GDC 2013: “Talking to the Player – How Cultural Currents Shape and Level Design”

April 24, 2013

I have posted a full recording of my 2013 GDC game design lecture. It’s called “Talking to the Player – How Cultural Currents Shape and Level Design” and examines in detail how video games are the perfect expression of our current cultural values. It also gives some hands-on advice on everyday problems faced by level and narrative designers.

You can watch it on YouTube or download the fully annotated slides (45mb).

Ultima VI – The German Intro

May 27, 2012

There never was a German version of Ultima VI, and in my humble opinion it never really needed one. But sometime in the mid-90s, I felt compelled to create one anyway – probably because I liked computers (and Ultima!) a lot and had too much time on my hands icon smile Ultima VI   The German Intro I The result isn’t Earth-shattering prose, but I remember the effort fondly: German is famously longer than English (supposedly by approximately 30%), yet I couldn’t exceed the predefined character limit. And I was still in high school, and this translation actually applied some of the knowledge I had gained in class.

I had thought the translation long lost, rotting on a trashed hard drive somewhere in a German landfill – but as I was digging through my classic games folder today, I noticed two Ultima VI executables in the same directory and got curious. After some more digging, one .EXE turns out to be the one I hacked all those years ago.

This might interest me more than anybody else. But after the cut, for historic purposes, here’s the Ultima VI introduction – in German icon smile Ultima VI   The German Intro

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GDC 2012: Player Stories and Designer Stories

March 11, 2012

player stories designer stories 544x307 GDC 2012: Player Stories and Designer Stories
Description: Whose story does a game tell? That of the player, the game character, or the designer? This lecture provides a comprehensive review of how games create narrative by structuring designer and player stories through level design.

Download the annotated .PDF slides (10mb).

GDC 2012 F2P Panel

February 28, 2012

Designing for Free: How Free-to-Play Games Blur the Line Between Design and Business

Speaker/s: Soren Johnson (Game Developer Magazine)Ben Cousins (ngmoco Sweden)Matthias Worch (LucasArts)Tom Chick (Quarter to Three) and David Edery (Spry Fox)
Day / Time / Location: Friday 4:00- 5:00 Room 2003, West Hall, 2nd Fl
Track / Duration / Format / Audience Level: Game Design , Business and Marketing and Management / 60-Minute / Panel / All
GDC Vault Recording: Video Recorded

The free-to-play movement is here to stay and will touch every corner of the games industry. However, the format blurs the line between game design and game business, so that business decisions will become increasingly indistinguishable from design decisions. Free-to-play content must be fun enough to attract and retain players but not so much fun that no one feels the need to spend some money. Managing this tension makes free-to-play design extremely difficult, especially for traditional game designers who are used to simply making the best game possible. Our panelists will discuss this transition and best practices for building free-to-play games with soul.
Takeaway: Attendees will gain a deeper understanding of the trade-offs inherent with free-to-play design and how to navigate them while maintaining a game’s core.
Intended Audience: This panel is targeted at anyone interested in the design and business of free-to-play games.
Eligible Passes:  All Access PassMain Conference Pass

GDC 2012 Level Design Tutorial

February 28, 2012

Level Design in a Day: Best Practices from the Best in the Business

Speaker/s: Coray Seifert (Slingo, Inc.)Ed Byrne (Imba)Neil Alphonso (Splash Damage)Jim Brown (Epic Games)Joel Burgess (Bethesda Game Studios)Seth Marinello (Visceral Games Redwood Shores) and Matthias Worch (LucasArts)
Day / Time / Location: Tuesday 10:00- 6:00 Room 2016, West Hall, 2nd Fl
Track / Duration / Format / Audience Level: Game Design , Production / Full-Day / Tutorial / All
GDC Vault Recording: No Vault Recording

In this intense day-long tutorial, attendees gain deep insights into the art of Level Design from an all-star cast of industry veterans. This year, everyone’s favorite Level Design tutors return with new topics, new formats, and new genres, plus acclaimed Dead Space level designer Seth Marinello! From the iterative process behind a production of Gears of War level, to the process of creating the most stirring moments of Dead Space, this tutorial reviews best practices and lessons learned from almost a century of collective level design experience on a vast array of contemporary and classic games. Topics of focus include documentation, pacing, environmental storytelling, balancing, player agency, narrative agency and others. This fun, high energy talk features portfolio deathmatches, talk show-style panel discussions, extended Q&A and a post-tutorial trip to the bar to wrap up the day with speakers and colleagues.


