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Serious Games Summit, Day One posted 3/23 at 10:38:48 AM PST by Kevin Hawkins

Monday morning we attended the Serious Games Summit tutorial. Ben Sawyer of the Serious Games Initiative ramped the session up with his presentation entitled "Serious Games 101", in which Sawyer provided an overview of the "serious games" movement and a discussion of how serious games differ from traditional gaming markets. In the following paragraphs I'll try to capture the important points of the presentation.

The Serious Games Initiative primary argument is that games are moving beyond the mainstream gaming and entertainment market and into a new sector of games that educate and train. Several possible reasons for this are identified, including there are new markets with huge potential, the PC games market "sucks", game developers have a tendency to "reach for bigger things", and that serious games are studio-centric, meaning you don't need a publisher because you are dealing with government and corporate customers.

As game developers, we solve the social problem of entertainment. Other problems might include teaching, figuring out policies, scenario handling training, and so on. Playing games is a problem solving activity, and we are very deliberate in why we play certain games. For instance, we play chess for the strategy, we play Unreal Tournament 2004 for the action, and we play Simcity to simulate being mayor. In this same way, serious games are solutions to problems. They are games whose primary mission is not entertainment, or they can be entertainment games applied in a different manner.

Customers for serious games include: health sectors, corporations, government, military, higher education, prep/K-12, non-profit organizations, individuals and hobbyist/enthusiasts, and political parties. Some example games include Simcity and Virtual U.

There have been few commercial pioneers in serious games as most companies focus on traditional training markets, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman and so on. In the gaming industry, there is no sense of a defined serious games sector. However, serious games are growing and are beginning to be taken more seriously. More academics are participating, the gaming industry in general is cooperating, the press is becoming more interested, and more and more research is being done regarding the impact games have on cognitive learning.

As mentioned, serious games have a number of potential customers. Sawyer made these points about each customer type:
  • "A democratic society depends upon an informed and educated citizenry." - Jefferson
  • Check out MassBalance.com
  • Explore the federal, state, and local levels
  • "CYA" factors and controversy - Look up "Escape from Woomera"
  • K12:
  • An established retail market already exists
  • Is it possible to have an independent developer business model in this sector?
  • Home schooling has a large and growing market of around 2 million children
  • Higher Education:
  • This group is able to take more risks on projects
  • However, they are also struggling with online instruction (e-learning)
  • Yet, they are great potential partners with bigger budgets
  • Military:
  • The military has a huge commitment to e-learning
  • There are obvious crossover opportunities from mainstream games to military training
  • Advergaming is also possible ("America's Army")
  • Military uses a contracting process
  • Examples also include "Close Combat Marines", "Guard Force", and "SIMSar2"
  • Healthcare:
  • Games for healthcare include such things as patient treatment, technology transfer, and much more
  • There are medical issues with games. Depending on the type of game it may require certification through clinical trials
  • Corporate:
  • Larger "pen & paper" contingency
  • Ethics training
  • Job training
  • Advergames (YaYa Games)
  • Analytics (Breakaway Games)
  • ROI issues
  • Big companies plan budgets far in advance, so be ready for bureaucracy
  • Non-government organizations:
  • Two types: fundables and funders
  • They look for the dollar per impact (i.e. impact of game furthering their agenda)
  • They tend to be risk takers
  • Other:
  • Journalism
  • NewsGaming.com
  • Propaganda and political statements
  • In the end, several main points need to be remembered when developing serious games for the serious customer. The first is don't sell transferrence, meaning you don't want to sell technology or ideas in mainstream gaming and promise them to your customer in a serious games. Next, sell skills, process, and insight to your customer, as opposed to features, technology, or "cool ideas". And remember, serious games is not a retail market, and it's not the games business as you know it.

    IGDA Business Summit Keynote - Bing Gordon posted 3/23 at 9:16:48 AM PST by DavidRM

    IGDA Business Summit Keynote - Bing Gordon

    Using many quotes by famed advertising guru David Ogilvy, author of the book On Advertising, Bing Gordon gave an entertaining and informative presentation about building an effective company. A great company, Mr. Gordon said, needs cooperation between the "suits" and the "creatives".

    His main points:

    • Teamwork is a habit that must be instilled in a company from the beginning.
    • The company should stop whining as soon as it starts.
    • The company must look after client needs.
    • Everyone sees what the leader pays attention to, and he should not favor one over the other.
    • The best marketing leverage is quality. Quality drives sales. Marketing cannot increase sales past a certain point. Advertising is only a multiplier. If the quality isn't there, neither will the sales.
    • Big ideas are usually simple ideas--"and usually hard to arrive at", said Mr. Gordon.
    • Put your developers in direct contact with customers.
    • Rules for sequels: 1/3 new, 1/3 improved, 1/3 the same.

