SIGGRAPH Video Game Symposium

SIGGRAPH 2006 started in Boston this weekend, and happily, it includes a full two days of game-centric content. Unfortunately, I’ve had to miss most of it for a variety of personal reasons. However, I did manage to catch two good sessions, plus a game of Guitar Hero 2.  :-)

The subject of the first session was Cloud, a game developed by students at USC and released to much applause in 2005. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, Cloud is intended to evoke childhood dreams of flight. It also differs from most games in that you can’t lose or even feel like you’re losing (there are no points, countdown timers, etc). You play until you win. This is mostly old news, but the session revealed a few things that I found interesting:

  • Cloud has been downloaded over 750,000 times (thanks in part to great publicity).
  • Feedback is generally positive, i.e. “this is the kind of game I’d like to play with my children.”
  • Voluntary registration has indicated that the majority of people downloading the game are over 20 years old. (Are kids less likely to register…?)
  • The brainstorming process that led to Cloud worked like this: the dev team mapped the different emotions that games usually make you feel, and noticed a big gap in the “happy” and “peaceful” segments of the map. So, they started thinking about ways to generate those emotions in a game. This seems like a nice thought-experiment to me. I like games that attempt to invert a major convention of any given genre (for example, I often say that Planescape: Torment is one of my favorite games partially because it turned a typical loss condition, player death, into the actual goal of the game — i.e. you’re an immortal desperately seeking a way to end your own life. )

The second session, “Game Developers and the Crisis of Creativity”, was nicely moderated by Jason Della Rocca. If you’d like to read a transcript, there’s one at Cross Gamer. In brief, here’s what I found interesting and/or amusing:

  • Joe Minton: “The DS is killing the PSP because the games are better… I love my PSP but I’m still waiting to have fun with it.” Joe also said that publishers no longer seem fixated on whether a game pitch resembles an existing game that sold well; they are more willing to consider experimental ideas… a promising anecdote!
  • Hank Howie: “The game industry is finally looking outside its own walls and adopting software engineering practices like SCRUM.”
  • Steve Meretsky: By far the most pessimistic of the panelists. In response to the question “will there be more opportunity for the industry five years from now”, Steve answered, “Yes, but only because we’re at such a low level right now.” However, when (literally) forced to say something nice, Steve’s response was notable. He cited The Escapist as a great thing for the industry, thanks to the magazine’s more mature level of game commentary. He also hailed the advent of game design degrees, saying they would envigorate the industry and help blunt government censorship.

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