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GDC Online Speaker Spotlight: Mary DeMarle On Storytelling In Deus Ex: HR

In the latest in a series of interviews with notable speakers from this October's GDC Online, Eidos Montreal lead writer Mary DeMarle speaks out on the complexities and challenges she faced when working on the critically-acclaimed Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

DeMarle was responsible for the game's storytelling and narrative, and was tasked with crafting a story that could play out in several ways based on a player's actions.

Before joining Eidos Montreal, DeMarle worked on other titles such as Myst III: Exile, Myst IV: Revelation, Homeworld II, Dungeon Siege: Broken Sword, and the a number of titles in the Splinter Cell series.

Here, DeMarle offers a quick look into her writing process in anticipation of her GDC Online talk, "Building the Story-driven Experience of Deus Ex: Human Revolution," which will provide an in-depth look at the robust, branching narrative of the recent cyberpunk shooter.

How did you ensure the game's branching story paths would all coalesce into a cohesive narrative?

Creating a cohesive narrative in a game is never an easy task, especially when you decide to complicate it by enabling player decisions to result in multiple branching paths. The DX:HR production team was able to meet this challenge because of two crucial game design decisions that we made early on.

First, during our conception phase, the core creative team identified "story" as one of the important pillars in a Deus Ex experience. To ensure this pillar received the attention it needed, they then decided to create an in-house narrative design team as an integral part of the game design group. Writers were brought in during conception and present during preproduction to explain the story and cast light on specific story goals for all production departments. They didn't dictate gameplay challenges, artistic or level designs, animations, or scripted events, but they worked with the people who did create these things on a daily basis, to ensure that every aspect of the game presented and/or reflected a cohesive narrative at all times.

The second decision made was to put choice and consequence front and center in the game's design, meaning it had to infuse all aspects of Human Revolution, including its story line. This decision forced us to re-examine our pipelines and ultimately implement some kind of tool that could keep track of branching storylines. Both the tool and the processes we ended up using will be discussed more thoroughly during my GDC Online presentation.

How did you go about writing the game's various story branches? Did you write all the paths first, did you look at player feedback for inspiration, etc?

My approach to writing a game story is to first plot it out conceptually in its entirety, and then break up the story details into varying layers of importance. To do this, I ask myself which details and/or story events are needed to understand the plot in its simplest form, and which details or events can be discovered optionally -- through exploration or via alternate gameplay paths -- to fill out the main plot and make the story richer. Once I know this, I can determine which story-telling vehicle needs to be used to convey each point; be it a forced dialog or cut scene, or a newspaper article or email. I then start writing the story in layers, dealing with all critical path pieces first.

Neal Stephenson To Keynote GDC Online's Game Narrative Summit

GDC Online 2011 organizers have announced that renowned writer Neal Stephenson will keynote the October show's Game Narrative Summit, where he will take part in an on-stage Q&A with game journalist Geoff Keighley.

The keynote, titled "Music, Movies, Microcode, & High-Speed Pizza Delivery: A Conversation with Neal Stephenson," will delve into a host of writing and game-related of topics, including Stephenson's new novel REAMDE, which is set against the backdrop of the game industry. In addition to the keynote, Stephenson will host a special book signing elsewhere in the show (location and time to be determined).

Stephenson's previous work includes novels such as Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Zodiac, the three-volume The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and Snow Crash, which was TIME Magazine's named one of the 100 all-time best English-language novels. He is known for exploring and redefining genres ranging from cyberpunk to the historical epic.

Keighley, who will host the Q&A, has spent more than half his life covering the video game business as a journalist, TV personality, and producer. Currently, he serves as host and executive producer of Spike TV's Gametrailers TV, which is consistently the highest rated video games show on television. Keighley is also a freelance writer, whose work has appeared in publications such as Kotaku, Business 2.0, and Entertainment Weekly.

This keynote will take place within GDC Online's ever-popular Game Narrative Summit, which includes numerous lectures, panels, and more from some of the industry's most respected professionals -- featuring speakers from Valve, BioWare Austin, Telltale Games, and more. In addition to the Game Narrative Summit, GDC Online will feature two additional Summits covering Smartphone & Tablet Games and Virtual Items, respectively.