    Quotes from David Ogilvy:

    • ...provide an atmosphere where creative mavericks can do good work.
    • Only first class business, only first class way.
    • Never stop testing, and your advertising will keep improving.
    • If it doesn't sell, it's not creative.

    Indie Perspective, by DavidRM:

    I got nothing, though I think I'll find me an Ogilvy book or two to read this.

    Web Based 3D Gaming - part 2 posted 3/23 at 8:09:35 AM PST by John Hattan

    I got to hear about all kinds of other interesting browser-based 3D technologies in the afternoon portion of the 3D browser technologies all-day tutorial. The main ones covered were Shockwave 3D (of course), Java3D, WildTangent, VirTools, and 3D Groove. I also recall last year I questioned WildTangent’s role as a viable deliver-er of 3D web content. This year I’ll go one step further and state that I no longer see WildTangent as a viable 3D technology for browsers. Unless the company president’s line regarding 3D Groove’s capabilities are overstated (and that never happens I’m sure), they’ve got WildTangent beaten on every front. Every other browser 3D technology had something to distinguish it from the others. Shockwave 3D had high browser penetration and a very mature development environment. Java3D had the Java name and highest system portability. VirTools had a very innovative “design your landscape on the screen” development environment. 3D Groove had a very fast script language and software renderer. Every product seemed to distinguish itself in some way save WildTangent. Add to it the fact that several spyware cleaners will wipe out the WildTangent Web Driver and its “load up games you didn’t ask for” technology on sight, and I give ‘em a dim future. On the other hand, they are preparing a new release based on .NET, so WildTangent will have the only browser-based 3D that is programmable in C# or other .NET languages.

    Maybe they’ve got a future. I’ve been wrong before.

    Obligatory Entrance Pic posted 3/22 at 10:59:14 PM PST by Ron Penton

    Okay, fine, here's a shot of the entrance from this year:

    But there weren't any pies!!! posted 3/22 at 10:39:07 PM PST by Ron Penton

    Well I started out today intending to just loaf around and hop in and out of tutorials, seeing if any of them catch my fancy. In the morning I ended up getting caught at the book store, where a few people recognized me as the author of a few books, and demanded that I autograph them for a few minutes; I got sidetracked and got drawn into conversations with people all morning, and ended up missing the morning tutorial sessions.

    I am a self-promoting whore.

    After a nice lunch in the lounge and approximately 2 litres of water, I decided to finally get down to it and wander about the conference for a bit.

    The REAL Gamedev.net lounge

    The only tutorial that looked interesting to me was the Essential Math for Game Developers tutorial, but that turned out to be a bust.


    Of course, I'm sure the hundred-or-so people in the tutorial found it fascinating, but since they were covering material that I had already covered in school ad nauseum, it really was pointless for me to remain. The topics I saw when I was in attendance were mainly concerned with rotating vectors in 3-dimensional space, using Euler conversions, matrixes, and quaternerions. On the plus side, they did give away a free CD to the book with the same name, which I'm sure I'll check out the next time I get to the bookstore. And some cool 3D glasses too! I'm not sure what those were for; I didn't stay long enough to find out.

    Math Lecture Dude

    I skipped out of this session, and wandered next door where they were playing a movie clip from Shakespeare In Love, and that grabbed my attention. Ohh free movies!

    The story lecture thing.

    The tutorials name is How to Make an Unforgettable Story, which is a pretty tall order to fulfill in my opinion. Surely, people forget things... ah, but I digress. Unfortunately, this tutorial was only playing clips to demonstrate a point about breaking up your scripts to analyze them point-by-point, and not showing full movies. Damn. However, as an aspiring fiction writer in my youth, I decided to give it more of a chance and took a seat. The lecturer ended up showing clips from two more movies: Unbreakable, and Back To The Future. Apparently, Jaws was shown as well, before I showed up. He broke each movie into short 1-2 second segments and proceeded to analyze them, showing us what things about a movie that people just don't notice, and how certain elements are built up over time. Movies, while being a single-line plot medium, can teach us game developers quite a bit about how to tell stories. Quite often, I find games that play well, but are assembled in such a ramshackle manner that the plot doesn't hold my attention at all; and then you come across games like Max Payne or Half-Life, where you keep playing simply because you need to know how it ends. After a short break, he decided to open up the tutorial and get input from the audience; the idea is to assemble a plot for a movie that takes place after Aliens. Which is a fairly interesting idea. Anyway, it was lots of fun, and I learned a lot from the session before I eventually got bored and wandered out of it. I tried to get into the expo floor, but they wouldn't let me; "Under construction" and "hazardous" or some bullcrap excuse...

