I know, I know. I’m a year late. I’m sure that every opinion has been voiced by now. For starters, I’ll give my full experience at the panel, “Game Design Challenge 2011: Bigger than Jesus.” I’ll talk about the ways in which GDC11 was bigger than Jesus, and end with how much of Jesus I experienced at GDC.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. So yea, part of me can’t help but consider being a little offended by the sacrilegiousness. Part of me is a bit too lazy to care, but most of me was excited for some action! To be honest, the description of the event is quite respectful. They simply chose a title that stirs shock.
Each designer must create a game that is also in some way a religion – or a religion that is in some way a game. Every year the design challenge is an opportunity to address a wider issue around games and the larger culture. Increasingly, games are becoming part of players’ lives – through handheld and mobile devices as well as the lifestyle invasion of social network games. Religion can be seen as humanity’s oldest model for a social network, connecting people through time and space by way of community, philosophy, and social ritual. Is designing a game-as-religion really so far-fetched? Perhaps not. Many ancient rituals of divination and devotion, from the I-Ching to the Kabbalah, have extremely game-like elements. And some credit the birth of Scientology with the bet that a science-fiction author couldn’t create a new religion. How will our game designers cope with this holy hand grenade of a design challenge? You’ll just have to find out for yourself. At the session, the panelists will present a unique solution to this game design problem. And the audience plays an important role as well – by voting in the winner of the Game Design Challenge 2011. Expect a free-wheeling session of brave new game design ideas, along with unpredictable debate and dialog.
Someone from Soma Games remarked that it’s interesting to see an industry in the midst of so much innovation and transition seeking meaning. Was this an instance of the game industry looking for Jesus?… Or, less offensively, looking for their own Jesus? I have to say that of all industries, video games is probably the one where you find the least amount of Jesus. It’s because Christians are such technopobes…lol.
Jason Roher was up first. He’s made some elegantly meaningful and beautiful games. I’m not surprised that he won the challenge. His game was called, Chain World, if I recall correctly. (It’s tough trying to remember something you saw a year ago.) Basically, it is a world on a USB stick, and each person plays until they die, after which the stick is passed along and another person gets a turn at life, each person leaving their own impact on the world.
John Romero’s was probably my favorite. At the beginning of his presentation, he presents God as a Twitter account, God6502. God6502 has only one follower, Messiah6502. You can only follow God indirectly through Messiah6502. That, in itself, is well played. So as John presents Messiah6502, he says, “the first 12 followers of this account will be the 12 apostles.”
Besides the people who knew about it ahead of time, I’m pretty sure I was the first or second one, since I was already on Twitter. They had 12 of us lined up front and handed us pads of sticky notes. They said that we had 1 minute to give the post-its out, each person with a post-it of a particular color would be a potential convert. If you think about it, it’s a pretty interesting model for evangelism. I mean, some people would go person to person. You can imagine handing out stacks of post-its per person and having them convert audience members on your behalf as an optimization. I wasn’t that clever. At the end, I think I just threw my pad into the audience.
Apparently, some of the notes had star stickers on them. Each star sticker was to represent a miracle. The apostle with the most miracles won.
I think I might have tied for first place, but I really wasn’t very good at keeping my own score. Anyhow, it was all for the best, b/c the game ended with Romero revealing that he was the messiah and the winner was to assassinate him to take over as the new messiah. I found the game very well thought out and almost appropriately offensive at the end, all things considered.
Jenova’s was probably the only one worth being offended about. It just felt like someone speaking as an authority on something he didn’t know very much about. I mean, when you start saying that religion only exists because of “boredom from a lack of purpose” or a “fear towards death,” you start sounding like you take yourself very seriously. You could compare him to Joel Olstean, and he’d sound just like a televangelist for Atheists.
Afterwards, my friend, Tronster, remarked that he found it ironic I was up front as one of Messiah6502′s 12 disciples.
While the panel prepared for their attempts to be “bigger than Jesus,” we were praying to Jesus every morning at 7:30 am onsite. This past year, was bigger than ever. I mean, getting to Moscone everyday by 7:30 am is no joke. (Our official hashtag is #gdcpray.)
