Sunday, June 07, 2009

Game Designer weekly E-Mail #1 - E3

This is the first in a series of weely e-mail exchanges between game designers about upcoming events (Like this one! E3) trends in games (a move towards more casual play for example), or just what we feel like discussing at a given time (the perfect taco, or where one might get said taco).

Your participants are designers Dan Teasdale, Chris Foster, myself, Sylvain Dubrofsky, and eventually Grace Williams.

These e-mails were exchanged pre-E3, so read them and see how the real thing matched up with our expectations!

Dan Teasdale

Okay, let’s try kicking off this whole email design thing with something that’s sure to cause contention. I am a classy gent, after all.

E3 is next week. It’s the return of the huge 40,000 person behemoths of old, complete with 8 hours of doof and awkward-looking booth babes. What is everyone looking forward to? Any games that are off most people’s radars that you think will be awesome? Any trends you hope to see, or not see?

Casey Malone

Well, this is my first E3, so I'm expecting an orgy of decadence the likes of which even David Bowie or Robert Evans would back away from slowly.

Seriously, though, growing up reading about and imagining the floor of E3 I'm not sure what's coming; is it going to be full of multimillion dollar booths with lights, decorations, props, costumes and fun like Disney World or is it going to be a starkly lit nightmare full of cranky nerds and too-loud music like Euro Disney? I'll let the old hands at this convention thing take guesses towards that.

I guess what excites me the most is seeing what some of my favorite developers are bringing; I have been itching to get my hands on the next game from DoubleFine since the moment I finished* Psychonauts, so I'll be rushing to try Brutal Legend. I'm hoping that Warren Spector brings his long-rumored Mickey Mouse game, so I can at least get a look at what he's bringing to the Disney universe. I want to try out The Legend of Zelda: We Love Toy Trains Edition**, because I have no idea what's happening with this title. And I will proudly wear the badge of the only Harmonix designer who is excited at whatever new game Kojima Productions is working on; yes, I'm sure they'll announce MGS4 for 360, but I'm really crossing my fingers they're bringing something else with them.

As for games that'll secretly steal the show? I think people are going to walk away from Scribblenauts amazed - and no, I don't just love games with "nauts" in the title. And I don't mean to get all "blow our own horn-y"***, but I think The Beatles: Rock Band is going to make jaws hit the floor.

The trend I really want to see and also want to see avoided is sort of a contradiction - I want to see less of a casual market taking over the games industry and instead see games move more towards accepting a casual audience. I mean fewer fitness and weight loss products, and more games that have bright friendly art direction and no lose conditions. Fewer mini-game collections and more intuitive controls. I want to see game makers trending away from the hardcore, but not the point where we lose focus of what makes games fun - interactive fantasies we can provide that movies can't. If the focus of E3 is on experiences like that instead of the gritty FPSs of the world, I'll be really excited for gaming in the next year.

* I never finished Psychonauts, but instead had to watch a friend finish it. Damned Meat Circus.
**Which Dan will tell you he designed a decade ago, I'm sure.
*** There was a better way to say that, I'm sure.

Dan Teasdale

Casey, you have reminded me of Scribblenauts and made me throw in my 0.02c for that as potential dark horse of the year. I'm really curious to see how deep the vocabulary is. Maybe they're really smart about it and target common words plus people's playtest list? I heard that's how Al Lowe did the vocabulary in the first Leisure Suit Larry, and it seemed to work pretty well in being a jerk to me because of it.

I loved E3 the first few times I went. As a game nerd, having everything you want to play on a show floor is awesome. I'm pretty sure this will be the Casey experience. Then, I demoed a game with a 15 minute linear demo for three days and got to see the seedy underbelly of E3, and now I'm a curmudgeonly old jerk. This will probably be the Sylvain experience.

This curmudgeonliness has raised a question in my head: Do we need E3 anymore?

The justification about Ye Olde E3 was that it was a single location that publishers could meet with retailers to buy shelf space for the holidays. Sure, there was a nice side bonus of all the people attending getting to play each other's games and see in action upcoming trends, but the only reason you were flown out there was so that you could guide your hastily-duct taped demo for the King of Walmart*, who would then decree the amount of shelf space you'd get in November.

