The IndieCade 2009 Friday keynote was far from the usual keynote experience.
But, one was prepared for that, considering the session, "Fresh Ideas for First and Third Person Shooters," seemingly had no strong connection to any of the three speakers who took the stage at the California event. Perhaps the first=person block shooting of the Boom Blox
series, which speaker Robin Hunicke helped create during her tenure at EA, counted for something.
Certainly, nothing in the catalog of her colleague at thatgamecompany, Jenova Chen (fl0w, Flower
) or fellow artist and game designer Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy, Noby Noby Boy
) suggested they’d be any better at tackling modern shooters.
The audience, however, was full of people who had earlier experienced the magical realism of Daniel Benmergui’s Moon Stories
and the simple, physics-based gameplay of IndieCade Best of Show Winner Osmos
, so they were plenty prepared for the inevitable wackiness of the keynote.
The speakers were less speakers and more facilitators, encouraging the audience to participate in a group brainstorm, responding to the speakers far-flung shooter game ideas with, if not brilliant solutions, vaguely real complementary ideas that got everyone’s creative juices flowing.
Takahashi, who quickly admitted he was a casual player of modern first person shooters, began the proceedings by describing his idea: a first person shooter where the player character grows and shrinks based on his success in the game.
Takahashi asked the audience for ideas of how the character undergoes his Katamari-esque transformation, and the audience responded. “Maybe the character is made out of balloons,” said one member. “What if he shrinks when the bad guy complains how the real world sucks?” suggested another. Hunicke wrote down all these ideas on a nearby easel as per classic brainstorming best practices.
After a while of idea after idea in rapid-fire succession, Takashi revealed the general story he had originally pieced together. “The final enemy is the character’s parents. They want peace in the world, so they developed huge people so that no one would fight… At the end of the game, the mother, father, and son… they become so big that they’d have to fight each other. Then they lose all their clothes and get embarrassed and can’t fight each other any more.”
Jenova Chen began his segment of the keynote by saying that starting design from the genre feels foreign to him as a game maker. “That’s not the way I make games. Asking me to make a first person shooter is troublesome, because I have to fit an experience to the genre.”
Chen found it interesting that many first person shooter games are more about immersion and suspense than about the actual act of shooting, so he pushed the audience to help him find everyday things more interesting than bullets that people shoot. Some of the audience suggestions: kisses, e-mail, signals, germs, garbage, heroin, spit, and glances.
He admitted to the audience that one reason he asked for everyday things and actions was because he found it difficult to care about modern first person shooters. “If I spend time on this, it better return to me something besides the time that I’ve been distracted.”
Chen’s session ended with the audience discussing the concept of shooting glances and maintaining people’s attention. Many in the audience provided their own personal experience and anecdotal evidence on maintaining attention, whether that of the player character or the NPCs’.
Whereas Chen’s talk looked for something beyond bullets to shoot, Robin Hunicke turned the focus to the bullets themselves. “It’s really hard to think about bullets as being creative,” she admitted. She talked about a design test she did at Bungie where she suggested a gun that created climbing pegs that people can use to scale walls: an explicitly designed version of the classic Deus Ex
LAM trick but with multiple players enabling each other from far distances.
Hunicke also returned to some of the concepts introduced in Chen’s segment, with players acting as the conductor shooting commands to an orchestra, or shooting attention in a day care center to ensure the kids don’t kill themselves.
With this last segment of the keynote, the audience suggestions became more and more fantastic. Some people suggested guns that shoot create emotion, and others suggested variations of life-giving bullets: a reverse shooter where the corpses you shot reanimate?
Perhaps the bullets themselves populate a barren world? A more interesting scenario featured participants bringing guns and bullets of their own choosing into a duel; one would shoot “unicorns and rainbows” at his opponent, while the other returned fire with “sadness and Godzilla.”
By the end of the brainstorm, there were dozens of sheets of paper affixed on the screen behind the speaker, all filled with concepts and pictures that have never been seen in modern shooters. Takahashi asked the audience, “Maybe these ideas can be sold in stores?”
The audience responded enthusiastically before filing out of the auditorium, taking the keynote’s ideas and healthy discussion with them into the indie gaming world.