That first morning, I led the meeting of 14 people. We shared about the history of this meeting. We shared about our year. I read from James 5, and we prayed for one another.
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
The next morning, my lil bro Kemp and I met up by 7:15. We prayed for our bro, Grant. Then prayed about jobs. More than ever did people step up to lead and share. There was a strong consistency this year. Hey, if they are willing to title the game design challenge, “Bigger than Jesus,” I don’t see why we can’t have prayer meetings at GDC…lol.
A couple things happened differently this year. First, we had non-volunteer developers from a game company join us. We also had a girl who drove down here from Redding, CA. She was a BSSM student I’d met the week prior when I was at a Bethel Conference. Let’s just say it was quite spirit driven this year around. I even took a group to check out the San Francisco House of prayer (http://sfhouseofprayer.org/).
There were 4 of us who took a cab to check out SFHOP. When we showed up, there were 3 older people there in a big empty room. I feel like there was a mutual exchange of encouragement on both sides. If anything, it was very quest like. Party of 4 going to receive prayer from the elders at the house of prayer.
Chris, from Soma Games, led one of the mornings, sharing scripture. We gave testimonies. We shared our visions, hopes, and dreams. Each morning we paid attention to the needs and life situation of each person and edified/encouraged one another.
The last morning was especially memorable. Eddie and Carl led. A verse was shared in regards to the presence we have in this industry. Carl talked about connecting. Grant shared and prayed as well. If anything, I believe that something has started.. Perhaps, a love revolution every morning at the GDC– a door has opened that no man can close. It truly is nothing that any of us are doing. We just simply show up and things happen.
Our family within a family within a family
Bigger than Jesus? Sure, why not? Jesus did say after all:
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
The Jesus experience doesn’t end for me there. I took a trip to visit my brothers and sisters up at University of California, San Francisco. I stayed with Johanna, a dental student and went to church with her on Sunday. I was seriously exhausted. To get home, I’d have to take the Muni to BART, then to Caltrain, then to bus 17, then take a bus 16 to my house with all my stuff. Good thing I’d left most of my schwag with the UCSF students.
Johanna’s church had an interim pastor. Pastor Barney, a spirit filled minister who used to shepherd a foursquare church in SANTA CRUZ. It was so odd hearing him preach about the streets that I live on. Not only that, he’d invited a couple to talk about their experiences. This couple was from Santa Cruz and was driving straight back to home. I slept the whole way back.
So, what do you want to know about the game industry? The Game Developers Conference (GDC) is coming up again, and I’ve still yet to recap my adventures from last year. I suppose I’ve been a year behind for a while now. I guess I shouldn’t complain about having too much to write about. Going through my photos, I find the most notable highlights to be: (1) Behind the Scenes, (2) Parties, (3) Free Stuff, and (4) Sessions. I’ll leave out the Jesus stuff for my next post.
Behind the Scenes
The conference associates are at GDC the Sunday before the conference opens. We spend a whole day setting up for the attendees.
The evening before, we have a mexican dinner (which has been nearly the same for the last 7 years), and we are updated on the ins and outs of the upcoming week.
Some people have been coming to this conference for over a decade, and for even those who’ve been CA’ing for their second time around, there is a unique warmth of seeing the friends that you only really see once a year. It’s notable that the memories and relationships made in 5 days can sustain a lifetime.
My two favorite duties at GDC are being a floater and being an office assistant. As a floater, you are constantly on the move, ready to troubleshoot at any moment, ready to highlight the efforts of those responsible for numerous aspects of the conference. Office assistants are on call for any spontaneous needs and emergencies; they are the wild cards of the group. Sometimes you get to sit in a session, you wouldn’t have otherwise. I usually hope that I get into something new and unusual. Often, when you are summoned as an office assistant, you are then place in an unanticipated situation. Bring it on!
The image above is the floater meeting. If you see someone with a radio, it is 99% likely that’s a floater.
Outside of working “behind the scenes” and the random lunch conversation, much of the connecting happens at the countless parties.
Tuesday night I went the IGDA party with my lil bro, Kemp. Talked with Ian about the Global Game Jam. Got to reconnect with Jeremy, a prof from USC. Ran into Anne, Gillian, and Jane from UCSC. Jane introduced me to a guy from Microsoft, who gave me a glimpse of what goes on in the high end of the game industry.
