Saturday – Talks / Discussion Groups / Open Problems
The day started at 9 AM with breakfast, which was provided at the conference. It was in the same place as the reception. It was a nice way to get to talk to some of the other attendees just as the day was getting started.
The first talk of the day was from Joanthan Blow:
The format of the talks was pretty straightforward, either 30 minutes or an hour, with some time for questions and answers in the end. Like I said in part 1, since the videos will go up online, I won’t talk about the content of the talks.
Here were some of the other events on that day:
Lunch wasn’t provided, but there were plenty of spots around NYU where you could grab food. Just outside the lecture hall, there were several tables set up, each with a discussion topic, and people who were interested in that topic could just sit down at the table to eat and talk. If you had a specific topic you wanted to discuss, you could write it on a card, and give it to one of the conference volunteers in the morning.
So everyone went out, grabbed some food, and came back for the discussion sessions.
Personally, I thought these sessions were more effective for meeting new people, than they were for actual discussion of game design. I think this is largely due to how broad the topics were. For example, I sat at a table where the topic was “Level Progression”. Most of the conversation centered around examples from games I didn’t play, so I couldn’t really follow along. I think it might have been better if the topics were more specific.
In any case, I think it’s more important that discussion groups facilitate meeting new people, and I think that it accomplished well.
This was something that the organizers were trying out for the first time. It was basically like a lightning impromptu panel session. It happened after lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and of the organizers would go up on stage and ask a question, and get some of the people in the audience to talk about it. The first day the question was about puzzle design (I think? I don’t remember), and the second day the question was about the role of puzzles in narrative games.
These were kind of cool, but I don’t think they were super effective. A large part of it was that the conference was always running just a little behind schedule, so the feedback loops got cut short. For example, the feedback loop on the 2nd day got cut short, and didn’t allow for people in the audience to participate.
This was my favorite part of PRACTICE, and pretty much the main reason why I went.
Open Problems is an hour-long session where conference attendees can get up in front of the entire lecture hall (so pretty much everyone at PRACTICE), present a problem, and get feedback. You have one minute to present your problem, and then about 3 minutes for the audience to respond.
A few days before the conference started, an email was sent to all the attendees with information for signing up for Open Problems. About 8 people signed up in advance. I was a little surprised at this, because I thought everyone would be clamoring for a spot. I mean, this is a room full of the best minds in game design! What better group of people to ask for feedback regarding a game design problem?
Several people did sign up on the day of Open Problems, so I think in total there were about 15 presenters.
The Problem I Presented:
In my game, the core mechanic is the ability to walk up walls and ceilings. Each surface has a different color associated with it, and certain objects that you can use or activate when in that color:
Here’s an early problem, where we use a blue box to “counterbalance” the purple box and prevent it from sliding down:
Because you can walk on any surface in the game, there is no “objective up”. This means that I cannot have an infinite ground, because that would be “objective down”. Therefore the world has to be a floating platform. This introduces the problem of players falling off the world. One solution to this is to fade the screen to black and respawn the player, but this is boring.
Instead, the world wraps around on itself, so if you fell off, there’s just a duplicate of the world right below you:
You can do this along every axis. So let’s say the world in the gif is level 1. How do I get the player to go to level 2 seamlessly? Level 2 cannot exist in the same physical space as level 1. It can’t be above, below, or to the right of level 1, because that’s where the repetitions of level 1 are.
One way to connect levels is through portals. However, players then get really confused about the relation of the worlds with one another. And let’s say you go from level 1 to 2, then 2 to 3, and so on and so forth until you’re at level 10. What if you need to go back to level 1. Would you have to go through 9, 8, 7, 6, and all the other levels? That gets really tedious.
Anyway, I presented this to the group, and got a ton of great responses. In the next few weeks, I’ll be working through this issue, and will go into the topic in more detail, but for now, these are the notes my friend Rob Lockhart took for me of the different responses:
As you can see, there were a ton of ideas and suggestions.
The best part of Open Problems though, is actually not what happens during the session itself. You’re on stage for less than 5 minutes, so there’s really no time to dive into the topic. However, now everyone at the conference is familiar with your game and your design challenge.
For the rest of PRACTICE, a lot of people would come up to me and say “I’ve been thinking of your problem, and here’s a thought…” I was able to get into a lot of deep discussions this way. Additionally, in the past, when explaining my game, the biggest challenge was that it was hard to visualize the mechanic and what was going on. But since I had shown a video of the gameplay, everyone knew what I was talking about. This helped tremendously.
If you do plan on going to PRACTICE in the future, definitely take advantage of Open Problems to get feedback.
Here are two tips to help you maximize your Open Problems experience:
1) Provide Visual Aid - Definitely provide visuals so that the audience can know what you’re talking about. This also will save you time and allow you to fit in more information, since you won’t have to describe something, you can just show it. If possible, provide video footage.
I had a video showing gameplay and the 3D world wrapping, and this was very useful. It’s important to take time to prepare this so as to maximize the amount of information you’re presenting, and make your situation clear. Think of it as 1-minute presentation. I did spend a few hours putting together the video in the week before the conference.
2) Keep you problem as specific as possible - I think it works best if you keep your question narrow and specific. Some people were asking much larger design questions, and I think these don’t work quite as well, at least in this format. A lot of the responses were much more vague, and also some people in the audience had to ask the presenter questions to clarify what the design issue was. Given that you only have a few minutes, you want to maximize the opportunity for people to throw out ideas.
After Open Problems, there was a break for dinner, and then a party afterwards.
For dinner, I went with a group to Chinatown for Dim Sum:
As for the party, it was a blast! The coolest part was that I got to meet Jonathan Blow!
I had so much fun that the only picture I remembered to take there was of the interior of the fridge