What can a professor teach a developer?

ProfessorFrink1 I promised I would cover some of the, shall we say, less glamorous sessions at GDC, and I'm glad I did. All were interesting, a few exceptionally so, and one in particular managed to get my blood boiling (more on that session soon).

Among the best was "Game Studies Download 4.0" a presentation featuring three luminaries from academia: Ian Bogost, Jane McGonigal, and Mia Consalvo. In the fourth edition of what has become an annual GDC talk, they sorted through hundreds of papers and journal articles to find the top ten "most surprising and relevant insights for game designers and developers."

As if to refute the notion that game studies research bears no relationship to game development, Bogost, McGonigal, and Consalvo focused solely on studies they believe can impact innovative game design today. Throughout the presentation, attendees were asked to email or text the names of current games they thought may benefit from a particular research project.

I won't try to describe all ten projects outlined in the session, but the complete presentation slides appear below. A big thank-you to Jane McGonigal for sharing them. I should also mention that each profiled study received only a snapshot treatment in the short time allotted. You can find a bibliography with citations to the full articles on the last slide.

Fear of failure: The many meanings of difficulty in video games
Jesper Juul, MIT
In this study, Juul asks "What is the role of failure in video games?" and he wonders if players actually prefer games that don't make them feel responsible for failing. Juul designed a game to provoke players' responses, and his testing - both online and offline with men and women players - revealed a "sweet spot" that can be calibrated by designers. Players show equal disdain for games they consider too hard or too easy. Those who experienced both success and failure enjoyed their experience the most. Juul believes players want to feel somewhat responsible for failure in a game. As an intentional design element, failure adds content by helping players recognize and appreciate subtleties in a game. Juul's takeaway question for designers:

Relating the pleasures of violent video game texts
Gareth Schott, University of Waikato, New Zealand
Schott studied 61 students in New Zealand, age 14-18, over a two-year period to better understand how players of violent games make sense of those experiences. He wondered if it's accurate or appropriate to categorize what happens in games as 'violence.' His study revealed that players consider their actions in such games to be more about self-preservation than malice or cruelty. Players report that agency and forward movement are the primary drivers of their gameplay experiences. Schott also found that war games provide the most preferable way of engaging with violence because it contextualizes the action in ways players find meaningful. His takeaway question for designers: "How might building in time for reflection change a player’s perception of a gameplay experience?"

Novices, Gamers, and Scholars: Exploring the Challenges of Teaching About Games
Jose Zagal, DePaul University, Amy Bruckman, Georgia Institute of Technology
This study resonates with me because it reinforces some of my own impressions about teaching games to undergraduates. Zagal and Bruckman believe that most students, despite being lifelong gamers, are unable to talk or write about games critically. They simply don't make the connection between their experience playing games and the possibility of scrutiny or careful analysis. In order to equip them, we must recontextualize games in ways that encourage such consideration. Activities such as journaling, examining games within a theoretical famework, or writing about the same game more than once can unlock this process for students. [Here's an assignment I use to address this problem]

Zagal and Bruckman say players may not have the tools they need to experience games critically, without assistance; but they also believe games rarely provide tools or invitations to grasp them beyond a surface level. Older games, such as those released by Infocom in the '80s, contained all sorts of additional materials that enhanced the experience of playing while also providing rich contextual information ripe for investigation. Zagal and Bruckman believe the industry benefits from people who can talk about how games matter. Their takeaway question: "How can you introduce players to the subject matter of your game to help them reflect on it effectively?"

As I mentioned, slides for all the research projects are included below, as well as the list of games attendees identified as potentially benefiting from one or more of the studies.

Shooter with strings: the music of Far Cry 2


When I told a few friends I was planning to attend a session at GDC called "Far Cry 2: Creativity and the Musical Challenge," one replied "Oh my god, I hated that music. I turned if off after ten minutes." More conversation revealed that their objections weren't so much about the quality of the music itself, but in the way it was implemented in the game. Drawing your gun, for example, often triggers an intense action music cue, even when you're alone in a benign location. And despite 3 hours original music and 247 separate cues, the score can occasionally be repetitive, especially if you linger in an area too long.

But turning off Far Cry 2's music after ten minutes is a big mistake, in my view, because it denies the player full exposure to a remarkable score that rejects the standard cliche-ridden Hollywood action movie soundtrack in favor of something far more organic, expressive, and distinctive. In one of the most informative sessions I attended at GDC, Producer and Mix Engineer Rich Aitken explained how the creative team at Nimrod Productions built the score for Far Cry 2 and responded to Ubisoft's challenge to musically match the game's narrative ambitions.