I ended up sharing a cab with him to a fancy fusion asian restaurant, where we spent about $100 a person for dinner. That was after I met the guy who created Xbox Live. The conversation went like this, “oh, so you worked on Xbox Live?” I’m soon corrected, “worked on? He created Xbox Live!” That same conversation happened at dinner when I asked a man if he was a lead on the game, “Elite Beat Agent.” “Lead? He owns the company that made Elite Beat Agent.”
I suppose my genuine enthusiasm and fresh (noob) perspective were somewhat amusing. The conversation was mostly on the game industry and transitioned to jazz saxophone. Apparently, one of the big industry guys there was also a saxophone player. This was a big perk of being introduced as “Jane’s little sister.” By the end of GDC, I’d also met the voice of Miyamoto (or his Japanese-English translator).
Two other big parties that are always good are the “Women in Games” and the “Blacks in Games” receptions. To be honest, I know enough people at this point, that I don’t really need more to occupy my time at GDC. I’m at the point where each new person is just added bonus to an already satisfying circle of friends.
My drink of choice is always cranberry juice, club soda, and a lime!
The free stuff at GDC is about 90% meaningless to me at this point. Clothes and bags are cool. All the other stuff I give away to my friends.
I was particularly fond of this year’s conference game that they do every year. Cards of popular games from Pong to Heavy Rain we distributed for what they called the Meta Game. I didn’t play much, but I collected the cards for my favorite games.
Ok, so I left GDC with 2 tablets and 2 smart phones. I knew that Google was giving away something, because you eventually hear rumors, if you pay attention. People walked out with either a grey or a green coupon with mysterious consequences. A couple days later it was revealed that one coupon would get you an $800 tablet and, the other, a $600 phone (or maybe it was 600/400… I don’t know, b/c I didn’t try to sell my gifts). It’s really a brilliant move, because targeting developers gets you more apps. It was cool for me, b/c I was already developing Android apps.
When I went to collect my device, I was stopped by people trying to trade with me. Apparently, I was team tablet. When I went to get my tablet, I just thanked them and showed genuine enthusiasm as a developer for this gift. 15-20 minutes later, after I was long gone, one of the guys found me in a crowd and handed me a phone as well. He said, “of all the people we gave devices to, you were the only one who showed enthusiasm for making something on it. We felt that you deserved to have both.”
The friend I was standing with was just telling me how he never wins anything. I felt really privileged and, yet, really undeserving, as I am holding a brand new smartphone and tablet. Luckily, he ended up with some cool devices for himself by the end of the conference.
I had also heard of a session from Intel giving away free tablets. I remember going late and not getting the official sheet of paper. My friend Geoff just handed me his and left. I saw another friend Vance leaving early (on my way in), and ran back to tell him that he was still eligible as long as he has his sheet. Vance says, “I threw it away.” We sprinted back to the hotel and dug through the trash to get his tablet. It was quite an adventure, and I will never stop telling this story. Who throws a tablet away in the trash?
After the conference, I was burning time in SF and one of two friends I was with handed me his smart phone, b/c it was a Verizon phone (the other devices wouldn’t work with Verizon). That was incredibly generous of him. His phone was put to good use as a research device that I loaned one of my lab-mates.
Our group, UCSC’s Center for Games and Playable Media had a bigger presence than ever before. I was working the sessions of my research group and as they demoed one of our games, I realized that I was dressed just like the character I had my roommate draw of me. Yea! CHLOE!
Check out the game: http://promweek.soe.ucsc.edu/
It’s a finalist for Technical Excellence in the Independent Games Festival (IGF). Two great events at GDC are the IGF and the Game Developer’s Choice Awards. Last year, Minecraft practically won both, which shows the interesting shift of how we now have the technology to allow individuals to make award winning games.
My time at GDC ended with a free hotel suite to myself, and that’s it for the typical GDC experience. I’m about to get atypical in my next post.
“What’s an Xbus?,” I asked myself. I knew I’d find out at the CGDC, after seeing it as a listed activity during the conference.
