Bringing down Babel: why Games could use another Cold War

This might probably be considered as a flame.

On Awards

I will assume that you have either attended the conference, or at least kept up with what goes on there, and have attended or at least watched some of the Awards ceremony on video.

Awards ceremonies are always a very exciting glimpse of how the industry thinks of itself. In that sense, games continue to feverishly idolize their older brother, Cinema : red carpet, VIP sectors, big screens, loud noises, funny hosts reading from a teleprompter and live broadcast. This, judging from the audience reaction, works beautifully.

The awards ceremony are a very easy way to communicate to a broader audience what games are about, using the most powerful channel of communication: winners. People love to win, and people love winners. It gives the industry a new standard to emulate, and it gives consumers a clear guide for investing their money, i.e. “This game is obviously more beautiful  than that one because this one won the Visual Arts award”, or “This game is the BEST GAME of the year, period.”

Of course, the choice of the best of the best in all the different categories that matter is not left to chance. Both award shows have clear rules and transparent processes, polling nominees and awards from a voting process involving many “game industry professionals” (quotation marks are because I was included in that group, a claim that still needs to be backed by myself). Accordingly, what most people will choose is deductible from a game’s Metacritic rating. Sadly, this makes the GDCA and the IGF’s global cultural significance equal to ZERO (with one little exception).

Their judging approach is an attempt to reach an objective absolute result based on an aggregate of subjective impressions. The thing is, the games industry’s goal is NOT to produce reliable software, we are producers of (at least) entertainment, and such it is impossible to give an accurate measure of the level of entertainment a game provides. The best we can do is voice our opinions about it.

I’m most uncomfortable with the fact that the whole process makes it hard to disagree with it’s outcome. There is no opinion to argue against. Everyone hides behind that impersonal polling system to avoid giving their informed and well-voiced opinion of why a game is more better than the next.

And this goes for both awards, with just one notable exception: the Nuovo Award. In terms of process, it is completely different from the rest: the only ones to be involved in the final decision is a limited panel of judges and we know who they are.

Check this out. This is what I mean: get people who are relevant to the prize together in a room and have them reach a consensus through informed discussion. Then, have them output a professional opinion of who should get the prize and why.

Don’t hide behind numbers, educate your audience.

I really think this should be the dominant method of prize assignment for both award shows. Mass-polling asphyxiates all possible following argumentation, stifles intelligent discussion and kills innovation. If we want the awards to be more than just loud noise and bright lights, we should make a method switch as soon as possible. Make all awards function as the Nuovo award!

This is the part where I justify the title

Artistic currents have always defined themselves by agreeing or dissenting with other ideas, philosophies or political currents. The most dynamic times in artistic and philosophical thought coincide with historical periods where the balance of power is multipolar: during the Renaissance, the Industrial age or the 20th century, cultural evolution was driven by a continuous back-and-forth of competing opinions, theories or schools of thought. Hollywood cinematography wouldn’t be what it is now were it not for George Méliès, the German Expressionism, Italian Neorealism, the French Nouvelle Vague…

WHY do we allow a single North American, corporate-run event to act as the face for most game creators in the world?

The main reason we should work for better visibility of personal opinions at the GDC and IGF is to foster dissension of those same opinions by people, or groups of people. We SHOULD NOT all agree, that would be aberrant and incestuous. We SHOULD all pursue completely different directions to prove each other wrong.

We should become POLITICAL about what we do. We should talk about our work, and argue why it was made the way it was made, and people should be able to disagree on WHY, not on HOW it was made.

Imagine the mighty Tower of Babel, the place where everyone talked the same language and everyone understood each other. Now, imagine how FUCKING BORING it must have been…

Thursday Schmursday

Today was the big lauch of the actual conference, and with it the opening of the GDC expo floor and the arrival of the big-name studios and high profile, high money guys. Actually, I kinda miss the Summits.

Conferences have gotten longer, more polished and with almost no time for Q&A in several of them… just like AAA games now that I think of it.

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Ruby Tuesday

Hello, and welcome to the first day of GDC feedback extravaganza!

The morning was kicked off very indie-ly as I attended the opening of the IGS where Ron Carmel explained a little further what the Indie Fund was about and how it came to be. The talk in itself was interesting, although it remains to see if the experiment in funding works out (it would be awesome that it did, so fingers crossed). What was nice is that the presentation was illustrated by Braid’s artist, so as nice to hear as it was to watch.

