Question of the Week Responses: The Highlights Of Game Developers Conference 2005

The latest Question Of The Week response deals with perceived highlights from Game Developers Conference 2005, and Will Wright's Spore talk, alongside the 'Burning Down The House' developer rant roundtable, dominate the varied and enthusiastic commentary.

The Question of the Week returns with the replies to the question: "What were the most interesting announcements or lectures, in your opinion, at this year's Game Developers Conference? " As expected, the responses were quite varied, but with two particular lectures that stood out in the minds of our respondents: Will Wright's "The Future of Content" lecture, which unveiled his latest work, Spore, as well as "Burning Down the House: Game Developers Rant" where a panel of prominent game designers aired their concerns with the industry.

Illustration by Adam Reed

Will Wright's Spore

The latest project in the pipe from Will Wright, a great deal of the replies we received were captivated by the new possibilities; the buzzword is procedural content.

Will Wright's lecture, alongside the Spore game announcement.
- Aleksey Kadukin, Sony Computer Entertainment America

Will Wright's Spore talk. I found his talk of developing versatile tools that the player will use to create their own content for the game to have some merit. I believe games could be underdone if not enough is done by the developers using this model to develop a game. However if done right I think it could reduce development time and costs. I follow various tech newsletters, and this type of farming work out to the clients in the form of robust and easy to use tools and platforms for the clients to build their own solutions seems to be gaining ground in the tech world - an extension of open source theory, in my opinion.
- John Pounders, University of North Alabama

Spore. Whether it turns out to be a good game or not, an easy to use 3D art interface will be an important achievement.
- Brandon Van Every, Indie Game Design

Will Wright's Spore lecture was definitely the most interesting and exciting event at this year's GDC. It’s about damn time someone got user generated content right!
- Brian Canary, EKG Games

Spore by Will Wright - from a micro-organism to a galactic god - a true "god" game.
- Peter Gault, G2 Corporation

Will Wright's 'Future Of Content' - Procedural game content is surely the holy grail for the ever increasingly complex task of generating content. I'm thinking middleware game content. Oh yes…
- Jeffrey Sheen, Imperial College London

Spore. Particularly, the fact that it was all procedural content. That is huge!
- Jeff Weber, Compuware

Burning Down The House

The other big attention-getter among our responses. The rants struck a chord with the developer community-at-large for one reason or another:

The game developers' rant really struck a chord with me. I discussed it with a co-worker after GDC: "Greg Costikyan tried to make it sound like innovation was totally dead," I said. "And meanwhile, at the very same conference, speaking at the GDC, we have Will Wright announcing Spore, which is fabulously innovative... we have Satoru Iwata introducing ElectroPlankton, which is super-innovative... and we have the creator of Katamari Damacy, which is insane and has permanently altered my worldview. Show me three products in any industry that are anywhere close to the level of innovation of those three games." "Well sure," replied my co-worker. "And notice something else: Spore? Funded by EA. ElectroPlankton? Funded by Nintendo. And Katamari Damacy was funded by Sony. The three most innovative games, FUNDED BY THE THREE LARGEST PUBLISHERS. Kind of destroys Costikyan's argument." "It undermines what Warren Spector was saying, too, since he was making the same point." Frankly, I'm appalled that Spector and Costikyan would use the GDC as a platform to call the business "hopelessly broken" and "fundamentally flawed." If a developer has funding problems, those problems are his and his alone, and those two came across like roadkill complaining about the traffic. The industry has never been bigger or had a wider audience than today, and this year's GDC proved beyond any doubt that it's never been more innovative, either. I go the GDC to listen to the people who are moving the industry forward - people like Will Wright and Keita Takahashi. I don't go to hear resentful people shoot spitballs in the eyes of the entire industry.
- Anonymous

Burning Down the House!!!
- Anonymous

Easily the best session at the conference was the "Developers Rant". Some of it was shrill and it was lacking real solutions, but the points were right on target. The true value in the industry is the technical, creative, and quality control departments. Licenses and suits do not make memorable games, yet where does all the money in the industry lie? To move beyond the seemingly endless parade of movie tie-ins, alternative funding, marketing, and distribution methods need to be explored. The talents in the industry need to divorce themselves from the teat of the parasites that are quickly killing them.
- Tom Spilman, Sickhead Games, LLC

The Developers Rant session was the best. [If I had made it to Will Wright's session, though, I probably would have voted for that.]
- Michael Dornbrook, Harmonix Music Systems

While I wasn't there, I did read a transcript of the "Burning Down the House: Game Developers Rant" and it left me a little upset. All of these developers were pretty much bashing Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft as being the downfall of innovative titles. They claim that, since budgets will be so large on the next generation of consoles that the death knell of innovation is only moments away. My question is this: What game of this generation was truly innovative and had no predecessor. People point to games like Donkey Konga, Rez... what else? Anyway my point is that while these games may be incredibly innovative, I found them to be terrible games. Games like Half Life 2, Halo 2, Doom 3, Gran Turismo 4, the list goes on… might not be very innovative, but they were the best games to come out in the last eight months. There is a reason they sell so well and it’s not marketing. They are just great games. I have a theory that if Microsoft hadn't released a single ad for Halo 2, it would still have sold just as well. Gamers don't buy games off ads or shelf space - they buy them based on review sites and word of mouth from their friends. Microsoft talked about the 'HD Era' of gaming at GDC basically saying that everything we love about games is about to get bigger and better and Greg Costikyan has the balls to say it made him sick to hear about it. Microsoft is just giving gamers everything they want. It isn't Microsoft or Sony that are driving game development costs through the roof, it's the gamers. They expect and demand better games.