GDC China Reveals Double Fine, Game Audio, Agile Development Talks

GDC China has revealed the first batch of talks within the show's Global Game Development track, featuring Double Fine's approach to working with Kinect, a quick guide to Agile/Scrum development, and veteran game composer Hitoshi Sakimoto on the business of game audio.

Taking place November 12-14 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in Shanghai, China, the event will once again serve as the premier game industry event in China, bringing together influential developers from around the world to share ideas, network, and inspire each other to further the game industry in this region.

This year, the show's Main Conference will feature three primary tracks, covering Online Game Development & Business, Global Game Development, and Social Games.

Here are the first talks to be announced so far for the Global Game Development Track:

- In "Rapid Prototyping Techniques for Kinect Game Development," Double Fine Productions' lead technical artist, Drew Skillman, will provide an in-depth look at the studio's approach to implementing motion control in its Kinect-enabled titles. Along the way, Skillman will discuss the company's software setup for rapid prototyping, augmented reality, and some "shader based compositing tricks."

- Elsewhere, Maxwell Peng, senior producer at Taiwanese developer International Games System, will host a session dubbed, "How to Succeed in Game Development With Agile/Scrum," giving developers tips on how to improve and streamline their development pipeline. Peng will outline the challenges and solutions he encountered when using Agile/Scrum, helping developers better understand this approach to game development.

- Finally, Hitoshi Sakimoto, a game audio veteran best known for scoring Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII, will host, "The Business (and Importance!) of Game Audio." Here, Sakimoto will delve into what it takes to make effective game music and sound effects, outlining his experience working in the business of game audio to help developers understand why sound plays a key role in nearly all realms of game development.

GDC Online 2011 Speaker Spotlight: Kabam's Hitchens On Metrics-Driven Design

As the first in a series of interviews with speakers from this October's GDC Online in Austin, Kabam's VP of product and platform services, Sheridan Hitchens, outlines the benefits of using metrics to guide design decisions for persistent online games.

By analyzing data gathered from its existing games and players, Hitchens says that Kabam can quickly and objectively identify problems and opportunities that arise, allowing the studio to update and develop its games more efficiently.

Prior to joining Kabam (developer of popular social games such as Kingdoms of Camelot and Edgeworld), Hitchens spent four years at casual game developer and publisher PlayFirst, where he oversaw the growth of the company's community, multiplayer, and microtranscation platforms.

Before entering the game industry, he graduated from the University of Cambridge and earned an M.B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley - Walter A. Haas School of Business.

Here, Hitchens provides some insight into Kabam's metrics-focused approach to game development, and offers a glimpse at the topics he will cover in his upcoming GDC Online session, "Data Driven: How Creating a Deeply Analytical Approach Drives Success."

Why does Kabam embrace metrics so heavily? What benefits does this strategy offer?

I think as much as anything it's a cultural norm that's driven from the top; our CEO, COO, CMO, and Chief Product Officer all are very analytical. When you make a pitch, or provide a recommendation, you're expected to have some level of data and analysis to back it up.

But there's more at work than cultural or executive biases. In our view, metrics provide an objective view of performance across a range of functions. Carefully tracking a variety of metrics, enables us to establish measures of success, and alerts us to problems and opportunities quickly. Perhaps just as importantly, it reduces the amount of subjective, "I think/you think" debate that wastes time in meetings and in running a business.

What sort of data do you look at when making internal decisions at the company?

We tend to look at a wide range of data and not just the common acquisition, retention and monetization metrics from marketing and production. We'll spend time looking at customer satisfaction data, ticket volume, even tech ops data to overlay onto our common game metrics to understand problems and identify opportunities.

We also conduct research to understand the continually shifting market; we survey our own players, survey the market, analyze market growth trends and so on.

