The 23rd annual Game Developers Conference® returns to San Francisco’s Moscone Center March 23-27, 2009. Get ready for a week of learning, networking, and inspiration as over 18,000 developers convene to further the digital entertainment industry. The GDC hosts top sessions, panels, roundtables and keynotes from select speakers worldwide. Evening events include the 11th annual Independent Games Festival and the 9th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards. Now available for viewing are the latest sessions for Audio, Business Management, Game Design, Production, Programming and Visual Arts tracks as well as our full and half day Tutorials and our nine Summits. Visit www.gdconf.com for more information.
Sometime during the Independent Games Summit of GDC '09, Audiosurf creator and apparently freshly-minted millionaire Dylan Fitterer gave a talk entitled 'Embracing Constraints'. He discussed how total freedom can mean total failure for anyone starting down the path of being an independent developer. Naturally, this got me thinking about modders, some of the ambitious projects that we see pop up and the overall failure rate for mods. I've compiled some information I've gleaned from Fitterer's talk and added some of my own tidbits to pass on. Both modders and indies alike can benefit by exercising restraint and setting hard limits for their own projects.
Audiosurf didn't come about out because of the blue sky freedom Dylan had. For many years, he spun his wheels trying to make the 'perfect' game. He found himself actually enjoying his contract work more just because there was set parameters around which he had to make his creativity work. Too much freedom was actually suffocating his creativity. After all, if you look back at history's great artists and their works of art, you can see that the restraint of the mediums they used – or imposed on themselves – informed their creativity.
Shakespeare made his plays and sonnets all work within iambic pentameter. Picasso's cubism is all formed with geometric hard angles. Macgyver saves lives with nothing more than a paperclip. Even looking back at childhood toys, you can see how their simplicity spurred creativity. Lego is a great example: whatever you create with them would inevitably be blocky and crude but it was a challenge to find ways around Lego's limits to create what you wanted. The Etch-a-sketch was a crude drawing toy, but then again no one expected anyone to create works of art with it. These constraints, whether imposed or just inherent to the medium, encourage creativity and experimentation. Furthermore, especially in the case of toys, you aren't expected to succeed. No one comes across a bucket of Legos and expects to create art. You play, and in play you are free to fail. There's no pressure on yourself to deliver something great.
So back to Dylan's dilemma; he's having trouble just even starting down the path of building his best game ever. So what does he do? He launches a site and forces himself to build quick, 7-day prototypes to release to the public. He introduces constraints, constraints where he is expected to fail. And in that he stopped thinking about making his ultimate game and just concentrated on pumping out those prototypes every so often. Eventually he made Tune Racer, Audiosurf's predecessor that used your MP3 library to let you ride your music. While it wasn't the most popular game on his site, it was Dylan's favorite game that he wanted to keep playing.
Even in development, introducing new constraints helped shape Audiosurf's design. Since Dylan wasn't an advanced 3d artist, he decided at first to forego any textures or complicated 3d models. What was originally vehicle traffic was substituted out for just simple cubes. Without textures, he had to develop a shader system that was unique enough to not need the use of textures. The final version of Audiosurf does actually use some textures but without constraints he imposed on the game, he may have not arrived at the same look that we see today.
Originally, Audiosurf was developed with 20 different characters to unlock and play with. But by choosing to pare it down to 11 (a number he just picked at random), Dylan ended up combining character attributes and incorporating others as special abilities. This worked even better in the end, serving to strengthen the game and forcing him to cull the bad ideas while exercise his creativity to include all the good ones in some form. Even in choosing achievements, Fitterer admitted to just stealing achievements from other games and making them work for his game. Other times he would just sample the icon art and think up an achievement based on it.