    Random Picture of a Hallway


    It was a pretty good day, but I was a bit depressed that I didn't see a single pie in the entire place.

    Goodbye Postmortems, Hello Critical Stage Analysis posted 3/22 at 3:51:09 PM PST by Gaiiden

    My first tutorial of the GDC was less of what I normally expected... and more at the same time. To be straightforward and honest I think the material presented could have also been presented as a 60-minute lecture. That said I still give props to Wolfgang Hamann for the tons of extra material he came up with in the form of exercises to stretch a simple concept into a full-day tutorial. I jetted early because the exercises were more geared towards people in companies and corporations that needed to take this concept back to work and pitch it to their superiors. That's not me, and I wasn't about to force myself to sit through 3 hours of it. Sorry.

    However I still walked away with the core concept of the idea presented at this tutorial since we covered that in the first half of the lecture. The Critical Stage Analysis (CSA) concept isn't a terrifically complex one. In fact Wofgang constantly referenced it as being "so simple, it's stupid". I tend to agree. The whole point behind the idea is that most companies think that Postmortems are written so that they can evaluate what went wrong in their last project and better prepare themselves for the next project. However what usually happens is that the same mistakes are still made in the next project, and no one realizes this until the end of the project, when they do their postmortem. And then it's too late isn't it? Wolfgang gave several other examples of why postmortems are dead and useless, but it seems I forgot to take notes on those. Drat. I do remember one being that since many teams hire on people only for a certain length of time, when it comes time to do the postmortem you don't get all the feedback you should on the project. I did jot down some common grievances in postmortems that Wolfgang got after scanning a bunch from Game Developer Magazine:

    • Scheduling problems (not enough time, not enough consideration, etc)
    • Bad crunch time (for long lengths or short fits before milestones)
    • Bad team communication
    • Over ambiguous goals

    I'm sure we can all relate. So to counter the negative and wasteful effects of postmortems, we have the CSA. As I said earlier, the idea is very simple, and it's pretty much a fancy way of describing project checkpoints. Every set interval during production you send out a form to all employees to fill out. This interval can be set by you to what you think is best for your company. Wolfgang worked on Simpsons Hit and Run and The Hulk, and he advocated doing CSAs no later than 5 days after each milestone. But you could also do them every week. On the form you hand out to all employees will be room to list five things that they personally feel have been done right since the last CSA, five things they personally feel have been done wrong since the last CSA, and how they think the problems should be fixed. The leads of each department will compile and collate the various submissions into a master document to be presented at the next team meeting. The whole obvious point of this is to push problems out in the forefront and force the team to solve them before they begin to affect production. No longer will problems lurk in the shadows, known about but not mentioned, everyone hoping that they'll just disappear one day.

    Now, several issues present themselves and these came up as questions during the tutorial. Will this slow down development? Will you be spending so much time talking about problems and fixing problems that nothing will get done? Sounds preposterous, but if teams are good at bickering, no doubt this could turn into a hugely drawn-out process. To avoid this, you just have to make sure that your leads are well established and good at making decisions, and that your team respects their ability enough for them to cut into an argument and say "okay, this is how it's going to be". If not then, well... they probably shouldn't be leads :P A second issue is how to ensure that you'll get proper feedback from everyone on the team. This is just something that will take time. Once the team starts seeing results from using CSA, and you maintain your schedule of CSA reports, the team will begin to churn out more and more accurate feedback on the production process. Finally, what do you do if you have a personal conflict? For instance if, in the Things That Went Wrong section, half the team writes that this person is an over-inflated bag of hot air that thinks he knows how to build a 3d model. Of course in this case you wouldn't bring this issue up during the team meeting, rather talk to the person in private first to sort things out. Still, these kinds of possible personal attacks may make people somewhat fearful of CSAs and reluctant to participate. The solution is to establish some sort of guidelines for issues like these outside of the CSA process, so that they can be handled in a proper manner.

    And well, that's about it! Simple? Yea. Effective? So we've heard. Wolfgang is interested in knowing how people are at picking up and applying CSA to their company, so try it out and let him know how it worked for you: w.hamann::at::shaw.ca. Additionally he'll be posting up a PDF version of the slides he showed today in about a week or so. You can get them here when they show up. Personally, I think it's a nice standardized way to go about making sure that your company is on the right track to creating the game you originally set out to make, and I think I'll be trying it out in the future.