GDC China 2011 Debuts Jenova Chen, Sworcery, Bastion Indie Talks

GDC China has debuted the first group of lectures in the show's Independent Games Summit, featuring talks from thatgamecompany co-founder Jenova Chen, Capybara Games on Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, and Supergiant Games on its indie hit Bastion.

Taking place November 12-14 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in Shanghai, China, the event will once again serve as the premier game industry event in China, bringing together influential developers from around the world to share ideas, network, and inspire each other to further the game industry in this region.

This year, the show will feature two Summits in addition to the Main Conference, covering Independent Games and Mobile Games.

The following are the first lectures to be announced for GDC China's Indie Games Summit:

- While video games are undoubtedly a significant form of entertainment media, they are often treated more like software or technology than a valid means of expression.

In "Video Games as a Medium for Entertainment & Artistic Expression," Jenova Chen, co-founder of Flower and Journey developer thatgamecompany, will look at the medium from an artistic perspective, demonstrating how games can deliver substantial experiences, feelings, and messages.

- Occasionally, business and design decisions that look awful on paper can lead to surprising success. This certainly held true for Capybara Games' Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (pictured), an eccentric iOS title that forced the team to take major risks with its design, business, and production processes.

In "Perhaps a Time of Miracles was at Hand: The Business & Development of #Sworcery," Capybara Games co-founder Nathan Vella will provide an in-depth look at how this unusual game grew into a critical and financial success.

Voting Opens For Game Developers Choice Online Audience Award

Game Developers Choice Online Awards organizers have announced that voting for the Game Developers Choice Online Audience Award is now open, encouraging online game fans to vote for their favorite persistent online game from now until 12:00 PT on September 22.

Typically, the winners at the Game Developers Choice Online Awards are chosen by the International Choice Award Network's (ICAN) online division, a group comprised of 400 specially picked, leading game industry creators from the foremost online game companies.

The Audience Award, however, allows anyone to vote for their favorite currently-operating persistent online game, whether it be a subscription MMO, a free-to-play web game, a social network title, or anything else.

To vote, game players should simply enter the name of the game and a valid email address at the Game Developers Choice Online Awards website, and verify their vote via email.

The winner of the Audience Award will be revealed alongside the other award winners at the second annual Game Developers Choice Online Awards, which will run alongside GDC Online in Austin, Texas on the evening of Wednesday, October 12th.

Returning to host the Choice Online Awards this year is Mike Goslin of Mindspark Interactive Network, an online game veteran with experience working with popular virtual worlds including Zwinky.com, Toontown Online, and more.

In addition to the Audience Award, event organizers recently revealed the list of finalists for this year's ceremony, honoring games such as Riot Games' popular League of Legends, Zynga's FrontierVille, and Mojang's indie powerhouse Minecraft.

GDC Online Debuts First Sessions For Smartphone & Tablet Games Summit

GDC Online has revealed new sessions within the Austin show's Smartphone & Tablet Games Summit, including a look at Zynga's Words With Friends studio, a series of mini-lectures on breaking into Asian markets, and a dual postmortem on Limbic Software's Nuts! and Zombie Gunship.

Taking place Monday, October 10 through Thursday, October 13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event dedicated solely to discussing the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

This year, the show will host three specialized Summits in addition to the traditional Main Conference, with topics covering Game Narrative, Virtual Items, and Smartphone & Tablet Games.

The following are among the first talks to be revealed within GDC Online's Smartphone & Tablet Games Summit:

- In "Words With Friends: Building and Growing a Game on the Top of the Charts," Vijay Thakkar of the Zynga subsidiary Zynga With Friends will outline the growth and evolution of the popular With Friends series (which includes Words With Friends, Hanging With Friends, and more). Thakkar will explain the inner workings of the studio's tech, and will point out "the trials and tribulations of multi-platform, cross-team development."

- Elsewhere, a handful of mobile company executives from ngmoco, Papaya Mobile, and Gamevil will discuss how to find success in Asian markets in "International Micro-Talks: Developing and Distributing Games for Japan, China and Korea." In this series of micro-talks, the speakers will each reflect on their experience in the mobile space to help developers overcome the challenges that come with breaking into these ever-growing markets.