So where have we seen this in mods? Many projects seek to put themselves out there in comparison to retail AAA products, utilizing every facet of technology that engine X can afford them plus more. Many modders are set to make their “best game ever” on their first go, and as a result their project takes a nosedive after a tumultuous development period or proceeds down the long road of development that rivals the incubation period for the fabled Duke Nukem Forever. While some of these projects do see the light of day, the vast majority do not. However, there have been a few mod developers that have had the foresight to introduce constraints in order to not only make life easier for themselves, but to laser-focus their creativity to a few aspects instead of trying to create “the ultimate game”:
The Ball has followed a fairly regular release schedule in step with the succession of phases for the MSU contest. The first two chapters have focused solely on physics-based puzzle interactions and the variety of applications for it. With their upcoming third release, they are just beginning to introduce actual combat. With a simple yet iterative structure and schedule, The Ball is able to focus their attention on the level design and physics-based interactions. The results are nothing short of amazing, taking into account the relatively short turnaround times.
Perfect Stride Continuum limits itself to a game that is all about the economy of movement. Hearkening back to the days of skill jumps and stunt runs in games like Quake and Unreal Tournament, Perfect Stride forces you to be fast and precise in order to maintain momentum and collect all the goodies. Put that together with an 8-bit palette and chiptunes and you have a nice little nostalgic morsel of a mod.
Flipside was a student project put together by Nordic students in 1 month. Considering the unique mechanic behind the mod and the original visual styling, time was a massive constraint that forced these mod developers to cull away everything not essential to the kernel of the mod. The end result speaks for itself and is an amazing achievement for a mod team - student or otherwise.
Minerva and Portal Prelude are both mods that focused on level design at their core. Although they took care in crafting the all other elements to complete the feel of an original story, they used as many props and other resources sourced from their respective games to keep their creative efforts focused on what they wanted to do. In both cases, many of the maps were developed before an actual story tied everything together.
Duke Theft Auto is a standout project to me that hasn't forgotten how creative you can still be with the limits of old tech. Not everything needs to be upgraded with a coat of shiny realistic graphics in order to make it appealing. In this case, the Duke 3D engine seems like a perfect fit for the GTA games of old.
Of course, these are just a few examples and ModDB is full of many others. Yet the amount of dead or dying projects still dwarf those that show any potential. So how many of you are putting together your "ultimate project"? It may be time to introduce some constraints to help you get started and save time.
'Twas a great day today. Last year really felt like we were nobodies and had everything to prove. This year, after running into people from both Overgrowth and Zeno Clash, I can honestly feel good about what we've accomplished over the last year and how much of an impact we made. Still, there's always more to be done. I've taken quite a few notes on the sessions I was present at today. These notes may materialize into articles eventually, but not today – I'm about ready to pass out. Nevertheless, here's a short summary of today's highlights.
Ron Carmel and his partner Kyle Gabler seem to be making all the right moves with their wildly successful indie game, World of Goo. In this session, Ron's breaks down the sales figures of WoG for 2008 and lets us know which outlets mattered the most. In a surprise to many, WiiWare would have all but dominated everything else were it not for the almighty Steam sale.
Game lawyer Tom Buscaglia peppers Zach Aikman (Fishbeat), Micheal Wilford (Twisted Pixel) and Dylan Fitterer (Audiosurf, LLC) with questions on how to nurse the buzz earned from IGF and PAX10 awards/nominations through to genuine business possibilities. The 3 took different routes but all agreed that press exposure was something you should give your full attention for as long as you have it. While it may siphon time away from actual development, its a necessary tactic to help ensure a successful game launch.
Dylan Fitterer takes the stage again to emphasize constraints as necessary development tools for independents. While many independent (and mod) teams may push the bar in order to make themselves more comparable to full-on commercial studio titles, Dylan embraced his constraints to help himself author one of the bestselling indie games ever. Just as artists have done more with less, indie game developers should consider enforcing constraints to stimulate proactive development and unleash true creative freedom.
Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock and outspoken advocate against DRM, reveals how his company has been able to achieve the heights of success developing and publishing games like Sins of the Solar Empire and Galactic Civilizations II. While not multi-million dollar blockbusters, Stardock is still thriving on what many wrongly consider to be a niche audience. After all, compared to games like Civilization 4, many FPS games just don't stack up in sales numbers.