The follow-up was a rather quirky presentation by Cactus, regarding the techniques by which one could punish and disorient the player. Actually I think he got short on time because the talk never really seemed to take off: we were treated to a list of his favorite David Lynch movies, some fellow game-tortionists’s work and ended with a short list of techniques he used. You’ll have to come back later for actual content, if you’re lucky. Was this actually a very clever exercise in disorienting and punishing the conference attendees disguised as a talk about punishing players instead? We’ll probably never know.

I then managed to catch Soren Johnson’s very inspiring keynote at the Serious Games Summit, about the relationships between themes and mechanics. For me, the keynote nailed one of the biggest problems facing the serious games movement/market actually, which is over-reliance on theme to carry a message. Of course, the mechanics are the message, not the theme. You can read more about it here.

Lunch.

I kicked off post-lunch with a quiet talk at the IGDA education summit. The title was “Happy together” and the talk delved into ways educators and people in the industry could better collaborate to bnenefit both. Amongst the speakers was Prof. Stephane Natkin, director of ENJMIN, who revealed to us his plan to take over the world. Also, a sort of brainstorm session was organised and teams were tasked in finding new ways in which they could collaborate together in order to boost the student’s education.

Then followed by a short reminder (I refuse to call it a lesson) of good marketing tactics for indie studios on behalf of Wolfire Studios, makers of Overgrowth.

After that, I walked in into what was probably the weirdest talk at GDC ever, at the Serious Game Summit. Basically it was some guy talking about this idea to teach kids not to go along with sexual predators. The WTF moment was wen you followed the dates he gave us, you realised the game had spend 20+ years in development, even more than DNF. The kicker? It’s a FLASH game. FLASH. Also, the guy got totally paranoid in the 90’s that someone would “steal his idea”, so he got a lawyer he ended up marrying in the 00’s. Bonus stage: all of the voices in the game were provided by said guy and said lawyer wife. This presentation was probably indiest than any other IGS feature, COMBINED. The guy was so indie that before working on his game, he was a friggin sailor. Yes, the kind that goes on boats. Again, Indieness. But seriously WTF.

The conference day closed with a rather interesting IGS keynote about Immediacy and Depth. The talk was actually more interesting by what it told about the Indie movement than for it’s actual content. Basically this came through as “hey, mainstream does this pretty well, so we should steal their methods”. The key here is that this shows that now, there are more people who have always been indie than people who were working for The Man and quit (this was the norm some years ago). Visibly lots of students are attracted to indie games nowadays, which is wowsome. Global domination is just at the turn of the road. (In itself the talk was pretty basic stuff, so I won’t go into it).

And that’s it! More tomorrow if the beers allow it.

GDC 08 – Awards Show

I attended the Awards Show, and I have to say that it’s the most awesome thing I ever attended in my whole friggin’ life!

Poesysteme was nominated, next to great games like Crayon Physics Deluxe (Seumas McNally Grand Prize winner, go Petri!) and Synaesthete (Student Showcase winner). Having met Petri and the Digipen guys, as well as Nils (the author of Rückblende) and the P.B. Winterbottom crew, I can assure you that they are all great guys and that you should play their games and give them many bags full of money, sweet money. The room was packed with the coolest people of all, and I know Sid Meier, Gabe Newell and Ralph Baer now know my game exists. ROCK ON!

I was planning to do a daily writeup of the GDC but I guess I’ll have to accept the fact that a regular day at the Expo is too taxing. Usually when I get back to my hotel I just want to crash and burn. Cool-headed impressions from the confort of my home it will be, then!

Also, the expo? Sheer. Madness.

Lame excuse ahoy!

Okay, sorry I haven’t been able to pay more attention to this blog, it’s just that I’m putting in a bit of overtime on M.A.Z.E. to compensate the week I’ll be spending at GDC, which is also taking me time to get ready for.

I’m sure GDC will provide me with good stories to tell, and I’m also sure I’ll be unable to update this until I come back.

If you are attending GDC, I’d be glad to meet you! I should be stuck at the IGF Booth during the expo (Wed. to Fri.) to demo Poesysteme, and I think I won’t miss the IGDA party either (Tuesday, I think).

So, until then, then!

Poesysteme wins its first contest!

In the mailbox today, excellent news! (for me)

Cher Balthazar,

J’ai le plaisir de vous confirmer que vous avez été retenu par le jury du concours SACD – GDC pour partir à la GDC qui a lieu du 18 au 22 février, à San Francisco, Californie, USA.

Tout d’abord, bravo pour votre jeu “Poesysteme” qui a fortement impressionné le jury SACD qui s’est tenu lundi 5 novembre à Paris.

Want to know what it means exactly? More after the jump.

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