Composer Marc Canham tried to find a sonic and compositional approach that could serve the game's dual natures: Far Cry 2 is a personal, emotional and atmospheric experience; but it's also an action shooter with intense and dynamic sequences. The challenge was to "mesh authenticity with sonic impact." Canham responded by suggesting a more intimate, less bombastic score than players are accustomed to in the FPS genre. Ubisoft agreed, and the team adopted a minimalist approach.

FC2-Baaba-Maal The pivotal aspect of this spare aesthetic was Canham's decision to use a string sextet as the musical core - not exactly the instrumentation one expects to hear in an FPS - supported by African percussion, a strictly limited tonal palette, and vocals by Baaba Maal, one of the most influential Senegalese vocalists of all time. Maal's contributions went beyond songs and chants to include short rhythmic, percussive vocalizations that added authenticity and texture to the soundtrack. 

Aitken paid special tribute to Ubisoft for not imposing a temp track on the team. This unusual move freed the team to create original compositions, rather than pastiche versions of a temp track that Aitken says are far too common in game music. They were also given time to research local African rhythm patterns and instruments, finally settling on the Ashiko drum and Coucou and Kundabigoya rhythms as signature elements of Far Cry 2's score. No computer synth sounds were used, and samples were employed sparingly, mainly as sonic augmentation late in the process.

The strings were recorded at Abbey Road (Studio 3) in London, and players were chosen "who wouldn't be afraid to abuse their instruments with some ferociously attacking performances." The percussion sessions were held at Nimrod Productions' studio in  Oxfordshire, where 3 percussionists were recorded at a time to allow for separation in the mix. Ultimately, the team recorded 8 different Djembes, 2 Udus, 2 Kalimbas, and a variety of other African instruments. Final mastering was done back at Abbey Road.

Far_cry_2_music_teamInterestingly, the first submission to Ubisoft "was a disaster." The team received negative feedback on the score: "Too bombastic. Too big. Too much volume." In the process of building the musical cues, they had fallen a bit too in love with the percussion elements of the music and strayed from the intimacy of game. This feedback from Ubisoft was welcomed by the team, and they found their way back to the concept they had originally convinced Ubisoft to accept.

In retrospect, Aitken said the score for Far Cry 2 "could probably have used more textures and less melody to avoid the impression of repetetiveness." He also would have pulled back a bit on the strings and added another double bass to widen the sonic spectrum. He noted that on-location effects recording in Senegal provided excellent material that might have been used elsewhere in the score. An example can be found during the closing credits of the game, which the sound engineers recorded on the spot after discovering a local Senegalese vocal group that offered to perform extemporaneously.

If you'd like to hear a sample of Far Cry 2's exceptional soundtrack, I encourage you to click on the link below. Thanks to Rich Aitken for his well-organized lecture - and for chatting with me afterward and offering even more details.

The Curious Case of the Missing Fences

Fence This is about GDC, but I need a few paragraphs to get there. I hope you'll stick with me.

I've attended conferences and national meetings for nearly twenty years. Academic gatherings, industry expos, national society meetings, political name it. All these giant events bring people together, but it's what happens when you get there that makes or breaks a conference. And this is precisely where GDC succeeds like no gathering I've attended. I think I know why, and it has to do with fences, or the lack of them.

Most conferences establish and enforce specific policies about focus and audience, and over time these grow increasingly narrow. In my little corner of academia, the Theater folks have their big gathering, the Dramatic Literature folks have theirs, and the Technicians and Designers have theirs. Of course, nothing prevents a creative type like me from submitting a scholarly paper to the MLA conference, for example, but I'm unlikely to bump into many people seeking such cross-disciplinary conversation (I know because I've tried). We encourage our students to think across disciplines (we've even built a curriculum around that principle), but when it comes to our own work, we build silos with fences around them. Despite many common interests, we're all pointed in different directions, and that seems to suit everybody just fine.

Large groups with common interests tend to segment toward specialization. This makes sense, of course, and it's easy to understand how organizations develop their own criteria for expertise, their own jargon, and their own A-list of mini-celebrities. In the Humanities this has resulted in a honeycomb of tiny fenced-in areas of scholarship in which an increasingly small sub-subset of experts present research to each other about scholarly minutiae no one else cares about or understands. Authority in this realm is derived from staking out a small patch of intellectual turf and defending it against all comers.

