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.