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GDC 07 Notes. A Brief Overview and Key Takeaways of GDC Game Design Sessions Muhammad Ahmed. The Challenges of Designing First Person Melee Combat Raphael Colantonio. Created Dark Messiah of Might and Magic FPS Melee Combat was a hard concept to sell Initial Goals

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Gdc 07 notes

GDC 07 Notes

A Brief Overview and Key Takeaways of GDC Game Design Sessions

Muhammad Ahmed

The challenges of designing first person melee combat raphael colantonio
The Challenges of Designing First Person Melee CombatRaphael Colantonio

  • Created Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

  • FPS Melee Combat was a hard concept to sell

  • Initial Goals

    • Wanted very symbolic sword fighting image

    • Brutal Combat

    • Realistic slow/tactical fights

    • Encourage player’s creativity using the environment to solve puzzles

    • Expand and explore the FPS genre

Gdc 07 notes

  • Initial Problems Faced

    • Wanted to make sure that melee gameplay did not become Half-Life 2 with a sword instead of a crowbar

    • How to aim at close targets

    • Gauging distance and field of view (FoV)

  • Getting Started with Design

    • No publisher

    • Went through a long prototype phase

    • Decided to use the Source Engine

      • Cleared many issues of FoV and initial setup for an FPS game

    • Building a Design Vocabulary for:

      • Player States and Actions

      • Controls

      • AI States and Actions

      • Relative position of Player in regards to AI

Gdc 07 notes

  • Main Problematic Areas of Design

    • Aiming with a Sword

    • Enemy AI

    • Level Design

    • Player Habits

  • Aiming with a Sword

    • Used standard FPS theory and used the center of the screen for aiming

    • Implemented a full physics system for attacks and hits

      • Problems Faced:

        • Using the center of the screen for sword fighting was a very bad idea

          • Reminiscent of the crowbar!

        • Full physics made things worse in terms of AI hits and sword to sword combat

        • Attempts to hack center aiming and AI hits made things even worse during production

    • Target Locking

      • Somewhat worked as compared to aiming in the center of the screen

      • Problems Faced:

        • Inconsistent hit patterns

    • The overall solution:

      • Use of target locking with unique animations for the sword each with different hit zones that gave varying damage at each angle of the curve created by a sword swipe.

Gdc 07 notes

  • Enemy AI

    • The Problems

      • How to handle multiple AI

      • How to balance player reactions towards AI attacks

    • The Solutions

      • A token system was made for the AI

      • Only a max of two AI ever attacked the player up close

      • Other AI kept their distance until it was their turn to fight

      • All AI telegraphed their attacks indicating whether they were going to strike, block, etc.

  • Level Design

    • The Problem

      • The levels were all designed and nearly polished before combat and AI were tuned!

    • The Solution

      • The AI and melee combat along with other game mechanics needed to mapped to the design and layout of the levels

  • Player Habits

    • The Problems

      • Most FPS gamers are very twitchy when it comes to combat

      • Using a melee weapon as opposed to guns was a new concept

    • The Solution

      • Long and detailed tutorials were designed to teach the player to how manage sword combat

      • Also taught players how to get adjusted the slower pace of this game with a focus of melee combat

Gdc 07 notes

  • Conclusions

    • Wished that more blind testing was done on the game and the mechanics of melee combat

    • Regrets that the levels were built and designed before the core mechanics of the game

    • If given the chance to change anything for the future

      • Rework the larger monsters

      • Provide the player with more AI variety aside from only Orcs

  • Key Takeaways

    • An FPS game does not need a large arsenal of guns to be played

    • Any idea for game whether it is a single mechanic or the entire functionality can be designed but there will be issues along the way. If those issues are rationally solved the idea or mechanic will be in the game and it may just make the game unique in some way or another.

The future of interactive storytelling in next generation game development warren spector
The Future of Interactive Storytelling in Next Generation Game DevelopmentWarren Spector

  • Kind of a rant of a lecture but a very good rant nonetheless!