Tales from the GDC Vault: The Flood Begins

[Continuing his 'Tales from the Vault' series, official GDC historian Jason Scott debuts landmark videos featuring computer pioneer Danny Hillis, the 2004 Game Design Challenge, AI legend Marvin Minsky, and Peter Molyneux, among many others.]

This has been a long time coming. The past few months of this GDC Vault digitization process have been incredibly slow, especially in regard to this column and giving you new things to check out.

It turns out that rescuing the video and audio from these old tapes has been quite intense, and prone to all sorts of unexpected thrill and chills as I both unearthed rarities and found frustrating dead ends, meaning days of lost work. No history has been lost, of course -- just time, lots of time.

Now, the whole chain of digitization, clean up, compression and prep for the web can be done on a single machine, using a variety of tools (most open-source), which I can push through pretty quickly. It still takes two to three times the length of a tape to prepare it for the web, but it's dependable, and that's what matters.

With a room full of tapes ready to go, I know how the next few months are going to be spent with this material. It's obvious there are gems aplenty in this pile, and filling the GDC archives is going to be a very rewarding project.

So let's drop some GDC history, right?

Not every keynote had to be all about the latest console or the best graphics, and GDC has peppered its lineups over the years with some intellectual heavy-hitters from the academic side, to give everyone another perspective on this things they make.

In 2000, the keynote was Dr. Daniel Hillis (called Danny Hillis in basically every documentation of the event I could find), who was a co-designer of parallel computing, co-founder of Thinking Machines, and a veteran of Walt Disney Imagineering.

His talk, presented here in full, is a one-hour rumination on the importance, nay, the critical aspect of play in scientific and intellectual discovery [GDC Vault free video]. Pulling from his years of interesting with amazing people, Hillis provides us with his thesis on how the games industry can play in the advancement of the human race.

GDC 2012 Reminds On Last Day For Main Conference Talk Submission

GDC 2012 organizers have reminded that the call for papers for the upcoming show is open only until 11.59pm PT on Tuesday, September 6th, and prospective speakers are must submit now for lectures, roundtables, and panels for the event's Main Conference.

The industry's flagship Game Developers Conference will take place at San Francisco's Moscone Center on March 5-9, 2012, and will once again serve as the premier industry event for developers to make connections, share ideas, and find inspiration.

This year, the GDC advisory board is seeking sessions in game-related tracks covering Business, Marketing & Management, Audio, Programming, Design, Production, and Visual Arts. Talks within these categories will all be showcased at the prestigious Main Conference of the Game Developers Conference 2012.

(Submissions for the GDC Summits, which will include submarkets in social, indie, and mobile games will be open September 29 through October 31, 2011, but these topics are also addressed in part in the Main Conference.)

This year, GDC organizers have introduced a cleaner, faster submission system, further streamlining the process for potential speakers.

To submit a proposal, speakers simply need to submit a brief session description along with any necessary supplemental materials and contact info. For more information on the submission process, please see the official FAQ.

GDC Vault Debuts Amnesia, Ubisoft Talks, Free GDC Europe Slides

The GDC Vault service is proud to announce that videos and slides from last month's GDC Europe are now available online, including free videos from Ubisoft's Jason VandenBerghe on established IP, wooga CEO Jens Begemann on the implications and future of social games, and indie dev Thomas Grip on the design decisions that fueled the success of Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Along with these free videos, slides for all of GDC Europe's sessions are now available for free, providing a glimpse into the range of notable topics discussed at the recent show.

The full catalog of video for GDC Europe is also now available to all GDC Vault members, now including All-Access Pass holders for last month's show in Cologne, Germany.

The following lectures are the first highlights to be made available for free from GDC Europe 2011:

- The lively Design track session, "The Magic Gun: Surviving IP Development Through Embracing Your Constraints" features Jason VandenBerghe, the narrative director on Ubisoft's FarCry 3, discussing the ins-and-outs of working with established IP.

No matter how familiar a developer might be with a given license, VandenBerghe encourages developers to embrace these constraints and "revel in what makes your IP different." [GDC Vault free video.]

