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Depsite GDCVault obsolescence, one man continues his bias GDC 2011 coverage. Randy expresses, Michael depresses, and I take far too long creating these blog posts.

Jim McGinley, Blogger

March 24, 2011

7 Min Read

Bigpants' GDC 2011 Diary
Preshow   Monday I   Monday II   Monday III  



Leave Enough Room: Design that Supports Player Expression
3:00-3:25    Randy Smith - Tiger Style


Why 25 minute IGS? 1 hour GDC worthy.


Bias: Randy and I go way back.
I've attended several Randy-tations since.
Confident he would not recognize me.



Examples of Player Expression


Fallout 3 (2010)   

Liberating all the teddy bears, gathering them as your followers.

Thief (1998)   

Dragging unconcious guards into a room, tossing wine bottles on top of them. They appear to have collapsed from wild partying.

Spider (2010)   

Webs can be placed anywhere. Level endings reveal complete design.

Minecraft (2010)   


Jugglin' (2004)   

Players can create their own tricks. Confession: I added this.



Is Player Expression (PE™) for You Indies? YES!

- Indie Attainable - PE mostly the output of thoughtful design
- Indie Appropriate - PE is a new frontier, big studios unlikely to risk/explore
- For the good of the artform



How do you do it?

Showed PE examples using Tiger Style's upcoming neato sci-fi game "Mars" (placeholder)


1. Leave enough room.


Don't tell the player what to do.

Don't focus on score. It forces player to optimize which limits expression.
i.e. Score changes the focus of Scrabble into obscure words like "OE"

Offer multiple ways to reach goal.

Examples from Mars


Players need biomass to move forward. However, they don't need much and there are multiple ways to get it.


Depending on context, enemies are either hazards that hurt you or tools that help you.


Crabs eat seeds and reproduce. Terrible if you're trying to grow plants, awesome if you're trying to feed other creatures (which eat crabs).



2. Give the player tools to say things.


Empower the player to generate data.
Example from Mars - Player can change colour of the plants.



3. Listen and respond to the player's data.


Trickier than it sounds. You need to be very careful how you respond.

Consider responding by heaping more data on top of the player's data.
Example from Mars - Putting 3 plants together does something different than 1 plant.

Depth on demand.
i.e. Show the spider web, but don't give points for it.
Response is there for player that wants it, but not thrown in player's face.

Achievement/Badge responses are problematic.
They prove the designer already thought of it.
i.e. Rewarding player for gathering teddy bears ruins everything.
Player wants to believe it's the first time anyone thought of it.

How do you respond to guards being setup to look drunk?
Perhaps include a new statistic that shows the number of guards fired.
The only way to get more than 0 is the drunk approach.
Do not use an explicit cut scene or achievement.

How do you respond to Teddy bear liberation?
Perhaps an achievement for collections of soft things (don't reference Teddy bears).
How about this NPC response "You're the 6th craziest person I ever met."
Do not respond directly, that limits player creativity.


Some great thoughts... think I'll clone Mars.



Wisdomed Mined from Q & A


Gotta use the MIC, that's how we know it's legit.

Minecraft shows you that people are very interested in expressing themselves using objects that have gameplay meaning, not just visual.

If you're narrowing the range of options, you're limiting the ability of the player to be expressive.

It's about the player reaching into the game, and the game touching them back.

Randy is the 6th craziest person I ever met.

Turning Depression into Inspiration
3:35-4:00    Michael Todd - Spyeart.com


"i tend to work solo"


Being unproductive and being depressed reinforce each other. You get depressed about being unproductive which keeps you unproductive which makes you depressed. Sounds like web programming.

How to Remain Productive

1. Work on highly rewarding projects

-  uninspiring me is the most dangerous thing that can happen

-  create a project that's enjoyable to build - not necessarily to play

-  don't frontload fun stuff so only slog left over

-  design for yourself

Late Disclaimer: Michael is one of the nicest guys I know. I call him friend. He calls me Jim.

"I got into game development so i could make games and be happy -
  I didn't get into game development to complete projects."

2. Stop trying to be perfect

-  sometimes i start overthinking everything

-  get other people to play my game, it reminds me what parts are fun

-  i skype another designer, and ask how to solve flaws I'm stuck on

-  i browse steam & xblig and play demoes. helps me realize how much crap is out there

I took 5 pictures of Michael during his presentation. That was honestly the best one.

3. Shorter projects

-  more of the game is developed in the "I'm excited" phase

-  when you choose a shorter project, make sure it's awesome

Someone sneezes, Michael offers a kind "bless you". The man is all class.

4. Measuring my hours

-  if i don't measure my hours, depression can cause them to trend downward

Procrastitracker can help

5. Designing the game to suit my abilities

-  what do you love? what do you hate? do what you love

-  i don't like texturing. i suck at animation...
   ... so i build games that have few textures, and no animation.

-  incorporate everything unique to you (talents, location, friend abilities)
   it connects you with what you have

Night of the Cephalopods
   put pressure on Miguel's pixel art, which Miguel is great at.
   "ummm... he wasn't depressed when he built this... he just... built it... and i liked it"

   Messhoff focusses on what he does well
   "again, he wasn't depressed when he built this, he just... built this"

The Wrap Up

"Ultimately I had to leave the country for a month to reset my outlook"
Alexander Bruce
Note: That poor bastard lives in Australia.

Before you ask questions, I've decided i'm not going to take any questions.

I did not expect such a practical approach to such a personal topic. I liked the presentation and advice, but found Michael guarded (Robert Boyd would agree). I blame the overwhelming advice, feedback & cautions Michael received while creating the presentation. Thanks everybody & me.

Jimmy McG's Sure-Fire-Cure for Depression

Age to 40. Get crippling lower back pain. Realize you're not going to live forever.

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