This system works perfectly well within the merit/reward structure of higher education, but in my discipline it has sadly sealed our fate. Academic scholarship on theater bears almost no relationship to the creative human event of making theater. We operate in separate worlds, and the space between us has bred mistrust, misunderstanding, and even contempt.

It wasn't always like this. The dialogue among artists, scholars, and critics fifty years ago was significantly more relevant and productive. It's hard to imagine a visionary like Jerzy Grotowski provoking today the convergence of theory and practice he achieved in the 1960s. We don't talk to each other anymore. We're specialists. We've built our fences, and we stay in our yards.

GDC is different, and not simply because it's an industry event. Despite rapid growth (this year's event drew 18,000 attendees), GDC has largely avoided erecting arbitrary barriers that choke off meaningful conversation among people with a variety of interests and expertise. GDC advertises itself as an industry-only gathering, but it isn't really, and thank goodness. The fanboys and fanbloggers are kept out, but GDC opens its gates to a range of other attendees, including the general press, games journalists, design students and professors, games studies scholars,and folks like me who fancy ourselves critics.

The GDC schedule is unwieldy and over-programmed, but it's also wide open. An aspiring level designer may wish to concentrate on the Design track, choosing from among dozens of design-focused lectures, tutorials, roundtables, etc.; but he's free to mix in sessions from the Production track or the Programming track, many of which bear directly on design. If he happens also to be keen on "Meaning, Aesthetics, and User-Generated Content," that door is open too. What's more, this designer's conference fee was likely footed by his employer who presumably encourages such inquisitive behavior. Fancy that.

Leaving the door open is fine, but ensuring that people with big ideas remain accessible to attendees is quite another, and it's here that GDC succeeds most admirably. I know a young developer from Canada who shared a dinner conversation with the Narrative Designer of Far Cry 2. I know a philosopher who discussed games with the arts and entertainment reporter from the Wall Street Journal. I know a young writer who discussed games criticism with N'Gai Croal.

I also know a certain Midwestern blogger/prof who found himself in thoughtful conversation with Clint Hocking about the degree to which game creators should participate in online conversations about their work. Halfway through that conversation, Jesper Juul grabbed a nearby seat. Minutes later, their photos were taken by the young man who composed the music for Flower.

That's what happens at GDC, a lumbering spasmodic mess of a conference ripe for repair. Someone will propose fences. Quick, somebody hide the hammers.

The taciturn designer

Scc  Killer7 Fallout_3_03_1920x1080

The most promising panel discussion at this year's GDC may have been the one featuring a trio of extraordinarily gifted designers: Goichi Suda a.k.a. SUDA51 (No More Heroes, Killer 7), Fumito Ueda (Shadow of the Colossus, Ico), and Emil Pagliarulo (Lead Designer of Fallout 3). As moderator Mark MacDonald pointed out, these three men may share little in common as designers, but they clearly admire each other's work, and they all emphasize highly creative collaboration united around a single vision.

The discussion began with the designers affectionately introducing each other. Suda paid tribute to Pagliarulo by expressing deep admiration for Fallout 3 and its vivid environments, noting that for fans of the game, including himself "We're all living in his world."

Pagliarulo introduced Ueda by recalling the impact of Ico on himself and his colleagues. "We got a copy of Ico and all gathered around to play it. Within two minutes we understood this game was not just a game. It had a huge impact on us." Finally, Ueda introduced Suda by observing that they both share a love of certain games, such as the Burnout series, but they are also rivals. "We create very different games, but we share similar backgrounds."

Introductions complete, I settled in for a scintillating discussion on current and future game design...but, unfortunately, it didn't happen. Pagliarulo offered some interesting observations about Bethesda's approach with Fallout 3 (more below), but Suda and Ueda spoke mostly in broad generalities that failed to illuminate their work or their design philosophies.

I suspect the language barrier was an issue (we all wore headphones, and the discussion was simultaneously translated into English and Japanese), but having listened to artists from a variety of media discuss their work over the years, I think there may be more to it than merely translation issues.

The fact is, sometimes artists aren't very adept at discussing their work, especially when asked to account for their process. Designers like Clint Hocking - who, in a maddening example of GDC programming, spoke at the same hour - have a penchant for unpacking their ideas and methods in accessible ways. Wynton Marsalis does the same when he talks about jazz; Toni Morrison can be similarly effusive discussing literature.