    Web Based 3D Gaming posted 3/22 at 12:49:17 PM PST by John Hattan

    Well, half one of the Web Based 3D Gaming tutorial is now done, and I'm enjoying my only-slightly-soggy turkey sandwich provided by the GDC. On the whole, it was similar to the presentation given by Gary Rosenzweig last year, except with different demos. The take-away this year was similar to last year's - "doing 3D and physics in Director is easy". The lecturer showed off some fun demos of doing a 3D flight simulator, running monster, and physics-based driving game. The only worrisome part is that Shockwave 3D, undoubtedly the most pervasive 3D technology for the web, has now gone over three years without an update, substantial or otherwise.

    This afternoon will feature more salesish presentations about Groove3D, WildTangent, VirTools, and Java3D. I'll letcha know if any of 'em look promising and backends for the next 3D web killer app.

    If you'd like to check out Gary's presentation materials and sample code, check out http://garyrosenzweig.com/presentations/gdc2004/

    Serious Games Summit posted 3/22 at 12:17:00 PM PST by DavidRM

    Serious Games Summit

    Ben Sawyer opened up the Serious Games Summit with what he called "Serious Games 101." Games, serious or otherwise, are about problem solving, plain and simple. The game presents a problem or situation, and the player(s) work to solve it. Serious games, however, move games beyond just being entertainment, focusing on teaching, training, presenting a viewpoint (political or otherwise), and so on.

    The SGS wants to create awareness in the mainstream game industry about the new opportunities for creating "serious games", and also present to those industries most likely to benefit from serious games a collection of talented developers who are ready to create games for whoever wants one.

    Ben repeatedly stressed that serious games are not just K-12 educational games, and gave examples of different areas where serious games are now making inroads, or have new opportunities. Beyond the standard education market, home schoolers are becoming a growing force. They have networks and cooperatives, Web sites, and are willing to spend money on tools that help them teach their children. Health care companies can use games to train professionals, make those professions more attractive to potential candidates, teach children and adults about health issues, and so on. Corporations train workers and business partners--even customers. The military (which has one of the largest training budgets in the world) has a huge commitment to e-learning.

    Each of these opportunities comes with industry-specific issues that most game developers are not going to be familiar with. For example, the health industry is sensitive to repetitive stress syndrome, eye problems, etc., and corporations can be very sensitive to return on investment (ROI). Also, most of the people developers would be working with have little or no experience in what it takes to create and complete a game project. Developers will need to be flexible, and learn how to face and overcome these issues.

    The SGS wants to help all industries know that games are a viable option to support their needs, in addition to the standard media of books, film, TV, and so on. Computer games have matured in the last decade, and have capabilities that such companies may find useful: graphical representation, 3D worlds and figures, multi-player, etc.

    Developers need to be willing to work within very tight budgets, and learn to work closely with outside experts. Also, the developers should not look at the product as the sole source of revenue, and should probably avoid the retail market. The real market for a serious game could easily be in such ancillary aspects as maintenance, support, training, and other value-added features.

    Developers shouldn't consider serious games as normal games. "Fun is not captured in a model," Mr. Sawyer said. He stressed that even though the goal of the serious game may not be fun, game developers are in a unique position to make the resulting games as fun as possible. The development process, and the resulting game, need to be very client-specific, catering to the client's requirements. On the other hand, the developer should keep an eye open for ways that the game's content or technology could be leveraged to create other serious games for new clients (though a speaker from a company that does government contracting pointed out that the government doesn't always allow this--certainly not the military).

    Finally, developers need to take the initiative and meet their local elected officials, business leaders, and non-profit organizations. Developers should focus on those needs they can uniquely fulfill.

    Indie Perspective, by DavidRM

    The SGS presents opportunities that independent game developers might not have considered before. With the small budgets often available ($50,000 to $200,000), such games may not be very attractive to mainstream developers. To the indie, though, that can be quite attractive. Indies are used to small budgets, and using existing technology to achieve good results. Also, such games may open up niches that indies might be uniquely able to capitalize on, especially catering to local organizations that the developer may have a special interest in. In a similar vein, serious games offer a way to not be doing the same type of game, for the same type of market, over and over.

    HELP! I'm trapped in a video game! posted 3/22 at 10:20:35 AM PST by Steve

    HELP!! Before they make me accessorize!!

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