  • Games CAN tell a story!

  • Different types of game stories

    • Linear

    • Retold

      • The player retells how they played the game or an instance of the game

    • Player Generated

      • On the fly story telling as in the Sims

    • Shared Authorship

      • The game has a story but the player is given choices on how to approach it

      • Examples: KotoR, GTA, Deus Ex

Gdc 07 notes

  • There are still haters out there Game Development

    • Games don’t need a story and should not tell one

  • There are still supporters out there as well

    • Storytelling in games is everything ( I fall in this category)

  • Overall games should be shorter but deeper

    • Limit the amount of gameplay time to reasonable level

    • But in that time tell a great story

  • So what makes a great game story?

    • Change

    • Pacing

    • Empathetic characters

    • Thematic Depth

Gdc 07 notes

  • Storytelling progress in Next Gen Gaming Game Development

    • Linear

      • Still have games that tell a ‘roller coaster’ style story with many twists and turns but still ultimately keep the player on one path to then end of the story

    • Player Generated

      • The Will Wright school of story telling i.e. Spore and The Sims

    • Shared Authorship

      • Recent trend of many open world games i.e. GTA

  • Overall standpoint of Next Gen Gaming

    • It is NOT the solution or answer to storytelling

    • Just because there are better tools and processing horsepower does not necessarily mean that gameplay stories will be on the same page

    • Next Gen makes our lives harder as Designers

    • The main issue not just with Next Gen but with previous tech as been that tech and graphics have been raising the bar way too fast

    • With this increase of graphical tech over the years it has been hard for tech of AI control and interaction to keep up

    • Good AI support is a part of great storytelling for most games out there

Gdc 07 notes

  • Conversation Systems in Games Game Development

    • Current systems are good but can be better

      • Text selection of dialog choices

    • “ In a standard game it is easy to kill someone but virtually impossible to talk to them” –Jonathan Rauch

      • A quote that is very much true for most games out there

  • Conclusions (more than one)

    • First conclusion

      • There will be little or no improvements in the near future

    • Second conclusion

      • Improve upon Shared Authorship

        • Let players off the rails once in a while from the constraints of the game

        • Provide real choices and real consequences

        • Damn the technology! Work towards better designs of games in terms rather than better graphics

  • Takeaways

    • A very interesting session that is debatable as Warren Spector noted

Gdc 07 notes
Game Design: From Blue Sky to Green Light Game DevelopmentDeborah Todd, Matt Costello, Chris Charla, Mike Mika, and Christopher Ferriter

  • This session was hands on panel discussion on how to turn game ideas into full fledged concepts that can be approved for production

  • The first concept that was presented and debatable was ‘Blue Sky’

    • Some of the panelists believed that blue sky was the phase of design where anything goes, any idea can be pitched without critique until the brainstorming phase where ideas will become more polished

    • Other panelists believed that blue sky is the brainstorming phase in it self

  • To involve the audience panelists requested that people get into small groups with people next to them and come up with some blue sky ideas for a game

Gdc 07 notes

  • After a moment the panelists took ideas from the audience and wrote them down

    • One thing I noticed here was that some people pitched one line ideas, where as others spent a minute or more explaining many details of their game idea for the pitch

  • Of the list of ideas the panelists acting as ‘producers for the game’ selected three of the many ideas pitched that stood out the most

    • One idea that stood out was an idea for a game about manipulating smoke and shadows

    • Another one was about watching plants grow

    • Another idea was for Virtual Baby game

  • Once the ideas were narrowed down the panelists requested the audience to come up with unique ideas for the games, again there was no criticism involved

    • Each game had a long list of cool ideas and or features that could be possible

Gdc 07 notes

  • Brainstorming the ideas into a story and wrote them down

    • The panelists took concepts from the audience as to what the story could be using the features listed for each game.

    • What they were looking for the one liner pitch to sell the game to a publisher to get approved for development.

