Archives for the month of: March, 2011

The night before the Game Developers Conference started, I spent the evening at a board game night that Jeff Ward puts together every year. Not wanting to miss an opportunity for expert playtesting, John Sharp and I brought along a couple copies of Armada d6.

Among our playtesters was Paul Sottosanti, a game designer from Wizards of the Coast (the company that published Richard Garfield’s Magic: The Gathering and now owns D&D) who now works for Maxis on their Spore property. Paul (along with the rest of our playtesters that evening) offered amazing feedback, and the game design has taken some new directions as a result in the weeks following the conference.

In the meantime, however, Paul has written a great blog post about his experience playing the game and why he thinks Armada d6 is a prime example of elegant game design. It’s flattering to get such solid props from a colleague, of course, but it’s also just nice to know that some of the design intentions are actually coming through to players.

Note to Paul: many of the design questions you raise at the end of your article are actually being changed as a result of that night of playtesting. Stay tuned for the next iteration!

Of everything I did at GDC this year, I’m most pleased with the success of the Metagame, the large-scale social game created by Local No.12 (Mike Edwards, Colleen Macklin, John Sharp, and myself) for the conference.

We had close to 3,000 players actively playing from start to end of the conference.In my twelve years of creating large-scale games for the GDC, the Metagame is clearly the game that generated the most activity and dedicated play. Between (and during) sessions, at parties and mealtimes, it was easy to find small circles of players throwing down Metagame cards and arguing with heartfelt enthusiasm. I detailed some of the design principles of the Metagame in an earlier post, and the history of the game as well (it is based directly on a series of games that Frank Lantz and I designed).

The Metagame is interesting on a lot of levels, but one is that it engenders game literacy in several ways. To play the game well, you need to be familiar with a wide range of contemporary and historical games, you need to be able to think about those games in unusual ways, and you need to be able to articulate your thoughts about those games in a competitive social context. One intervention that happened with the Metagame at GDC is that it temporarily turned 3,000 game developers into 3,000 videogame scholars. Thanks especially to our sponsors: BBC, the NYU Game Center, and the IGDA.

We have started to receive some press about the game. Pretentious Gamer has blogged about it, and Bytejacker in a write-up about it said it might be “the most enviable part of GDC.” In fact, the game went so well, and so many people asked us where they could get a full set of cards, that we have decided to raise money for a full print run on Kickstarter. com. Visit the project site here. If we raise $10,000 in the next month, we’ll have enough to send decks out to everyone that pledged $25 or more.

You can bet that there will be more posts here about the Metagame, but in the meantime, please help spread the word!

Another Game Developers Conference come and gone. For those not in the game industry, GDC is the largest annual gathering of the people that make games. This year, more than 18,000 game developers gathered in San Francisco for a week of stimulating sessions, business meetings, and all-hours socializing. In addition to being part of four lectures or panels, I also ran the Metagame – but more about that in my next post.

I was happy with my sessions. Naomi Clark and I gave a lecture on desire, labor, and game design. Developer and game design gadfly Darius Kazemi gave it a wonderfully detailed writeup. Despite the highly theoretical talk, we had a good audience that stayed through the end to ask some tough questions.

Later that afternoon, I moderated a session for the GDC Education Summit on collaboration. We structured the event like the Dating Game, and with appropriately cheesy music clips furnished by Michael Sweet, the result was an entertaining and informative panel. In addition to Michael, Tracy Fullerton, Colleen Macklin, and Matt Weise all shared stories from the front lines of cross-industry collaboration.

Things heated up later in the week when I moderated the annual rant panel with co-host Jason Della Roca. The theme this year was “Social Game Developers rant back,” and our panelists did not disappoint. Along the lines of the theme, Jason and I had prepared a social game for the session. Each person that entered received a plastic “golden coin,” and the player that collected the most coins from other players earned the right to deliver an impromptu mini rant. Between the high-spirited rants and the chaos that resulted from the game, this session was perhaps the most challengingly unpredictable event I have ever had to moderate. But Jason and I managed to keep things under control – just barely – and everyone seemed to have a good time. Here are two pieces on the session from Gamasutra and PC Gamer – each of which garnered its own heated comments. Special thanks to my co-host Jason, as well as panelists Ian Bogost, Brenda Brathwaite, Trip Hawkins, Chris Hecker, Steve Meretzky, Brian Reynolds, Scott Jon Siegel, and Justin Hall, who received the coveted duct tape award for his performance last year.

On the last day of the conference, I hosted the annual Game Design Challenge – still going strong after almost a decade. Jenova Chen returned from his victory last year to face off against John Romero and Jason Rorher – truly an incredible trio of designers. (That’s them in the background of the photo above.) The theme for the challenge was “Bigger than Jesus” and each designer had to present a game that was, in some way, also a religion. Jason won for his game “chain world,” a mod of Minecraft that was to be passed on from player to player on a USB drive. And at the end of his talk, Jason actually did pass on the game to its first player. Leigh Alexander did an excellent writeup of the session for Gamasutra.

Thanks to everyone that attended my sessions, and see you next year!

**UPDATE: Since I posted this, I learned about the article that Ryan Creighton wrote for Gamasutra. Ryan was the audience member that “stole” a bag of coins as a way to win the social game in the Rant session. I loved Ryan’s mini-rant, and I’ll forgive his somewhat self-congratulatory and only slightly inaccurate article. (For example, there were plenty of coins to go around for session audience, despite his action.) But in the end, I was happy to let mischief win. Well played, Ryan!

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