies and interesting challenges behind generating both realistic and alien terrains without artistic input, using mathematics. It also focuses on creating and testing an infinite environment with small team, in particular programmer generated worlds and art.

Classic Game Postmortem: 'Seaman'
Yutaka Saito  |  Designer, Independent

Yutaka "Yoot" Saito, the talented game designer known for his idiosyncratic approach to game development, will be delivering a Classic Game Postmortem on his remarkable Dreamcast game 'Seaman' at GDC 2017! Saito's game development career took off in the early '90s when he created the game that was published by Maxis as 'SimTower', but it was after he founded his own studio Vivarium that he really came into his own.

Rami Ismail  |  Business and Development Guy, Vlambeer
Madiba Olivier  |  CEO & Founder, Kiro'o Games
Martina Santoro  |  CEO & CO Founder, OKAM Studio
Brigitta Rena  |  2D Artist, Mojiken
Thais Weiller  |  Game Designer, JoyMasher
Rasheed Abueideh  |  Game Producer/Game Designer, Art
Marta Ziołkowska  |  CEO, GSpot Studios

#1ReasonToBe features six speakers from emergent territories around the world discussing game development in their country in their own, personal way. Through 8-minute presentations, they will each share their #1ReasonToBe in the game industry, and tell us their stories of game development, community, culture and opportunities in their home country. With speakers from South America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia, #1ReasonToBe will show you just how much more globe there actually is in the industry's global medium.

Classic Game Postmortem: 'Deus Ex'
Warren Spector  |  Studio Director, OtherSide Entertainment

Warren Spector, the veteran game designer best known for his work at influential studios like Origin Systems and Ion Storm Austin, is coming to GDC 2017 to present a Classic Game Postmortem on the pioneering game 'Deus Ex'. Spector directed development of 'Deus Ex', the critically-acclaimed cyberpunk "immersive sim" released in 2000 that achieved critical acclaim, commercial success, and influence over a generation of game developers.

All Systems No: Learning from the Doomed Launch of 'Brigador'
Hugh Monahan  |  Designer / Founder, Stellar Jockeys

'Brigador' released on June 2nd, 2016 and barely registered a blip on the radar, despite two years of touring at conventions and previously enthusiastic coverage by PC Gamer, Kill Screen, RPS, and others. With a 95 percent positive rating on Steam and Metacritic reviews as high as 90/100, what tanked the launch? With the power of hindsight, Hugh Monahan will dissect the circumstances of the development for 'Brigador' and release from both marketing and design perspectives. Learn why good intentions can make for bad decisions, and how audience expectations are everything. If you're an independent developer and thinking, "those guys are idiots" then boy you sound an awful lot like Hugh did four years ago.

Physics Animation in 'Uncharted 4: A Thief's End'
Michal Mach  |  Technical Animator, Naughty Dog

For 'Uncharted 4', Naughty Dog, Inc. chose to take a risky step and experiment with adding a layer of physics simulation on top of their gameplay animation for added fluidity and momentum, with hopes that they could also save some production time by creating less assets and letting the physics do the awesome.

Change and Constant: Breaking Conventions with 'The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild'
Hidemaro Fujibayashi  |  Game Director, Nintendo
Satoru Takizawa  |  Art Director, Nintendo
Takuhiro Dohta  |  Technical Director, Nintendo

For decades, 'The Legend of Zelda' series has been recognized as a trailblazer in game design, influencing countless titles and developers. With the latest game in the series, 'The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild', Nintendo introduces wide-ranging changes that break with many of the traditional conventions of the franchise. In this session, Game Director Hidemaro Fujibayashi, Art Director Satoru Takizawa and Technical Director Takuhiro Dohta will provide an in-depth look at how many of these convention-breaking changes were implemented, and how the new Nintendo Switch system enabled the game's developers to take the series in new directions.

Fade to Black? Writing and Designing Sex Scenes in Games
Michelle Clough  |  Narrative Designer, Freelance

As games mature, the industry is gradually becoming more comfortable with tackling sex and sexuality. But while narrative designers might consider sexuality in terms of its larger human themes, they must also consider the specifics: the moments in games that depict the act of sex. This talk examines the details and provides a toolbox for how to approach sex scenes in narrative design: how to ensure the development team is on the same page, how to contextualize the sequence within the game, and how to create a compelling, appealing, and meaningful moment.

Creation of Planet-Scale Shared Augmented Realities: 'Pokemon GO' and 'Ingress'
Edward Wu  |  Director, Software Engineering, Niantic

Niantic has conclusively demonstrated that augmented reality in practice is as much about the data and shared world state as it is about immersive hardware technology still on the horizon. This talk will discuss the challenges of implementing and operating a planet-scale service with demanding latency and consistency constraints, in the face of usage 50x planned capacity.

Rewards in Video Games
Travis Day  |  Senior Game Designer, Blizzard Entertainment

Over the past 12 years Travis has worked on reward systems for both 'World of Warcraft' and 'Diablo 3'. He will share some of the hard learned lessons about how reward systems can guide or harm player experience. He will talk about the role of rewards in video games, what they do for players and the cost of using them. Travis will also discuss some of the ways they have gone wrong for Blizzard games and how Blizzard tried to address the problems rewards created.

For more details on this and other talks taking place at GDC 2017 (February 27-March 3), head over to the conference Session Scheduler. For more information on GDC 2017, visit the show's official website, or subscribe to regular updates via FacebookTwitter, or RSS.

Gamasutra and GDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM Americas

Latest Jobs

IO Interactive

Hybrid (Malmö, Sweden)
Gameplay Director (Project Fantasy)

Arizona State University

Los Angeles, CA, USA
Assistant Professor of XR Technologies

IO Interactive

Hybrid (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Animation Tech Programmer

Purdue University

West Lafayette, IN, USA
Assistant Professor in Game Design and Development
More Jobs   


Explore the
Advertise with
Follow us

Game Developer Job Board

Game Developer


Explore the

Game Developer Job Board

Browse open positions across the game industry or recruit new talent for your studio

Advertise with

Game Developer

Engage game professionals and drive sales using an array of Game Developer media solutions to meet your objectives.

Learn More
Follow us


Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more