  • Green Light Phase

    • Here is where the first elements of criticism were received for the game ideas and stories pitched.

    • The panelists went over each idea and described their thoughts and reserves about the ideas and how well they would translate into real game that would be sold.

    • Between the three pitched ideas and their features and story elements Virtual Baby came out on top in terms of the panelists view as game that could possibly well be developed and sold

    • The smoke and shadow game would work as well given some of the story ideas pitched based on audience given features.

Gdc 07 notes

  • Conclusions and wrote them down

    • The blue sky to green light phase is practice done on most games that have been published within the industry as a whole

    • There are different variations on how the process works from studio to studio but the underlying concept is the same, to get an idea into fully designed concept that will become a marketable and published game

  • Key Takeaways

    • This interactive process was a great learning experience that can be used in the future for new game ideas or even for unique features within the game

    • Perhaps this can be an exercise that the design team can practice sometime in the future…

Designing gears of war iteration wins cliff bleszinski
Designing Gears of War: Iteration Wins and wrote them down Cliff Bleszinski

  • Probably one of the most anticipated sessions of GDC, aside from Miyamoto’s Keynote session

  • The iterative process used on Gears of War

    • Brainstorm

      • Any and all ideas are cool

    • Design and Documentation

      • Ideas are more focused and fleshed out

      • All ideas and features that are planned for the game should be documented

      • The entire team should read the documentation and be on the same page

Gdc 07 notes

  • Implement/Test and wrote them down

    • Once the ideas are focused and documented start working on them as soon as possible

    • Test the features that pitched for the game as they are developed

  • Nudge

    • Tweak game features once they come online and are working to make sure they are what they are supposed to be

  • Repeat

  • Establish Creative Guidelines and ADHERE to them!

    • Guidelines on Gears

      • Slower paced gameplay than traditional shooters with tradeoffs

      • NO Aliens from space

      • A mix of low and high tech within the game world

        • The Hammer of Dawn, Torque Bow

        • Standard ‘real world’ weapons, pistol, shotgun, etc

      • Embrace some clichés and shed others

  • Gdc 07 notes

    • Development Philosophies on Gears and wrote them down

      • Being a game designer along with other teammates created a love/hate relationship of other games

      • Looked at games with a more critical eye than most consumers

      • With some ideas in mind Gears had:

        • More “gamey” in a sense with little to no HUD interactions allowing the player to just play the game without on screen distractions

        • Established gameplay checkpoints instead of a save/load convention

        • Presentation with a cinematic eye to focus on various encounters

        • Little story overviews and cut to chase no need for long cut scenes explaining what is going. ( reflective of Warren Spector’s talk?)

      • Overall gameplay is king

        • But visuals, polish, and presentation count!

    Gdc 07 notes

    • Iterative Processes on Gears and wrote them down

      • Gameplay Camera

      • Cover system

      • Controls

      • Weapons

      • Multiplayer Design

    • Camera Iteration

      • First Person?

        • Wanted to move away from the FPS standard of UT

        • Show off UE3 characters

      • Decided on the third person camera

      • Positioning

        • Over the shoulder

        • FOV tricks

          • Widening view during aiming

          • Tightening view during roadie run

    Gdc 07 notes

    • Roadie Run and wrote them down

      • Started as ‘follow’ cam

      • Got the name from rock concert roadies

      • Freedom of running at a trade off…no shooting

      • Only 1.2x faster than the normal jog

        • Illusion of speed

        • Lower camera angle

        • Camera shakes

      • Provides an sense of urgency

  • Cover System Iterations

    • Goals

      • Make cover essential

      • Cover should be fun

      • Avoid “angles”

      • Make the player commit to the system

      • Avoid “fuzzy cover”

    • Evaluating competing cover systems

      • Stick versus A

      • Hold versus toggle

  • Gdc 07 notes

    • Control Scheme Iterations and wrote them down

      • The Halo Controls

        • Did not want to break the control standard for console shooters

        • Though wanted it to be unique

          • The reloading control moved to the right bumper so that is closer to the trigger rather than on button further away

