The Tao of Level Design: A Study of 3 AAA Games
The first talk on my schedule featured an overview of level design from the level designers of three games: Mirror’s Edge, Alan Wake and Brink.
Eric Chahi and Ronan Bel – Creating a High-Performance Simulation: An Interactive Dynamic Natural World
This presentation featured two views on an upcoming game by Ubisoft featuring a completely deformable world, in which the interactions of water, soil, rock, lava etc. are all simulated in real time, resulting in dynamic creation of rivers, erosion and so on. The central part was the developer describing how computations are done on the current platforms, moving all simulation onto the GPU and making sure that all data is aligned well, resulting in very few cache misses. He mentioned that there is more information available upon request, and they had the following resources on their last slide:
Peter Schickel – Web3D MMORPG with Online Game Engine
Even though the title suggested it, MMORPG wasn’t the main theme of this sponsored talk by Bitmanagement, it was rather an introduction to their suite of software, to which the BS Contact player (their own 3D browser plugin) is central.
Marc Hehmeyer – From J2ME to iOS: Galaxy on Fire 2 on the iPad and iPhone
Some key insights to get from this talk were:
Don’t port from J2ME to iOS, in the end, most of the game has to be developed anew.
Hardware is a lot better (no FPU on most Java phones, Sound support is better, Graphics is powered by a GPU – no need for software rasterizer, new input methods, e.g. touch, accelerometer etc.)
Texture compression can help a lot with keeping the download size small.
Mario Deilmann – Turbo Charge our game with Intel Threading Blocks
A nice introduction to Intel Threading Blocks, which add a layer on top of threads, keeping the low-level stuff from the developers and instead making the units of computation one has to think about while developing more aligned with the actual tasks found in the game and allowing the task scheduler to better scale with the number of cores. Side note, they’re pretty unhappy with the PS3 C++-compiler, which seems to be incapable of supporting the template-based system they use.
Hermen Hulst – Bottled Storm: Game Development Guerilla Style
This keynote sounded more like a story being told, which is appropriate since he seemed to read most of it off of something. He basically retold the history of Guerilla games and the Killzone franchise, pointing out for example which steps they took to improve their ratings which increased from an initial 70 metascore to above 90. One thing they did was identify the 5 weakest points from ratings and commit to making these 5 points the best in the next game in the series.
Kenny Shea Dinkin – You Gotta Fight for your Right to Story: Storytelling from Kids to Casual to Social Games
The talk was started with a comparison between the approaches of Jane McGonigal and Marian Bantjes concerning design. Later in the talk, he stated several times that, regarding storytelling, he always found that the following statement seems to be always true: Content/gameplay drives (meta)structure drives story. As an example, taking an educational game, one should not start with the story, but instead start with the learning content and create a game and story around it. He likened this to MDA (Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics, see this paper).
Andreas Ojerfors – The Untapped Potential of the MMO
He touched on one of the major problems of most MMOs: Trying to follow the Hero’s Journey found in single-player games, the games set out to allow an epic journey through the world, but are unable to offer any lasting change, as can be commonly witnessed by things like quest mobs being killed every 5 minutes or the head of WoW’s Onyxia being hanged in Stormwind every couple of hours.
The line of thought in the presentation was that PVP is one remedy, but, backed up by findings of the daedalus project, many people do not enjoy PVP. One potential way out of this problem is having conflicts between factions which is carried out using PVE: Think of an army of NPCs which attacks castles/towns/… on its own, and which can be strengthened by PVE quests. It’s not the pinnacle of storytelling and will probably lead to endless conflicts which repeat all the time as was pointed out in the Q&A session, but the idea is still good food for thought.