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GDC Closes with Some Rants

New technologies and titles have been announced, but clearly the industry focus has changed, and for the better.  Developers are becoming more and more conscious of what’s taking place in our economy and adapting.  Expect to see lower price points, more independent titles, and artistic innovation in the year to come.

Origins returns BioWare to its roots.

written by Evan Goncalo

There’s no better way to start a day off, then with a panel of well-known press members presenting with attitude!  My first stop was “Burned by Friendly Fire: Game Critics Rant.”  The ideas represented by the press members in attendance were both refreshing and thoughtful.  N’Gai Croal, formerly of Newsweek, opened up with a presentation on the term “Hardcore Gamer” and noted that we had to stop using it and other words like “Casual” to describe styles of play.  The reason being, the game industry’s audience adapts to changes in the industry rapidly, and we as developers, journalists, and consultants need to do the same.

Stephen Totillo of MTV News encouraged gaming press to write better articles, and went over the four words that must be banned from game journalism – compelling, visceral, very, and “adverbs.”  Leigh Alexander of Gamasutra followed suit with a plea for better communication between the gaming trinity – press, developers, and fans.  Two guest speakers followed, writer from Wall Street Journal Jamin Brophy-Warren and head of IGDA, Jason Della Rocca. Brophy-Warren asked for developers to create more racially diverse characters for their titles and Della Rocca asked IGDA members to get more involved in the organization. More... Polymedia journalist, Heather Chaplain, offered a heartfelt rant about the influence of men on the gaming industry where she discussed the male power fantasy, and the term “neoteny.”  She ended the speech with question, “So guys, are you a Chihuahua or a Wolf?”  Last up was guest speaker Chris Hecker and G4TV’s Adam Sessler.  Hecker begged game journalists to be wary of what they wrote, warning that “reporting impacts people, personally and professionally.”  Final speaker, Adam Sessler, tore apart Metacritic’s scoring mechanic, and how numerical rating systems are killing game reviews.

After such an action packed morning, I grabbed a quick bite to eat, and took a taxi over to the Le Meridien Hotel where I met with BioWare to discuss their in-development title, "Dragon Age: Origins."  “Origins” is a return to BioWare’s roots, and they are labeling it the spiritual successor of famed “Baldur’s Gate.”  The premise of the new title is that when you select your initial origin, the game will play out differently depending on the character you’ve chosen.  People will react differently to your background and race, and new dialog options will be enabled.

Compared to its predecessors, Dragon Age is more gritty and mature.  BioWare leaves the player with many challenging decisions to make, and allows them to develop deep relationships with the cast of supporting characters.  The choices you make will also affect said relationships, and during my demo I saw a clear contrast between the mindset of hulking warrior, Sten, and female rogue, Lelianna.  The game, which should take an average player about 80 hours per play-through, is releasing in Fall 2009 on PC, XBOX 360, and PS3.

Afterwards, I headed back to the Moscone Center and stopped in on the “Technical Art Techniques” panel, where artists from studios like Bungie, Volition, Microsoft, and BioWare discussed topics like naming conventions and the most popular software solutions.  They also advised developers that “in the next couple of years companies will move to deferred renderers and DCC software makers will be forced to adapt.”

From there, I walked across the hall to a presentation by famous designer, Peter Molyneux.  The session titled “Lionhead Experiments Revealed” did exactly that.  Lionhead allows staff to propose ideas they would like to work on, and if approved, are allowed time to experiment with to create their idea.  These ideas are typically worked on by teams of up to 5 developers, and take from 1 to 12 weeks to complete.

Lionhead has created a structured tool called “Concrete” that allows any developer to quickly flush out their ideas.  You can use assets from any of the studios previous games and drag them into Concrete.  After the “experiment” is created, it’s reviewed by creative staff to ask questions like, “What will it add”, “How much will it cost”, and “How do you teach players about it?”  Important experiments for Lionhead included the Dog and Breadcrumb Trail in "Fable 2," as well as some of the systems in "Black and White 2."

Pacific looks impressive.

That was the end of my Friday, but as promised, I’d like to discuss "Battlestations: Pacific."  I had an opportunity to preview the game on Tuesday, and was impressed with what I saw.  "Pacific" allows you to take control of a myriad of vehicles and play your way through several historic scenarios.  Two campaigns are selectable – United States or Japan.  The US campaign is authentic, and plays out how events actually once took place.  The Japanese campaign, on the other hand, has fictional elements in place so the player isn’t forced to lose.  The team looked over original Japanese war plans to make this as believable as possible.

As for game art, the team tried to keep things as authentic as possible.  Artists studied WW2 artwork, military documentation, and actual blueprints so they could recreate each vehicle as accurately as they could.  For the style itself, they went after the 1950’s post card look, a mix of realism and beauty without the typical grays and browns.  This time around, the team added new water visuals, physics, vegetation, and storm effects to their proprietary engine.  I came away “wowed” and wanting more.  Get your fix on May 12, 2009 on either PC or XBOX 360.

This past week has been action packed to say the least.  As always, new technologies and titles have been announced, but clearly the industry focus has changed, and for the better.  Developers are becoming more and more conscious of what’s taking place in our economy and adapting.  Expect to see lower price points, more independent titles, and artistic innovation in the year to come.  All I can say is that I can’t wait to see what happens next.  Thanks for reading!

Evan Goncalo is currently a game development teacher at Bristol Community College.  Evan started in the game industry when he was 18 has worked in QA, Marketing, and Design in AAA studios that include Turbine Inc, Blue Fang Games, and Hasbro Inc.  In his spare time he creates 3D art and textures for game modification and as a hobby.  Find out more at his personal website, www.evangoncalo.com

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