The Xbus is a converted 40′ transit bus that has been outfitted for 16 person multiplayer LAN link video games. It has 16 networked Xbox 360 game consoles so that means that each player gets their own 27” HDTV. There is a 13kW onboard generator that supplies power for everything so it doesn’t even cost you for electricity. We even have a soda machine onboard. We provide everything for the ultimate gaming experience.
(Description taken from: http://www.xbusgames.com/about-xbus-games/)
I checked into the dormitory that first night, but got sidetracked by all the amazing videogame demos and conversations all around. Late into the night, a crowd of attendees poured in with the look of satisfaction from a series of free-for-alls or, perhaps, having blown up a fair share of Covenant Elites.
The next morning, I found this 40 foot transit bus in the parking that had been remodeled into a 16 person multiplayer LAN-mobile. You can find out more about this invention here.
I was compelled to not only try it out, but to pray for this bus and its owner. Now, you never know how people will respond to prayer, but I soon found out, he was “part of the family.” In addition to the birthdays, bar mitzfahs, and bachelor parties, he often donates this vehicle for the use of youth groups at retreats, camps, and churches.
What he didn’t realize was that this vehicle was a great encouragement to me and this conference. He didn’t even realize that he was parked outside a Christian Game Developers Conference, so I made sure to connect him, as he has a unique perspective on our industry.
In Christian circles, I am constantly having to swallow the bitter rhetoric that leaders use to vilify God’s technology, and here was a man, sharing God’s creation with his people. “Don’t worry, it won’t bite.”
God’s kingdom is constantly being extended by the creative and entrepreneurial minds of his people, and in this case, giving new meaning to the term “mobile gaming.”
A little over a week ago, I headed over the hill with Marian and Sukhie to attend an event to inspire girls to engage with science and technology, hosted by Microsoft DigiGirls and Barbie.
The event consisted of girl scouts, female computer science students, Microsoft representatives, female political figures, and reps from Mattel. Also, there were a lot of Computer Engineer Barbies there too.
If you didn’t already know, Barbie takes on 2.5 new careers every year, and this year, Computer Engineering made the cut. If you look her, Barbie sits in her cubicle with stylish pink glasses (a lot like mine), a bluetooth earpiece, a laptop displaying binary numbers, and an ipod. From her cube, I would gather that she likes to eat Chinese food, enjoys looking at pictures of Ken, and owns stuffed animals of the Linux variety.
The facts and figures given are always noteworthy:
- 8% of high schools in this country teach computer science, which also holds to be the case in the bay area/silicon valley
- Only 9 states in the US count computer science as a rigorous science at the high school level
- In 1985, 35% of people in the computer industry were women, which dropped to 18% in 2008
What I found to be most thought provoking were the stories of the women who sat in the panel. They reminded me of my own story, which warrants it’s own blogpost someday.
Like the women in the panel, I also remember the few times that someone told me I was smart and could really do this. Professor Zopetti from my data structures class once said that I was “smarter than the average bear.” Haha, and Dr. Lloyd my algorithms professor was so encouraging, even though I’d have such round about ways with problem solving. Professor Bohacek, my undergrad research adviser, made huge impacts on my life. Finally, there was Dr. Maria Palacas, who’d invested the most into my career than any other mentor I’d ever had.
As far as women in technology, well, I wrote about this once in regards to Microsoft’s Halo and circular saws.
DATE: October 14th, 2010 — 9:30am to 5:30pm
LOCATION: UCSC Campus, Engineering 2, Room 599
PRICE: Free (though UCSC parking pass required)
HOSTED BY: The UCSC Center for Games and Playable Media. Co-sponsored by the Digital Arts and New Media program and Institute for Humanities Research.