          • Weapon swap moved to D-Pad near movement controls… only four weapons so it works to the mapping

          • Y was empty and became look at cool shit button

    • Weapon Iterations

      • Torque Bow

        • Started as a wrist mounted weapon ( not mentioned but assuming a Deus Ex idea)

        • Inspired by Rambo III with the explosive bow and arrow thing

        • Would detonate on player control

          • Good for setting traps

        • Issues

          • Too much animation

          • Would cause loss of the Berserker for animation time

        • Became

          • Crossbow Weapon

    Gdc 07 notes

    • Grenades and wrote them down

      • Did not want traditional ‘Coke Can’ grenades

      • Became Bolo Grenades

        • Telegraphed moves

  • Multiplayer Design Iteration

    • Given the gameplay style ‘circular’ level designs like Unreal Tournament were not done

    • Most maps had an “I” or “H” shape design

    • The most played and well designed map during production was ‘Gridlock’

      • This and all maps had a defined front for the COG and Locust Teams

    • Down but not Out

      • Players could be revived during combat

      • Great for players of the same team to keep in the fight

      • Great for opposing players to setup more kills!

  • Conclusions

    • Establish a great management structure for game features

    • Iterate on different ideas and features to make sure they are how you want them to be

    • Be quick on your feet, and know what to change and when

    • Consolidate ideas to try and get what you want into the game

  • Key Takeaway

    • The iterative process is not only limited to the initial production processes but can be applied to different elements and features of the game.

  • Theory into practice single player rts design for company of heroes erin daly and joshua mosqueria
    Theory Into Practice: Single Player RTS Design for Company of HeroesErin Daly and Joshua Mosqueria

    • This presentation was about the design practices at Relic used to create the recently released game Company of Heroes

    • Company of Heroes is Real Time Strategy (RTS) game set within World War 2

    • What they did to set themselves apart from other great RTS titles such as Starcraft, Warcraft, and Command and Conquer was to make an RTS game that focused more on the player interaction with the units and strategy rather than standard RTS mantra of build a base and crush the opposing base.

    Gdc 07 notes

    • Relic’s Thoughts on What Makes a good RTS mission of Heroes

      • Bend and break the rules to make a compelling experience

      • Context and Immersion

        • Push the story forward not only with each mission but each mission objective

      • No need to watch grass grow

        • RTS games as mentioned rely on building bases and resource management

        • Company of Heroes does not do that

        • Not to say it is a bad thing but not doing it relates to bending and breaking the rules

      • Present the player with memorable moments

    • What Defines a Memorable Moment?

      • Something unique that player has not seen before

      • Defy the player’s expectations

      • Provide a contextual element

      • Leverage game mechanics to provide the maximum effect

      • Require the player to take serious action and in turn reward them for it

    • “A good movie needs three great scenes and none of which suck!” –Relic

    Gdc 07 notes

    • Overall approach to Single Player RTS of Heroes

      • Creating a unique experience

      • Use the gameplay to advance the story

      • Shorter but more engaging missions

    • Tools used at Relic

      • SCAR- Scripting at Relic

        • A LUA Based Scripting system

        • Fairly easy to use system for designers

        • Empowered designers to create unique scenarios given the game mechanics and content

        • Provided a lot of re-use with easy to do tweaks to already written scripts

      • World Builder

        • 3-D Level editor allowed designers to place art assets

        • Placed triggers to run scripts for missions

      • Attribute Editor

        • A tool used to quickly tune values and attributes of scripted elements

    Gdc 07 notes

    • The Design Mantra of Heroes

      • Minimal paper design

        • One to two page mission pitch

        • Interactive (links and images) paper prototype

        • High level LDD/ MDD

      • Allowed for designer ownership for the mission

      • Most documents described what was going on the in mission not how to actually do the mission or build the level or script it.

