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GDC Vault uncovers XNA's debut, behavioral game design lessons

[GDC organizers have digitized and made available for free on GDC Vault classic videos from Game Developers Conference 2004 on the debut of XNA, the essentials of behavioral game design, and more.]

This edition of Tales from the Vault looks back to 2004, where a Microsoft keynote announces and demos the XNA software development platform, a programming lecture from Sony PlayStation R&D focuses on simulating character animations, and a game design lecture ties heavily with behavioral psychology.

In the Microsoft keynote titled 'Turning Innovation into Impact', executives Robbie Bach and J Allard discuss the importance of software in game development amid surging development costs and consumer expectations.

Those wants in 2004 seem similar to what they are today: games of epic scale, more immersion, and more online social connection. The challenge escalates as consumers expect to pay the same price for each game, when development costs were already exceeding $5 million per title.

Allard says that it's software, not hardware, that is the "key that unlocks the potential" of developers and can move the industry forward. During this presentation, he announced and demoed the XNA software development platform that the second generation Xbox console would be firmly rooted in.

The Microsoft team used third-party testimonials to evoke hope in the future of XNA, too. Among those, Valve's Gabe Newell professes that "XNA combines the power of the PC and the power of the consoles into a best of breed platform." [GDC Vault free video]

Next, in the programming lecture 'Practical Physics for Articulated Characters', Vangelis Kokkevis from Sony PlayStation R&D speaks about using physical simulations as a source of animation for a skeleton. Kokkevis echoes the sentiment that hardware and its speed are not the issue with getting character animations up to the same quality of game visuals. He says the key is to find the appropriate algorithms.

These algorithms should produce character animations that respond naturally to typically unpredictable user input and to interactions between characters and between characters and the environment. He goes through the pros and cons of a series of algorithms his team implemented to build a simulator and arrive at these goals. [GDC Vault free video]

Finally, Microsoft User Researcher John Hopson (now at Bungie) explains that developers are masters of behavioral psychology; they just don't know it yet. Hopson's 'Behavioral Game Design' lecture explores the relationship between this science and game design, along with the psychology of how and why contingencies (the rules under which rewards are provided) in their games work.

Fixed-ratio contingencies occur in games with a fixed amount of work, such as collecting experience points to level up or coins for a 1-up. The danger of this contingency is a post-reward pause, where players will not actively try to achieve the reward again for a short time, quitting the task and possibly the game. Hopson also explores contingencies such as variable-ratio and fixed-intervals, along with "extinction" situations, which happens when the game stops providing rewards for players. [GDC Vault free video]

These free videos join a host of other paid and free lectures available on GDC Vault, which is undertaking a major effort to digitize its back catalog of material for modern audiences for free. Paid subscriptions to thousands of newer GDC lectures are also available, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription Beta via a GDC Vault inquiry form.

Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company. More information on this option is available via an online demonstration, and interested parties can send an email to Gillian Crowley. In addition, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault admins.

Be sure to keep an eye on GDC Vault for more free content in the weeks ahead, as GDC organizers will also archive videos, audio, and slides from other events such as GDC China and GDC 2013. To stay abreast of all the latest updates to GDC Vault, be sure to check out the news feed on the official GDC website, or subscribe to updates via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS.

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