But for every Wynton Marsalis or Toni Morrison there is a Miles Davis or a Thomas Pynchon for whom discussion or analysis seems distasteful or even impossible. Watching Ueda today, I saw a designer who struggles to articulate his philosophy of design, as if he were being asked to elaborate on something that requires no elaboration. At various points in the discussion he appeared at a loss for words, often deliberating on a question before finally answering it with a few basic and seemingly obvious observations. Suda, perhaps predictably, chose to deflect many of the questions posed to him with jokes or little outrageous responses. Neither seemed interested or willing or able to dig beneath the surface of basic generalities.

And that's okay. I would have liked more insight; more give and take among these designers, and Mark MacDonald did yeoman's work prompting the panel with thoughtful questions. But I understand how it can be with artists. In the end, I'd rather they focus their talents on creating. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned.

Nevertheless, some interesting ideas and observations did emerge from the discussion, many of them from the articulate Mr. Pagliarulo, but several from Suda and Ueda as well. The highlights:

  • Pagliarulo's philosophy of game design is to arrange a set of unique experiences for the player. He thinks about story and gameplay from the beginning and sees them as essentially inseparable in Bethesda's games. He thinks about "units with emotional impact" and tries to introduce fresh units over the course of many hours.

  • Suda accumulates ideas from film, television, and other games. He believes being alone is essential to creativity. "I go the the bathroom to poop, and I get ideas."

  • Pagliarulo believes great games aren't made, they're played. "You must play your game and learn what it has to teach you." Designers must be willing to give up what doesn't work. In Fallout 3, Liberty Prime was originally intended to be five times bigger, and the player was to be inside his head. The developers couldn't make this work, so it was scaled back.

  • Ueda noted that the design for Shadow of the Colossus originally required teamwork-based gameplay, but the idea didn't work. "Changing your ideas is a good thing," he contends because it unlocks other good ideas.

  • Suda likes to improvise and try new things, but his main design goal, once established, does not change.

  • Pagliarulo said that the Fallout 3 team purposely decided to design the game with an ending. "People didn't like that" because the game is "as much an Oblivion sequel as a Fallout sequel," and players didn't want the game to end. "So we've responded." He went on to briefly explain the forthcoming DLC.

  • Ueda: "I think about what kind of game I want to make, and sometimes what we want can't be done on a console." The changes that must be made help determine the focus of the design team's efforts.

  • Pagliarulo explained that when you're the lead designer, inspiration need not be specific. He cited Cormac McCarthey's "The Road" as a stylistically over-arching influence separate from gameplay or narrative issues.

  • Suda noted that sometimes even the other design team members may not fully grasp the big picture. "When I created Killer 7, even if I explained it to the people making it, sometimes even they don't understand."

  • According to Ueda, Team Ico was assembled as "a team that had the same world view." He also observed that when he starts working on a game, he doesn't know whether it's fun or not. "I stand behind the focus group player and watch as if I'm playing it for the first time." At a certain point in the process, game development becomes a series of tasks, and it grows more difficult to see the whole. Pagliarulo agreed, describing this point as the moment when "I see the game as a series of systems. It's hard for me to see the game at a certain point."

  • When asked to discuss the future of games, Suda mentioned emergent storytelling. "We need to bring the player into the game, and to do this we need more powerful expression." He cited the films of David Cronenberg as inspirational to him in this regard.

  • Pagliarulo wants deep immersion "without the gadgets. Real people that don't feel like NPCs. Feeling like you're living somewhere else for awhile. It's AI; it's visuals; it's everything." He cited Call of Duty 4 as an example of a game that hasn't received sufficient credit for its storytelling in this regard. He also warned against "drowning your player with text."

  • Ueda: "I'm trying for immersion in a temporary space while returning the player to real life space."

  • Pagliarulo: "People may be surprised to know how much we're inspired by games like Shadow of the Colossus with no dialogue. We probably use dialogue as a crutch sometimes." He noted that all the designers at Bethesda are also writers.

  • Regarding the "games as art" question, Pagliarulo observed: "Our primary responsibility is to be entertainers. We can say important things within that framework."

  • Ueda agreed. "I don't think about games as art. We are making a game to entertain people. We like feedback from our customers." Anything beyond that is out of his control.

  • Pagliarulo elaborated by suggesting that games become art along the way. "We'll come into our own. We try to make good games. The art will come on it's own."

