Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Game Day at Carleton University

Game Day is an an annual event at Carleton University. It's a day full of lectures on various game industry topics, a LAN party, and one of many Global Game Jam events. I attended this year for the first time, and learned a few tricks of the trade that may come in handy for my future research, and especially if I ever want to create a production-quality game.

In the first talk Game Design Basics: What's in a Story?, by Christian Beauclair of Microsoft, we learned about the one way to look at what makes a good game: game play, story, presentation. Which of these should be given more precedence? Beauclair suggests that story should always come first. You want your player to come out of the game remembering the life of the character, or feeling like they accomplished something. You then want to pick a game play that suits the story; for example, you probably don't want a first-person shooter for a love story. Finally, graphics come last, and are there to support the other two aspects. When thinking about your story, you want to consider originality, character development, pace, and epic moments.

Next up was Antonio Santamaria of Artech Studios with "Wouldn't it be cool if"....Putting together a game pitch. This was a decently in-depth talk about the kinds of things you want in your pitch. I won't write them all here, but I thought his list of general tips was worth sharing, since I think it applies for research game ideas as well:
  • Keep it realistic
  • Know your unknowns
  • Start small
  • Balance your excitement with actual content
  • Check spelling and grammar
  • Don't use stinkers as comparisons - only talk about good past games
The first afternoon talk was given by Dominira Saul of Akendi. He outlined The changing face of the game: How game design is at the leading edge of Human Computer Interaction. Saul used examples of games to show that new modes of interaction often show up first there before making their way to regular computer use. For instance, it was after the first 3D first person shooters like Doom came out that researchers started exploring the idea of spatial computing and using 3D desktops to help people remember where their files are. The big question was what the next big thing will be. The audience had all kinds of suggestions, from voice recognition to the magic of project Natal. Whatever it is, we can be almost sure that we'll see it first in gaming.

Finally, the last talk I saw was by John Seck, Black Cherry Digital Media: Can a Video Game Save a Life? -- Serious Games and Serious Education. He spoke about a project that has been in the work for a few years and about to be released. On the Path of the Elders is geared toward aboriginal youth, particularly in northern regions that are very isolated yet very well connected via broadband. The game was meant to help these youth connect with their culture, as most of the content online has nothing to do with them. The hope is that this will help improve the suicide rate, which is currently about 800 times worse than anywhere else in the developed world. They are truly trying to save lives with a game.

I didn't participate in the Global Game Jam, but I had some friends who were. What is it?
In a Game Jam, artists, programmers, and designers come together to make video games. Each participant works in a small team (3 to 5 people) on a complete game project over the course of a limited time period, usually over a weekend. In a Global Game Jam, people all over the world meet at more than 60 different sites to jam simultaneously!
Pretty neat! I hope to participate one year, once I find a team that doesn't mind that I can't stay up all night thanks to my dependence on hard contacts. In the meantime, the games from this year's jam are available online. You can check out the games made at Carleton.

I thought the Game Day event was well run and would like to go again next year (despite this year's room being a little dim, cold, and wifi-less). It's great to see what the local game community is up to!


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