10:00–10:15am- Level Design in a Day Introduction

Speaker: Coray Seifert

10:15–11:08am- Building a Universe Through Details

Speaker: Seth Marinello (Visceral Games Redwood Shores)
Seth Marinello details his experience helping bring the terrifying world of Dead Space alive through careful pacing and environmental storytelling. Pulling from numerous sources such as film, literature, and traditional games, Seth outlines how to create immersive spaces and craft memorable gameplay moments.

11:08am–12:00pm- Player Stories, Designer Stories and Narrative Agency

Speaker: Matthias Worch (LucasArts)
Whose story does a game tell? That of the player, the game character, or the designer? This lecture provides a comprehensive review of how games create narrative by structuring designer and player stories through level design. It also offers suggestions on how we create game stories don’t simply provide context for the player’s actions but integrate the gameplay and narrative layers of the game.

12:00–1:45pm- LUNCH SPECIAL! Portfolio Review for LD Newbies and Vets

Portfolio Review for LD Newbies and Vets
Design has always been one of the most competitive disciplines in game development when it comes to landing a position, and this of course rings true for level design. This talk will provide an arsenal of tips and tricks for everything from getting noticed initially to waiting for a response after an interview. Before this talk, we’ll send out a request for level design resumes/portfolios and put them head-to-head in brutal Portfolio Deathmatches. Two enter, one gets the job offer.

1:45–2:30pm- LIVE with Matthias Worch & The Level Devils

Speaker: Matthias Worch (LucasArts)
With bellies full of food and eyes full of sleep threatening focus levels, it’s time for an upbeat, entertaining romp through the lighter side of level design with our effervescent host Matthias Worch and his enigmatic group of ne’er do wells, the Level Devils. Audience members are invited to join the panel on-stage in a cable talk show format as we discuss audience topics from the first half of the tutorial, burning questions about the art and craft of level design, and the meaning of life in general.

2:30–3:30pm- Occam’s Level Designing Razor

Speaker: Joel Burgess (Bethesda Game Studios)
A study in “the least complicated solution is usually the best” with examples from game balance, layout and scripting. While inexperienced designers often implement tons of convoluted safeties and edge case handling edge cases, before the situation ever actually calls for it, the best solution is often the one that is simplest in nature.

3:30–4:00pm, 4:30–5:00pm- Level Design Documentation

Speakers: Ed Byrne (Imba) and Neil Alphonso (Splash Damage)
Generally looked upon as an unfavourable relic of old-school game development, documentation and sketching is a fundamental part of any design process. Using examples from his work on contemporary and classic games, Ed explains the reasons for understanding and using planning materials, how to go about creating them, and why sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

5:00–6:00pm- The Legacy of Fail

Speaker: Jim Brown (Epic Games)
Jim Brown describes his experience in learning from mistakes and the importance of iteration. Jim will take a shipped level from a recent Epic product and show it at each stage of development, tracking how and why it changed over time.
Takeaway: Level Design newcomers gain a solid foundation in the art and science of level design. Experienced level designers learn tips, tricks, and best practices from the best in the business. Non-Level Designers gain an intimate understanding of the level design process, becoming better equipped to collaborate with level design teams.
Intended Audience: Designers, writers, and scripters involved in the level or scenario creation process. Programmers, artists, team leads and testers interfacing with level design teams. Anyone interested in learning more about the art of crafting great moment-to-moment gameplay.
Eligible Passes:  All Access PassSummits & Tutorials Pass


July 2, 2011

As you almost certainly noticed I haven’t posted a lot of opinions on my blog lately. The likely culprit is Twitter, where you’ll find my current state of mind updated daily in 140 characters of less. It only seems right to add a feed in the sidebar to the left – feel free to follow me for frequent updates!