        • Those were broken into other documents

    • Overview of the Iterative Process

      • Designers benchmarked missions

        • For various stages of productions missions were to be completed to some extent.

        • For the 15 missions designed overall each one had production goals, 30%, 50% complete

      • Goal based iteration

        • Mission objectives and scenario design went through many iterations before reaching a final design

      • Reviews

        • Peer Reviews

        • Once a day play sessions for different missions

        • Tore missions apart to tweak them and make them “not suck”

    Gdc 07 notes

    • Conclusions of Heroes

      • A game in given genre does not need to follow the conventions of the genre

      • Unique and memorable moments within the game really appeal to the player and move gameplay and story elements

      • A good set of tools should be used that allow designers to create unique experiences for the player

      • Designers should have a sense of ownership on the work they contribute to the game.

    Gdc 07 notes
    The Game Design Challenge: The Needle and Thread Interface of HeroesHarvey Smith, Alexey Pajitnov, David Jaffe, and Eric Zimmerman

    • Three influential game designers were presented with a design challenge to make a game with the input devices of a needle(s), a square piece of fabric, and some thread!

    • Eric Zimmerman introduced each of the three contestants and provided an overview of the design challenge

    • The basic idea behind the use of an odd interface came from the recent rise in new tech and next gaming, especially the Wii controls

    • The basic rules and context of the game based on the interface were as follows:

      • Only one piece of cloth can be used per player

      • Different needles can be used by the player

      • Different threads can be used by the player

      • Up to eight clothes can be connected to the TV

    Gdc 07 notes

    • First up to present was David Jaffe of Heroes

      • Mainly known for designing God of War 1 and 2

    • Initial reaction to the design challenge

      • “Are you fucking shitting me!”- David

      • Had nice parody of ‘Cinderella Man’ to the game design challenge

        • Alexey was Jim Braddock

        • Harvey was Max Baer

        • David described himself as Paul Giamatti’s character and being on the sidelines of this whole thing

    • Main intimidation on this idea was the use of the fabric

      • The fabric as a game pad/controller did not seem like a fun tool to use to play a game

    • After more ideas of failure David presented his breakthrough idea

      • Virtual Paper Airplane Creator

      • The basic idea behind it was to fold the fabric in the shape of the airplane via a tutorial or freelance design

      • Once folded the player would use the needle and thread to sew it together, while they did that the virtual plane would be drawn on screen.

      • When the plane was designed it could be flown in some sort of environment against other planes

    Gdc 07 notes

    • Following David was Alexey of Heroes

      • Creator of Tetris!!

    • His idea was called ‘stitch and cross’

      • A small two player game

    • The goal of the game was that each player would use the cloth as playing field and with their needles and thread ‘stitch’ their way to the other side of the cloth

    • If a player ‘crossed’ another player’s stitched line kills that players line

    • The UI

      • On screen players would see a small arena with red and blue sides

      • One player (blue) would stitch right to left (vice versa)

      • The other (red) top to bottom (vice versa)

      • On screen players would see their lines being stitched and killed

      • On screen players would see obstacles in their path so that they can not stitch straight lines

    Gdc 07 notes

    • Lastly Harvey presented his idea, a full fledged 3d adventure game

    • He too had an initial reaction like David, “This is bat shit crazy”

    • Thought Process

      • Took into account the controller and how it would work first

      • After many presented ideas Harvey went with a lap loom style controller for the cloth, but more specifically it was shaped like a Native American snow shoe! Odd but seemed reasonable

      • With this snow shoe loom thing holding the cloth, the player would use the needle to sew different spots to control the game

      • Tired to apply his new concept to existing games

    • The game he came up with was entitled “The Tailors Daughter”

      • An adventure game with a quilty art style

      • Allegorical fiction

      • A lot of thread/needle interaction to control the main character

        • Movement, attacks, puzzle solving.

      • His game idea had some great political humor aimed at the current administration!