I should note that the entire front row of seats was reserved for Nintendo executives, all of whom were racing to this talk directly from Satoru Iwata's keynote. If I were a big-circulation rumor site, I might make special note of this fact as indicative of something important. But since I'm not, I won't. ;-)

Note: For some reason, your comments on this post aren't appearing at the moment. I'm trying to figure out why and will have them restored ASAP. Rest assured that none of them have been lost.

Wagons Ho!

Gdc I'm headed west today, destination: the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. I'll be posting and recording from there, hoping to bring you a picture of the event that avoids replicating all the fine coverage you're likely to find elsewhere.

As I've noted previously, I can't possibly attend everything I'm curious about, but I plan to target some off-the-beaten-path sessions that I think many of you may find interesting. As always, let me know how I'm doing, and feel free to suggest ways I might improve my reporting.

By the way, in my recent "pick the keynote" face-off, the Kojima event beat out the Iwata event 150-117. So Kojima it is! I'm looking forward to it.

Stay tuned for more on GDC 09. I hope you enjoy

Pick the keynote

GDC header I've begun to arrange my schedule for next week's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and it's quite a task. With dozens of sessions on game design, production, visual art, audio, and a myriad of other topics - in formats ranging from roundtables to lectures to panel discussions to tutorials - I've got way more interesting options than I can possibly attend.

This, of course, is a wonderful problem to have. I'm grateful for the opportunity, and I intend to make the most of it. I'll attend three days of sessions and do my best to report on what I see and learn. I'll also be at the Independent Games Festival and on the Expo Floor checking out some of the newest indie games and meeting their designers. And I plan to do some recording for the podcast. So, yeah, it'll be a busy week. I can't wait.

Since I need to make some choices, I thought it might be fun to solicit a little help. This year's GDC features keynote addresses by two industry luminaries: Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo; and Hideo Kojima, Head of Kojima Productions and creator of the Metal Gear series. Given my hectic schedule, I've decided to attend only one, and I'm asking you to help me choose. Here are the program notes for each:

Hideo KojimaHideo
"Solid Game Design: Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible"
Thursday, March 26, 10:30am-12pm

Known for giving rise to the stealth action game genre with his creation of the acclaimed Metal Gear series more than two decades ago, Kojima’s keynote will focus on conquering various development obstacles with creative game design, using the driving game design philosophies behind the Metal Gear series as reference.  The address, “Solid Game Design: Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible,” marks Kojima’s debut appearance at the GDC.

Satoru IwataIwata
"Discovering New Development Opportunities
Wednesday, March 25th, 9-10am

The development of both Nintendo DS and Wii was based on the idea that the video game consumer base could be broadened if the definition of a video game…and ways to access games…were viewed differently. The fact that these platforms have been accepted so enthusiastically around the world shows that there is opportunity for developers to stretch the boundaries of what was  previously viewed as possible in terms of realizing a creative vision.

In his keynote address, Nintendo global president Satoru Iwata will talk about Nintendo’s role in creating better tools and bringing opportunities for developers to introduce their innovative ideas to a marketplace that is increasingly willing and eager to embrace new game design possibilities.

Vote below for the keynote you're most interested in, and I'll attend and report on the winner. I'm earnestly interested in both, so I won't be disappointed either way. Thanks for indulging me in a little GDC March Madness, and may the best industry titan win!

Save game now

Mystery_house_3 On January 1 of this year, a project designed to preserve digital games and their related materials was launched by four universities, funded by the Library of Congress' Preserving Creative America program.

Henry Lowood, curator and professor at Stanford University, spoke about this vital effort at GDC last week and conducted a roundtable discussion to "explore ways to rescue and preserve the endangered titles of digital gaming's history." The discussion focused on preservation of older games, fast becoming extinct, as well as identifying the best ways to archive new games produced today.

Wisely, the project aims at more than simply archiving data. We must be able to access and play these games as they were designed to be experienced. From the project's proposal document:

Electronic literature, video games and computer games must be understood as creative, born digital works with distinctive aesthetic qualities that not only take advantage of digital technologies but also push the limits of digital media. These works are typically more experimental and diverse than other kinds of born-digital artifacts more familiar to libraries at this point—for example, digital documents. Electronic literature and digital games provide new kinds of test-beds for digital preservation. Addressing the problem of their preservation means preparing for a future in which an increasing proportion of what we create will be born-digital and will take fuller advantage of networked, new-media environments.

