Rod Humble's GDC session, titled “The Emergent Gamer,” was originally titled “The Golden Age of Game Design.” While many might think he would be referring to such eras as the so-called Golden Age of Arcades or the rebirth of console gaming in America in the 1980s, Humble was actually referring to now and the near future.
The ease with which games can be made these days makes today the Golden Age, and he presented EA's attempt to push this ability further: TheSimsCarnival.com
Starting With An Epitaph
Humble began by talking about the permanence of games in our culture, comparing of civilization's oldest games (mancala, go, etc.) to the world's oldest music. He played for the audience some of the Epitaph of Seiklos, the western world's earliest complete piece of music. “We still play these old games... but less people groove to the Epitaph of Seiklos,” he noted.
After Humble rapidly went through the reasons that games are an important and meaningful part of human history (“I think sometime novels will catch up,” he mused) game developers should be worried. “Professional game design is an anomaly,” he warned the audience. “Enjoy your jobs while you can... before the people take over!” He pointed to poetry as a notable art form that relatively recently enjoyed democratization through increased literacy in the populous and the rise of the working class poet.
We already see a lot of this creation of games by the masses in player mods. Things like the nude Tomb Raider
patch and the recent Hot Coffee Grand Theft Auto
mod are electronic equivalents of the little mods that occurred to early games like Chess and Backgammon; in fact, the modern Chess we play is the result of numerous player mods atop the original game of Chess made years ago.
A few years ago, people within EA decided to try some experiments in making a platform for easy game creation. Released amongst themselves in the form of a MySpace-like website, 100 developers ended up making over 500 games in the course of a month. It ended up being such a hit with everybody that they evolved it into a new form: The Sims Carnival
. While that earlier iteration was EA only, as of today, SimsCarnival.com is accepting sign ups for invitations into the closed beta.
One-Click Game Development
All of the games that are featured on The Sims Carnival
are essentially Flash applications, and experienced developers may upload their own straight Flash games to the website. However, the biggest selling point for the site is how simple it is for complete non-developers to make their own games.
The site uses a wizard interface to allow people to configure pre-made components for integration into a game. For example, the user can simply select a genre, then a more specific genre, then select some of the types of items that are found within the genre and the quality of their effects in the game with a few clicks of the mouse.
On stage, Humble showed how a very simple puzzle game could be made with the wizard in less than a minute. A few dialog boxes later, the abstract shape assets that were in the game were replaced by some notable American politicians, much to the delight of the crowd.
For users who would like to go further than the wizard interface without becoming a full Flash developer, EA provides a tool called the AGC or Advanced Game Creator, which users can download and use to make more advanced games from scratch in a custom development environment.
Humble finished his presentation by noting that even though this could be seen as pushing the game developer out by enabling more gamers to make the transition to designers, it could also drive up the attendance of conferences like GDC.