Well, here I am again in San Francisco yet again for my second GDC. Another year wiser and this time I'll know what to expect. Last year's conference had my head spinning in wonderment – just two months after my initial employment with ModDB, I was plopped into a building full of the best and brightest (and most hopeful) in the games industry. It was an experience that was both exciting and exhausting. This year, I have a better handle on the things to come over the next week and quite a few things I am looking forward to:
The first two days of GDC are comprised of various summits specializing in different areas. The independent games summit has speakers from all the breakout indie hits that you may or may not have experienced this year. From Flower to World of Goo, the developers behind these projects share their tragedies and triumphs, their rants and raves. These sessions hold more importance to me not only because of their relevance to the site but the passion on display when watching these speakers. Everything seems just a little bit more unfiltered and raw, like they can tell you anything they want because they're their own boss.
The Independent Game Festival finalists will all have their own booths on the exhibition floor space. I haven't had time to check out the full lineup of indie games this year, so this is a great way to catch up. It's also great to chat with the developers firsthand and let them know about ModDB!
This event feels like the Oscars of the games industry – without the black tie. Developers awarded at the Game Developers Choice Awards are chosen through the voting of their peers. This year's show is hosted by funny-man Tim Schafer, the designer behind Grim Fandango, Psychonauts and the upcoming Brutal Legend. Should be a hoot.
(image coming soon)
Mark Chandler (lodle), our lead developer, is attending GDC for his first time. He doesn't know what he's in for.
Despite releasing CryENGINE 2 less than 2 years ago in May 2007, Crytek will be introducing CryENGINE 3 at this years GDC. Developers what is your reaction to this announcement? Whilst I'm not a developer I am quite surprized by this, as CryENGINE 2 is still so new (and one of the best next-gen engines available), the tools and development kit is not really there for the mod teams, and already they seem to be ignoring this and pushing on. Here is the official release:
Crytek wrote:Crytek GmbH (“Crytek”) is excited to announce that they will introduce their latest all-in-one game development solution CryENGINE 3, at this year’s GDC Expo (March 25th – 27th) in San Francisco. CryENGINE 3 is the first development platform for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, MMO, DX9/DX10 that also is truly Next-Gen-Ready - with scalable computation and graphics for all major upcoming platforms. It provides the complete game engine to create AAA quality next generation games, and includes the CryENGINE® 3 Sandbox™ level editor, a production-proven, 3rd generation "What you see is what you play" (WYSIWYP) - tool designed by and for professional developers. CryENGINE 3 comes with significant new features specifically designed for console, online, MMO and Next-Gen game development.
"With CryENGINE 3 we are delivering our best game development technology that enables our clients to achieve their vision on current and future platforms to develop games such as MMOs, action games and more. Our complete game engine solution enables realtime development, ensures teams are able to maximise their own creativity, saves budget and creates greater gaming experiences. Also with our solution developers can start working on their next generation games today." said Cevat Yerli, CEO & President of Crytek.
"CryENGINE 3 is a revolutionary change from our previous PC-only engines – and we're applying a similar revolution to the service we provide to developers using the software to create extraordinary games. CryENGINE 3 will set the benchmark for complete game engine solutions in performance, and services to game engine licensees and their players. We've been preparing a long time for CryENGINE on consoles and weire confident that Crytek will again amaze developers at GDC." added Carl Jones, Director of Business Development CryENGINE.
CryENGINE® is the underlying technology for Crytek's critically acclaimed games Crysis and Crysis Warhead and has already been licensed to a number of major game companies around the globe, including several recent serious games training and simulation projects.
Looks like they are staying true to their word and moving away from a pure PC development focus.
Beginning next week, the Mod DB team plans on adsorbing a ton of information from indies right through to the veterans presenting at this years GDC. Our schedule is jam packed, but if you are there or if you just live nearby and you want to catch up for a chat, shoot us a message.
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