These virtual worlds are actualized in user experiences that are sometimes unique, often social, and always necessary for understanding these worlds. Just as an archived book is of limited use if researchers cannot open its cover and read it, an archived world will be of limited use if researchers cannot visit it. Unless we also develop solutions for preserving user experiences, future generations will have no way to understand how these experiences became such an important part of our culture.

Furthermore, the project aims to develop a system of "wrapping" these games in an "information package" designed to provide future users with vital materials and requisite technology to access and play these games. It's important to archive a piece of interactive fiction, for example, but without the proper interpreter and accompanying box materials future users may be unable to access the game or understand it in its full context.

History teaches hard lessons. Approximately 50-75% of all films made during the silent era have been lost forever. This sad reality stems from two conditions, both of which could have been addressed with intervention :  1) Early motion pictures were shot on nitrate film, which was extremely unstable and flammable. 2) Many films were destroyed because they were perceived to have little or no value.

There are obvious analogs between the dangers faced by silent films and the situation we face today with early video games. The media these games relied on is fast disappearing or obsolete, the hardware required to run them may no longer be functional, and many of the original developers are gone. The low value our culture places on these early games only exacerbates the problem, as does IP ownership conflicts that emerge with various titles and franchises.

Lowood and his team are to be commended for their work on this vital project. You can find out more about the game preservation initiative here.

GDC - The voyeur's view

Gdc_escalator I do not belong at GDC. That very fact helps account for why I'm having so much fun at GDC.

GDC is for game developers. To be sure, the media is here in force--from the Biloxi Sun Herald to Singapore TV--and game publishers have filled the exhibit hall with marketing barkers, kiosks, and demo stations. But despite its explosive growth, GDC remains a must-attend event for the guys (yeah, it's pretty much all guys) who design, code, build, test, and otherwise create the games we love to play. And these guys are cool. Laser-focused, hardcore but starry-eyed, geek-supremo cool.

Waiting in line to board the plane in Chicago, it became apparent that roughly a third of the passengers were headed to GDC. I mistook a tall man in a decorated flight jacket for a military officer until I got close enough to notice that the "stripes" stitched on his sleeves were all video game titles. The gate attendant greeted him with a hearty "Welcome aboard, Captain" as he boarded the plane. A group of men gathered behind me chuckled, all wearing identical yellow polo shirts emblazoned with the name of a game engine.

On the flight I sat across the aisle from two programmers whom had never met. I eavesdropped with varying degrees of interest as they discussed everything from emergent AI to rim lighting effects, with a little death metal mutual appreciation mixed in. They both eagerly looked forward to GDC, despite having attended many times before.

My conference badge lists my name, teaching position, and college...which makes me a rather odd duck. Very few academics attend GDC, aside from those who teach formal game design or programming. I've begun to think I may be the only attendee representing a small liberal arts college. In the familiar surreptitious "conference glance"--the one that begins at the navel where your badge is and works its way up to the face--I attract very little interest. I'm not affiliated with the industry; I'm not hiring; and I'm not N'Gai Croal.

Later, in a ploy born of pure vanity, I attached my newly minted "Brainy Gamer" business card to my badge, hoping to override my lowly professorial status with my burgeoning blogger status. I received a few cursory head nods--more likely expressions of conference fatigue than recognition--thus my stealth mode conference activity continues.

And that's perfectly fine with me. I'm a keenly curious observer here--which is pretty much what I am all the time regarding video games--but being here means I can ask questions, offer suggestions, and meet a few heroes. Today I spoke with Steve Meretzky. I will leave here happy.

Listening to designers talk about their work, their aspirations for games, and (I'll say it because it's true) their dreams is immensely interesting to me, and I revel in my proximity to all this creative energy. Sure, there's cynicism and disillusionment to be found here too, and maybe GDC has grown too big for its core mission, but I've been attending conferences for nearly 20 years, and I can say with certainty that this industry, this entertainment medium, this emerging field of study--whatever we want to call it--generates a tremendous amount of energy and genuine affection from the people who work in it.

Even after 30 years, game design proceeds in a fertile, formative stage of development, and everybody here gets that. We're still trying to decide what it can do and where it can go. We're all so hopeful, and that's quite a thing to be.

I'll be back with more tomorrow on game preservation; conflict resolution without combat; and interactive storytelling best practices. Oh, and remind me to tell you about how I became a Wii Fit yoga master. ;-)