    Gdc 07 notes

    • Conclusion adventure game

      • After each of the three unique ideas were presented, Eric opened the floor up to some Q/A.

      • Then by judging the audience’s reaction to each presenter Eric awarded Alexey as the winner! Harvey got second place with his adventure game idea and lastly David Jaffe with his paper airplane concept. ( I voted for David )

    • Key Takeaway

      • No matter how crazy a concept is it can be solved reasonably and rationally.

      • Though in most cases our design problems may be more down to earth on actual game systems, but odd challenges will emerge that will need to be solved in clever and feasible manner within the constraints of the game.

      • It is ok to initially curse out the idea presented for a game or game concept. 

    Sharing control david edery matt brown raph koster and ray muzyka
    Sharing Control adventure gameDavid Edery, Matt Brown, Raph Koster, and Ray Muzyka

    • This was an interesting session that was more of an open discussion between the four designers about the concept of sharing control between designers and users within games.

    • All being proponents of sharing control they believed that users of games should be allowed to do what designers can with the game to promote their own creativity

    • Everyone is a content creator in some form or another

      • How much content to create in a game is up to user

        • This not limited to actual game design but playing the game from different perspectives is content generation based of emergent gameplay

        • Of all the content that is created by users 90% will suck and 10% will be great

        • If each person that can contribute 10% works with others that contribute 10% something amazing can be created such as a full fledged mod.

    Gdc 07 notes

    • Sharing control within the actual design process? adventure game

      • Most game development houses and designers completely exclude the user from any form expression or control of their game until it is available for sale

      • Others wish to involve more users in the development process of a game

      • Neither answer is wrong but how should it be handled if users are allowed to par take in game design along side the designers?

    • All depends on the designers interests

      • If the game is yours and you want to make big bucks off of it and not let anyone interfere then that is cool

      • But if you want the game to be for the fans then letting them control some aspects of the design can be beneficial

    • The best and easiest to get user involvement on design issues is to ask the fans

      • Though it is hard to sift through good and through input as compared to the possible influx of one liner ideas “This object sucks…make it better”

      • Sometimes players are not good at telling what the want, but they can tell you what is wrong with a game if given the chance to play it via focus tests

    Gdc 07 notes

    • When asking fans for input or focus testing don’t assume that hardcore fans are right about their views

      • Only listening to hard core fans may make a game virtually impossible to play at a novice level excluding those players from buying your game

      • Taking novice input will help you balance the game

  • Community sites and games.

    • Managing or working with community sites dedicated to a game provides some element for users to share control of a game.

    • Whether it be about posting questions about a game and it’s features or posting user generated content such as levels, scripts, art work, etc are all ways for users to express themselves and share control

    • At times allowing users to share control with self expression of mods and what not can be very beneficial to the product

      • Doom/Unreal Maps

      • Machina videos within games, Sims, Never Winter Nights

      • Interface mods

  • Gdc 07 notes

    • Conclusions that hardcore fans are right about their views

      • Sharing control is something that is on the rise with the advent of MMO’s and large online communities

      • The way players share control with the game is varied but everyone out there is creating content either for themselves or the game community as a whole

      • The level of quality of the content is up for the users to decide but some can really deliver with awesome content

      • Aside from sharing control online and after a game is out, designers can also opt to share control during design to get the most feedback on game before it is done.

    • Key Takeaway

      • User generated content is a great element for designers to get more exposure for their games

      • Allowing users to take part in game development is great way for designers to know what they are doing to appease all audiences or selected audiences for their game.

    Writing great design documents damion schubert
    Writing Great Design Documents that hardcore fans are right about their viewsDamion Schubert

    • A very good and practical presentation

    • The small lecture room filled up to full capacity and more!

    • The entire presentation can be found at

    • Some key points presented

      • All designers should share their ideas with the team

      • Likewise all the team members should read the documentation created to know what they are building!

      • Design docs should be short and to the point

      • Different design docs should have a target audience

        • Producers

        • Other Designers

        • Programmers

        • Artists