- Elsewhere in the conference, wooga founder and CEO Jens Begemann gave a keynote titled, "Playing is a Core Human Desire - How Social Games Change the Entertainment Industry," offering insight into the influence of social games on the industry at large.

During this session, social game leader Begemann (Diamond Dash, Magic Land) outlines how social games can coexist with core-focused titles, detailing how and why these games fill a new niche in the ever-evolving games market. [GDC Vault free video]

- The final session to be made available for free is a talk from Amnesia: The Dark Descent developer Thomas Grip, dubbed, "Evoking Emotions and Achieving Success by Breaking All the Rules." Here, Frictional Games' Grip examines the success of his hit indie horror title, noting how the omission of some common horror game tropes made the game far more interesting -- and far more terrifying. [GDC Vault free video]

2011 IGF China Extends Submissions Until Sept. 5th

Organizers of the Independent Games Festival China, which runs in conjunction with the Game Developers Conference China, have officially announced that the call for indie game submissions from the pan-Pacific area will remain open through Monday, September 5.

Following on its success in past years, GDC China will continue to host the three main elements of IGF China, including the Independent Games Summit, which provides valuable conference sessions specializing in the challenges of independent game development.

These include the Independent Games Festival Pavilion, an onsite exhibition of the very best in local indie games, and the Independent Games Festival Awards, which honors the work of the talented pool of local independent game developers.

The 2011 IGF China Main Competition will give out awards and cash prizes in five categories, including:

- Best Game (RMB20,000 ~ $3,060 USD)
- Mobile Best Game (RMB10, 000 ~ $1,530 USD)
- Excellence In Audio (RMB5,000 ~ $760 USD)
- Excellence In Technology (RMB5,000 ~ $760 USD)
- Excellence In Visual Arts (RMB5,000 ~ $760 USD)

Finalists -- who will receive VIP and expo passes to attend GDC China and the IGF awards ceremony on November 12, 2011 -- will be chosen by a panel of expert jurors including Kevin Li (CEO, TipCat Interactive); Monte Singman (CEO, Radiance Digital Entertainment); Xubo Yang (Director of Digital Art Lab and Assistant Professor; Shanghai Jiaotong University's School of Software), and jury chairman Simon Carless, IGF Chairman Emeritus and EVP of the GDC shows and Gamasutra.

GDC Online 2011 Details Major Line-Up, 36 Hours To Early Reg Deadline

With roughly 36 hours left until early registration
for October's GDC Online show in Austin, Texas, ends at Midnight EST on
September 1, event organizers have chosen to reveal a handful of new
Main Conference talks, and detail the numerous other speakers,
tutorials, and events present at the show.

Adding to the show's Production track, Gazillion Entertainment's VP of publishing, Dan Fiden, will host "5 Things Core Designers Should Learn from Social Games,"
a lecture that will detail the growing influence of social online
titles on the industry at large. In the Business & Marketing track,
Daniel Block of EVE Online developer CCP will discuss the perils of interrupting marketing for an online game in "What Happens When You Stop Marketing Your MMO?"

The final new session this week is a Design track lecture from industry veteran (Marvel Super Hero Squad) Nikolaus Davidson, who will explore the psychology of spending money in games in "Why We Buy: A Game Designer's Guide To Transactions."

These lectures join a host of other notable talks within the show's main conference, which includes tracks spanning Business & Marketing, Customer Experience, Design, Production, and Programming, as well as a sponsored track on Monetization.

These recently-announced sessions within the Main Conference include Design-focused talks from Riot Games, Loot Drop, and Playdom, CCP and Zynga on designing and managing online games, a look at EA2D/BioWare San Francisco's Dragon Age Legends and Rovio's mega-hit Angry Birds, and much more.

In addition to these Main Conference sessions, PopCap co-founder John Vechey will host a keynote
at the event titled, "Playing Well With Others - How PopCap Creates
Compelling Social Game Experiences," a talk that will provide an inside
look at how mobile and social games have influenced the design
philosophy of the extremely successful casual game studio.