In the break between Ye Olde E3 and this year's E3, the publishers figured out news ways to talk to developers and vice versa - shows like EA3 and the GameStop Manager's Conference took the place. Bloggers picked up video cameras, thereby negating the need for me to walk the floor or wait in a three hour line. Services like Steam and the first party marketplaces have meant that shelf space isn't a problem, so they can focus on spending their marketing budget towards players rather than wooing retailers ($1mil+ on a booth for E3 2006, EA? Really?) Games like Bioshock have proven that you don't have to come out in the holidays (or be held over to March 31) to be successful.

My gut is that while it'll be a good press boost, it's going to be more like Harrison Ford in Crystal Skull than it is Harrison Ford in Raiders. We'll see this old format played out, realise that it was great before, but that as an industry we've grown since then and that our needs for an expo need to be different if we're going to treat it as a PR festival rather than a distributor pimpathon.

To end on a cheery note, my predictions for E3:
* Brutal Legend blows peoples brains open
* The Beatles: Rock Band gets nominated for an E3 Critics Choice award.
* The most popular booth will be the Target relax-and-feed-me-snacks lounge.


*I'm assuming he's your king, or at the very least your Governor General.

Chris Foster

Between being seven months into Raise-A-Baby-Quest, and only now getting de-Beatled after over a year in the Rock Band mines, I'm going into this E3 fairly cold and devoid of specific expectations.

But while it's been a few years since my last E3, I do have my memories. I think my first significant recollection of E3 (though maybe it was an ECTS from the same year) is seeing this mindblowing, totally unexpected 3D console called the "PlayStation." I particularly remember that they demoed Ridge Racer using these weird pre-Dualshock analog controllers from Namco called NegCon, where you steered by twisting one half of a split controller while holding the other half.

I also remember, a year or so later, the massive robot-spider both that Scavenger Software used to present their dozen games and game demos-in-progress. I think that spider-booth was pretty much the only concrete thing they ever actually shipped.

I also remember the multiple appearances of the Gathering of Developers outside E3 at their personal trailer park -- though I never personally visited due to a pathological distrust of strippers and loud people.

I guess that covers the range of experiences I'm hoping for. I'd love to be wowed by something as monumental and game-changing as it is unexpected. I'll also keeping an eye out for those companies where you catch glimpses of a massive train wreck to come, if only in hindsight. And I'm expecting to see things that I will immediately wish that I could unsee.

E3, how I've missed you.

Sylvain Dubrofsky

Hey I remember that E3 booth that you manned Dan. I was actually really looking forward to DAH after that presentation.

I'm really excited E3 is back in the form I remember. I've been in the industry for almost 10 years. I think I went to E3 in years 2-7. At first it was a similar experience to going to a big out-of-town concert. The first couple industry jobs I had wouldn't pay for us, so we'd get our own flights, share beds in hotels, and take vacation days. By the end I have been spoiled getting my flights, hotel room, and per diem covered.

There is one common experience with all my E3 visits. Exhaustion after it's all over. As much as I love it, I'm sure I'll get massive headaches, muscle soreness, and extreme lack of sleep. This year that will be mitigated by my excitement showing off our HMX games which I'm tremendously proud of.

Ok enough history. To the games! I'll be on my usual hunt for obscure titles that may not have received enough coverage. The truth is, besides actually playing the games, you can get a large picture at home in front of a computer or watching G4. That's why I'm gonna do my best to actually play the games while I'm there and have free time.

Things I wanna play if they are there:
Modern Warfare 2
Halo: ODST
Half Life 2: Episode 3
Batman Arkham Asylum
Splinter Cell Conviction
Starcraft 2
Anybody else's music games

Casey, I find it odd that you mention FPS-sequel-X as a problem but are excited by yet another Metal Gear. Everyone has their things they enjoy (I'm always excited to try each new Madden, or anything by Valve, Bungie, Infinity Ward, Epic...). I personally don't get the fandom behind the regular E3 trailer of the next Metal Gear or Final Fantasy but I don't see it as something that takes away my excitement.

And with that, we got ready to do E3 prep and other projects, and our first e-mail exchange ended. Tune in next Sunday for hopefully our next installment.


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