GameCity Roundup

Had a good time meeting gaming enthusiasts and other developers from around the UK this week at the Game City festival in Nottingham. It’s still on until the weekend, if you have time to get down there. Sadly today was the last day I could make it, so here is a roundup of some of the events I attended

Big Tent
Loads of indie games companies displayed their apps, pads and demos in the big tent, as well as exhibits from various other groups, including game jam entries from the local university, and a minecraft server complete with laptops for all the kids, big and small to have a go (above). Each day had different exhibitors and things going on, which is a nice change to many conventions, where things start to get a bit samey after two or three days

Board Games
Quinten Smith enthused about the booming board game scene, making a compelling case for why developers of all shades and colours should pay attention to this exciting entertainment medium. In particular, design patterns that video game developers would do well to emulate:

  • Auctioning – A one off chance to grab a valuable resource, but players must out-bid each other to gain exclusive use
  • Rule Evolution – Allowing customised game rules and options or players to change the dynamics of a game for preventing the same set of winning strategies dominating multiplayer games

He also highlighted the benefits of combining US/UK storytelling and aesthetic with considered and balanced German/continental design

Writing Advice
Thomas Was Alone maker, Mike Bithell got some advice from two comic book and video game writers, Kieron Gillen and Antony Johnston, on writing (narrative) for video games. Pointers included:

  • The title of the game is a part of the writing. It is how players identify the game, and so identify with it
  • Writing style can have influences from others’ styles, and take techniques and tools from a variety of sources, but ultimately, the writer must find their own unique voice
  • Always follow up on foreshadowing or drop it altogether. The dark pixel cloud in Thomas Was Alone being cited as one such example
  • Story does not need to be complex, as long as it is well paced and has completion
  • Story in games is ultimately about player motivation

There was also debate about the voiceless / empty vessel character, and the moments where game design ensures failure is unavoidable.

Between talks, there was plenty of stuff to do. I contributed to the animal shadows board (above), with my winged triffid-demon creature, though disturbingly, it was not actually the strangest animal to appear out of the festival crowd’s collective imagination

From Comics To Consoles
Antony Johnston compared and contrasted writing for comic books and video games, giving insights into where his background in comics had highlighted underlying principles common to the two media. key points were:

  • Audiences can choose the pace at which they consume the content. This means games and comics must both emphasise brevity and constantly create action to keep the interaction flowing. Comic readers can spend hours pouring over the detailed art work in a single panel, or flick through at speed to the next page, just as a game player may linger in a room, or speed through the environment, eager to achieve their goals
  • Unlike film or literature, the world is created though abstract imagery and iconography. The reality of the world is not absolute
  • The world is given shape by the context as much as the dialogue, characters or events that happen in the story. In comics, through the art, and in games through the environment

On world building specifically, two guides Antony mentioned struck me as especially valuable to consider when reviewing how the world meshes with the story:

  • The world must be able to support more stories than just the one being told.
  • The story being told can only work in that world

And finally, the message that ultimately all games and comics have limitations, but to enjoy the constraints rather than fight against them

 

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