GDC Online Reveals All-Day Blizzard, Google, Unity Tutorials

GDC Online organizers have revealed full-day sponsored events for the October show in Austin, including Google, Unity Technologies, and an unprecedented Blizzard writing/design showcase.

Taking place Monday, October 10 through Thursday, October 13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event dedicated solely to discussing the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

These full-day events will run alongside the show's Main Conference, and will offer a comprehensive look at the design and programming philosophies of these three powerhouse companies.

As seen in the event's Schedule Builder, the following are three sponsored events to be held at GDC Online 2011.

- As part of the Design track, World of Warcraft studio Blizzard Entertainment will host a GDC Online-exclusive special one-off tutorial aimed at designers and writers, "The War of Worldcraft: Developing Franchise Narrative in the Transmedia Age."

The full day of content sees Blizzard Entertainment's writers and story developers, "the creative minds behind Diablo, StarCraft, and Warcraft", focusing on various elements of the company's hit franchises, and kicked off by an introduction from the company's VP of creative direction Chris Metzen.

Other sessions include a panel on the "developmental payoff of creating narrative content in ancillary and or/licensed media" from the company's Micky Neilson & James Waugh, and a two-part design masterclass from World Of Warcraft's lead quest designer Dave Kosak.

GDC 2012: Saltsman, Johnson On Unexplored Realms Of Game Design

To help inspire submissions for the GDC 2012 call for papers, the event's advisory board members for the Game Design track spoke out on the biggest challenges facing game designers, and outlined what they hope to see at the upcoming March 2012 San Francisco-based event.

Canabalt creator and independent designer Adam Saltsman (pictured) and Civilization IV and Dragon Age Legends designer Soren Johnson came together to discuss the often-overlooked areas of game design, notable innovations, rising trends, and more as part of their drive to encourage submission ideas for the GDC 2012 Main Conference.

As GDC advisory board members, these industry veterans - alongside colleagues such as LucasArts' Clint Hocking and Cerny Games' Mark Cerny - oversee the show's Game Design track and ensure that each of its sessions remain relevant and hold up the high bar of quality that GDC attendees have come to expect.

The call for papers for GDC 2012 will close on September 6, with a list of Game Design-specific topics available on the official website. In the following interview, the advisory board members discuss key issues they'd like to see addressed at next March's show.

What are some key games from the past year or so that have impressed you with their new approaches to design - and why?

Adam Saltsman: Amnesia: Dark Descent and Bit Pilot are very interesting games. These are fairly hardcore horror and arcade games respectively, but neither game allows you to attack. Instead, your goal is to hide, avoid, and survive. For me this is a really welcome and interesting break from aiming and shooting games, but without sacrificing any of the awesomeness one might expect from a survival horror game or an arena shooter.

Soren Johnson: I was very impressed by Magicka's concept -- letting players cast spells by simply combing simple elements such as fire, water, electricity, arcane energy, and so on. This system encourages a sense of discovery absent from so many games; I loved trying out certain combinations just to see what would happen. That the game often supported my assumptions and guesses made the world feel alive. Allowing play based on intuition from existing knowledge instead of memorization of invented lore is always a big advantage.

The other development that stands out to me is how the best small-scale, indie games, like Frozen Synapse, Bastion, Atom Zombie Smasher, HOARD, etcetera, are creatively outpacing games from the big publishers simply because they can take risks and maintain their own vision. Many game genres and formats are simply not feasible for the big guys to make anymore, and this has surprisingly been great for the industry, because there are now so many gaps for the indies to fill.

How do you think the rise of social games will influence design in other areas of the game biz?

Adam Saltsman: One positive outcome that I am looking forward to is the expansion of our audience. PopCap helped do this, and a few years later the Wii helped do it again. Social games are having that effect right now; I think it's really great to have people that haven't played video games in a decade or more playing games again. Not everyone that plays FarmVille is going to rush out and get a PS3 next week, but there is a basic literacy thing happening that is going to have a huge long-term effect.

 

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