Tuesday, October 23, 2012

GCAP Highlights - Opening Keynote with Robin Hunicke


Game Connect Asia Pacific 2012 has just wrapped up.  I had a great time there, and I wanted to share some of my favorite sessions here.  I hope you find them inspiring and useful!

Opening Keynote with Robin Hunicke
Robin Hunicke is an inspiring person!  

As an older gamer myself, I feel tired of the majority of mainstream games.  I don't really have the time to plough through a 20 hour killing spree, and although I'm sure I could get into the high-quality games like Crysis 2, Far Cry 2, Fallout 3, Dragon Age, etc, I just don't feel compelled to dedicate my time to that endeavour.  I have a sense of being time poor, of needing to strive to make my own games, and these days I'm hungry for different sort of experience.

So it takes a more unusual game to get my attention these days, and a game like Journey really captures my attention.  Robin's games come from a fresh perspective.  She's interested in themes and emotions outside of the normal game genres, outside of the normal power fantasies, and that resonates with me.  She talks about game development in terms of creating art, of exploring a medium that is rich with possibilities, a games that stem from a creator's passions and values.

My notes from "Keynote with Robin Hunicke"

Work on a game that you're passionate about, that you must make, that will have an impact not just on the market, but on people, on culture.

Don't work on games that just aren't worth it.  You can spend years on a single game.  Life's short.  Make sure you care about what you're doing, or you'll look up one day and realise you've spent years working on games you just don't care about.

Find an idea you care about.  

If you do something original, no one knows ahead of time what the game will look like and feel like, so concept it like crazy.
There's no one specific way to make a game.
Let your ideas loose, start from the place that works for you personally.
Start with the music.  Start with the art.  Whichever part works for you.
Don't rush it, don't force it, let yourself fall in love with the idea.

Iterating in development is not a waste of time.  You need to build things and try them, and you will need to throw things away.

Test your concept like it isn't yours.

Devote yourself to the process of user testing.  
Even though it can be hard, you need to go through the shame and the pain, and you will learn from it.  Resist being critical of the players who test your game.  If they don't understand something, it's not because they're bad players.  It means you could improve how your game works, so they get it.

Also, seeing things fail in user testing makes it much easier to throw things away that you were otherwise attached to.

We are not optimised as humans to throw things away.  We horde things, and we want to do things perfectly and efficiently.  But games are about refinement and optimisation.  You need to optimise what the player ends up experiencing.  Hide all of the mistakes, and unnecessary elements that they don't need to see.  You want them to end up with only the best, most streamlined version of your game.

Find the feeling in your idea.

Focus on the feeling, and prototype like crazy.
Get at that thing, work it.

It's not that complicated to do something amazing, it's mostly dedication and practice.  It takes time and effort.

As you go along, you throw away less things, but you still throw away at the end.  Don't expect to not throw things away.

The curve of uncertainty and the curve of effort are correlated.  

You can feel very uncertain in the middle, and towards the end, and the effort must ramp up to match this uncertainty.  Uncertainty can be caused by things that "just dont work", that you thought would work, for example.  There are many unknowns in game development.  And you need to overcome these uncertainties with effort and iteration, until things finally work!  It can take more time and effort to overcome these uncertainties than expected, hence the additional exertion.

You should feel like making games is fun - the best job in the universe.

If you don't feel that, then maybe you're doing the wrong thing, or doing it in the wrong way.

FUNOMENA - Robin's new company with friend Martin from ThatGameCompany.  Goals:
  • Creativity
  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Martin and Robin decided that at Funomena, they wanted to work up from their values, not down from the market.  To build something that feels important to them, not just something that feels like it will sell to a market demographic.

During question time, Robin said she'd love to see a big world beautiful game that wasn't about fighting, it was just about exploring.  (I agree!)

My Reflections

This presentation reminded me that I miss working with other people.  

It's hard to "jam out" ideas on your own. It's hard to make quick iterative progress by simply throwing ideas at each other, improving ideas rapidly and drastically in a single conversation.

I resolved to show my games to people more often, to get more feedback from a wider variety of people, and to catch up with game developers more often, tell them my latest ideas and hear their ideas for improvements, as well as their criticisms.

Between sessions at GCAP, I chatted to some friends about my new project ideas, and often someone would throw a fantastic idea at me straight off the cuff. Even a quick idea can suddenly shine a whole new light on my concept, on the setting, on who the main character is. It's big issues, not just little details, that can be greatly improved just by a quick conversation!

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