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GDC 2013: Monday

Notes and reflections on the first day of my first GDC

The Arcane Art of Puzzle Depedency Diagrams - Noah Falstein

Noah Falstein is a veteran of the industry, and one of the early innovators in the Lucas Arts style Adventure game genre. He co-created Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, which is very, very good.

  • 25 year old technique from Ron Gilbert. Ron actually calls them Dependency Charts
  • He's right, it IS my first GDC. 
  • Developed for Maniac Mansion
  • For purpose of talk, "puzzle" means anything you use to challenge the player. Boss fight, minimum level, etc.
  • Quick, barebones flowcharts
  • Separate game and story. Leave story out of the charts.
  • Use key in lock, don't describe finding key. 
  • "Cut story ruthlessly, then cut some more until you can't stand it. At that point it's probably about 2x as big as it should be." -Hal Barwood
  • Puzzle dependency lets you pare story back to essentials. Only what players need to know to care about the challenges in front of them.
  • "It's all keys and locks." - Ron Gilbert
  • Make it bushy: branch out, then choke back up. Give players a few things to work on, but have clear gates where all previous tasks must be complete.
  • Linear is easy, but blocks, chokes, and fails on weakest link while discouraging autonomy. 
  • Research Self Determination Theory
  • Bushy lets you gain skills and resources to solve the harder parallel puzzle. 
  • Linear overall, but bushy in chunks. 
  • Work backwards
  • Build ending first, figure out what player needs to know/have to get there. 
  • To make harder add multiple prerequisites for progress
  • To make easier add alternate paths
  • Strong, but expensive fixes
  • When stuck on story, look at mechanics, when stuck on mechanics, think story. 

 Tastes Like Chicken: Authenticity in a Totally Fake World - Jay Posey

While Posey's talk comes strongly from his background—dialog and narrative for Tom Clancy games—the tools he described apply well to any genre that has significant player expectations.

  • More important that it feel real than be real. 
  • Real is often boring. 
  • Authentic = real - boring 
  • Research the real thing, identify the fantasy, expand from there. 
  • Three Main Sources of Reference:
  • Real
  • Experts - doing the job. don't use a glossary; you need context. 
  • Tangential - work with, have perspective. 
  • Approximate - similar, space miners? Use real miners and underwater welders. 
  • Get more than one. Get them comfortable and talking.
  • Hollywood (mainstream entertainment)
  • Be familiar with what most people expect from this genre, not slavish, but be aware. Writing cops? watch Law and Order. Writing vampire? At least know about Twilight. 
  • Fans
  • Fan forums. 
  • Tangential communities (air soft, larpers, D&D)

Balancing Act: narrative and mission design - Corey May and Philippe BergeronThe Narrative Designer and Lead Mission Designer respectively, Cory and Philippe discussed the methods used to blend narrative and mission creation on the Assassin's Creed 3 team. It didn't feel like a system that would scale well to smaller teams.

  • Mission design team keeps a rolling doc of cool ideas they couldn't implement. (Like this)
  • Solicit for ideas across all disciplines. (This too)
  • They make the story and mission arcs separately then bind them together.
  • Mission arcs are defined first.
  • Mission design doc is explicitly used as foundation of script. 
  • Script and missions are then adjusted to match up, with preference given to mission flow.

Narrative in Games: Role, Forms, Problems, Potential - Warren Spector

Warren Spector Made Deus Ex. Listen to him. 


  • Borrow consciously. We can be more than interactive movies (Walking Dead was great, we can do other stuff)
  • Cutting makes sense in movies, is super disorienting in games. Breaks immersion, steals control. 
  • Games are more linear than film. 
  • Economy in dialog
  • A one off cool moment works in a movie. In a game it happens 100s of times. 
  • Let players make the cool moments. 
  • D&D teaches a lot about letting players drive the story. Drop the content, systems and GMs. 
  • He's pretty sure oral story telling is magic. 
  • Games are special because we have
  • Real time
  • Choices
  • Consequences
  • Responsive
  • Unique
  • Research topics:
  • We need more storytelling structures. We usually use:
  • Roller coaster
  • Retold (Tetris, madden)
  • Sandbox
  • Hybrid coaster (deus ex)
  • Procedural
  • Let's get better at non-combat ai. Why don't characters react to the weird or dumb stuff players always do? 
  • Sets not worlds. Smaller, more fully realized spaces over huge, poorly defined worlds.

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