For those who couldn’t make it to this year’s Game Developers Conference, IGDA Toronto brought a little bit of GDC back to its members at home.
The conference’s 2012 edition saw a large Toronto contingent represented in its speaker lineup and two of them generously remounted their talks at our monthly chapter meeting on March 14. Links to the presenters’ slideshows are posted at the end of this report.
Delving into the level design of his wildly successful iOS game Trainyard, Matt Rix (Magicule) kicked off the two-pack of the evening’s talks. Rix delivered the post-mortem of the logical puzzle game that requires players to draw tracks for trains.
Colour theory and timing were huge roles in gameplay and the level design was all about teaching the player just as an instructor would teach a class — this approach empowers the user to ultimately feel like an expert at the end of the game.
Knowing your audience is key and Rix targeted the “casual App Store” audience. “There’s a difference between gamers and casual players and [the latter] are not less intelligent than other players,” he said, adding that Trainyard was designed for a player who may not have previously played games.
From a macro level, Rix taught players one element of the game at a time and even combinations were treated as single elements. This step-by-step approach was taught in isolation before being brought into the main game to ease players into the subsequent levels — and, Rix stressed, make sure the player has to use every skill you teach them. “It’s important to come back and reinforce those techniques.”
Rix’s “teaching method” was inspired by nearly text-less manuals from furniture retail giant Ikea. Other advantages to using visual-heavy tutorials — employed by other popular games like Angry Birds — is that it also eliminates the need to use localization if your game launches in non-English-speaking countries.
On the micro end of level design, Rix stressed that every level should have a purpose and that everything should feel intentional. “Adding a rock in the puzzle as an obstacle makes it harder to solve, but doesn’t add any cleverness,” he stated. “Everything should have a reason to be there.”
What’s considered a game design fail in Rix’s eyes? If players solve a puzzle and say, “I don’t know how I did that.”
“They may as well not have solved the puzzle at all,” said Rix.
Switching gears to advocacy, Metanet Software’s Mare Sheppard rounded out the evening’s talks with her offering, titled Why I Hate Women in Games Initiatives.
Sheppard, a co-founder of the Hand Eye Society and Difference Engine Initiative, emphasized her passion for diversity in the games industry, stating that the differences between genders and sex do not affect capability.
“I don’t make games for men or women — I focus on making games,” she said.
But her message is one she intends to keep spreading. The feminist movement is still necessary, she said, noting that women make 80% to 90% of the salary that men do in the same job. The games industry in particular has been “traditionally unwelcoming to women,” added Sheppard.
She hopes that the industry moves towards a meritocracy — people being hired and valued based on the quality of their work.
The Difference Engine Initiative through TIFF Nexus was created to introduce new gamemakers from underrepresented groups into the game community. Sheppard felt it was a success in that a dozen women learned how to make their first game and also found a new way to express their voices.
But it’s a temporary solution, “providing satisfaction that we’re getting something done, but it doesn’t solve the problem that some people are valued more than others.”
Sheppard reminded the crowded house that we’re all in this together and she hopes to see more diversity, which will bring more ideas and creative models to keep the industry fresh and vibrant. “We have a real opportunity to learn from other industries,” she stated.
“Let’s make this industry the best.”
Special thanks to our speakers for taking the time to remount their talks for IGDA Toronto members. An extra special thanks goes out to steering committee member Jon Remedios for organizing Encore! and to James Everett for being our event photographer.
For Matt Rix’s slides, click here.
For Mare Sheppard’s slides, click here.