We've all heard the statistic that 4 out of 5 games fail, and there is a reason for that. Those games were made by people who made what they wanted, not what gamers wanted. Brenda Laurel went on to talk about the old white business men who run the industry, but know nothing about it. I would say that she along with the other panelists are the real culprits. They should stop bitching about the publishers’ ruining creativity and do something about it. There is no way that a studio can come up with the most innovative game of all time and package it into a fantastic gameplay experience, and not find a publisher for it. Warren Spector is about the only panelist who had anything intelligent to say. I agree that there needs to be alternate means of game distribution other than retail. Steam is a phenomenal example of this. The bottom line, though, is no matter how you distribute the game, no matter how innovative the game is, no matter how much shelf space and advertising there is, if the game doesn't pass the hardcore gamer's critique, your game is dead in the water.
- David Owen Jr.

Other Notable Highlights

Of course, Spore and "Game Developers Rant" were not the only notable responses we received, with many other items of GDC-related interest at the forefront of people's minds:

The most interesting talks (of the few I attended) were Kathy [Schoback]'s talk on economics of next-gen game development, Burning Down the House, and the Experimental Gameplay Workshop (though I missed most of that, the Jam contributions were the best part). IGDA's Quality of Life summit was also cool. If there was one interesting takeaway for the whole conference for me, it was that staffing/growth/process issues were way up on everyone's radar compared to past years. For all the talk of next-gen consoles, the thing people seem to be afraid of the most is how to work in larger environments with larger teams, and Quality of Life is just a sub-issue to that. Very surprising the amount of airtime this got.
- Kim Pallister, Intel Corp

The Usability Testing tutorial by Microsoft, the Splinter Cell narrative lecture by Clint Hocking, and Raph Koster's Game Atoms lecture were the best from my designer's perspective, with lots of takeaway lessons and ideas to try out, as well as increasing my understanding. Will Wright's lecture on Spore was very interesting but not really "takeaway" useful for the mortal developers among us!
- Phil Mansell, SCEE

That the Revolution will be backwards compatible with the GCN; that Revolution and DS will have Free Wi-Fi Access; and the new Zelda trailer.
- Michael Wyrzykowski

The one from eGenesis’ Andrew Tepper on how to create the impossible - i.e. make an MMOG [A Tale In The Desert] on a budget.
-i Anonymous

I am certain that a lot of people will say that Microsoft’s keynote or Will Wright's Spore presentation were the high lights of the show, but I enjoyed the session that Nicole Lazzaro (Xeodesign Inc.) put on, entitled "Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story" - fun, entertaining and thought provoking.
- L Foz, Max Gaming Technologies

Keita Takahashi's session was amazing. One comment of his really stuck out for me; Video games are not important. If video games were to disappear, the world would never miss us. If people suddenly became uninterested in games the developers, publishers, and specialized retailers would suffer the most, but the world will keep on turning. It was this mentality of zero self-importance that gave birth to one of the most memorable games of all time: Katamari Damacy. It's nice to get this breath of fresh air/dose of reality when all we hear is that the games industry is getting bigger and more profitable. Hopefully this allows us to strive harder to make an impact with our audience, not just with glitz and glamour, but with substance as well. I would like the videogame industry to have more content that generates interest from people thirty years from now the way music and film does. It would be nice for our games to leave a lasting impression beyond the actual shelf-life of a product.
- Carlo Delallana, Ubisoft

Announcements: Spore. Lectures: The Future of Content. Honorable mentions: Why isn't the Industry Making Interactive stories?, The Heart of a Gamer, The Emily Dickinson License. Basically, stuff that was about games, rather than visuals or business or HD stuff that doesn't belong at an event called “The Game Developers Conference”.
- C F

I think Nintendo's keynote speech was the most interesting moment for me. Coming a day after Microsoft's keynote, it highlighted the clear divergence between these company's platform strategies moving forward. If you're a gamer at heart (and have the heart of a gamer) root for Nintendo, as they seem to be more interested in gameplay innovation than making an uber-media-micropayment device. (HD-gaming be damned!)
- Anonymous

"Concepts & Animating Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell: The Chaos Theory"
- Jason Parks, SCEA

Best lecture, hands down, was [Epic designer] Cliff Bleszinski's lecture - “Dissecting Interactive Design”. He was the best speaker I saw at the conference! He spoke well, was funny, and actually had interesting material to cover, rather than just demonstrating his next product.
- Mark Waligora

The noble but doomed revolt of the treasure ships’ galley slaves. Hail Spartacus!
- Richard Redfield,


[Article illustration by Adam Reed.]


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