What would it take for computer games and digital literature to dynamically offer meaningful story choices based on past interactions, or draw analogies inspired by authors such as Virginia Woolf, or create avatars that are meaningful characters with individual motivations, or give us new means to understand the phenomena of narrative itself? Any of these would require research into fundamentally new computational models — but research that is deeply informed by insights of the arts, humanities, and social sciences. This free, one day symposium (the first event sponsored by the new UC Santa Cruz Center for Games and Playable Media) brings together four leading international researchers with UCSC’s active research groups in this area.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
11 am -12 pm
Hosted by Associate Professor Michael Mateas
Speaker: Daniel Kline from Crystal Dynamics
Title: How You Can Make A Great Game
In this talk, we’ll explore how anyone can make a great game. We’ll
investigate what separates a good game from a great game, delving into
the presenter’s personal history for rich examples. We’ll dig into
how to find the game that you want to make, and avoid common new idea
pitfalls. And we’ll share game development best practices to help get
it done, with plenty of time to ask questions and share ideas.
At this point, most people should know of Google Wave. Fewer have had an opportunity to start “waving,” as Google Wave is still in a “limited preview” stage. Usually, I’m not the first in line to adopt a new technology, because I always need substantial convincing for why I should bother. In the case of waving, I had a realization that many of my current communicative frustrations may be alleviated with a reorganization for how I understood conversations. Immediately, I got on Facebook and announced that I’d really really want an invite to Google Wave– I was waving in matter of minutes (Thanks Kyle!).
Around the same time I started waving, I decided to play the game, Braid (I had heard so many wonderful things about this game, and, you know, better late than never). In both of my experiences with Wave and Braid, I found myself re-evaluating the common conventions as I had, from practice, defined. With Wave, the norms of communication is challenged and with Braid, the meta-approaches to problem solving for platformer games. What I’m left with is the realization that time does not immutably flow steadily forward in every context– something that I’d taken forgranted all my life, and when we change our frame of reference, so does our understanding of what is true.
Over winter break this past year, I went to a conference in Chicago for Graduate and Faculty Christians. I found myself having to choose between the Engineering track and the Math track (I went with Engineering). At the conference were some well known researchers, such as Fred Brooks and Francis Collins. It seemed, to me (at least), that this conference would be quite the unique experience (…and I can now say that I’ve sung hymns with a room full of engineers). I mean, how often do we encounter a large gathering of the intersection between Christians and Professors? … I digress; however, within the community of Christian “intellectuals,” there were some interesting presentations on non-religious research. In particular, was a talk titled, “Discerning Technology or Hippocratic Engineering.”
In his introduction, the speaker uses Spore as an example to demonstrate how we’ve managed to take recreate life within technology. He quotes, “SPORE isn’t a game for re-educating the intelligent design proponents of the present; it’s a game for inspiring the intelligent designers of the future.” At such an unusual conference, I gladly found myself at a session where 5 of the first 7 slides were celebrating video games. This leads the speaker into a discussion of “Technology Assessment, an implicit mandate.” He asks the question, should we be creating technologies just because we can?, giving quite a number of interesting cases and scenarios to consider (and concludes with a few under-explained tables and figures– “Base vectors of technological progress” and the “Environmentally Responsible Product Assessment Matrix” for example.) Overall, there was one point that remained unsettling for me….
What is “the mark of the narrative”? In chapter 1 of her book, Marie-Laure Ryan, discusses the transmedial nature of narrative and gives a broad definition provided by H. Porter Abbott: Narrative is the combination of story and discourse. I believe the distinction of story and discourse is quite novel and under-appreciated in the area of interactive storytelling. For the purposes of this discussion, I’d like to deconstruct the nonlinear in narrative to give deeper insight into what this relationship between story and discourse actually entails. The term nonlinear takes many meanings depending on context, which is a result of the complexity in the meaning of both story and discourse.
What do Amnesia, Immortality, and Mind Control have to do with Game Design, Immersion, and Suspension of Disbelief?
What breaks your sense of presence in a story? The culture of video game playing has developed a tolerance for the common practices and limitations in designing and producing games. We’ve stopped asking “why?” and have come to expect the typical input arrangements, the impermanence of death, and restrictions of our own free will. Although much of the work in the EIS lab is focused on investigating new practices in creating and playing games, I’ve found, in my personal “research” of popular games, that despite the predictability, certain innovations in narrative are notably novel.
If we break down a game into layers of: paidia, ludus, and narrative, an area that is quite nontrivial is the connection between paidia and narrative. Often, your paidia is constrained such that you don’t ruin the narrative layer in the game. For example, it is common that your agency sucks in order to maintain the story elements.